Thursday, 12 May 2011

The wrong issues?

Giving power to local communities results in visible environmental issues being tackled better but has less impact on the way less visible social issues are tackled. People like to influence things like ‘crime and grime’, and are able to express satisfaction when noticing that these things improve. People may simply be less aware (or even totally unaware) of, say, issues of abuse or health inequalities, and are much less likely either to campaign about them or be visibly effected by any improvements in them.

This was one of the things shared at the most recent Central Grimby Area Action Group which I’ve begun to attend on behalf of Freshney Forward. It comes from an analysis of the ‘path finder’ areas for the sort of ‘neighbourhood management’ in which our local authority is now engaged. I outlined the principles (and some of my reservations about this) on 10 January 2010: each Ward has a Councillor led open Forward group where local issues can be aired and, it is hoped, dealt with; each group of Wards has an Area Action Group attended by people senior enough in bodies like the local authority and the police to deal with the issues which haven’t been solved at Ward level and where a bigger policy-making picture can be formed.

At the first Area Action Group I attended I was a little discouraged to discover that most of those there were Councillors and officials - only three of us where normal Forward members. I was also discouraged that at this particular meeting so much time was given to issues which professionals wanted communicated ‘down’ (e.g. helping promote breast screening - only 68% take up locally as against 75% nationally) that they never reached the bit of the agenda where the professionals were meant to hear what the Forward want to communicate to them - which is exactly the opposite of what I thought the meetings were for.

But the feed back from the ‘path finder’ areas at the second meeting I attended did make me think twice. It seems that the flow of information ‘down’ (i.e. agencies telling us what the situation is locally) may be more important than I’d thought when I champion the idea of the flow of information ‘up’ (i.e. elected Councillors and Forward groups presenting concerns raised by locals). There is a dilemma here which is, of course, the one which lies at the heart of issues of democracy and professional service.

The face is a photograph is left over from our visit to Marshchapel church before Easter.

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