Latest Public Sector News

27.02.14

Transforming neighbourhoods

Source: Public Sector Executive Feb/Mar 2014

Our Place is the next stage of the government’s programme to encourage neighbourhoods to redesign their own public services and communities, building on the 2012/13 Neighbourhood Community Pilots. PSE heard more from
Deb Appleby, development manager at Locality, which is delivering the programme on behalf of DCLG. 

Successful neighbourhoods that bid for cash from the £4.3m support and grants package for Our Place are starting to hear the good news. Small ‘getting ready’ grants of £3,000 are being given to at least 160 areas between now and May, at which time there will be a competitive assessment and the number of places supported will be reduced to 120.

Those areas will get further grant funding and direct support to develop their operational plans, which must be submitted to DCLG by March 2015. 

Locality, a network of more than 700 community-led organisations and 200 associate partners formed in 2011 from the merger of Bassac and the Development Trusts Association, won last year’s DCLG tender to deliver Our Place. It also runs the ‘Supporting Communities in Neighbourhood Planning’ programme, and the My Community Rights advising service.

For Our Place, it is also working with the LGA, the Office for Public Management (OPM), Anthony Collins Solicitors and others.

Locality development manager Deb Appleby explained: “It’s a partnership led by ourselves bringing together a whole range of relevant organisations with a track record in this field.”

Following the programme launch in December, neighbourhoods have been applying for help since 20 January. As of 17 February, 451 areas have completed the eligibility checker, and 90 have completed applications.

The examples given of the sorts of local services that could be delivered are new after-school activities for children, linking elderly people to volunteer helpers, and working with business to offer more apprenticeships – but the possibilities are very wide. But the money cannot be spent on paying for volunteer time, capital items, or reimbursing already-incurred spending.

Up to 20 of the areas will be given specialist support for projects that ‘break new ground’. Appleby said: “We’ve got capacity built into the programme to support up to 20 organisations that are going that extra stage. My sense from the early applications is that a lot of applicants feel they’re breaking new ground, even if we or some of our partners might know of similar things being done elsewhere.”

The LGA calls Our Place “an important element of the drive to decentralise power from Whitehall to neighbourhoods and communities”, though notes there have been similar projects, including the Cabinet Office’s Local integrated services (LIS) and small area budgets, participatory budgeting, ‘Total neighbourhoods’, and the lottery-funded Big Local programme.

The DCLG ‘Research, Learning, Evaluation and Lessons’ document after the pilots suggested that the emphasis on pragmatic solutions may have “limited ambition” in the 12 areas, but offers useful tips for bidders now getting involved in Our Place. That document is very detailed – it is 92 pages long – but the DCLG and LGA have also produced a more user-friendly 16-page ‘prospectus’ describing the success of the pilots, particularly the ‘One Ilfracombe’ initiative, and the future under Our Place. There is also a useful ‘guidance for applicants’ document that can be found via the link at the end of this article.

Appleby described a recent meeting of all the delivery partners, saying: “We all agreed that this is just the next stage on quite a long journey. Communities are best-placed to solve their own problems. Our Place is about putting them in the driving seat, and the challenge that comes from Our Place is the challenge of devolving the resources and some of the decision-making to go with that, so that there’s more of a direct role for the communities in solving their own issues.

“The thing that binds all the areas together is that they want to make things better where they live.”

‘Neighbourhood’ is not a precisely defined-term, although there is an expectation that the minimum viable population for bidders would be about 1,000-1,500. Some bid areas have had populations of up to 50,000, however, and they have included parish councils and market towns, urban wards in major cities, and the community sector directly. As with the pilots, local authorities are expected to have a big role too – particularly those with progressive attitudes towards devolving budgets and power.

Appleby gave the example of North Dorset District Council, saying: “They have won awards for their model of partnership working, devolving services and leadership down to their market town partnerships for years. They would probably say that they’re already doing Our Place. There are local authorities already doing this, who do really understand what it’s about. There are others who are still on the journey.”

Driving change

Locality CEO Steve Wyler said: “At Locality, we believe the Our Place programme and joined-up approach to service delivery is best done at a local level where it’s easier to make connections and respond to individual circumstances. The pilot areas showed how engaging local residents and community groups was the critical first step in clarifying local priorities, coming up with a plan to tackle local problems. Our Place is an important initiative contributing to a wider cause – to place communities more in control of their own destinies – driving change.”

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