There needs to be “radical thinking” about how communities are organised and the role that charities, the public sector and private sector should play in order to tackle the challenges facing communities, the Conservative Party Conference heard.
Nathan Yeowell, head of policy at the think tank NPC, was speaking at a fringe event at the conference in Birmingham on How can Conservatives deliver great places? where he reminded people that local authorities had been hit by funding cuts as a result of austerity, which has had a “huge effect on the voluntary sector”.
In many places charities are delivering services instead of the state, and the state has stepped back, he said. But this is leading communities into “worrying territory” because there are “some parts of the country where the social sector is not as robust” and the “private sector has never shown an interest”.
He said it is “time to have a conversation about how we organise places” and that “radical thinking” is needed.
Civil society, the state and the private sector need to “come together and work out how on earth places are going to look in the decade ahead,” he said.
Yeowell highlighted West London Zone as an example of this kind of partnership working in practice.
‘Get away from the idea of sectors’
Neil McInroy, chief executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, who was also speaking on the panel, described an “interdependency” between different sectors and said closer working was needed.
“We have got a problem in England that planning is underpowered,” he said, and there is too much focus on economic measures and not enough on “the other aspects”.
He also called on local authorities to recognise the “plurality” of organisations operating in the space and the “clunkiness” of the sector.
“We need to get away from the idea of sectors,” he added, “it is much more fluid than that.”
‘Understand when to get out of the way’
Speaking from the audience, Karl Wilding, director of public policy and volunteering at NCVO, urged the panel to use less jargon.
“A lot of this discussion leaves me cold,” he said. “It’s not language my parents would recognise - they would not talk about ‘shared outcomes’ but a pub where people know each other, or a running club.”
He said in a lot of cases state involvement isn’t really needed and actually it’s better for local authorities to “get out of the way”.