Drowning in the irony of it all
In summer of 2010 in an open letter from the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government firmly nailed the lid on the coffin for Government Offices. His letter declared that there is no such thing as regions, neither for planning nor any other purpose, and that there must be an end to what he described as "the command and control apparatus of England's over-centralised state".
Now, as we all channel ourselves towards the new language of localism I do still find it hard not to wince occasionally at the surging irony creeping up behind us.
Cabinet Office realised pretty quickly that real intelligence was pretty hard to gather from Whitehall without eyes and ears on the ground so we now have the ‘Big Society Outreach team’ making those links – co located with other remaining government outposts they continue to provide useful linkage to the centre at a scale designed for effectiveness and efficiency purposes.
BIS quickly followed suit but took the cunning approach of calling their outreach team ‘BIS Local’.
In contrast however some departments have taken a more radical approach to the problems of Government outreach and one which may be of distinct benefit to the VCS. DEFRA, for example, obtain much of their rural intelligence through the network of Rural Community Councils across the country, in a contract held nationally by ACRE.
Department of Health have also procured outreach by reinvesting in each of the nine regional VCS networks in a contract which guarantees reach into the sector, intelligence and information and the opportunity to firmly embed the VCS in developing local arrangements.
These are just some examples and there are more and all are welcome in the East Midlands – whichever the model we believe that national policy cannot be developed without robust local reach and informed perspectives. We are 100% committed to working with these outreach teams and services and continue to believe in the efficacy of doing some things at the regional level. (I am however intrigued by the latest rumour that CLG itself has appointed ‘Locality Managers’ to replace the intelligence they lost from the decline of the Government Offices……….)
So how is this new empowerment panning out in our communities? Well maybe we should look to the plight of residents in East Northamptonshire who recently campaigned against the approval of a site for storage and recycling of low level radioactive waste. In a poll of the first 11 affected villages in the Corby area an overwhelming 98% voted against the proposal which was also rejected unanimously by County Councillors. Were they empowered to affect the outcome – absolutely not. The decision was approved by the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP on the basis of ‘expert advice and assurances that it would not be harmful to the local community’
On the up side all is not lost – on browsing the CLG website I was heartened to see that they have invested our hard earned tax in developing a CLG guide on how to organise a street party. (I kid you not – see http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/communities/streetpartyguide )
I secretly hope that this will be followed shortly by a range of guides in the ‘how to be local’ series – titles could include ‘how to go to the local shop’, ‘how to collect your children from the local school’ ‘how to suck local eggs’ and ‘how to wipe you’re local ar……’; it could be a big hit
Unfortunately I am pretty certain that the last guide on ‘how to save your local day-care services from cuts’ will inevitably be delayed due to budget restrictions.
So as I throw a glance over my shoulder and catch sight of the irony tsunami surging towards us I conclude that it time to once again take to the higher ground for a while. I’ll take with me some paper and a pencil and make notes on how the VCS can continue to provide reach, intelligence and valuable insight to government, how we can work better with our dispersed government colleagues and finally whether One East Midlands is now sub-national, regional or just plain supra-local!!