Will under represented communities be left behind by the Localism agenda, asks Dan Silver from One North West?
When asked if he had anything to add to the statement that this government is all about ‘localism, localism, localism’, Andrew Stunell, the race equality minister added: ‘localism’.
There seems to be a political consensus across all political parties around the aim of devolving powers to local areas. So, the fundamental questions we must ask ourselves over the coming years are: is localism open to all? And, how can we ensure the best possible outcomes for our communities?
One North West has been exploring this agenda since the elections last year. In theory, more localised service delivery will suit the Black and Minority Ethnic voluntary and community sector (BME VCS) as a vast range of organisations have been delivering to this ethos for years.
However, there are some major issues that have still not been addressed. The current framing of the localism agenda without consideration for equalities will be detrimental to the BME VCS and could very well lead to disadvantages for the communities we serve.
If more decisions are made locally without any safeguards, there is a real possibility that some communities that have historically been underrepresented and do not have a voice within decision making arenas (or even in terms of setting agendas) will be left out.
Therefore many people within our communities will not receive the public services that they need.
For instance, at a women-only consultation event in Lancashire, women we spoke to were very worried that a domestic violence service for BME women will not be seen as a local priority. This is in an area which there has been a significant BNP presence on the council.
Furthermore, the equality impact assessment process, used so effectively by Southall Black Sisters to challenge Ealing Council’s decision, has been removed as a specific duty of the Equality Act.
The very tools we have previously been able to use are being eroded and not replaced at a time when we need democratic accountability more than ever.
Further concerns exist around the shift away from grant funding and towards larger contracts, which will disproportionately impact on a BME VCS, which is often at a disadvantage in the contracting process. This means that the specialist services that can provide local, tailored solutions will be drowned out in a marketplace that includes huge corporations and large charities. These organisations are often better at writing tenders, but less experienced in delivering to marginalised, or as a friend of mine recently called them, ‘more expensive to reach’, communities.
The definition of community as neighbourhood will exclude many of our communities, especially Gypsy, Roma and Travellers.
This is indicative of a government that does not seem to have equalities considerations at its heart.
One North West have been lobbying around 5 key principles, which provide the beginnings of a social justice framework that is so urgently needed. This includes the need to:
- Listen, Value and Invest in the BME and BME women’s VCS
- Consider the most vulnerable communities in all policy decisions
- Ensure minimum standards of access and outcome
- Recognise the importance of grants
- Ensure equitable commissioning.
One North West and partners are developing pilot projects that develop these into practical actions. Furthermore, following discussions at the NW BME Policy Forum, we designed a research project that has been commissioned by the North West Infrastructure Partnership and delivered by the Centre of Local Economic Strategies and the Centre for Local Policy Studies.