Localism in Beeston Hill and Holbeck?

I was at the grandly titled Beeston Hill & Holbeck Regeneration Partnership Board meeting last Friday. There was a thought-provoking discussion about how services can be provided at a local level, in a joined-up way, to meet local needs and priorities as defined by local people. It sounds easy, but to get from where we are to where we need to be is very, very difficult.

The Board is actually a very good body. It has been going for nearly ten years and brings together a lot of the agencies that work in our area: various parts of the Council – development, environmental health, education; the NHS; the Police; housing providers; voluntary sector organisations (I’m there representing Tiger11); and importantly it also includes local residents. Because it has been meeting for a long time, members are able to appreciate each others issues. For example a recent discussion about private sector housing raised the issue of how frequent moving can set back a child’s education. Or health professionals, discussing infant mortality, pointing out that the most effective interventions would be around youth work – raising teenagers’ self esteem and around reducing child poverty.

Here’s the problem. Lots of “public servants” work in the area. Once upon a time a police officer might notice flytipping or a lamppost being out, but wouldn’t think to report it. Things have improved, it will be reported now, but there might not be enough detail (a lamppost number for instance) for the council to deal with it without sending out another person to confirm the details before ordering the work. Then there are the litter-pickers some of whom work for Aire Valley Homes and some for the Council – but won’t cross the road to deal with litter that isn’t on “their” land. This isn’t to blame the staff – it’s the way the services are organised.

There is a better way – where all the staff in the area view any issue they come across as their responsibility. Not necessarily to deal with the issue, but makes sure those that can deal with it are aware of it. It’s hard to change that culture, but there is a lot of work going on now to try and make this change. Personally I think it’s easier if staff live in the area in which they work.

The next problem is involving local people. Again, it sounds easy but isn’t. Whether you hold a meeting or send out a questionnaire you will get a very small number of people responding and they will be mainly white and over 50. Why don’t other people reply? They might be too busy, they might not understand the question (especially if it’s full of jargon), they might not believe that their view will really be listened to.

There have been some very good consultations – using local people to ask the questions, or getting young people to video each other asking the questions. Then there’s new media – Facebook, Twitter and blogs – which are hardly used at all. The best consultations go to where people are: physically – at the school gate, in the barbers, outside the corner shop; linguistically – maybe in Lithuanian, or just in plain spoken English; psychologically – proving that you will listen and act to break down cynicism. I think the answer is to use many different methods and to think really hard what exactly you want to know from people and ask the questions really carefully.

I’m interested to know what you think.

  • How would you like to get involved?
  • Do you trust the Council, etc to listen?
  • Do your friends and family read blogs or use Facebook?
  • Do you discuss what you read on this blog?

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