Yesterday our Chief Executive Geraldine Blake spoke at the TUC seminar on the Future of Civil Society, and tomorrow will be on a panel at the Guardian Public Services Summit. She is highlighting the potential problems a long hot summer in east London will bring if charities like Community Links are forced to close many of our services. Her article below featured on the Guardian website earlier this week.
Community Links has been working in east London for over 30 years. We know that with the right help at the right time, individuals, families, and neighbourhoods can tackle the issues they face, and overcome insurmountable challenges.
So we are pleased to see the belief in the potential of communities that underpins the localism agenda. We should now have an amazing opportunity to ramp up that potential – the ‘big society’, more support for volunteering and social enterprises, less direction nationally, more flexibility locally, the right to buy, the right to bid and fewer ring-fenced budgets.
Two years ago we opened a Community Hub on the Rokeby estate. A resident committee identify what is most needed and plan the programme, running many activities themselves (walking groups, cooking classes, a choir). The local police attribute a drop in crime and anti-social behaviour on the estate of 56% in the first year, to our work. It has stayed down – the big society in action.
Before we built the hub, we used to visit the estate regularly; our outreach youthwork team responds to hotspots, where young people are attracting nuisance complaints. They arrive in advance of the police, and engage the young people, diverting them to positive activity and acting as a translator between young people and the enforcement teams who will follow behind, ensuring that normal teenage behaviour is not criminalised, but also that young people understand the consequences of engaging in criminal activity. Not surprisingly, this also results in a drop in crime.
Both these projects result in savings to the public purse. However, both are at high risk of closing at the end of March. We all expected cuts, but the scale and speed is undermining the potential that localism could bring. We will close the doors of community centres and withdraw outreach teams at exactly the same time that local councils cut services and the local police lose numbers.
So imagine what a long hot summer is likely to bring. A rise in anti-social behaviour, fewer young people looking forward to college as the withdrawal of Education Maintenance Allowance bites, or a job as youth unemployment rockets.
There will be fewer summer activities to lift the sense of rising hopelessness that many will feel. Communities without the spaces and support to tackle anti-social behaviour themselves will rely more on the police; who will have had to cut community support officers, so it will be enforcement officers who arrive.
Young people risk being directed straight into the criminal justice system, where they will be influenced by other troubled young people rather than by positive role models.
This will result in higher costs for individuals, communities and the state for years to come.
The government believes that communities will fill the gaps. But for communities to be effective, they need to be the partner of the state and not the alternative.
Government thinks that social enterprises will spring up. But services for the most vulnerable will always rely on public funds and will simply never be self sustaining. The government hopes that business will step in. But the message so far from business is that they are already committed to the extent that they can be.
We’re working furiously to develop payment by results models and to demonstrate the value of investment in this work. But it takes time to redesign systems and the relationship between sectors – more than this government is allowing us.
In a year’s time, when the government inevitably announces a range of special programmes for failing communities (remember City Challenge?), let’s just hope some of the organisations who work so effectively in communities are still here to fix things.