The problem with the Levelling Up White Paper is that the government’s plan is strong on boosting regional economic growth – but weak on how this has to link with disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
This problem is separate from issues about money. It is about the need to see local communities as active participants and partners in development.
The government plan rightly stresses the importance of social capital alongside economic, physical and institutional capital. But when it comes to action it diverts social capital onto a fuzzy objective called ‘pride of place’ – and a scattering of short-term capital projects, instead of boosting residents’ own wide-ranging ideas and activities for improvement.
The role of local authorities is rightly seen as crucial but they should not be the only channel for resident involvement. Communities themselves need to be directly involved and energised through the growth of their groups, networks and influence if inequality is to be reduced.
For individuals, better social networks and local activities overcome isolation and improve health. For neighbourhoods as a whole, a stronger sector of community groups drives local improvements and joint problem-solving with public services and regeneration schemes.
My analysis, published by Radix Big Tent today, proposes the following:
- A new mission focusing on social capital itself – the strengthening of local community life.
- A unit in every region linking high level economic initiatives with the efforts of people in disadvantaged localities.
- Building up local community capacity so that more people are involved and community groups of all kinds can become stronger and more inclusive.
- Allocating ten per cent of regional project funding to action focused on disadvantaged neighbourhoods and on projects proposed by local communities.
- Strengthening the community engagement practices of the public services and going further on those in the NHS. .
- Devising a permanent mechanism for funding the growth of community involvement by linking it to the growth of regional economies.
- Using a framework of appropriate light-touch measures so that the effects of growing community involvement can be seen and methods can be constantly improved.
I will be discussing his analysis at the Big Tent Leaders Summit on 10 June, in Queen’s Square, Bristol. Other speakers include Neil O’Brien MP, Minister for Levelling-Up, Lisa Nandy MP Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government and Mark Robinson, chair of the government’s High Streets Task-force among many others.
Read the full analysis here