Empowered and integrated communities
Successful communities are usually those in which people are actively engaged rather than passively present and where there are shared values and understanding between people - both within defined groups and between people from different backgrounds.
'The most valuable contribution though comes from us all as local citizens. Yes it is true that government - local and central - is essential to the mix of activity... ...However, it is through millions of small, everyday actions that we can all either improve or harm our local communities. Whilst the state and the third sector can assist, they cannot replace or second guess what we do as individuals... ...We are a country of many backgrounds and many talents, and to create tomorrow's future today we all need to commit to integration and cohesion being everyone's business.'
'Our Shared Future' Report of the Commission for Integration and Cohesion (2007)
Government is keen to unlock people's talents so that they are better able to contribute to their community and to its future prosperity. There are a number of elements that need to be in place for communities to be empowered, including:
- opportunities to be involved in the life of the community
- access to information about activities and decisions that are being taken
- opportunities for residents to articulate their views - and to have their voice heard
- opportunities for ownership and control
- influence over local spending
- opportunities to hold official positions of influence
- good arrangements to ensure accountability
- means of redress
The Empowerment White Paper 'Communities in Control' proposed some new measures to help to shift power, influence and responsibility into the hands of communities and individual citizens - including a duty on local government to involve and to respond to petitions, participatory budgeting, support to take ownership and control of assets and several new budgets available to communities. some of these issues have been included in the Localism Bill, as part of the current decentralisation agenda. More information on building the Big Society is available on the DCLG website.
The Commission for Integration and Cohesion report is highly relevant to the development of new communities. It promotes a drive towards stronger social networks and a sense of shared values between people within communities, something that needs to be a high priority for new developments if the people living there are going to feel a sense of belonging and ownership. It establishes a new definition of integration and cohesion.