Cllr James Mallinder is the Cabinet Member for the Environment on East Suffolk Council
Can I make a difference? This is a question we should all ask ourselves. In a society where individuals seem to be disconnecting, and communities cracking, there is a growing movement that seems to be unnoticed.
In villages, towns, and communities across the UK, residents for many years have come together to fill the gaps of families, policymakers, and institutions, who are not able to offer answers and solutions. Society is changing and many institutions haven’t evolved. However, for the voluntary sector, the complete opposite is true. More and more people in the past couple of years have formed societies and communities dealing with real local problems – on such issues as housing, speeding, and loneliness. Communities and their volunteer groups are answering the call.
In dealing with the coronavirus, institutions talk in sweeping gestures and the mantra of ‘we are here to help’. But in the current situation, the key is getting the help to those that actually need it.
Without individuals coming together to help our neighbours, institutions would fail completely in assisting those that need our help most.
As a Conservative, helping others that are less fortunate is a deep-rooted belief. The core of why we are Conservative party members is to improve peoples lives, either individually or at a community level. It is these initiatives – with dedicated local councillors that make a difference. East Suffolk is the newest District Council in the UK and has embraced this mantra by implementing a number of community-led policies.
Each ward member is given an enabling communities budget of £7,500 per year. This is funded from the New Homes Bonus and allows ward members to discuss local issues with local people and really make sure the funds go to the areas in need, not just groups that shout the loudest. Funding has been granted to projects as diverse as a village defibrillator, painting the sports pavilion, or a speed gun for a neighbourhood watch scheme. This spending tends to be very locally based. So, as one of our flagship initiatives, the Leader of East Suffolk, Cllr Steve Gallant, developed Community partnerships. These have been established to bring solutions focused on local priorities.
During the consultation process of forming the new East Suffolk Council, concerns were expressed that 55 councillors would have to cover a larger geographical area and will therefore suffer disconnection from local residents. Therefore the district has been split into eight community partnerships based on natural grouping of communities. These new groups consist of the ward members, county councillor, Suffolk police representative, and the relevant clinical commission group and representatives from youth, business, and community groups.
To break down old formulaic methods of working, these community partnerships are informal bodies with a solution focused workshop style. Old working patterns do not necessarily give the right solutions, so it was important to look at new ways of working.
We focus on priorities identified at annual workshops and based on data and local insight. These community partnerships will then evolve organically to reflect local distinctiveness.
There are real funding opportunities to match conclusions with £25,000 per year for the next three years to be spent against agreed priorities. A strategic budget of £300,000 a year for the next three years will be available to invest in infrastructural works and groups can bid for a part of this larger pot.
Effective local Government only works when they take their lead from local residents. By empowering and sharing information through Community Partnerships, East Suffolk has become a strong institution and this, in turn, makes for agile politics. This is trickle up politics rather than trickle down.
Once we have returned to normal working conditions for a period of time, respect and belief in our politicians will be strong and we must focus this feeling. This good should be used to develop community-based politics and to reach out to those not normally engaged with the political system, particularly local government .
In dealing with coronavirus, suddenly local councillors are relevant, and they have provided a crucial lifeline to communities and residents. By developing similar instruments such as community partnerships, this goodwill can be focused towards where it is needed most, to make a real and lasting difference.