Enabling Communities - What you can do

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The government’s ‘Big Society’ concept has led to a radical re-evaluation of how local authorities deliver services. The aim is for a balance of power between citizen and state. At local level it’s very much about enabling and encouraging communities to take a greater active part in deciding upon and delivering local services.

The Localism Act enshrines the idea of devolving more decision-making power from central government to local councils and communities. It emphasises issues of competence, community rights, neighbourhood planning and housing via new freedoms for local authorities, communities and individuals. Read more by clicking here.   

Local authorities, then, are planning a sustainable future for public services by handing more power to communities through a balanced financial settlement. The intention is to harness the creativity of local communities and experience of voluntary organisations in the design and delivery of services.  It’s a culture change through which communities will be encouraged to make decisions collectively, develop neighbourhood micro-plans, recognising the trade-offs in service priorities, and take ownership of local assets and services.

Voluntary organisations already deliver a range of specialist services at local level of course and the VCSE sector needs to be clear about the importance of its contribution and involvement.  There are clear benefits for:

Norfolk County Council – as a major funder:

  • Services informed by more expertise and experience
  • Better focus on outcomes and the bigger picture, rather than a narrow focus on delivery
  • Wider ‘ownership’ with more people involved in decision-making
  • Cost savings through efficiencies and accurate decision-making
  • Encouragement of ‘active citizenry’

The Community:

  • More locally-informed decision-making, and ownership of, services
  • Local expertise, skills and knowledge put to good use
  • Local accountability and faster reporting-back
  • Knowledgeable mediation between competing groups and encourage collaboration

As with any change, there is risk. Greater community involvement in prioritising and running services could potentially blur lines of accountability and responsibility for and with the public sector, so some element of oversight might be needed.  The consequences of closing a library, opening a free school or increasing local tax precepts need to be understood. Moreover, if communities are not properly empowered, supported or resourced, there is a risk that they feel set up to fail, and consequently more reluctant to participate in the future.

Localism shouldn’t replace advocacy either – the voice of local communities at higher levels needs to be maintained. Encouraging creativity, participation and innovation of local people in allocating scarce resources, and pursuing active partnerships is the objective.