Abstracts: March 1st, 2010

Councils have been urged to sign community contracts with local residents as a way to drive up the standard of local services. Contracts are also known as neighbourhood charters and they are voluntary written agreements between residents and local services setting out clear standards of service and priorities for action as well as the role local people can play in helping the services achieve the standards.

They offer a framework for service accountability, based on existing service standards and levels. Through the negotiation of service standards and intense scrutiny of neighbourhood level service performance, the contracts have put the ‘spotlight’ on existing standards.

People most actively involved in community contracts were existing community representatives, members of organisations and volunteers, and the effect was that the contracts enhanced their roles.

The evaluation found that levels of awareness amongst residents who had not been as closely involved in contracts were patchy at best. Many who were aware of the document were not familiar with its purpose or basic content.

It was also found that contracts had enabled better management of expectations between services, councillors and active residents who were directly involved. There were examples where resident satisfaction had increased during the period of the contract where people had noticed service and neighbourhood improvements. However, there was still dissatisfaction with services and agencies.

Some local elected members had been very close to and supportive of contracts. Where councillors had been positively involved in contracts they played different roles, ranging from practical contributions on the ground to strategic roles as ‘unblockers’ of problems with services and the authority, and as champions of the contract within the authorities. Contracts had enhanced relationships between councillors and those citizens who were more closely involved in contracts. However, contracts had not yet significantly changed the way that councilors interact with individual constituents and citizens.