On the 14th of November 2009 the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (CLG) announced ‘Connecting Communities', a programme of activity designed to promote cohesion and specifically, to address the alienation amongst some sections of the community in deprived communities. The programme marks a change within the department to more targeted, neighbourhood level, support as part of the broader cohesion and empowerment agendas.
Connecting Communities is the Government's response to a persistent lack of cohesion in certain localities. The areas they have identified are described as ‘predominately white' areas, which are suffering most from the effects of recession and youth unemployment, and where traditional jobs (such as in manufacturing and heavy industry) have declined over the years. The Government hopes that Connecting Communities will address the perception by sections of these communities that migration has negatively affected them by creating mass competition for jobs, social housing and other resources. They also want it to tackle problems of persistent high levels of anti social behaviour.
Funding and Priorities
Connecting Communities is a £12 million programme which runs until the end of March 2010. Funding will be given to local authorities to do targeted work in 130 neighbourhoods (so far the first 27 have been announced).
Each area will draw up their own action plan but three key aspects have been identified:
- Leadership - the need to invest in councillors, frontline staff, community activists, and other leaders or community representatives. The need to recognise that leaders need skills and confidence to challenge misconceptions and respond with action.
- Giving people a voice - local people need a chance to express their worries, need a more honest and open debate about what challenges are in areas. Individuals need to be encouraged to act as community champions or tenants, and have a bigger say in local issues.
- Increased opportunities - raising awareness of opportunities available in the area - whether that's investment and regeneration, jobs and skills or childcare.
Participating Local Authorities will receive approximately £50k to take forward this initiative in their area. There is also an expectation that the Regional Empowerment Partnerships will coordinate and complement the funding into a package that offers the most effective targeted support.
The areas that will receive the funding have have been identified by examining data on cohesion, deprivation and crime, perceived unfairness in the allocation of resources and feedback from people working locally.
Supporting the programme
CLG have published guidance "Building Cohesive Communities - what frontline staff and community activists need to know". The guidance covers topics ranging from tackling local attitudes, perceptions and myths, to using communications and the media to promote cohesion. The guidance is based on the experience of Local Improvement Advisors who work with challenging issues in local areas.
In announcing the Connecting Communities programme, the Secretary of State said:
"At the heart of this is a willingness to encourage local people to speak out about their concerns, even if it raises difficult and uncomfortable issues. In turn, government - national and local needs to be able to set out how it is responding and to discuss frankly where things are working and where they could be improved" John Denham, Secretary of State.
Why is this programme important?
The Government is seeking to address the alienation amongst sections of the white population which they fear in some cases is fuelling the rise of extremist and racist politics. Also, the programme will consider how local services can be more effectively joined up - allowing for people to access and influence them.
This is an important issue for the voluntary and community sector (VCS). On a policy level Connecting Communities highlights the direction of work under the ‘cohesion' agenda, and brings cohesion together with broader community engagement activity. The VCS has a major role in all three of the priorities identified by the Secretary of State, and at a local level possess essential local knowledge, contacts and skills to engage effectively with communities. The VCS as a whole have a critical role to play in making sure that challenging inequality and discrimination are guiding principles in the implementation of this programme, and continued policy development.
You can read the press release and a list of areas selected for the first tranche of the programme at:
Further guidance on the programme "Building Cohesive Communities - what frontline staff and community activists need to know" can be found at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/communities/racecohesionfaith/communitycohesion/cohesionpublications/