Policies for the City Region, the last installment: Community.

Here is the final piece in our serialisation of our policy suite: Policies for the City Region.

People working together on wellbeing concepts

People working together on wellbeing concepts

Our argument here is simple: a viable economy requires a lively and resilient community.  The State and local State can and must create the conditions for this, not by dumping responsibilities on hard pressed communities but by supporting community development without dominating it or colonising independent social movements that arise from the community.  Key elements are building trust and ending the culture of distrust and surveillance against citizens that has come to characterise the British Welfare State. You can download the full set of policies here. You can also see out policies page HERE and our publications page HERE.

We hope you have enjoyed the series and found it challenging and useful.  We’d love to receive constructive feedback  Email us or use the form at the bottom of this post.  Further work will look at how our work both complements and completes the work of other critical policy contributions and also look at the way the bigger picture challenges efforts at local reform.
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9 Community

A viable society and economy means we live in communities that are convivial, caring and proactive. But for this to happen the State, including its local institutions, has to help. This is not a matter of dumping responsibilities on hard pressed communities (which typically comes to mean women) but instead making sure that community groups and organisations (formal and informal) have the resources and support, material and intellectual, to lead, to invent, to design, plan and implement improvements. This is not particularly easy for State organisations which have tended to either dominate or to withdraw inappropriately. We need a different approach.

Any “economic strategy” should consider those various activities that are in their way economic and also the spinal supports for people’s everyday life and for the official economy itself. They are variously,

a) monetised and exchanged, but hidden from official view: the hidden economy in which positively speaking, people make ends meet and aid one another, and negatively speaking may avoid taxation and regulation; or

b) monetised but not exchanged (the remaining “social wage” public services), or

c) not monetised, being part of everyday life, but provide human resources for the economy (bringing up children, cleaning the house, cooking in the evening), or

d) not monetised but potentially could be, though that might not necessarily be desirable (fixing a neighbour’s gate, babysitting, growing fruit and vegetables in an allotment or garden).

These various “undeclared” elements of the economy and of everyday life also provide an additional lifeline for many people who rely on mutual aid, free goods, or the “informal economy”. Moreover, their consideration also brings to the fore the gendered nature of not only these undeclared aspects of the economy but of the economy as a whole: changes in these areas disproportionately affect women, on whose unrecognised labour the economy (and society) as a whole relies upon.

9.1 Collaborative design and accountability.

Policy 9.11: Councils to develop their role as facilitators and catalysts for community initiative.

The thinking behind it:

The “neoliberal period saw a change in the model of public authorities from the paternalistic “we do everything” model to one of commissioner and market enabler. We know that model to be highly flawed, often acting as little more than a way of channeling public wealth into private hands. But a redefinition in terms of community enabler, sometimes leading, more often following community initiatives, would be a welcome change for post austerity Greater Manchester, one that would build on initiatives and new thinking from innovating authorities in the city region.

Councils, as key bodies of the local State, and as the part that is locally, democratically accountable, can change the way they work with communities. Rather than the council deciding what it is going to do and then conducting tokenistic consultations with a limited number of people and a limited range of options (converging on what the intention already is), the norm should be collaborative design of solutions – the more complex and expensive of which certainly need to be worked up by full time staff, with meaningful collaboration at each step. To work in ways that encourage and utilise community knowledge, creativity and enthusiasm will mean proper resourcing, not least for the kind of mass deliberative processes required to approach complex issues and decisions. Models of co-production in neighbourhood participation and decision making exist1, and we encourage further experimentation in different kinds of localities.

Other innovations that would support this change of direction include elected members holding open meetings at which they report back to citizens on their work, inviting challenge and alternative perspectives. They should be supported to do this by council staff. Moreover, the Localism Act (2011) has provision for communities to bring together Neighbourhood Fora and draw up neighbourhood plans2. Support should be given to enable these to happen in every locality.

9.2. Trust

This collaborative approach to the community requires a change in attitude based on trust.

Policy 9.21: Ease up on the official culture of surveillance and distrust, for example in relation to benefits. Enact this through training and clear instruction to, and monitoring of, public servants.

The thinking behind it:

If we want a society and economy that builds community, strengthening solidarity and mutual aid, without using that as an excuse to cut collective welfare arrangements via the State and its organs, then we need significant cultural change. One aspect is a change in attitude by the State and its agents, not least an easing up on the official culture of surveillance and distrust, for example in relation to benefits. What does it matter, particularly as the world of work itself changes, if people mix and match from a menu of benefits and cash transfers for services rendered? It makes little difference to public expenditure but can be a contribution to community economic resilience and prosperity.

9.3 Families and children

Policy 9.31: Provide affordable child care.

The thinking behind it:

This policy paper is not centrally concerned with social policy: that is a possible focus of further work3. But our concern with redistributive policies does raise the question of ways of helping those on low incomes. We have already mentioned guaranteed incomes and guaranteed jobs as possible options. Free or heavily subsidised child care is another option, particularly relevant to families with young children. Combining this imperative with the goal of building supportive communities leads to some innovative options, for example via cooperative arrangements that meld public funding with hours contributed by parents using the resource4. Such schemes would become more financially robust if working hours were to be reduced and if the local State could provide assistance, for example via cheap accommodation.

Policy 9.311: Protect remaining Sure Start provision.

The thinking behind it:

Sure Start, the programme to support young children and their families, aimed at “’giving children the best possible start in life’ through improvement of childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community development”5. The programme was found to be effective in improving both the developmental status and the home environments of young children6. Despite this, Sure Start provision has been under constant threat of cuts. If we are serious about affordable child care and redistribution going beyond incomes to include the generation of “human capital”, then this is an obvious area for protection and prioritisation, especially in the most deprived areas.

Policy 9.32: Provide or facilitate the provision of community centres and hubs with affordable room hire.

The thinking behind it:

Building resilient and supportive communities is not easy without a basic infrastructure. Many neighbourhoods lack common space for people to meet and to support a variety of activities from parent and toddler groups to rehearsal space for musicians. Key to enabling this to happen is a commitment to increasing common spaces (or ‘the commons’)7 Public services, including local government and schools can do more to make available such facilities, either by exploring multiple uses or by facilitating initiatives such as identifying under-utilised buildings as community assets, placing them on the council’s Register of Assets of Community Value and then working with community groups on ways of securing funding and designing effective ongoing management arrangements. Public services can crucially offer incubator space to help get social enterprises and community organisations going, testing viability before going it alone.

Conclusion

Our approach to policy formulation for the city region is distinctive in that we proceed from the ecological via the social and then to the economic. This reflects the fundamental nature of the ecosystem as the basis for human life: threats to its integrity are threats to human society, here and worldwide. Our approach then examines the economic as a support system for the kind of just and convivial society we envisage, with the economic systems constrained by the two goals of ecological safety (living within planetary limits and achieving social and economic justice). We do all this with an emphasis on the regional scale – that of the city-region (and its eco- or bio-region). We have drawn upon the contributions of other organisations and individuals, not all of whom start from the same place as us, but whose ideas are consistent with our eco-social-economic approach, sometimes without and sometimes with some adjustment.

The policy framework offered here does not pretend to cover everything – areas for elaboration and further work include social welfare, housing and health. And while we have explained the thinking behind the ideas, we have not given an exhaustive account of the theory and evidence underpinning the ideas. Much of this can be found in our other publications, available freely, along with other shorter pieces on our website which also has signposts to the work of others who share our general orientation.

We hope that the proposals here are helpful for a variety of people and organisations who share the aim of making Greater Manchester a better place. Please do use the material here – if you can acknowledge us, then so much the better.

Policies for the City Region

published by

Steady State Manchester

March, 2017

1Loeffle, E. (nd) Why Co-Production is an important topic for local Government. http://www.govint.org/fileadmin/user_upload/publications/coproduction_why_it_is_important.pdf

2DCLG. (2011). A plain English guide to the Localism Act. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/5959/1896534.pdf p.15

3Burton, M. (2014). Convivial Social Policy? Uncommontater. https://uncommontater.net/2014/10/12/convivial-social-policy/

4Coote, A. (2014). People, planet, power: towards a new social settlement. London: New Economics Foundation. http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/entry/people-planet-power-towards-a-new-social-settlement

5Sure Start (wikipedia entry – accessed 22/02/17) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sure_Start

6National Evaluation of Sure Start (NESS). (2011). The impact of Sure Start Local Programmes on five year olds and their families. http://www.ness.bbk.ac.uk/impact/documents/RB067.pdf

7Bingham-Hall, J. (n.d.). Future of Cities: Commoning and Collective Approaches to Urban Space. Theatrum Mundi. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/498858/future-of-cities-urban-commons.pdf

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