Sunday, 10 July 2011

Neighbourhood Management

I fear North East Lincolnshire’s Neighbourhood Management approach is in danger of unravelling.

The idea has been outlined here before. Each of fifteen Wards should have a Councillor-led open ‘Forward’ group. Here issues can be aired and, it is hoped, resolved, with the help of the Council and a whole range of other agencies from health providers to the Police. The Wards are grouped into five Areas each with an Area Action Group (AAG). This is attended by officials from the agencies (senior enough to have some clout) where the over all picture emerges and problems which cannot be resolved at Ward level are tackled. This should make the one North East Lincolnshire Council more accountable and responsive, and a better place. The tag has been ‘15-5-1'.

I’ve had queries about how truly representative the Forward groups are. I have no criticisms of those who turn up regularly to them and seek to contribute to the well being of their area. I merely observe how self selective we are. The situation at the Great Coates end of the Freshney Ward illustrates this. Just two residents have come to the last few meetings, and they have a real commitment to and handle on some of what needs to be done for the village, including substantial points of apparent disagreement with the Village Council. But no member of the Village Council comes, so none of those with a democratic role in the village nor anyone else from there hears or responds to, agrees or challenges what the two active residents say or want. There are many other such illustrations.

I’ve also had queries about how engaged the AAGs can be with the whole variety of the somewhat random and extensive Areas they serve, and a concern that there is very little representation at AAG level other than Councillors and officials. I have no criticism of those who go - I’ve now represented Freshney Forward at a couple of AAG meetings so have seen the commitment of those who attend and the detailed action plan which has been developed as a result. Now, quite suddenly, after a review which showed up just these sorts of concerns, this layer is simply being removed - things will be ‘15-1' rather than ‘15-5-1'. This may well be an over reaction as I don’t see the one Neighbourhood Management Board having the capacity to hold or engage in depth with everything emerging from fifteen Wards, but we shall see

And then I have foreboding about the Yarborough Ward (which covers the half of this parish not covered by the Freshney Ward). Several meetings were held last year (the first beginning with an introduction to the Neighbourhood Management approach) sponsored by the three Councillors all of whom happened to come from the same political party. Now, following the election of a new Councillor from a different party, suddenly invitations have just gone out to Ward meetings from two of the three Councillors with their political party named for the first time. I have contacted them to ask about this, and an initial reaction was to deny that last year’s meeting were part of Neighbourhood Management at all; we’ll have to see how this conversation develops, and I may be over reacting, but I have a bad feeling about this.

If Forwards don’t come to be seen as in some way fully representative of their Wards, if AAGs don’t exist in any form, and if some Ward Councillors go their own way independently of the Neighbourhood Management approach or of fellow Councillors of different political parties, then I could indeed see the whole thing unravelling.

Meanwhile, scaffolding has just gone up at the east end of the old nave of St Michael’s and work is just about to begin to remodel the valley gutter between the mediaeval and twentieth century parts of the church. Somehow things have got worse in the last few months, and a smell of damp and damage to the stone floor have become a real worry, so we very much hope will eliminate a recurring problem of water getting in.

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