Lord Roy Kennedy of Southwark is a Labour and Cooperative peer and shadow minister of communities, housing and local government. He is also a Lewisham councillor.
Not everyone wants to devolve decision making, maybe they see it as too difficult, or they have a very clear view of what a community should accept and nothing is going to change their mind.
Maybe sometimes people struggle with the concept: that by devolving decision making you can actually deliver the policy objectives you are seeking to achieve in a quicker and more consensual way.
The Fabian Society report Powerful People Powerful Places sets out to demonstrate how good local community engagement can unleash the power of the local resident who is aware of their community and the issues it faces but is not an activist attending meetings, or writing letters to the local paper. These local residents are informed and concerned but are also busy living their lives, like we all do looking after family members, earning a living, getting the shopping and struggling with the transport system and the local traffic. They love the area they live in and would and could engage to make it better.
Both as a shadow minister in the House of Lords and a local councillor I have engaged with local communities and seen the positive effects when consultation and devolution is done well.
Though I have also observed poor consultation that does nothing to enhance the policy agenda at hand.
The example of the consultation exercises run by the Conservative government on the creation of combined authorities are a prime example of how not to do it.
They have been late, rushed, made not one jot of difference to the policy obsession in central government that a metro mayor is the one size fits all solution for everyone and if you don’t accept it then you will not get certain powers that another place has because they accepted this solution.
As a local councillor I have seen examples of good community engagement and will just mention two briefly. Firstly Network Rail gave permission to residents to establish an allotment on the land next to a local railway station. There is no pressure from anyone to be involved but the land has been cleaned up, is cared for and a pleasant community space has been created.
Secondly, the friends of local open space have engaged with the local authority, meetings are held if you want to go. But you are just as welcome tending to the trees or taking part in the community bulb planting sessions, which has attracted families with young children. The involvement of the local residents has also ensured any short coming by the contractor are brought to the attention of the local authority quickly.
These are two examples of engaging people well beyond the traditional activist base and involving residents who are aware and want to help improve their community. People have permission to be involved as much or as little as they want and the difference that is made is there for all to see.
So the challenge for the Labour party is how do we in local government put this into practice, with local councillors as the champions of community engagement ensuring that opportunities for residents to be more engaged locally are developed and supported in times of budget cuts and financial pressures which risks best practice in consultation and engagement.
Also as we seek to return to national government in the UK how do we plan to imbed proper consultation, under taken in a meaningful, across the piste way that helps shape policy outcomes and encourages the transformative effect on communities of being listened to and taking local action to improve the communities we live in.
Join shadow DGLC minister, Lord Kennedy to discuss environmental activism at 7pm tonight, Holiday Inn – Brighton Seafront.