Thursday, July 03, 2008

Changing the rules of the game

As with many conferences, the most interesting time is generally spent at the fringe events picking up ideas and coming themes.

So yesterday lunchtime I attended a fascinating session on championing the green agenda. And in the afternoon, I went to a briefing on the Sustainable Communities Act 2007.

I have to confess, for a key piece of legislation, I was only dimly aware of its potential significance. A genuinely cross-party initiative, it "offers councils and communities an opportunity to put forward new thinking on how to meet the challenges of sustainability."

So what's all that about? Well, from October councils may use their citizens' panels to put forward ideas as to how services could be reformed and improved. This could be in relation to economic issues (the decline in retail diversity in the high street, for example), or to promote the social or environmental well-being of the area. Alongside the consultation, the Government will publish how public money (all public money) is spent across local areas - this is a ground-breaking initiative in itself.

The ideas for change might be on a local, regional or national level. I guess the closure of Post Offices would fit neatly here. An example given a yesterday's briefing was the management of railway stations, but it could also apply to almost anything - anywhere where local people feel their communities could be improved, including the transfer of functions from one organisation to another. In developing proposals, councils should have regard to a range of sustainability issues such as the local production of goods, local food, transport, energy use and so on.

Once all the ideas have been collected, they will be sent to the Local Government Association, which will prioritise them, and discuss them with the Secretary of State. And this will be very far from a black hole from which nothing will be heard again - the Secreatary of State is under a duty to assist. The successful proposals will then be implemented.

Councils don't have to participate in this process, but I very much hope that we in Darlington do. As well as listen to the Citizens' Panel, residents need to be involved from the start, perhaps through residents' associations, local community partnerships and parish councils. It's the start of a great debate from which local communities should emerge much stregthened.


Anonymous said...

Just who is on this "citizens" panel and how do they get on?
Pity you found out to late for the 5 postie's in Darlington!

Tipical new Labour spin, tell us of the good things you could do after the bad has already been done.

Ian H said...

Warm words again me-thinks.
TALK of "sustainable communities" is all well and good, but what of the reality?
Post Office closures
closure of village schools

All result in centralisation of key services, a million miles away from the concept of sustainable communities. This is not a direct dig at DBC alone, but at policies nationwide which say one thing and deliver something quite different.

Darlington Councillor said...

Actually, in a roundabout way I agree with you, anonymous 1# - I don't think anywhere near enough is known about the Citizens' Panel in Darlington or the work they do. It's something I'll return to in the near future.

Ian H - well, I think there's been a lot of scare-mongering tosh in some of the Labour-hating media regarding polyclinics, but we'll park that issue for another day.

The Act, however, is a genuine attenpt to reverse some of the centralisation that has taken place under both the main parties over the last 30 years. It was sponsored as a Private Members' Bill by Tory MP Nick Hurd. Most PMBs of course never get anywhere, so getting this on the Statute Book was a remarkable feat, and testimony that it enjoyed wide support across the Commons and beyond.

Can I ask you to suspend disbelief for a while and see whether the process works? - certainly all 3 main parties at the Local Government Association were committed to make it work, as was the Government. We should see the fruits of that consensus emerging in the autumn.

Anonymous said...

So what is the Citizens Panel and how do we put names forward to be on it.

I hope it is not the Residents Panel that was previously the Tenants Association.

We all need to know more about this subject, why it is being used as a consultative body instead of proper democracy. Can you get Democratic services to post on your blog and put an article in the Town Crier and Free Papers to show some more transparency on this please?