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John Denham - Connecting communities

Published 14 October 2009

Communities Secretary John Denham today outlined a £12m plan to reinvigorate and connect with those communities that are feeling the pressure from recession most acutely and ensure they are well placed to share fully in future prosperity and emerge stronger and more cohesive.

John Denham said

"We will make it clear that Government is committed to making sure, in every community, in every corner of this country, people know we are on their side. No favours. No privileges. No special interest groups. Just fairness."

In recent years substantial investment has transformed large parts of the country. Almost without exception communities have benefited considerably from SureStart centres, rising school standards, modernisation of public housing, the introduction of neighbourhood policing and many families have gained significantly from tax credits.

But this investment has taken place against a background of wider changes which has left some communities feeling under pressure.

As part of an ambitious programme of work, around 100 areas of the country have been identified as the focus of a targeted programme of work that will focus on alleviating those pressures and making sure that real help is available.

Practical actions delivered on estates and streets will focus on developing a real insight into what is happening in those communities and introduce changes that will address local people's concerns, reconnect them with jobs and tackle the real and perceived sense of unfairness some people are feeling.

The communities involved vary considerably and the challenges are different from place to place. But there are a number of key issues that cut to the core of local concerns. These include;

  • a decline in traditional jobs in predominantly white areas and worries about young people's future;
  • recent migration is perceived as having changed communities and created competition for jobs and resources like social housing; and
  • anti-social behaviour - although fallen across the country - remains a real challenge and can create tensions between the majority of hard working families and the troublesome minority.

For some, the pace of change has led to a sense of resentment and a rise in insecurity and threatens to corrode the cohesion of these communities and create tensions. In some places support for the far right has risen. There could be a rise in migration and resentment at the perception that others are getting a better deal. Some people are left feeling that 'no one is speaking up for us'.

The Government is already taking action on these issues, from tough migration controls and measures to stop unscrupulous employers, to investing in skills and new jobs for young people as well as building new social housing.

But John Denham recognises that these national initiatives will not have their full impact unless local communities believe that their views and needs are being heard and that Government - locally and nationally - is responding directly to their concerns.

John Denham said

"At the heart of this new drive is a willingness to encourage local people to speak out about their concerns, even if this raises difficult and uncomfortable issues. In turn, government - national and local - needs to be able to set out how it is responding, and to discuss frankly where things are working and where they could be improved.

"Over the coming year, we have the chance to make a big difference. The Government's investment in the future job fund and apprenticeships can help offer a good future to young people. Our investment in social housing gives us the chance both to discuss whether allocations policies meet local needs and challenge myths about who gets housing. The development of neighbourhood policing gives us the chance to make further in-roads into anti-social behaviour.

"But none of this will work unless on the doorstep, in pubs and community centres local people know and see that someone is speaking up for them and fighting their corner. They need to know that the jobs being created are jobs they can get, the houses being built are homes they can live in, and that the library, the school and the hospitals are being built for them, their families and their community.

"And if we fail, the danger is that extremists will try to exploit dissatisfaction and insecurity in ways which will pull communities apart."

John Denham today named the first 27 neighbourhoods across 21 local authorities that will be involved in the initial phase of this £12m programme of local intensive engagement that will connect communities.

Each area will draw up specific plans to address local challenges. Whilst the responses will vary from place to place they are likely to focus on three key areas:

Leadership - the quality of leadership is going to be critical to success in this area. Complex challenges require exceptional leadership. There will be investment in councillors and other leaders and frontline staff to support their confidence and skills in addressing these problems and help them shape the strategy for their area.

If people feel they are not being heard there is a need for honest and open debate to explain how decisions are made. Where decisions are contentious, leaders need the skills and confidence to challenge misconceptions and respond with action where needed. Leaders should be in communities, listening and addressing issues head on.

Giving people a voice - local people have got to have the chance to express their worries and know that someone will act on their behalf. The idea is to have a much more honest and open debate about what the challenges really are in these areas - even if this raises difficult and uncomfortable issues. People must have the space to air their grievances to political and community leaders. If people are afraid to have these discussions on the doorstep, people will have them all the same - but in the pub, at the school gate: where there is no opportunity to refute the myths and get the facts on the table.

Alongside measures, to increase the visibility of more formal leaders, individuals will be encouraged to act as community champions or tenants and have a bigger say in local issues. This will help build up the confidence and self-esteem of residents so that they feel that they can regain control over their estates, their lives and their futures.

Increased opportunities - raising awareness of the opportunities already available in the area - whether that is investment and regeneration, jobs and skills, childcare and youth services, education and healthcare, or efforts to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour. Measures like the Future Jobs Fund need to be delivered in ways which clearly respond to local priorities, shaped by the people whose lives it will affect. Because if the way we spend those resources causes resentment and the way we implement those policies actually undermines community cohesion, whether through accident or neglect, then that may do more harm than good.

The areas have been identified by examining a range of hard and soft data around cohesion, deprivation and crime, perceived unfairness in the allocation of resources and feedback from people working locally.

The concerns people have relate to housing, jobs and the neighbourhoods they live in. Right across government's agenda there is a need to ensure that more is being done to reach into these communities and engage with their concerns. That means working with and listening to the people based in those communities who see the challenge close up and know what is needed to make a difference.

The next groups of areas that will be involved in this programme will be named shortly.

Notes to editors

1. To support this programme CLG is publishing new guidance Building Cohesive Communities - what frontline staff and community activists need to know. This is based on the experience of our Local Improvement Advisors of working on challenging issues in local areas. Frontline staff and community activists have a key role to play and this guidance covers topics ranging from tackling local attitudes, perception and myths to using communications and the media to promote cohesion. Cohesion guidance is available from www.communities.gov.uk/communities/racecohesionfaith/communitycohesion/cohesionpublications.

2. List of areas involved in the first wave of the connecting communities programme:

GO Region  Local authority  Neighbourhood/ward 
East  Broxbourne  1. Bury Green Ward 
  King's Lynn  2. North Lynn 
East Midlands  Leicester  3. New Parks 
  Lincoln  4. Abbey Ward 
  Nottingham  5. Aspley 
London  Barking and Dagenham

6. River
7. Becontree
8. Thames
9. Heath

  Bromley  10. Cray Valley and Mottingham 
  Bexley  11. Colyers and North End 
North East  Gateshead  12. Felling 
  Sunderland  13. Castle, Redhill and Southwark 
North West  Blackburn and Darwen  14. Little Harwood 
  Cheshire West and Chester  15. Ellesmere Port 
  Cumbria  16. Cleator Moor 
  Liverpool  17. Speke 
West Midlands  Birmingham  18. Kingstanding, Stockland Green and Erdington 
  Birmingham  19. Druids Heath, Brandwood Ward 
  Birmingham  20. Bartley Green and Weoley 
  Stoke  21. Blurton 
  Stoke  22. Burslem and Shelton 
South East  Milton Keynes  23. Tinkers Bridge, Woughton Ward 
South West  North Somerset  24. Western-Super-Mare Central Ward 
  Poole  25. Bourne Valley, Rossmore 
  Swindon  26. Park Ward, Walcot East 
Yorkshire and Humber  N Lincolnshire  27. Caistor Road Estate, Barton Ward 


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