A Human Scale to Politics
As I mentioned, in the diagnosis of what was wrong with the way Kingston Council does business, neighbourhoods have become a defining part of the landscape of Democratic Kingston. When they began twenty years ago they were a real attempt to localise decision making and whilst they had initial success that has diminished as they too became more remote from the residents they serve. Today, they are sparsely attended and have drifted away from 'engagement' as their primary objective. Maybe we should not expect residents to turn up to meetings that involve arcane decisions that do not interest or affect them, but they maybe we have a duty to do more to engage and reach out and involve them in the community in which they live. Community leadership is therefore a key requisite if the neighbourhoods are to continue.
Neighbourhoods need some powers restored that were taken away and new methodologies for engagement and decision making. All neighbourhoods must develop a community plan and work with residents on community planning frameworks where there is demand.
What should the Neighbourhood cover?
Community engagement, empowerment and communications
Promoting the Neighbourhood as the place where people want to live, work, play and be educated, a place they are happy to call home.
Overseeing community engagement / consultation / feedback – Annual Community Engagement Plan
Identifying community priorities and creating a Community Plan
Act as advocates for the community (civic pride)
Encourage community self-help schemes/good neighbours/volunteering
Support the enabling, empowering and influencing by communities
Give the community a voice
Promote and engage the Voluntary Sector on community issues
Promote and engage local business well-being and support local economic regeneration
Communications - Promotions, advertising and social networking, better use of social media etc. newsletters – Communications Plan available to all.
Support local venues and services to deliver what residents need.
Receiving Neighbourhood service data to improve services.
Support local environmental issues
Undertake small highways schemes and represent their community on strategic highways issues
Take decisions on their green spaces and parks
Engage and help shape local health provision, campaigns and GP engagement
Culture - Arts, sports and play at a local level – Self-help.
Role Of Ward Councillors
For all this to happen we need to ensure that the role of a ward Councillor is given value and differentiated from the strategic decision making role of the Full Council. Ward Councillors need to:
Provide strong and effective community leadership
Encourage local residents to be engaged in local decision making
Understand the communities they represent
Build capacity and resilience in the communities
Putting the Community first and politics second
The Neighbourhood Community Committee should continue to oversee local spend, hold service areas to account and to support local communities to access and apply for external funding streams to benefit community initiatives.
However, when spending money they must be from budgets that are directly and solely in the control of the Neighbourhood. Where that is not the case Neighbourhoods should have those phantom budgets removed from their budgeting process. A good example of this is with regard to library budgets where they have no real role, even though the budgets are disaggregated into neighbourhoods. This would not prevent Neighbourhoods investing in libraries if they wish to. Neighbourhood budgets are not essential to Ward Councillors or Officers delivering their Community Leadership responsibilities and engaging with the community.
The Neighbourhood grants scheme will be replaced with a discretionary community grants scheme. Each Councillor will be allocated an amount that can be awarded to Community projects without resorting to proposals or outcomes. This will be used for small community projects and spent in consultation with Neighbourhood Managers under delegated powers. Councillors could pool their spending if they wish.
There are currently up to 9 neighbourhood meetings timetabled per year for each neighbourhood. The new format will require a different neighbourhood meeting format.
5 decision making meetings per year - when we can reduce this to 4 we will do so.
3 themed Community Forum meetings per year - when we can increase this to 4 we will do so
up to 2 street forums per year per ward
Resident led call-in of planning applications. Up to 10 units of accommodation, but 10 or more objections required, before it goes to neighbourhood. Where all three of the relevant ward Councillors wish to call in the application to the committee for decision they should be allowed to do so, citing the planning grounds for doing so.
Applications without 10 objectors will be decided under delegated powers in consultation with the Chairman, on advice from planning officers.
Traffic measures can be taken by neighbourhoods for single roads but not area wide issues. Any area wide schemes need to be proposed by the neighbourhoods to the relevant strategic committee for agreement, and after consultation with all relevant neighbourhood committees. In reality we may develop a process similar to that with LIP where projects of an area wide scheme can be proposed but agreement would need to be made by the new Residents committee.
Community Forums would provide the key focus for engagement, with high visibility of the Council in the community, and enable Ward Members to act as Community Champions. The new format would allow flexibility to identify solutions to local needs, working together with the community to resolve issues. They will be single issue focused and draw in experts in the areas in which the community wants to debate its future.
Young people will need to be involved and this may be better addressed as a separate initiative that could have two way communications with the Community Forums, such as a young person’s panel with maximised use of social media. Young people should be asked how they want to have their say.
The Council and partner agencies could use the Community Forums to present their vision and aspirations that will have an impact in the local area and get face to face engagement through them. Community Forums can then create their action plan/policy to meet the locally identified vision, working together to create a better neighbourhood to work, visit and live.
Community Forums would be held three times a year and would be themed around one area of concern to local people at each meeting. It could be:
Parks and open spaces
Crime and Anti social behaviour
Planning e.g. back garden development or neighbourhood planning policy
Caring for the vulnerable
They will draw together Councillors with other community leaders who would sit on the panel. They would engage with:
Ward based street forums to be held up to twice a year in each ward. These forums would walk the ward, engaging with residents on the streets and identifying where there are issues of concern regarding their neighbourhood. Te forums would include both Councillors and officers of the neighbourhood team.
Neighbourhood officers will continue to present reports relating to their service areas and they will be accountable for engaging and supporting communities as and when appropriate. A greater emphasis will be placed on tailoring reports to the community - officers can be very laborious and formal in presentation style when the more simple and plain approach provides much clearer messages and greater understanding /opportunity for two-way conversations. Neighbourhoods will be consulted on strategic planning issues but other strategic issues will be dealt with by the committee structure in order to limit the cost of duplication.
The Neighbourhood Managers role will need to change and be expanded. It will focus on the Neighbourhood Community Committees and lead on delivering the engagement, empowerment, capacity building and communications responsibilities.
They will support Councillors to be Community Leaders and the localism ethos of helping communities to help themselves. Their role will be to work in partnership, influence and negotiate with service areas, partners and the community to deliver the outcomes. They will work with external partners such as the Police, Health and voluntary and business sectors with an expectation they will contribute to a higher level than currently experienced.
Neighbourhood Rangers will work with the Neighbourhood Managers acting as the first force when it comes to community actions.