Building on people’s assets and enabling them to improve their lives is more effective than simply meeting needs or addressing deficits writes Mark Isherwood MS.
Welsh Conservatives recognise the need to revitalise local decision-making, encouraging decisions to be made as close to the people it affects as possible.
When Wales is finally released from the grip of the Coronavirus pandemic, we will have a unique and compelling opportunity to rebuild our communities.
After 22 years of top-down, poverty trapping, command and control Labour Welsh Government, a Welsh Conservative approach to enable, empower and set free our local communities is urgently needed.
We would conduct an independent review of Labour’s outdated Local Government Funding Formula, and ensure that all councils in Wales receive a fair funding settlement to enable them to deliver on local priorities.
This will also require a revolution in policy and service delivery in Wales, in order to help and enable people to identify their strengths to tackle the root problems preventing them and their communities from reaching their potential.
A Welsh Conservative “Enabling Wales” agenda would empower and enable local communities by encouraging a bottom-up, strength-based approach, helping people in communities identify the strengths they already have to tackle the root problems preventing them from reaching their potential.
This approach would establish asset-based community development as a key principle within community development, empowering the people of the community and using existing community strengths to build sustainable communities for the future.
We would establish a community-led cross-sector action group to provide recommendations to help inform this strategy.
We would work with people to build resilient communities – seeing everyone as equal partners in local services—breaking down the barriers between people who provide services and those who use them.
Contrary to claims often made by left-wing politicians, this “co-productive” approach was not designed for an age of austerity, but rather for any age of social and economic aspiration—yes, delivering more for less at a time of deficit reduction, but also delivering more for the same when budgets are stable and more for more when budgets are growing.
As the Carnegie Trust states, the Enabling State approach is about ‘moving us from the state as a provider of welfare towards a more enabling style of governance’, recognising that ‘government, alongside driving the performance of public services, should enable communities to do what they do best’, where communities ‘are best-placed to bring a wealth of local knowledge and collective energy to the decisions that affect them’.
The Conservative-led UK Localism Act 2011 gave new rights and powers to communities and individuals in order to decentralise power, and encourage greater local innovation and flexibility.
However, applying its “control approach” to policy, the Labour Welsh Government has failed to introduce many of its key provisions in Wales.
By finally adopting the Community Rights Agenda in Wales established by the Localism Act, we will shift power away from Central Government towards communities, creating a society that is more engaged and responsive.
Welsh Conservatives have a long-standing commitment to pubs, recognising their role as community assets and backing the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) campaign for them to be protected by the ‘Community Right to Bid’.
We would therefore introduce the Community Right to Bid for assets of community value backing.
Amongst other things, we would also introduce the right for neighbourhoods to establish neighbourhood plans allowing them to show where developments should happen, what they should look like, and what they should include, and the right for communities to approve or veto excessive council tax rises – all rights already existing in England but denied to people in Wales.
We know that the last year has been incredibly hard for our Communities focal points, such as pubs and community centres.
It is estimated that 5% of UK pubs have already been lost due to the pandemic and, as part of our pandemic recovery plan, the Welsh Conservatives would introduce a Community Ownership Fund for Wales, enabling community organisations, as well as community and town councils, to take ownership of community assets under threat such as our vital pubs, community centres, sports centres, green spaces and libraries.
We now have an opportunity to stop the same tired old policies that have held Wales back for decades.
It is time to break the shackles of top-down Welsh Government, time to enable our local communities and time to set Wales free to travel the road to a vibrant, people-powered recovery.
Mark Isherwood is a Member of the Senedd for North Wales and Number One on the Welsh Conservative North Wales regional list for 2021.