Ministers must make full use of the forthcoming Local Recovery and Devolution White Paper to give communities the power and resources they need to build back a better society, a report by the think-tank Localis has advised.
In a study issued today entitled ‘Renewing Neighbourhood Democracy – Creating Powerful Communities,’ the think-tank calls on the central government to facilitate a clear pathway for communities to take control over local services, assets and social infrastructure.
The paper argues the government should enshrine the rights of communities to self-organise by creating ‘pop up parishes’ and set local spending choices at the neighbourhood level through ‘people’s budgets’.
Other key report recommendations for strengthening communities to build back better at hyperlocal level include:
- establishing a £2bn Community Wealth Fund to specifically target the social and civic infrastructure of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods across the country. This would be an independent endowment that would be distributed over the course of 10-15 years to build and sustain the social capital of communities.
- giving local councils a statutory role for managing double devolution and community relations, to act as a single point of contact and information for community groups looking to establish forms of local control.
- launching an urgent government review to renew and extend financial support for voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations in a manner similar to the Small Business Grant fund to respond to the pandemic, particularly as the reintroduction of lockdown measures escalates.
Localis chief executive, Jonathan Werran, said: “If this is to be a teachable moment, then we must place greater trust in our communities to provide the impetus for social renewal and economic recovery.
“This must mean a genuine commitment from the government for double devolution under which communities receive full powers and support to develop greater genuine autonomy and assume control for scripting their own local destinies.”
Localis head of research, Joe Fyans, said: “The importance of our social infrastructure – our community hubs, our public spaces and volunteer organisations – to our national resilience has been made abundantly clear in 2020. Across the country, however, there is wide variation in the amount of social infrastructure available to communities, with many places ‘left behind’ in an endless cycle of short-lived and top-down policy initiatives.
“This report looks towards a fair and lasting settlement for the protection of social infrastructure and the expansion of neighbourhood autonomy. Looking at lessons from history and case studies both domestic and international, we outline some steps to take in 2021 to shore up our social infrastructure in all parts of the country and create space for communities to take power into their own hands.”
Matt Leach, CEO Local Trust, said: “This pandemic has highlighted the vitality and resilience of community spirit, right across the country. We must harness this real community moment, to not only build back better but build up from below.
“That means seizing the opportunity of the impending Local Recovery and Devolution white paper to ensure communities gain real power that comes from them building their own institutions, that are real and relevant to them and can act as a counterbalance and complement to the state.
“The ideas included in this report of a Community Wealth Fund, ‘pop up parishes’, and stronger community rights will play an integral part in renewing democracy and creating powerful communities.”