Headlines: September 5th, 2003

Unpaid volunteers working in voluntary sector organizations on community regeneration projects feel that community empowerment has a long way to go before it becomes effective. A survey by the Quest Trust carried out as part of the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit’s Community Participation Review found that most respondents believe that the rhetoric of empowerment was not matched by reality. Volunteers feel that at the strategic level ministers are failing to convince them that the government genuinely values their input. At the grass roots level, local strategic partnerships, with the responsibility of implementing neighbourhood strategies, are considered too insular.The volunteers felt that generally there are too many initiatives and each is expected to develop at the speed which suits politicians rather than that which can be delivered. Those involved in local strategic partnerships believe that they are not equal partners because local auth orities are holding on too tight to the reins of power. They also believe that too much of the regeneration budget is spent on consultants and too little heed is paid to the knowledge that exists in the community. There is also a belief that young people as well as black and ethnic minorities are still excluded.

Urban Forum, the umbrella body for community and voluntary groups with interests in urban and regional policy, acknowledged the dissatisfaction, but believes that neighbourhood delivery is being developed and will take much more time. It called for additional support from the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit to ensure that local strategic partnerships become as inclusive as possible. This would require additional funding to increase representation and provide greater support for sharing information and best practice.