Headlines: September 7th, 2005

An independent report says that involving local people in decision making delivers improved public services and saves money by targeting local needs more effectively. The report was drawn up for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and Government units tackling exclusion, based on research by a consortium including SQW Ltd, the University of the West of England, LSE and Whole Systems Development.It finds community involvement is a crucial factor in improving services especially in deprived areas. Using case studies, it shows that the use of different involvement mechanisms, including surveys, questionnaires, discussions, debates and delegating service delivery to users is growing. It concludes that the relatively modest costs involved in this are generally outweighed by the benefits. Those benefits, the report says, include reductions in the cost of services, greater user satisfaction, lower crime rates and reduced fear of crime, better health prospects, improved employment opportunities and more motivated front-line staff.

The research shows that the cost of involvement activities is between 45 and 60 pounds a year per household.

The report, commissioned by ODPM, the Cabinet Office and the Home Office, looks at 15 case studies, covering crime, health, education, worklessness, housing and cross-cutting issues in Birmingham, Bradford, Derby, Durham, Hastings, East London, Leicester, Liverpool, Norfolk, Reading, Sedgefield, Sheffield, Stoke-on-Trent, and Weston-Super-Mare.

Phil Woolas Minister for Local Government and Neighbourhood Renewal said the findings confirmed that the Government’s emphasis on community involvement could pay off in terms of improved service delivery, though he recognised that the picture was mixed and some services were more effective at involving people than others.

Among the case studies used by the report was Birmingham City Councils steps to devolve a range of services to District Committees advised by District Strategic Partnerships. In Sheffield the researchers looked at Manor and Castle Training and Resource Centre, which is owned and staffed by local people offering training and education services. Case studies also include Bradford, where the city’s Vision partnership is involving the neighbourhood in the improvement of a range of mainstream services, and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets where the third sector is involved in the delivery of youth services, services for children with disabilities and community recycling.