The repeal of the ‘Duty to Involve’ – a localist case for retention?

We have previously blogged about the current Communities and Local Government (CLG) Department consultation on the repeal of the Duty to Involve, which closes today – 14 June.

There has been considerable debate over retention of the Duty with respected engagement consultant Davy Jones arguing strongly for retention here and here whilst Edward Anderson of Involve has blogged about whether abolition would be such a bad thing or whether instead the Government might perhaps retain some element of it.

In the TCC submission to the consultation, we have sought to go along with Edward Anderson’s latter blog arguing for a very localised general duty, but making it clear the detail is a matter for local debate because from our experience, communities vastly differ and one cannot proscribe the level or type of involvement. In order not to repeat what we said in our earlier blog, – which is worth reading prior to this – extracts of our submission are below:

The values of people are likely to mean they some people are more motivated to take a more active approach to change things, whilst some see then more as a defensive right to be exercised only to save an existing facility. In other communities fatalism will exist that precludes even that and might challenge even a trained community organiser to make a difference. Indeed community organiser style approaches may appeal specifically in certain communities – especially newer more dynamic “get on in life” ones – where certain values are stronger. However, compared to the past we can now utilise newer forms of segmentation to measure the impact and likely outcomes of…a “Rights based approach” and who is more likely to respond to it.

If these rights are to be effective across all communities, they will certainly need to be communicated effectively, with the right messages to the right audiences, utilising the right medium as well as measures to strengthen social networks and increase local social capital in those communities that have lower social capital and less resilience….However the danger at this stage is that Local Government might not have the inclination to do this, whilst the voluntary sector may not yet have the experience or resources until the Big Society Bank is fully operating.

In order to avoid the sort of adverse media coverage that came with the initial promotion of the Big Society at a time of voluntary sector grant reductions at the local level, CLG might want to frame the debate differently at a national level on this issue as well as localising the framing of the involvement agenda locally.

A way forward

Thus there might be a case for elements of the Duty to Involve to be retained…This could comprise the following:

  • A minimum standard localised “duty to involve” that makes it very clear that the exact nature of that involvement down to each local authority to publicly define dependent on the communities they serve. In the same way that the number of libraries and heritage facilities varies by each local authority or the number of parking spaces and parking charges vary – even though all local authorities provide both services – the requirements for local involvement could also vary depending on the values of that community and the subsequent choices made by its own elected representatives. The challenges in a mainly retired rural community with Parish Councils is very different to a west London borough with a busy working population with very little free time or a relatively deprived small mono-cultural Northern town or even a large urban area with a range of new communities with strong links within each community, but poor links outside them. There can be no ‘one-size fits all’ involvement – as the values of people mean they respond very differently to it – even if the broad concept of ‘public involvement’ is accepted as a good thing with the Cabinet Office promoting it through the Big Society programme and subsequently likely to measure it through the new national indicators of well-being.
  • The ‘local duty to involve’ statement should be published accessibly online, in the same way senior pay and local expenditure over £500 is, as part of the new transparency regime so its community can see the Council’s own commitments and can compare them. If it then wants to change them, that would be up to its own community. The CLG would make it clear that its role is only to ensure the statement is published, but that the content is very much a localised matter.
  • That best practice is celebrated by CLG, rather than imposed, as part of its localism agenda. If the CLG can laudably announce which county flag it is flying regularly it could draw to the attention to good practice in this field too.

The above three points would be light touch and fulfil the localism agenda. Leaving it to Council’s, accountable to their own communities to decide how local involvement develops as well as avoiding any change leading to potential gaps in public involvement in the communities that may actually need it most.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

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