Can you make the localism challenge?

Community empowerment is at the heart of the government’s Localism Bill. On the face of it, the community rights in the bill present a massive opportunity for older people to be more involved in the future of their neighbourhoods and local services. But when we were asked by Inside Housing whether it was realistic for older people in sheltered housing to use the community right to challenge to run warden services, unfortunately we had to say no.

The community right to challenge is designed for voluntary and community groups, charities, parish councils or local authority employees to submit an Express of Interest to run any local authority service. A local authority must consider and respond to this challenge. Then, if they accept the challenge, they will conduct a procurement process. This is part of the government’s ambition to encourage greater plurality in local service providers.

Greg Clark, Decentralisation Minister, had suggested the community right to challenge could be used for wardens services in response to a direct question about the provision of wardens from Adrian Saunders MP. In theory, Greg Clark is right. The problem is that in practice the rights are not going to be simple to use.

When we were considering whether sheltered housing residents could use the community right to challenge, I started setting out a number of questions they would have to answer and processes they go through. It quickly seemed that the likeliness of success was slim. You can see for yourself – below is a map  of the hurdles you would have to go through to get from conceiving the idea through to winning the tender to deliver. As it stands, there are going to have to be some dedicated people to get the community right to challenge to deliver its ambition.

The community rights are not a lost cause. Localism can and should be designed so that everyone has a chance to be involved.

As you can see from the community right to challenge map, if you were going to submit an expression of interest there are a range of skills needed. You are likely to need to know: how to set up a community organisation; do business planning; access capital or revenue funds; and engage with service users. And if you don’t have them already you need to know where to find them.

With this in mind we were pleased to see the Government amended the Bill during the House of Commons’ Report Stage to give the Secretary of State the power to provide communities with advice and assistance in relation to the Community Right to Buy and Community Right to Challenge. The question is what will this package of support look like? Can it meet all the demands that the process presents?

If the government wants localism to be inclusive, and to meet the needs of more vulnerable groups, they will need to develop these advice and assistance measures with a strong regard to equality. They need to ensure that the powers given by the Localism Bill are accessible to the whole community, including to disadvantaged areas and groups.

3 thoughts on “Can you make the localism challenge?”

  1. Dear Gemma

    There are three key points that scream out for comment in your article. Firstly, like most everything that government (whether local or central) gets involved in, the process seems like a triumph of process over outcome.

    Secondly, I can think of no better example of the Big Society working in practice than older people, who understand the needs of their fellow older people and really care about them, running warden services

    Thirdly, I find it more than a little patronising for you to assume that older people do not have the skills necessary to pitch for, win and run a service such as this. I have spent over 35 years running successful businesses all of which were infinitely more complex than ensuring my fellow citizens are looked after properly.

    There are more than a few of us pensioners who are not sitting dutifully drooling in our easy access armchairs who could and would do a great deal more.

  2. Dear theretrospectiveentrepreneur,

    I agree there would be nothing better than older people running the services themselves. Unfortunately the overcomplicated process, plus the spending cuts which are likely to be effecting wardens services, mean there is not a level playing field. We want to see more people having the opportunity to have a greater say in the services they experience. However, without some clear support I would have thought new entrants into the market are unlikely.


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