Can councils make the most of their role in community cohesion?

Recently released research findings into race
equality issues do not bode well for the adoption of community
cohesion policies by local authorities. Sally Gillen

A double dose of depressing information was
released last week that has thrown serious doubt over councils’
abilities to address race equality issues and achieve community

on performance indicator information collected over the last couple
of years, a report by the Audit Commission published this week
finds that 40 per cent of councils have failed to reach the first
of five levels of the Commission for Racial Equality’s good
practice standard.

Meanwhile, a survey of one third
of England’s 150 councils carried out by Community Care three days
before the deadline for councils to produce a race equality scheme
– a requirement under the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 –
reveals that just five councils have completed their schemes. Many
say they have prepared drafts that need to be approved by
committee, but others say their schemes will not be completed for
several weeks. Scottish councils have until November to complete
their schemes.

Audit Commission report led its controller Sir Andrew Foster to
declare that, after 30 years of equal opportunities, councils are
still not “getting the basics right”.

chairperson Gurbux Singh describes the report’s findings as deeply
worrying. “It paints a very depressing picture of race equality in
local government,” he says.

Neither the findings of the
report nor Community Care’s straw poll bode well for the adoption
of community cohesive policies by councils, the draft guidance for
which was published at the end of May by the CRE, the Local
Government Association, the Department for Transport, Local
Government and the Regions, and the Home Office.

guidance, developed in response to the disturbances of last summer
in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham, identifies local authorities as
having a key role in driving the community cohesion agenda (News,
page 16, 30 May). It lists a common vision and sense of belonging,
and strong and positive relationships between people from different
backgrounds, among the elements that make a cohesive

according to the guidance, the local strategic partnerships that
should bring together people from different sectors are the
“preferred means” of achieving that cohesion. However, this may
prove more difficult for the local authorities outside the 88 most
deprived areas, as they are not even required to have an

Routledge, chief executive of umbrella regeneration group Urban
Forum, is also concerned about the assumption that LSPs are the
ideal partnerships to take forward community cohesion. The
voluntary and community sectors have long complained that they are
not fairly represented on LSP boards and that their influence is

Basit Shah, a voluntary sector member of Oldham’s LSP, also has
doubts. He says he is happy that the voluntary and community sector
is well represented on the LSP, but adds that it is hard to tell
how much sway he and the other voluntary sector members will have
in practice.”

Shah believes the test of the LSP will be once the work is started.
“Only then will we know whether this is a true partnership or just
a one-night stand,” he adds.

Routledge describes the guidance
as “good as a discussion document” but identifies several issues
that have been missed. Regeneration, for example, is highlighted as
one of the areas that could lead to tensions between communities as
they compete for resources, yet the guidance fails to promote
mainstreaming as a solution. However, it does note that the nature
of regeneration funding as one-off grants has prevented local
authorities from developing long-term strategies to address poverty
and deprivation within their areas.

lack of evidence that what is being learned from area-based
regeneration projects is being incorporated into mainstream
policies was highlighted by research by the University of West
England published last month (News, page 12, 16 May).

Routledge agrees that the
existence of area-based initiatives can become a barrier to
community cohesion because of perceptions that money is being
poured into one area while neighbouring areas get

mainstreaming lessons from regeneration, more areas could benefit.
But there are no incentives at the moment for local authorities to
do this. “The only way to make councils mainstream is by
incentivising it,” Routledge says, proposing extra money or greater
flexibility for councils who are able to show they have
incorporated what they have learned.

Housing also features heavily in
the draft guidance. Research carried out in the aftermath of last
year’s riots shows that the towns were heavily segregated, to the
point of polarisation. Poor white families living on housing
estates lived next to Asian families housed in the poorest quality
private sector accommodation.

Chairperson of the Federation of
Black Housing Organisations Anil Singh is pleased that, for the
first time, guidance has acknowledged the complexity of the causes
of segregation. But he is not optimistic about the likelihood of
the situation changing. “Any attempt to reverse segregation is
likely to fail,” he warns.

Historically, council housing
allocation policies have not favoured people from ethnic minority
communities, and instead they have opted to pool their resources
and buy their own homes.

says Singh, the high level of home ownership among Asians has been
achieved at “an enormous social cost”. The houses are often
inadequate and in need of repairs. Ethnic minority communities are
more likely to suffer from overcrowding than white people, yet
fewer points are awarded for this than other issues when
considering housing applications.

even with a change in council housing policy and more choice for
ethnic minority tenants, as advised in the community cohesion
guidance, there are no guarantees that this will lead to a greater
cultural mix on social housing estates.

“Irrespective of policy, people
will exclude themselves where they are being racially harassed,”
Singh says, adding that one way to tackle the “entrenched, hostile
views” is though tenant participation.

As the
director of Bradford-based Manningham housing association, Singh is
particularly aware of the problem of getting people from ethnic
minorities into white areas.

attempts are being made by the council to create better access to
social housing. It has transferred some of its stock to Manningham
on a freehold basis, which the association will let to ethnic

However, even this sort of
arrangement is not without problems. Rents, repairs and
refurbishments must be carried out by Bradford Council at the same
time as Manningham. Otherwise tensions could arise between black
and white people living side by side, Singh says.

the guidance focuses on local housing policy, national government
policy makers should also take heed. Singh warns that the
establishment of four accommodation centres for asylum seekers
waiting for their applications to be processed will see an
“institutionalised segregation of refugees”. Asylum seeking
children, who will live and be educated in the centres, will have
little chance of integrating into the wider community.

is a pertinent point, given that the alienation of young people was
identified as a key factor in the riots of last year. Creating a
shared sense of belonging is listed among the things that those
working within youth provision need to aim for.

as Calderdale Race Equality Project senior officer Alyas Karmani
points out, that is easier said than done. He says organisations
like his have a limited ability to make changes because youth
services tend to be owned by a statutory agency and there are not
enough youth groups within the voluntary sector because of
difficulties attracting funding.

Karmani says his attempts to meet
the guidance’s recommendation that “youth provision should
encourage cross-cultural activities” were blocked by the council’s
refusal to provide the £12,000 for a cross-cultural
entertainment showcase for the summer.

As a
discretionary area, youth services are often the first to go when
councils need to make cutbacks. If Karmani’s example is anything to
go by, the importance of youth services has yet to be registered by
those holding the purse strings.

Karmani has doubts about the
conclusions reached by the panels set up in the wake of last
summer’s riots. For one thing, forced integration is unworkable,
and what is now being addressed is 30 years of neglect. “It won’t
be overcome by a few years of pontificating,” he adds.

Equality and Diversity: Learning from Audit, Inspection and

Community cohesion draft guidance


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