Renewing neighbourhood democracy

This report from UK think tank Localis looks at how to create powerful communities.

The effects of lockdown and the massive strain placed on public services throughout 2020 have led to a renewed focus on local response, on the resilience and ingenuity displayed on a volunteer basis across the country. However, communities in England, particularly those in deprived areas, face a multitude of challenges to and restrictions upon their ability to take control of their own destiny. Weak and weakening social infrastructure, complex bureaucratic structures, poor connectivity and a history of ever-changing, overlapping initiatives all act as barriers to neighbourhood democracy. This is particularly problematic now, at a time where the ability for communities to act with autonomy at the hyperlocal level could not be more important. The pandemic has shone a light on how reliant we are on this social infrastructure locally, and now is the time for communities to be given control over it, as well as local services, and assets.

Decentralisation of power currently held in Westminster is key to both local government and local communities gaining more autonomy. Yet power is more than simply a function of the location of government decision-making – whether local or national. Undoubtedly, government policy must contain provisions that increase the autonomy and participation of communities. But it must also recognise the value that comes from community self-organisation as a good in itself. The promise of subsidiarity, or double devolution, as a mechanism for giving communities greater power and control over decision-making and resources, has been a promise much vaunted of but largely unfulfilled. There are exceptions, but on the whole, it has been regarded a faded new localist dawn at best. This failure to achieve devolutionary potential must be seen as a risk ahead of the forthcoming Local Recovery and Devolution White Paper. Renewing Neighbourhood Democracy – Creating Powerful Communities looks at initiatives to increase the power of communities and strengthen neighbourhood-level democracy. With a particular interest in post-pandemic reform to local governance structures in England, through the forthcoming Local Recovery and Devolution White Paper, and how these reforms can open up space for greater community power.

The report sets out recommendations which build on the recent ‘Levelling Up Our Communities’ report as well as other solutions proven effective in practice. Chief amongst them is the establishment of a Community Wealth Fund backed by central government, which particularly targets ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods across the country, strengthens local social infrastructure, and resources endeavours to empower communities in a manner which is participatory.

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