A different approach was taken by John Stewart and Gerry Stoker (Professor and Lecturer Institute of Local Government Societies, Birmingham University) in the Fabian Research series pamphlet From Local Administration To Community Government. (No. 351. August 1988)
They ‘argue that local authorities have in most cases become agencies for the administration of a pre-determined pattern of services, often unresponsive to community need’. Their solution is ‘that a future government policy must be based on a wider conception of local authorities’ role as the basic unit of community government.’
They envisage local authorities ‘should be developed as units of community government which are not limited to pre-determined pattern of service but can:
· play a strategic role in enabling communities to meet the problems and needs they face;
· seek responsiveness in action within collective purpose;
· extend and develop an active local democracy.’ (p.1)
The major challenge to communities and local government is uncertainty. (p. 6)
As the welfare state was developed by Labour Governments, Labour’s ‘traditions of municipal socialism were forgotten’ and replaced by a ministerial model leaving little role for local authorities as institutions capable of political choice.’(p.8)
They argue that local authorities should:
· ‘become the expression of communities governing themselves.’
· ‘be seen as the basic unit of community government’.
· ensure that ‘local accountability through local democracy’ is strengthened.
They envisage local authorities are to be enablers, responsive to improve access to services, learning from the public, communicating with the public, ‘extending choice over the nature and the type of services provided’, ‘working with staff to provide a responsive service’, and ‘reviewing procedures to ensure they assist the provision of better services’ and accountable.’(pp. 16-7 & 21)
A new management agenda is needed to ‘provide a high capacity for community learning’, to ‘express political purpose in direction’, to ‘create space for responsiveness and involvement, diversity and choice’, to ‘monitor performance to learn’, and to ‘develop and involve staff.’(p. 19)
Stewart and Stoker ‘do not believe …that the present system of local representative democracy is adequate.’ (p.21)
‘Local accountability through local democracy is at its most effective where there is active citizenship. That is most likely to be achieved through the development of participatory democracy. (p.23) They cite as existing at the time the Neighbourhood forums in Islington and Middlesbrough’s ward community councils. They point to the danger of those attending being ‘unrepresentative’, which Islington addressed through guidelines and ‘a model constitution’. (p.23)
They set out what they consider to be the lessons ‘in developing participatory democracy’.
· ‘(L)ocal people must be given the time and opportunity to learn the skills of involvement in decision-making this may require training and community development support;
· (L)ocal people must be allowed to discuss issues which interest them and in which they are confident in their knowledge – the agenda must be set by local people;
· (T)he form of meetings – time, location and degree of formality – should suit the needs of local people rather than the norms of the local authority;
· (L)ocal parties and councillors will have to recognise the legitimacy of alternative bases of power within the community.’ (p. 24)
· ‘that our developing society needs an active form of community government, devolving and decentralising power. (p. 32)
Manifesto For Neighbourhoods
In 1988 the National Coalition of Neighbourhoods published its Manifesto for Neighbourhoods. It comprised 16 national voluntary organisations which believed ‘that the value and potential of neighbourhood activity within our society’ had not been fully recognised.
It argued that ‘Neighbourhood activity is the foundation of a pluralistic society; it provides a counterbalance to the concentration of power in large bureaucracies. It enables people to develop citizenship skills and is particularly important as a way of empowering disadvantaged neighbourhoods, enabling them to have more control over the decisions which directly affect them.’
It considered that to release the potential ‘central and local government and the private sector must create the conditions which enable neighbourhood groups to develop and operate effectively.’
It envisaged local authorities entering into partnerships with neighbourhood groups, decentralising services, improving consultation by promoting neighbourhood councils.
It wanted central and local government and the private sector to recognise ‘the value of local experience and the importance of involving people in decision-making’ and recognising neighbourhood development as ‘a long-term investment’.
The problem with this approach, however, is that it was very top-down, rather than a manifesto of building upwards. It fails to recognise that:
· central government had been centralising power and control over local authorities and community and voluntary sector funding, which has become worse since;
· that for many residents using local authority services their Council can make life very difficult for them. e.g. through housing management and social work.
· that the private sector is so diverse that it is impossible to obtain agreement about how they make changes in neighbourhoods with minimal consultation engagement even on medium and large planning applications.