The Community Rights programme empowers local communities to take on a direct stake in their local environment. Local organisations can bid to win contracts to provide public services; take over ownership of local assets; commission much needed local buildings and influence future development by setting up a neighbourhood plan. By putting local people into the driving seat, local authorities can reduce their costs, share responsibilities with local communities and give people more of a voice. But legislation is only the first step. Next comes the doing – local communities have to mobilise themselves into democratic and well organised groups to be able to achieve their goals.
Community organisation is a challenging enterprise. To use these powers effectively groups will need to nominate leaders, draw up budgets, seek legal advice, hold meetings, share out tasks and make sure everyone is accountable. These are big asks for volunteers and whilst the impetus may be there, if the skills and knowledge are not present, then this will surely fail.
This problem is the root of the implementation gap – Parliament passes a law that creates tools, yet the workers may not choose to use them.
So how can the Government help? Some funding has been made available, online resources are prevalent and Locality has set up a helpline and online contact form. But it seems to me that all these resources will only help those who already have the skill sets to make this a success in the first place.
I believe community organisations will need the help of enthusiastic and informed professionals to succeed. Moreover these people need to live locally and be willing to offer their help for free. Perhaps the next step is to create an online open database of volunteers. A network of local people with the specialist skills – local government officers, lawyers, fund-raisers, media experts, planners, property developers, business people, etc. – who can mentor at the community level, and provide the technical expertise that is essential to closing the implementation gap.
Now we just need to find someone to manage it…