Matthew West, Policy Advisor at the Department for Communities and Local Government, will take part in the 24th European Social Services Conference (20-22 June, The Hague) to discuss how UK local government reforms are empowering local communities. Ahead of his speech in The Hague, we feature the ‘Our Place’ programme, an initiative which is transforming the way local neighbourhoods plan and deliver services in the UK.

Community Empowerment

As part of its strategy to increase growth while dealing with budget cuts, the UK government has sought to prioritise local community development. As part of a push for more efficient and effective commissioning of local services, social enterprises have been at the forefront of the government’s efforts to maximise positive local social impact.

As Deputy Director for Big Society and Community Rights, Camilla Sheldon has taken the lead in the move to give communities more control of their neighbourhoods. Where previously central government would act, now power is being placed with individuals, professionals, communities and local institutions.

At present, this manifests itself in a variety of ways: through projects that promote community responsibility such as ‘Youth United’, celebrating good practice with the ‘Big Society Awards’ and via the pioneering ‘Our Place!’ programme which has introduced pilot Neighbourhood Community Budgets in one hundred neighbourhoods.

Our Place!

The Our Place programme has been designed to bring together local authorities, parish councils and voluntary community services. It supports communities and public service organisations to develop an operational plan and take control in their area to ensure that things work out in the best way for local people. These Our Place areas must develop an operational plan by March 2016 that details how a local service that has been prioritised by the community will be transformed.

One such pilot, is the deprived White City neighbourhood located adjacent to areas of significant wealth within the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. As part of the process of decentralising decision-making and public service delivery, significant changes have been made on the ground such as the creation of a new community led social enterprise, ‘The White City Enterprise’, which has been established to provide local services, local jobs and even a Parent Mentor Network. In the neighbourhood of 25,000 people there has been an increase in volunteering and more leverage of private funding and resources.

Going forward

Our Place’s ultimate objective is for co-design of services to be the norm and for volunteering to be firmly engrained as an effective means of improving life chances. This approach is making the case for devolution as an opportunity for local public services to review its relationship with citizens and other stakeholders, and as a result empower local communities. Should these innovative approaches have the desired effects, then one can expect the neighbourhood ‘revolution’ to continue in the UK.

Find out more about these initiatives employed by the UK government to empower local communities at our conference in The Hague.

To register please visit our dedicated website.

This article was written by Christian Fitzhugh (former ESN Conference Assistant).