Public Sector Focus

28.08.17

Local solutions to local problems

Source: PSE Aug/Sept 2017

PSE’s Josh Mines reports from Public Sector Show 2017, where DCLG director general for local government and public services Jo Farrar (pictured) discussed the importance of localism in driving integration and sustainability in communities.

Localism is a topic that is hot on the agenda for the public sector. With vitally important negotiations starting on leaving the EU taking up a large chunk of central government’s time and energy, the impetus has been placed on local government to bring together communities to ensure residents are catered for and that services are specifically designed to suit their need.

In a speech from Jo Farrar, director general for local government and public services at the DCLG, it was clear that driving community and togetherness in local areas was at the heart of the department’s strategy for the next few years.

One of the only positives that can be taken from the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, as well as the Grenfell Fire tragedy, is that they showed community spirit is alive and well in England, Farrar stated in her introduction.

“One of the important things to say is that it’s really inspirational how the community comes together in events like these,” she explained. “So, when I talk about localism and coming together it’s really in that spirit – how we engage and help our communities to work with local government, central government and the third sector to deliver better outcomes for people.”

According to Farrar, a key component of community engagement is in integrating the different culture, languages and people within communities more smoothly. A key step towards doing this lies in easing problems that are posed by language barriers.

“As a department and as a government we have funded a lot of English language provision for people who come to live in the UK, and I don’t think it was always done in the best way,” the DCLG director general stated. “For a while we would just give money to people in higher education and encourage them to teach English, which worked for some people. But where it hasn’t worked is in helping us really engage with people who are hard to reach.”

Farrar explained that in 2011, a study revealed one issue in the way of engagement was that for many people, especially women, who struggled with their English, there was no clear access to learning facilities to aid them with improving their language and communication skills. 

“We’ve launched a £12m community-based English language fund,” Farrar noted. “We’re trying to give that money to people in communities to be able to develop courses in the way that helps the people they work with.”

But the heart of this sentiment should not just come from central government, she argued. “I met a really inspirational community leader who is setting up English language courses in their community centre and encouraging people not only to come together to learn English, but also to learn other skills that help them take part in the rest of society.

“As a result, it’s engaged a number of women who before weren’t accessing services. We have been trying to do a number of projects like that to help people get out into the community, build their confidence and interact with other people.”

Language is not the only obstacle towards smoother community integration. Targeting the needs of specific areas, especially those that have felt the negative impact of large-scale migration, is also essential. One way central government has been doing this is through the controlling migration fund, made available to local councils last year.

“We’ve seen such a wide range of projects that are tailored to local need, so we will be continuing with this fund,” she said. “We’re seeing the best of local government through these projects and seeing councils playing a part in their communities and bringing people together from the voluntary sector and education so they can deliver local services for local people.”

Farrar also called on authorities and the third sector to be “proactive” in running and leading the delivery of services. An example of this is in the delivery of the Troubled Families Programme (TFP).

“Any of you in local government probably would have been involved in funding given to local partners to deliver services for families struggling the most in society. We’ve been really impressed with the results of the TFP, and we are seeing increasingly a bigger involvement from the third sector,” she continued.

What’s important to all these programmes, and to localism generally, is ensuring that local government and its partners work together to come up with local solutions to local problems, and acting as the glue that makes communities resilient, adaptable and inclusive for all.

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