Sustainable Community Strategies and Local Area Agreements might not set everyone’s (or anyone’s!) pulses racing but they are crucial to the successful delivery of local services. I have recently been involved in scrutinising Cambridgeshire’s Sustainable Community Strategy. All local authorities are now in the process of developing such strategies which will go on to inform the content of the new LAAs. They represent an excellent opportunity for us to mould the delivery of local services in ways which espouse Conservative values, particularly that of supporting family life.
What concerned me about our draft Strategy was its lack of a commitment to reducing the incidence of family breakdown by supporting families through the provision of appropriate services. Under the heading of ‘Strong Communities’ the Strategy contained a number of laudable aims such as reducing crime, ensuring all children have a sure start in life, and reducing harm caused by drug and alcohol abuse, but it was silent on families per se. I felt that the draft Strategy failed to grasp the fundamental point that strong families are at the heart of strong communities.
There is overwhelming independent evidence (much of it recently
reviewed in the excellent work done by the Centre for Social Justice)
that, for example, children living in lone parent households are more
likely to smoke, drink and take drugs; that they are twice as likely to
have mental health problems than those living with married or
cohabiting parents; and that they are at far greater risk of being in
poverty than those in two-parent homes. Whilst family breakdown does
not necessarily cause these things, there is a clear relationship
between them. More preventative work should be done to support certain
families before problems start to arise.
I am pleased to report that Cambridgeshire’s Strategy has been
approved with the commitment to supporting families included as a
separate priority. I would urge councillors currently going through a
similar process to do what they can to ensure that their area’s
Strategy includes an unambiguous commitment to supporting families and
reducing the incidence of family breakdown.