Headlines: June 15th, 2007

COMMISSION SEES NEW ROLE FOR COUNCILS IN BUILDING COHESION

 

Local authorities would have a specific new role to build cohesion in the communities they serve if the recommendations of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion are adopted. The Commission, set up following tensions between various groups led to disturbances in some Northern towns, has produced its final report, “Our Shared Future”, after a year of taking evidence on what communities are doing to overcome barriers.

It makes a number of recommendations, including a new role for local councils. It says they should map their local areas and populations to understand who lives in each ward, the make up of local schools and the different religious groups worshipping in their area. That information, the report says, should be used to strengthen local leadership, which it believes is vital to managing integration and cohesion and responding to changes in an area.

The Commission, chaired by Darra Singh, believes the information would also help local authorities to know more about their communities and how to meet their needs so integration issues arising within communities and likely changes in population can be identified. The Commission has also recommended that local authorities consider both the needs of new communities, and the responses from settled communities. Members pointed to existing schemes where the issues of settled communities have been managed by Local Authorities and local residents’ associations, working together or through targeted communication and myth-busting.

Commission members also want to see a new national body to manage integration and provide support for councils experiencing new migration and they want specialist integration and cohesion teams to be on hand to support local authorities in dealing with particular local issues and challenges arising from significant changes in the local population. The national body would have integration experts experienced in managing change, conflict resolution, public service planning and mediation skills to advise local authority leaders, local communities, schools, hospitals and other public services. It would also work with local authorities to develop local agreements or contracts for new arrivals that would set out the expectations and responsibilities that local areas have in terms of what is and is not acceptable behaviour.