LSP take centre stage in building community cohesion
by Paul Gosling
Community cohesion is one of those challenges that cuts across the responsibilities of a wide range of public agencies – and beyond into the voluntary and private sectors. It is exactly the type of issue that local strategic partnerships were created to address.
Improvement and Development Agency associate director Ted Cantle – who is also chief executive of the Institute of Community Cohesion and a former chief executive of Nottingham City Council – regards the role of LSPs in improving community cohesion as “absolutely crucial”.
“No local authority can hope to do it on their own,” says Cantle. “They need the support of partners in other statutory sectors and in the private and voluntary sectors. They need to produce a coherent cohesion plan, which covers the community, not just the council. In most of the work we have done up and down the country, LSPs are engaged. Some are more engaged than others, of course. Community cohesion has been seen as more associated with particular areas and functions, so many people still see it focused on ethnicity and faith, when it actually covers a much wider area. Work on it tends to be focused on schools and other council services and we need to see it spread much more widely.”
Emma Jenkins, a policy consultant at the Local Government Association, agrees. “LSPs are clearly integral to delivering cohesion locally, which can only be achieved by partners working together – and LSPs bring those partners together. They can create a vision of cohesion locally and work with local people to deliver that vision from the start. In the future, LSPs will have a place shaping role in enabling people to engage with their neighbourhoods and communities. They are also a key funding stream. And they have been tasked with the delivery of performance indiactors.”
Helen Barry, partnership manager at Lancashire Partnership, reports that community cohesion is an increasingly important part of its work. “We are in the process of setting-up a People and Communities Theme Group,” she says. Part of its remit will be to look at community cohesion, but that is not its only remit. Part of this will be to look at achieving performance indicators.” Barry says that the new local area agreement performance framework can help to prioritise community cohesion. “It does depend on how the performance framework is interpreted, but it has the potential to raise the profile, if it is a target in the local area agreement – which it is in our case,” she explains.
Arun, in West Sussex, has one of highest levels of Eastern European workers in the UK, attracted to jobs in local horticulture, tourism and leisure. Jaqui Ball, head of strategy and partnership at Arun District Council, is certain that successes in integrating the new population have only been possible because the work was carried out through the LSP. “We are committed to a multi-agency approach and we are proud of the way we have tried to anticipate the issues and had plans in place and proud to do it on a shoestring,” she says.
While Arun is unhappy at what it sees as discrimination against predominantly rural areas in the funding of migrant populations, it has obtained money through the local area agreement for a new team of workers. The ‘engaging communities’ team began work this month, based in the offices of Council for Voluntary Services Arunwide, with modest additional funds from the CVS and from the Lloyds TSB Foundation. Much of the team’s work will be outreach-based, including going to mother and toddler groups and meeting local businesses.
Farmers and other local employers have engaged with Arun LSP on issues such as health and safety. But the conversations at LSP board level have mostly involved the public and voluntary sectors – the LSP chair is also the CVS chief executive. Ball reports a strong consensus, without resistance to addressing community cohesion issues.
A major influx of Eastern Europeans came after the district had formulated a sustainable community strategy in 2000. That report was called ‘Our Kind of Place’, reflecting the council’s long-standing approach to place-shaping, says Ball. Having done that work, the district was better able to respond to a wave of Portuguese immigrants, the experience from which provided a blueprint for supporting the Eastern Europeans.
“The issues facing new communities cover health, education, community safety, crime – a multitude of issues,” says Ball. “No one agency would have been able to deal with those effectively. Part of the work we did with the Portuguese and later with Eastern Europeans was to ask them what they felt about things. But if we had done this as a council, we would been saying, ‘no we don’t deal with this’, ‘no we don’t deal with this’. Here we have been able to address the range of issues and find solutions.”
Chief Inspector Brian Bracher of Sussex Police is a member of the Arun LSP and its community cohesion sub-group. He believes the LSP’s work on community cohesion has enabled the partners to operate more effectively. “We think it’s important this is not seen as single agency led,” he explains. “As we have had no additional resources, most of the work has been done by partners around the table providing time or small bits of funding, so the LSP has meant a group of partners working together.”
What is more, the joint work is having a continuing positive effect on the relationship between the police and Eastern Europeans, many of whom, suggests Bracher, did not trust the police. “If the police were seen to be doing all this on their own it would be far more difficult,” he says. “Other agencies have been in at the start and then we have come along.”
Shazia Hussain, chief executive of Tower Hamlets Partnership, says that its work on community cohesion simply could not have taken place if the council had acted on its own. “I don’t think we could have done anything like the work we have done,” she says. “Cohesion is a complicated issue. It doesn’t have clear targets against it. When you are living and working in a borough like Tower Hamlets – where 49% of the people are BME – we would not be able to bring the strategy together, to bring a targeted focus and delicateness on the issue, getting communities to live and work together. You could not do that as a single agency.
“Cohesion is absolutely central to our community plan. We wouldn’t think about health, education or events without thinking about cohesion. For example, violent extremism. The police would regard it as an enforcement issue. By working through partners we are saying it’s more complicated than that. We have already got data and are doing a mapping exercise, so we can do more targeted and effective work that doesn’t offend the community.”
What is more, says Hussain, the widespread community consultation that takes place before plans are drawn up gives legitimacy to the community planning and the work on community cohesion – informing the LAA performance indicators. “We want to celebrate diversity,” explains Hussain. Many of the community responses take a similarly positive approach to community cohesion. “A lot of the responses coming back were about people accepting their responsibilities and living next to people and getting on with them,” she says. “So we have indicators on that.”
The experience of Tower Hamlets adds another dimension to the challenge of community cohesion. Rather than being seen negatively as a means of combatting a threat, it can be regarded as an opportunity to bind society more closely together. If more LSPs can do this, their value will become even more widely recognised.