Saturday, 05 February 2005

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Neighbourhoods charter proposals It's sometimes noted that local decision-making in the UK is maybe not as local as it might be, and various pressures on democracy and citizenship have brought the issue of neighbourhood governance to the surface. Today the ODPM has released two linked discussion papers of real significance for the future development of neighbourhoods, as part of a package of new proposals. The first, published jointly with the Home Office, is called Citizen engagement and public services: why neighbourhoods matter. Here we have the proposals for a Neighbourhoods Charter. However, the core of this paper is what are called (presumably for lack of a more striking term) 'neighbourhood arrangements,' and suggestions are based on five key principles (which I attempt to paraphrase): engagement with local councils making a genuine difference flexibility and responsiveness to local needs and circumstances consistency with local representative democracy dovetailing with other service providers... The idea is to create a flexible national framework for these arrangements, and the Charter would set out "what local people should expect, both in terms of outcomes... and in terms of control or influence over their neighbourhoods." The second paper is Vibrant local leadership. Here we have the proposals for strengthening the role of local councillors. At first glance this looks like a bold attempt to get to grips with those knotty problems of local representation. But still, I note that every one of the seven chapters includes the word 'leadership' (or 'leaders') in the title - as if we can just overlook the fact that this is often a problematic concept at local level. One might almost think it's there because this was what local government wanted to hear. IMHO, from a first skim through, the first of these documents is the most important and could be the basis of some very profound changes. It deserves close attention. A series of national and regional meetings is planned: more details here in due course. Main press releases are here and here.

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