Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Involving local people in delivering local services A few months ago I was talking to some senior people in local government and asked them what they and their citizens co-produced: not 'what service do you provide?' but what is it that results from the combination of that service and the involvement of local people? Yup, I got the quizzical silence I should have expected. Well I don't have the right kind of robust optimism, but the people at nef do. Here's Josh-Ryan Collins in yesterday's Guardian finding a silver lining in the polluting combination of the recession and new labour's approach to the public sector as a competitive market. He offers four examples of how authorities are beginning to support service models of co-production 'that deliver mutliple benefits in the short term, and build future resilience.' Such examples suggest 'how public bodies can create real value for people over time, instead of ruthlessly pursuing the shortsighted goals of bigger-is-better and more-for-less... These models acknowledge the importance of spending public money in ways that deliver social, environmental and economic benefits, assessing performance according to this "triple bottom line"... The challenge now is to turn the exception into the rule, moving beyond discredited market solutions to strengthen communities and economies, to build resilience locally, and to promote sustainable wellbeing.' Meanwhile, eslewhere in the Guardian, David Clements takes a rather clumsy pot-shot at the government's 'communities' agenda. He's right to be concerned at 'the notion that democracy can be imposed by diktat', but I'd offer a couple of reflections: (a) the sustainable communities bill was sponsored by a Tory MP, Nick Hurd, which might at least suggest broader recognition that the involvement of local people in the decision-making processes that affect them is long overdue; and (b) there may be a lot of bad practice in community engagement but that does not invalidate the principle. We need to improve practice urgently before more cynicism spreads. Previously: The public sector is in crisis.

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