Reframing Citizen Relationships with the Public Sector in a Time of Austerity: Community Empowerment in England and Scotland

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

This project will examine the Scottish and UK public sector's approach to community empowerment and its impact on fostering citizen-state relationships in a time of austerity. Launching its 'Big Society Agenda', the UK Coalition Government has introduced the 'Localism Bill',which it argues is, aimed at reversing decades of central governemnt control. The Bill is targeted at stregthening local democracy by giving more power and freedom to councils and neighbourhoods while also reforming the planning system in favour of local communities.

Although introduced by a government formally elected by UK citizens, it must be recognized that the territorial jurisdiction of the Localism Bill is restricted to England rather than the UK per se. Indeed, post devolution, there are early signs that Scotland may be offering a different version of 'localism'. This is evident from the Scottish Government's continuing support for the joint Community Empowerment statement of 2007. There is also a strong contrast between the introduction in Scotland of Community Planning Partnerships designed to meet objectives agreed with the Scottish Government and the more market-led 'neighbourhood planning' reforms being promoted in the Localism Bill. Consequently, the trajectory and composition of public sector cuts is likely to be very different in England and Scotland (and, indeed, in different parts of England), leading to very different pressures on the quality of life of citizens and quality of public services for users in different places.

This appears to offer the possibility of quite different roles for the state in relation to 'localism' and community empowerment between England and Scotland. Our project is thereby concerned to critically investigate these emerging trends and undertake a comparative analysis of the approach to community empowerment by the public sector in Scotland and England.

In order to explore critically how the differing policy stances of the Scottish and UK public sectors to state-citizen relations are being rolled out in a period of austerity the project aims to develop a three way dialogue between academics, policy makers and third sector representatives via the forum of two events: a) A practitioner workshop to explore the routes by which community empowerment measures are being rolled out in public services in practice, and b) a policy symposium hosting an Anglo-Scottish conversation debating the mechanisms through which the role of the state in relation to community empowerment is being changed in light of the 'Big Society' agenda in England and the Community Empowerment Bill in Scotland.

The outputs form the project will be designed to both inform current policy debates and to influence the evolution of policy and practice. The workshop publication will be an IPPRNorth edited collection of papers addressing the project theme of community empowerment in a time of austerity and will be written specifically for a policy and practitioner audience. We also envisage that the findings from the workshop publication will directly feed into the drafting of the Scottish government's 'community empowerment and renewal' bill. In order to initiate an Anglo-Scottish conversation in relation to community empowerment we will establish an 'Action research and learning network' hosted on a dedicated website with links to the project publications, workshop and symposium presentations and blog entries/podcasts/stories from front line community workers and staff about the emerging impact of the changing landscape around community empowerment funding. The output from the symposium will be a pamphlet written for use by community practitioners. In addition to presenting the key ideas and findings from the two events, it will also outline the main implications of the austerity measures for the third sector and identify strategies for dealing with them by outlining existing community empowerment and participation diagnostic tools.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries will include community organisations and associated umbrella groups, policy-makers and opinion-formers in local government in England and Scotland and in the Scottish and UK governments and public services.

The two events involving external stakeholders and the outputs from them will be designed to both inform current policy debates and to influence the evolution of policy and practice.

In particular, the practitioner workshop and associated publication will be designed by the research team to fit into current practitioner training programmes undertaken and supported by the key stakeholders, building on the dialogue initiated at the workshop. They have to potential to influence the content of training programmes offered by the project partners and stakeholders. The workshop publication will be an IPPRNorth-edited collection of papers addressing the project theme of community empowerment in a time of austerity and will be written specifically for a policy and practitioner audience. It will be hosted on IPPR's website which has over a million visitors each year and generates around 300,000 reports downloads. Our publication will be disseminated through their email newsletter which is received by over 35,000 policymakers, politicians, local government officials, voluntary and community sector organisations, businesses and trades unions across the UK and further afield. We also envisage that the findings from the workshop publication will have the potential to directly feed into the drafting of the Scottish government's Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill. This expectation is supported by the letters of interest and support we have received from the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and the Scottish Urban and Regeneration Forum (SURF).

The project also aims to develop a three-way dialogue on community empowerment between academics (existing award holders), other social policy researchers (IPPRNorth) and umbrella organisations such as the Local Government Association (LGA), Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC), Scottish Community Alliance (SCA), Catalyst Stockton upon Tees, Citizen's UK, SCVO and SURF. In order to initiate an Anglo-Scottish conversation in relation to community empowerment we will establish an 'Action Research and Learning Network' hosted on a dedicated website with links to the project publications, workshop and symposium presentations and blog entries/podcasts/stories from front line community workers and staff about the emerging impact of the changing landscape around community empowerment funding. This Network has the potential to influence the policies, programmes and strategies adopted by participating organisations through the sharing of knowledge, insights and expertise and the enabling of collaboration and cooperation in support of common goals.

The policy symposium and associated publication will be designed to bring together national and local policy makers from Scotland and England to both challenge and suggest new directions to the current governmental programmes in Scotland (the enactment and implementation of the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill) and England (pursuit of the 'Big Society' agenda). The output from the symposium will be a pamphlet titled 'Localism and community empowerment in a time of austerity: A guide for practitioners' presenting the key ideas and findings from the two events on the changing nature of citizen-state relationships. This will be written for use by community practitioners and will outline the main implications of the austerity measures and identify strategies for dealing with them by outlining existing community empowerment and participation diagnostic tools. This output will have the potential to influence the strategies and programmes of community organisations.

Publications


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Description This project aimed to investigate how the differing policy stances of the Scottish and UK public sectors to state-citizen relations are being rolled out in a period of austerity. More specifically we examined the mechanisms through which the role of the state in relation to community empowerment is being changed in light of the 'Big Society' agenda (including the Localism Act 2011) in England and preparations for the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill in Scotland. To achieve this we actively engaged stakeholders and community organisations in debates around co-production and community empowerment through:
• a practitioner workshop involving grassroots organisations and community workers from the North East of England and Scotland;
• a policy symposium with key stakeholders to draw practical and policy lessons from the similarities and differences between England and Scotland in relation to community empowerment; and
• a virtual 'Community Learning and Research Network' of key stakeholders and third sector organisations.
The findings from the workshop and symposium activity reveal a shared sense of anxiety about the likely impact of funding cuts on the future of public services among the representatives of third sector organisations from both Scotland and England, although significant cuts had yet to take effect, particularly in Scotland.
Exploitation Route The project examined the different approaches to community empowerment in Scotland and England through an engagement with community practitioners from the voluntary and third sector and representatives of local government. Practitioners identified a number of differences between Scotland and England in approaches to community empowerment, arising from contrasting histories, institutional arrangements, political traditions and modes of policy making. However, a majority agreed that there are more similarities than differences between the two nations, particularly in the current context of fiscal austerity. Participants identified a number of key questions for future research, a follows:
• How can the voluntary and community sector become a route for imagining creative solutions to the impact of austerity?
• How can we create new forms of ownership of public assets that build on existing community relationships?
• How can community empowerment be harnessed in creative ways to further co-production in public services delivery without necessarily resorting to marketization?
• What role does employment play in community empowerment and what are the implications for the voluntary and community sector?
• What are the 'triggers' or 'tipping points' that enable sustainable community empowerment and how can they be supported?
• How can participatory action research be used to address these questions?
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice
URL http://dro.dur.ac.uk/11999/
 
Description Based on the research the research team made a comprehensive submission to the Scottish Government's consultation on the Community Empowerment Bill, which became the Community Empowerment Act 2015.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services
 
Description Policy symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This event brought together the award holders, invited policymakers from Scotland and England and representatives from key stakeholder organisations. The stakeholders provided commentary on the academic perspectives and worked with us to develop an outline set of lessons emerging from the contrasting approaches north and south of the border.

Generated input into the Scottish Government's consultation on the Community Empowerment Bill.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL https://www.dur.ac.uk/geography/communityempowerment/edinburgh_symposium/
 
Description Practitioner workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The workshop disseminated and shared the findings from our research in relation to the different policy directions affecting citizen-state relationships in Scotland and England. Invited grassroots practitioners from Scotland and England provided short case studies on how current community empowerment and co-production initiatives are being rolled out and give their insights on the academic evidence we presented on the effects of these differing approaches in terms of quality of public services and community outcomes.

Established network of organisations and practitioners for the next phase of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL https://www.dur.ac.uk/geography/communityempowerment/newcastle_workshop/