Mike Crowhurst: Building on the work of the New Schools Network to boost leveling
Mike Crowhurst is a Director at Public First. He directs his leveling work.
Buried deep within its 305 pages, some of the most interesting proposals in the Leveling Up whitepaper were community-driven.
Guided by the influence of MPs like Danny Kruger and Neil O’Brien, the document recognized that leveling can only be achieved if communities themselves are given a greater role, and made a series of commitments on funding and new powers that could allow this.
For conservatives, the case for such a direct devolution of power should be obvious. We believe that society, rather than government, is best placed to solve problems and that people are at their best when they are trusted to make their own decisions.
We also know it works: evidence from decades of regeneration programs, under administrations of all colors, shows that they are more likely to succeed where local people play a leading role.
But as my colleague Rachel Wolf pointed out recently on ConservativeHome, there’s a big difference between coming up with the kind of ideas included in the White Paper and making sure they make a real difference for people across the country. .
As with much of the government’s upgrading agenda, when it comes to regeneration, the real challenge is not diagnosing the problem, or even proposing policy solutions, but implementing them.
This challenge is particularly acute for neighborhoods that have been most “left behind”, both economically and socially.
Concentrated in estates outside our post-industrial cities, and on our coasts, analyzes show that these places present both high levels of deprivation and a weak social fabric, with fewer opportunities for people to get involved. in community life.
Polls tell us that residents of these neighborhoods want to play a much bigger role in local decisions and lead change in their area. But lacking some of the necessary skills, time or experience to navigate bureaucracy, they often struggle to do so.
In short, there is a gap between how Whitehall wants these communities to engage in regeneration and their ability to do so.
And without further support, the government’s plans for Leveling Up, despite all their good intentions about empowering communities, risk missing out on these places, as so many other initiatives have in the past.
In response, a report published today by Public First explains how we can close this gap.
It draws directly from the experience of the New Schools Network charity – where I worked for five years – and the hundreds of free schools it helped create after 2010. A rare example of the promise of government to empower communities in practice.
More importantly, it is based on the views of those who themselves live and work in the neighborhoods left behind.
Our main proposal is the creation of a new organization – a network for communities – dedicated to helping communities organize and interact with national and local government.
It would offer the practical advice residents need to create a plan for change and put it into action – whether that means having a stronger voice in local development, taking ownership of a community facility or working together to tackle anti-social behavior. .
It would champion the great community work being done on the ground in different parts of the country, help others learn from it, and build civic pride.
And, crucially, although he would sit outside government, he would provide ministers with insight into how policies for communities actually work – championing the voices of ordinary men and women in Whitehall in a way that the function public is not configured to do .
The creation of this type of organization is only part of a larger change that we need to see in the government’s approach. Policy must go beyond the simple provision of funds or powers to consider how it ensures that they are used effectively.
Too often we see already thriving places and communities making the most of a new idea because they have the existing know-how and capacity to leverage it, cutting off the advantage while other places are even further behind.
It is now common for departments to earmark funds so that policies can be evaluated. Setting aside just a fraction of the available money for regeneration and using it for capacity building would be transformative.
Recognizing that different areas have different starting points and that some need additional support is not only a matter of fairness, but also of delivery. Building the capacity of neighborhoods left behind is the only way to ensure that upgrading has a lasting impact in these places.
I’ve had the good fortune to work at number ten and in government departments, but what I’m most proud of is playing a small part in helping people across the country get the new schools started that their community needed. In doing so, their energy and passion created a legacy that will last for decades. These proposals could achieve the same objective.