Headlines: March 12th, 2008

New research says a scheme designed to improve the lives of people in disadvantaged communities has succeeded in getting them involved in the planning and delivery of solutions to local problems, but it has not led to the communities influencing service providers.

The study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation looked at the Communities First programme in Wales.

“Community empowerment in practice: lessons from Communities First”, found that local people responded positively to the opportunities the programme offered for participation and that their confidence in their own abilities grew as they recognised their role in promoting positive change in their communities. There search also discovered that people from the communities brought varied skills and knowledge to the partnership process, but they needed support to develop skills for effective partnership working.

The report says that levels of engagement were increased by offering a number of options for participation and that highly localised forums widened community empowerment and helped to support the community members involved in the partnerships.

But the researchers found little evidence of community influence over statutory members of Communities First partnerships. There was no evidence either of a significant effect on the way statutory bodies decided their priorities and spending in the communities involved. People from the local areas rarely chaired the partnerships.

The report identifies the need for clearer links between strategic partnerships at the ward level andl ocal authority levels. Local Strategic Partnerships or Local Service Boards, it says, were not sufficiently local or connected to the community to allow effective involvement.

One of the report’s co-authors, Dave Adamson, said, the Government needed to provide incentives and sanctions to promote greater statutory sector response to the processes of community empowerment. “Consideration should be given to giving specific functions and resources to local partnerships which they can control. The continued commitment of community members will depend on purposeful community involvement,” he said.