Headlines: October 28th, 2004

Local communities in the country’s most deprived neighbourhoods are having greater influence in decisions which affect them. The change is being driven by the single community programme which provides grants for community groups. The National Audit Office has looked at how the programme is working and in its report ‘Getting Citizens Involved: Community Participation in Neighbourhood Renewal’, it concludes that an increasing number of people are able to influence decisions affecting their local public services owing to accessible funding. The report also highlights the difficulties of cultural change surrounding community empowerment and calls for a concerted effort to overcome the barriers to change.The single community programme has so far supported around 25,000 separate community projects in the country’s most deprived neighbourhoods. 88 per cent of these projects contribute directly to neighbourhood renewal targets. A grant of 5000 pounds, for example, was given to the Company Fierce dance group in Manchester to start “The Boyz Project” to give direction and confidence to young black men through positive role models.

Local solutions to local problems are being successfully developed by bringing together sub-groups of networks with service providers. This money aims to give communities influence over the spending decisions of public bodies such as local authorities, the police, primary care trusts and the Learning and Skills Council and others on Local Strategic Partnerships who control spending of over 60 billion pounds a year.

Among the issues that need to be addressed to strengthen the voice of communities are ensuring that groups who receive grants actually get involved in local decision making and shifting the balance of power towards local groups. Community participation poses challenges to existing and accepted work cultures and practices and this results in tensions which support service provider power.