John Denham: New reports challenge broken Britain

Published 31 March 2010

New quality of life scorecards for every local authority that offer a unique insight into the state of the nation and challenge the notion that Britain is broken have been published today.

The reports are contained within Our Nation's Civic Health a new report which measures the strength of modern democracy in England and the connections people have to their communities. The reports are published alongside new guidance that will support people who want to get more involved in their communities.

Alongside national information, key facts and figures are provided at local authority level. Eight key measures, drawn from various data sources, offer an insight into the way people feel about the area they live in and the connections they have with that area. The indicators span issues from people's sense of belonging, views on anti-social behaviour, voting patterns and volunteering.

Commenting on the reports John Denham said:

"For the vast majority of people, if they think about their street and the community they live in they won't recognise the picture of a broken Britain.

"Whilst there are some real problems, some broken families and some limited pockets of problem behaviour, using these problems to generalise that the whole of society is broken does Britain a huge disservice and feeds a mood of pessimism. More worryingly it will lead to the wrong problems being identified and the wrong solutions being offered.

"Our Nation's Civic Health gives people in every area of the country the information they need to talk up the strengths of their communities and challenge those that would seek to talk it down.

"Where tough challenges really do exist around jobs, antisocial behaviour, problem families and cohesion specific action is needed to turn things around. These reports help to identify where social problems are the greatest and prompt targeted action to address them."

The information in the reports builds a comprehensive picture of different authorities and is intended to make it easier for people to take the pulse of their local area, see how one local area compares to another and gives a greater insight into what factors influence those differences. Having the information in an accessible format will make it easier for local people to challenge on issues of concern and for leaders, locally and nationally, to see where problems are the greatest and take action.

The picture the report paints is broadly positive. Nationally, community spirit in England appears to be strong, four in five people (84 per cent) agree that people from different backgrounds get on well together and over three quarters (77 per cent) have a strong sense of belonging to their immediate neighbourhood. The percentage of people who trust their council is high (61 per cent) and has been rising since 2001, and nearly three quarters of the English public (73 per cent) believe that voting in an election is effective.

The data also highlights the disparity that can exist between people's views on issues when considering what happens nationally and locally. This is particularly true when looking at data on crime.

Both levels of crime and perceptions of crime locally have improved since the mid 1990s. Despite these improvements, an increasing number of citizens believe that the amount of crime nationally is rising. This might be expected given that people have more day-to-day experience of what goes on in their local area but are reliant on media stories and other sources for their perceptions of the national picture.

It is often the national picture that is cited when people make commentary about the state of the nation. What the data in this report shows is that this may not be an accurate reflection of people's day to day experience.

Our Nation's Civic Health is one part of wide ranging measures being taken forward across Government to put make public data more accessible and transparent.

For many people volunteering is the route to greater involvement in their communities. As the Civic Health reports show some parts of the country have higher levels of volunteering than others.

Together with Business in the Community the Government has embarked on a campaign to encourage more companies to give staff time off to do public duties. The campaign includes a new employer information pack - published today which helps employers understand the benefits of volunteering for civic roles, what is involved if their staff volunteer and how it can help their businesses. Case studies on how it has worked for others and information on next steps are also included.

Stephen Howard, Chief Executive, Business in the Community said:

"In addition to performing a vital role in the community, volunteers in civic roles are developing skills and knowledge that can be applied in other areas of their lives; including their work. This report demonstrates there is a real win-win opportunity for communities and employers when staff get involved in this kind of volunteering."

Local civic societies play an important role in engaging people in decision making at a local level, helping communities to get involved. They have much to offer in responding to the challenges some places face, as identified in today's Our Nation's Civic Health.

A new organisation called Civic Voice is being established. Government support with £80,000 of transitional funding offer will enable Civic Voice to become a self-supporting champion of civic societies so that they, in turn, can help to strengthen Britain's civic health.

Tony Burton, Director of Civic Voice, said:

"Civic societies work to make the places where everyone lives more attractive, enjoyable and distinctive.  Everyone has the right to live somewhere they can be proud of and we welcome the Government's focus on engaging people to play a more active role in shaping the future of their local area."

Notes to editors

1. Key findings are incorporated into a Summary Report, while a more comprehensive picture of the nation's civic health is provided in the Main Report. In the summer, a new online tool will be available which will enable citizens to explore the data in more detail - in the meantime some preliminary results of civic health in each upper tier and unitary authority in England are included in a separate downloadable annex.

The Report brings together national and local data drawn from a wide variety of sources, including the:

  • Citizenship Survey
  • Audit of Political Engagement
  • National Survey of Third Sector Organisations
  • Place Survey
  • British Crime Survey
  • Oxford Internet Survey
  • World Values Survey
  • British Household Panel Survey
  • General Household Survey
  • British Social Attitudes Survey

All the data used in the Report is publicly available from various locations. Readers will be able to access most of the data used in the report by searching for 'civic health' on the new 'data.gov.uk' website.

For those wishing to conduct their own analysis, the report sign-posts readers to several online analysis tools, including:

2. Volunteering for Civic Roles: Information for employers and employees:

3. Civic Voice is the new national charity for the civic movement. It is being launched on 17 April. Civic Voice works to make the places where everyone lives more attractive, enjoyable and distinctive and to promote civic pride. The civic movement is based on a network of over a thousand local civic and amenity societies across England. They have over 250,000 individual members and 20,000 volunteers. The first civic society was set up in the 1840s. www.civicvoice.org.uk (external link)  info@civicvoice.org.uk.


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