Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Broken window of opportunity? Plenty of comment out there today about the Respect agenda. I chose to watch tv and GMTV's coverage was so poor - bizarrely calling on Anne Atkins in a blurry attempt to stir things up - that their editors really deserve a parenting order. The BBC, meanwhile, gave us an insightful visit to street level work in Manchester; and in the studio, Tristram Hunt again making more sense than most. Among the proposals: 'Local scrutiny committees,' which will have to examine problems flagged up by local people in "community calls to action." More parenting courses, with more agencies able to impose parenting orders on those parents who refuse to take up help when their children are "out of control." A "national parenting academy," to train social workers, clinical psychologists, community safety officers and youth justice workers about advising parents. Powers to close any property which is the focus for "persistent and serious nuisance." The first of these is the most interesting I think, in the way it continues the fragmentation and reconfiguring of local democracy. How will these committees relate to the structures of neighbourhood governance? And more importantly perhaps, is this going to increase the likelihood of potentially damaging divisions between the locally-engaged ('committee-people') and the disengaged ('not-a-busybody' or 'simply too-busy')? Anyway, this doesn't look like a package of draconian measures to me. The legal powers are not really the point. I think (hope) it's this government's way of giving momentum to what is essentially a civil society issue. As Hunt said, there are a whole lot of forces working in the other direction - decline of the family, decline of faiths, increased mobility, globalisation etc; and civil relations are a legitimate area for government influence in the face of that. What the government appears to be trying to do is to stimulate a campaign, and the Respect action plan has to be seen in the context of other approaches including Cleaner Safer Greener, and the Safer and Stronger Communities Fund. That said - 'Attending Parenting Classes' will become a label like ASBOs. Where's the improvement in social services and mental health services for the parents who are having difficulties? (Setting up something called a 'Parenting Academy' is simply asking for derision). And where's the provision for young people? The Youth Matters consultation should give some hooks on which to peg demands: but really, 'Give respect Get respect' was a gaping opportunity for the government to claim some kind of role in providing places for kids to go, increased services for parents, and even (we can always hope) "the development of community networks and local engagement." £50m may not be much for the Respect agenda but some of it would do nicely for a few youth centres and youth workers.

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