Joined-up thinking is common sense

It's the national solution to a local problem: Organisations working in deprived areas are joining forces and consulting locals
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The Independent Online

Historically, governments have not provided clear leadership in tackling the problems of poor neighbourhoods.

Historically, governments have not provided clear leadership in tackling the problems of poor neighbourhoods. Indeed, when departments, agencies and organisations involved in regeneration are not discouraged from working at cross purposes on problems that require a joined-up response, there's little hope of positive results in the neighbourhoods themselves.

"Despite all the money, people and initiatives that operate in deprived areas, they have often worked repetitively or even competitively – and what's more, there has never been anyone to take overall responsibility for tackling their problems," explains Sarah Clifford, the Head of Communications at the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit (NRU).

Martin Gawith of the Greater Nottingham Partnership knows this all too well. "Back in the early Nineties, we realised that the successful regeneration of Nottingham depended on better connection of organisations and agencies. So we arranged it ourselves, joining public sector organisations with the private and voluntary sectors and communities to take simple, immediate, multi-agency action on issues that affected our communities. Joining up teenage mothers with further education colleges, for example. Yes, Nottingham is still deprived, but we're getting there."

The problem is, of course, that not all areas have taken the initiative that Nottingham has, and even those that have done get little, if any, guidance. The good news, assures the Government, is that joined-up thinking is the cornerstone of its commitment to its Neighbourhood Renewal action plan.

"Strange as it may seem, it has been no one's job at local level to pull together all the different agencies with an impact on deprived neighbourhoods," says Nathalie Hadjifotiou of Southwark Council. "That's where Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs) come into the picture."

LSPs, she explains, are single bodies set up last year by the Government, which bring together the different parts of the public sector, as well as private, voluntary and community sectors, so that different initiatives and services support rather than contradict each other. This is a different approach from what has gone before, in keeping with the Government's attempts to cut out bureaucracy and join up its responses at the national and local level. It's also an approach that has local people at its heart, explicitly involving communities in drawing up the local neighbourhood renewal strategy and listening to their concerns.

The job of LSPs is to identify which neighbourhoods should be prioritised, find the root causes of decline, develop ideas on how organisations and individuals can improve things, and implement agreed actions. Through LSPs, partners – such as the local education authority, health authorities and the police – might find ways to be more responsive to what communities really want, as well as rationalising activity to cut down on bureaucracy and waste. LSPs will also set local targets for improving outcomes.

Southwark LSP has 26 members – six residents, five voluntary organisations, Christian and Muslim faith representatives, two business representatives and 11 statutory agencies. Ms Hadjifotiou explains, "In our LSP, there's been a major focus on youth crime because it's such a big problem here, and the new joined-up thinking is already achieving results. Police officers are now based in schools and there are programmes to support young victims of crime, through mobile police stations."

Similarly, the police and community health service have joined up to try out a home-visiting service for the vulnerable elderly. "Instead of someone going in to talk about crime prevention in the home and then someone else going in to talk about accidents, we're now just sending one person in, freeing up resources for other initiatives."

Because LSPs need to complement their strategic activity with a focus at neighbourhood level, Neighbourhood Management schemes have also been set up. "For now, there are 20 pathfinder schemes across the country," explains Ms Clifford. "They work by placing a single person, team or organisation in charge of regeneration in that neighbourhood – someone who local people can turn to if they face a problem. Naturally, they liaise closely with the LSPs."

In the past, she explains, residents, businesses and others have become frustrated as agencies passed the buck. "They couldn't hold anyone to account and didn't know who to turn to if they wanted to get involved in improving a neighbourhood. But now, there will be a 'single door to knock on' so people with a point to make are not passed endlessly from pillar to post. There will be genuine opportunities for residents to get involved in designing local strategies, and communities will have their own resources to support them in this."

And because lack of leadership is considered to have been as much of a problem as poor joint working, the Government itself has recognised that it needs to take a greater role in creating vision and targets for these partnerships, as well as taking responsibility when things fail.

Case study: Salford new deal for communities

"The most effective interventions are often those where communities are actively involved in their design and delivery, and, where possible, in the driving seat," says Lord Falconer QC, Minister of State for Housing, Planning and Regeneration. Nowhere is this more evident than in Salford New Deal for Communities.

Low demand for housing was a major problem. "We recognised that just holding public meetings wasn't going to work," admits Alison Burnett, the co-ordinator. "So we looked for interactive ways to consult people."

Out of this came the idea of using Participatory Appraisal. Stage one involved the appointment of community "animators" ­ residents who would help the consultation process ­ and in stage two they visited local people and asked them to contribute ideas. Key to its success was that residents wouldn't need a knowledge of the system.

A typical tool was "idea stickers": residents wrote down on a Post-it note what they want to see done, what they most fear or what they think is best about the area. Another involved the marking of a point on a line between "love" and "hate" to denote their support for an idea; and in "headlines", residents wrote imaginary newspaper headlines for now and for 10 years' time.

It was crucial that the notes were coded to test group views. "When we got to a certain point and analysed the responses, we found we hadn't identified enough 16- to 25-year-olds, so we went out again to youth clubs and pubs," says Rachel Worthington, the community animator.

The main themes then became the heart of the delivery plan. These included more police, better lighting, play areas, the regulation of private landlords, improving transport and making better use of derelict land.

Equal emphasis is given to implementation: the PA team are now finding out exactly where people want the play areas. "Evaluation is up to local residents too," says Ms Burnett. "Last year, we held a summer play scheme and local people were involved in appraising it, ready for next time."