Sunday, 2 November 2014

Challenges Facing Croydon's Stronger Community Partnership

(C)all me old fashioned, but the very essence of why have an LSP 
should be debated as the first step to ensure what is in place 
is focused on outcomes for the People of Croydon.
-       Nathan Elvery, CEO, Croydon Council;
email to author 7 August
Tuesday 11 November sees the first meeting of the new Stronger Communities Partnership (SCP) Board of the Croydon Local Strategic Partnership. It will comprise 5 Councillors headed by the Cabinet Member for Safety and Justice as Chair (Mark Watson), the Council’s Chief Executive Nathan Elvery, the Borough Police Commander, the Chief Executives of Croydon Voluntary Action, BME Forum and Commitment (business sector)), 6 members of the Voluntary Sector Alliance, and representatives of faith(3) tenants and residents associations (4),  Safer Neighbourhood Boards (2), Youth Parliament (2), Youth Council (2), and the Chairs of SCP Sub-groups. The tenants and residents associations members will be chosen as at meeting on Monday 3 November.

The approach taken by the administration has been top-down. There was no series of consultation meetings to discuss the initiative. If the Croydon LSP is to be a genuine partnership then all sectoral groups should have been involved in deciding what is the best way to reform it, rather than tweaking existing, maybe inadequate mechanisms.
It will be interesting to see whether on 11 November the draft terms of reference will be amended and membership categories changed.

The fact the Chairs of sub-groups will be members of the Board suggests that they need not be members of other categories on the Board. It is not clear what these will be and how their memberships will be determined.

Croydon TUC has requested representation in its own right since its member trade union branches involve about 30,000 people in the Borough. The heritage organisations are not involved in their own right despite their importance in helping to safeguard the building environment that local communities value.

The role of the SCP Board is to oversee and co-ordinate the development of Croydon’s communities agenda by:

  • Setting the overarching vision and strategy for social cohesion in the borough.
  • Holding other partnership groups to account where their work has an impact on the communities agenda.
  • Oversight of the work of its sub-groups.

It will meet a minimum of four times a year and hold an annual conference; all of which a wider community audience can attend and take part in. 

There are a number of key issues that past experience with the way partnerships have operated need to be considered in the initial discussion on 11 November and worked on over the following months.

Workload. The workload on members will be very heavy since they have to be able to understand the work of the other sections of the LSP. This means that Nathan Elvery’s promise that reports are in plain English should be a top priority that must determine all reports written for all the partnership bodies.

Intellectual Approach. The members will have to develop an ability to think laterally, to develop an understanding of how different services and issues interact on each other, to think outside the box of their own particular sectoral interest so they take an overview, to develop a critical analytic approach and to develop the confidence to challenge what professionals, Councillors, Chief Executives and officers are telling them.

Equality of Status. It needs to be clear that even though they bring different levels of resources to the table, every sector is an equal partner. The Councillors, the Borough Commander and the Chief Executives must avoid seeking to dominate, and must work to encourage active participation by the representatives of each sector.

Representation of Umbrella Groups. The CVA, CBME, Croydon Commitment, the Youth Parliament and Council should be expected to demonstrate on a regular basis the work they have undertaken to encourage more organisations and individuals to become involved in their work, so they increase their representative nature. There are a considerable range of differences between their roles, the levels of funding, their organisational ability to do community development work. There can also be problems involved between such organisations and the many voluntary and community sector organisations which are not members of them.  

The Neighbourhood Perspective. If there is to be genuine and effective representation of all groups, especially listening to and taking account of community needs and views expressed at the neighbourhood level a major question has to be how can views of residents, businesses, local organisations and  service providers in each neighbourhood be taken into account. Neighbourhoods have a range of organisations including community and voluntary ones running activities and providing services, and faith groups. There is a strong case for the development of Neighbourhood Forums, and Neighbourhood Committees comprising the local ward Councillors and representatives of the range of organisations.

Unorganised Neighbourhoods. Many neighbourhoods are not represented by tenants residents and business groups. A major component of the Board’s work must be to develop a community development strategy to help the setting up of neighbourhood organisations delivered independently of any SCP member organisations.

Small Businesses. There may be a large number of small businesses in different areas which are not members of Croydon Commitment or but may be members of local business forums. Thought needs to be given to how these are able to participate.

Representation of SCP on other LSP Partnership bodies. How will it be represented across the other specialist partnerships and at the overall LSP level? The danger is that these will be dominated by the Council and the statutory agencies with no effective equal voice from communities.

Training. Partnership working is a very difficult and onerous responsibility of everyone concerned. It is too easy just to slip into each partner thinking in silo mentality ensuring they tick their own organisational boxes. Members need to spend time preparing for meetings. They need training in partnership working. This is not just the case with new people but also for those who have been involved in the past as a refresher on basic principles. The training also needs to focus on reducing the potential for misunderstandings between SCP members based on the use of specialist jargon, and of words which mean different things in different service/sector contexts. In particular the meaning of ‘neighbourhood’, ‘local’, and ‘community’ will differ. These need to be discussed so a common definition is agreed.

SCP Budget. If the representatives of the non-statutory bodies are to be convinced that the SCP is truly a partnership and not an off-shoot of and dominated by the Council, the SCP must have its own budget and employ its own support staff which are accountable collectively to the whole membership of the SCP. The job description of the SCP support staff should make it clear that their prime duties include:

·                     effective servicing to facilitate partnership working
·                     alerting the SCP to problems being created by any of the partners which could undermine the achievement of the strategy or undermine partnership working
·                     having a responsibility to facilitate effective involvement and equal status for the voluntary community, resident and faith sectors.

Members Support Resources. Those members of the SCP who are essentially volunteers and are not involved as part of their paid employment (like the CEOs) or allowances (Councillors), could find their involvement expensive. This could put some people off taking part. The SCP budget should include financial support to voluntary members for their travel, unpaid time off work, home computer and printing costs.   

Timing Of Meetings. The first SCP Board meeting starts at 5.30pm. This will mean that some voluntary members will have to leave work early. Unless meetings are held later then some people may be unable to put themselves forward to be representatives.

Mediation. There will be conflict between some SCP member organisations and sectors that will need to be mediated. Members will need to develop a mature approach to continue to work together on some matters while being in active disagreement on others. Public service provider members need to recognise that one of the functions of the community sectoral groups is to challenge what they are doing.

Background Note

As its Policy Development Officer  I advised British Association of Settlements & Social Action Centres members and others in 2001 and 2002 on the establishment of Local Strategic Partnerships and Community Empowerment Networks (CENs). I then did some work with the five CENs involvement in the economic development partnership on Tyne and Wear. I then assisted the working establishment of the CEN in Wandsworth including its first involvements at the LSP table. 

On 7 August I sent Nathan Elvery a note in which I said ‘My guess is that with the past history and changes of the LSP in Croydon and the change in  personnel it would be sensible to get back to first principles so everyone understands what LSPs are about and could achieve and the need for the VCS to be treated around the table even though it is not as well resourced as other partners and other partners find its diversity and numbers difficult to comprehend’

I drew attention to the Local Government Association’s guidance to LSPs and the engagement of the community and voluntary sector, which I was involved in drafting, Building effective LSPs ( (May 2001) and Learning from LSPs (March 2002). As I still have the second one in pdf format on my computer I provided Elvery with it, copied to Cllrs Newman and Watson and the CEO of CVA.

The pdf is available from me at

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