Community Action

London Communities Commission Part One November 2017

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Since we last wrote to you in late August there have been a number of important developments in the London Communities Commission’s work. This bulletin brings you up to date and invites you to become involved.

By way of context, at its last meeting the Commission agreed its Mission statement:

To improve the lives, and life chances, of those in economic or social need in London’s most stressed communities – and to help those communities thrive. The London Communities Commission wants to achieve this in a fresh way – one that builds on existing best practice, that is community-led, ensures greater local control over the allocation and use of resources and includes the direct involvement of local people and community organisations in the delivery of change to their areas. This approach specifically aims to challenge and change the sense of powerlessness currently experienced by many communities.

Unlike most Commissions, which produce recommendations for others to execute, the LCC is continuing to work on some of the key issues, before handing on to others. Our past work has led us to understand that, in this age of austerity, a major new approach is needed to support stressed communities.  The question is – what form should this initiative take?

Our findings have led us to four simple but far-reaching conclusions.

1. Not all issues can realistically be addressed at once.  The Commission believes that a targeted approach, focussing (in the first instance) on a limited number of the most stressed areas in London is the best approach.  We call these areas Community Action Neighbourhoods (CANs) and we propose that 15 such areas across the city should be targeted initially.

2. Similarly, not all issues within those areas can be tackled at once.  Our evidence shows, time and again, that local communities know best what is most urgent and important to them.  We conclude that local communities should themselves therefore decide on their priorities – assisted, we believe, by community Anchor Organisations.

Criteria for Anchor Organisations in Community Action Areas LCC Anchors def download

3. Our evidence has also led us to understand that communities lie at the heart of solutions, not of problems.Therefore we conclude that communities should lead on delivery, by agreeing programmes to address their priorities (through cross-sector Joint Action Teams involving private, public and community interests) and, wherever possible, they should directly implement projects themselves.

4. Finally, it is obvious from our findings that all of this will only be possible if there is a significant new resource to fund relevant programmes in the Community Action Neighbourhoods as well as to release local leadership, social entrepreneurism and sustainability.  We believe that there is a key role here for the corporate sector – and our research shows that the sector is ready to welcome a new and strategic approach to social responsibility.

The Commission has developed its thinking on each of these four conclusions, as set out briefly below.  We are asking for feedback, and further involvement in developing the next phases.

1.  Priority Community Action Neighbourhoods -CANs

Earlier in the summer the Commission asked the GLA to help us to define London’s most stressed areas on the basis of four selected criteria: (bullets)

  • Index of Multiple Deprivation 2015
  • Numbers of Housing Benefit claimants (Feb 2017)
  • Age UK Loneliness Index (derived from 2011 Census)
  • Numbers of Pension Credit claimants (Nov 2016)

At its last meeting the Commission felt that the inclusion of two measures relating to older people was inappropriate and we agreed to ask the GLA to substitute one of those measures (the Loneliness Index) with one relating to Children in Low Income Families (2014). This has now been done (independently by the GLA Intelligence Unit) and the results are shown on the attached map.  It is proposed that the first 15 CANs will be based on the areas shown in orange and red on the accompanying map.  The precise boundaries will be drawn up on the basis of local knowledge and on further consultation.

We would welcome your comments on this draft list. Others to be consulted include London Councils, the Boroughs concerned, local CVS, Locality, Deputy Mayor for Communities (and officers), Big Lottery, NCVO, Others?

2.  Anchor organisations are key

Our Mission statement emphasises the need for the community and voluntary sector to be at the heart of change in their areas. The key to delivering on this is through the establishment of an Anchor Organisation in each of the CANs.  These could be an existing organisation that has the trust of local people, it could be a consortium of existing organisations that come together and agree a “first amongst equals” from their membership, or it could be that a new organisation would have to be built – accepting that this takes time. In order to help this process we agreed a “job description” for such Anchor Organisations. This is attached and, again, any comments on this would be very welcome. We are talking to Big Local and Locality about their experience in similar initiatives.

3.  Strategic priorities and Joint Action Boards

The Commission discussed the thorny issue of what priorities should be addressed in the programme overall. The issue of what priorities should be set “top-down”and what should be agreed “bottom-up” has bedevilled programmes around community development and action for decades.  Whilst there is no definitive “right” answer for all circumstances, we believe that a two-pronged approach will work best in the case of Community Action Neighbourhoods.  In essence, the proposal is for the Commission (and its successor body, see below) to define four “over-arching” strategic priorities for the programme as a whole. They should be couched in general terms, allowing for local flexibility in interpretation whilst ensuring overall strategic coherence.

Based on evidence collected and further consultation within the sector as well as preliminary discussions with the Deputy Mayor, and accepting that the programme cannot deliver major investment in housing, transport or social care infrastructure (but will need to engage in decision-making locally in these fields), the four strategic priorities are:

  • tackling poverty, including access to meaningful work,
  • improving health, 
  • tackling discrimination and promoting integration (incorporating isolation and social inclusion),
  • promoting greater local control over decision-making and implementation. 

Within each of these priorities there will be a focus on the particular needs of young people.  There will also be a fifth, but locally determined, priority – to address priority unmet local needs where they fall outside the four strategic priorities.

The concept is that within each CAN about 20% of annual programme money should be spent on each of the four strategic priorities – allowing for pragmatic flexibility – and the remaining 20% would be allocated by the Joint Action Team (JAT) to local priorities that fell outside the four strategic priorities.  The JAT would be a representative cross-sector Team, chaired by the Anchor Organisation, who would also be the Accountable Body for finance and governance purposes.  Within programme-design for each of the strategic priorities in their CAN, the JAT would invite projects to deliver on the four strategic priorities and agree those that best met their objectives. The programmes would be independently monitored and outcomes reported to the Commission’s successor body – the Trust, see Next Steps below.  Whilst the detail will need further consideration, we are asking for comments at this stage on the basic approach, which we believe resolves the need for strategic coherence alongside local flexibility and accountability.

4. Resources and the proposed role of the corporate sector

The Commission is well aware that the ambitious approach outlined above will not be achievable without considerable new resources.  The longstanding problems in these Neighbourhoods will not simply disappear overnight.  Equally, we do not believe that merely throwing money at the problems is the answer.

One of the most interesting findings from the evidence put to the Commission was that the corporate sector told us they were keen to refresh and expand their role in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility – but only if there was some strategic coherence to what they were being asked to do, together with appropriate accountability and monitoring processes. The Commission has started to explore a fresh and ambitious approach with the corporate sector.

Little further progress can be made on other issues (1 to 3 above) – other than the informal consultation proposed in this Bulletin – until this resourcing issue is resolved.  Otherwise false expectations may be raised.

Next Steps.

In general terms the financial model is expected to involve the creation of an endowed Trust and the Commission is exploring:

  • How resources might be transferred into such a Trust
  • What form such a Trust might take
  • The Trustee membership
  • Accountability, including the principles set out above.

We hope to report back on progress early in the New Year in a further Bulletin.  In the meantime we look forward to hearing your views on the proposals for Community Action Neighbourhoods, Anchor Organisations and Strategic Priorities

LCC November 2017