September 6, 2021


Small Platoons - it's time to unleash the latent potential of our communities: Building stronger communities is a critical contributor to the success of local government (Matt Leach, September 6, 2021, Prospect)

Over the summer, as the UK public sector prepared for a spending review focused on levelling up the nation, the Biden administration pressed ahead with its own plans, a $1trillion infrastructure programme aimed at rebooting the post-COVID US economy. Included in those plans is $10bn of direct support to community-based organisations aimed at rebuilding the social infrastructure of its most deprived communities.

Explaining the decision to directly fund neighbourhood level social infrastructure in a recent seminar, Robin Keegan, the senior official in the Biden administration responsible for the plans explained that "good municipalities will welcome stronger communities capable of working with them to deliver change; badly performing municipalities desperately need the help that local communities can provide in turning things around".

Recently, Boris Johnson reiterated his commitment to support local government and give local council leaders "the tools to make things happen for their communities" as part of his evolving levelling up agenda. If it is serious about transforming the quality of life in local communities - particularly those that are deprived or otherwise 'left behind' - there needs to be a recognition in the UK as well that the most powerful tool of transformation locally is the community itself. 

The notion that we should trust communities with the resources and tools to improve their areas and deliver better outcomes for local people has gained some traction recently. Local Government think tank New Local has published some significant reports on what it calls a new "Community Paradigm" - in which both the design and delivery of key services might increasingly be shared between a reimagined enabling local state and increasingly empowered local communities. Some forty local authorities and city majors have signed up to the cross-sectoral Community Wealth Fund campaign, which seeks to commit up to £4bn of dormant assets to rebuild social infrastructure of left behind areas. And over the last 18 months, across the country, we've seen community based organisations effectively partnering with local government to help manage and mitigate the worst of the impacts of pandemic and lockdown at a neighbourhood level.

But trusting local people with power and resources, as a way of generating better outcomes is not a new concept. In fact, it is one that has a solid academic foundation. The Nobel-Prize-winning economist Eleonor Ostrom, and more recently the likes of Raghuram Rajan and Andy Haldane, have all made the case for focusing on building stronger communities as a key means of achieving better outcomes at a local level. Ostrom famously showed that, given the opportunity, communities have the skills and knowledge to successfully self-govern, whilst Rajan and Haldane have developed this thinking further, applying it to the various mechanisms and structures of power that exist today.

...the future isn't even national.  All the forces are centrifugal, not centripetal. 

Posted by at September 6, 2021 9:30 AM