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Levelling up our Communities – the paper Boris Johnson commissioned

November 3, 2020


Anybody interested in communities, citizens and their relationship with local systems must read Danny Kruger’s report “Levelling Up Our Communities” which came out in September. Danny is the conservative MP for Devizes – and has a track record of working in this area. I got to know him a bit because he was one of the people involved in the development of “A better way” a couple of years ago.

His experience and the fact that he appears to have the ear of the Prime Minister means that this report is worth a read.

The report like the Teresa May Government’s Civil Society Strategy (Danny was one of the architects of this) is a mixed bag and like that strategy contains too many little actions, lacks a clear theory of change with little clarity about the end point, priority actions and timescale.

Danny is honest about some of some of the policy challenges and failures:

  • He recognises the scale of inequalities and the disproportionate effect that this has on communities and that ‘social safety nets that help people in crisis are fraying’.
  • He acknowledges the lack of traction of Cameron’s Big Society initiative
  • He notes the relative lack of success of the NHS Volunteering scheme to connect willing volunteers to meaningful activity.

If you would like to see positive if equivocal responses to this report there is a good summary here. While the report is full of ideas, I will focus on three areas that worry me –  Local Government, Sound bites for the PM and investment.

The lack of focus on local government fatally weakens this report

The most important enabler – Local Government is barely mentioned, yet the report recognises that some local authorities have led the way with place based approaches that foster community volunteering.

I strongly recommend reading the latest excellent paper from New Local (Think Big Act Small) which does a good job recognising the crucial role of local government.

In fairness I suspect that Kruger has not focused on local government because of plans for a White Paper on the future of Local Government. Nonetheless, this absence sits uneasily with his suggestion of a Community Power Act which aims to ‘affirm the right of ordinary people to affect change in their neighbourhoods.

Recommendations the Prime Minister would like

There are some actions that I think will land well with a prime minister who likes big ideas and populist statements. Some of these include:

  • A ‘Neighbour Day’ bank holiday
  • Establishment of a ‘National Volunteer Reserve’
  • Creation of a ‘Volunteer Passport’
  • A Kickstart programme to pay young volunteers

All of these make nice headlines but I am not convinced that they are of strategic importance.

Where is the money?

The paper acknowledges the financial stress that the local voluntary and community sector have experienced. However the report feels constrained by an ideological view that the state should not be a long term or substantial funder of the voluntary and community sector. There is a contradiction here – given that the government has no ideological problem pumping large amounts of tax payers money into the private sector often with little scrutiny (See here, here, here). Further – local government (see earlier point) has a long tradition of funding the local voluntary and community sector through contracts and grant aid.

So, the report offers a patchwork of proposals which primarily see the government as an enabler not a funder – they include:

  • Selling off public sector assets – is this seriously a long term plan?
  • Persuading the wealthy to give more – good luck with that!
  • Using the National Fund to create a Community Recovery Fund – currentl value about £.5billion. However, this is still only half the size of the Health Foundation – which while big is very small in terms of the scale of the challenges faced.
  • Using dormant insurance accounts – value £2bn – is this really a long term funding source?
  • Encouraging the faith sector to raise more money through fundraising – with a promise that this will lead to closer collaboration with government. I did a double take with this one. First, I thought that Government’s role is to work with citizens anyway (although the faith based Trussell Trust may disagree); second, is the paper seriously proposing that if an interest group raises lots of money they will get more influence on government policy?

What Next

Credit to Danny Kruger for setting out his ideas – he does want to strengthen citizen activism and assets – and he sets out an approach informed by his own experience, values and analysis of what is possible.

I think that those of us who are concerned about this need to respond to the opportunity created by this report; build on his analysis but also offer up alternatives to some of his proposals – there is a better way!

What do you think?



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