We are the Campaign for a Queen’s Park Community Council and we aim to set up London’s first parish council in Queen’s Park ward in the north of the City of Westminster. We write to ask for your support.
In May we handed a petition of 1600 names to Council Leader Colin Barrow. In response, the council has announced a community governance review to explore whether to establish the new parish our neighbourhood wants.
Community (or parish) councils are concerned with local issues, and people often associate them with village life. We believe cities too can benefit, but we do not seek to impose our ideas on anyone else: we are campaigning for Queen’s Park ward, nowhere else. We have already begun work on projects including a garden and toy exchange. We also helped organise a public meeting in response to the recent shooting on the Mozart estate.
Westminster is a huge and diverse area, and we believe local people understand their neighbourhoods better than anyone else. Our campaign is non-political and we believe our council, with its deep roots in the community, will complement the strategic leadership provided by Westminster City Council across the borough.
We believe our aims fit with the government’s commitment to localism and the Big Society: while the parish council’s administration is funded by a precept added to council tax (in our ward only), the councillors are volunteers.
Please join in the consultation. Write to Tom Kimber at the City Planning Delivery Unit, Westminster City Council, 11th floor, City Hall, 64 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QP, email@example.com, tel 0207 641 3478, or contact your local church, area forum or amenity society, and tell them you support the residents of Queen’s Park in bringing this ancient form of local democracy to the heart of London. And please visit our website: campaign4queenspark.org or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angela Singhate, Chair, Campaign for a Queen’s Park Community Council
Following the petition by 1600 local residents to create a Community Council for Queen’s Park, Westminster Council will shortly be launching a consultation across Westminster. They wont be able to contact everyone however. To make sure your voice is heard check out Westminster Council’s webpage for further details.
Very local councils are empowering local people, making a difference locally and already building the Big Society according to a series of leading localist Parliamentarians speaking at the recent Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.
The packed audience heard contributions from Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, Rory Stewart MP, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on local democracy, Micah Gold from the Big Society Network, NALC Chairman Councillor Michael Chater as well as Minister for Decentralisation Greg Clark MP talking about the Big Society and the crucial role of local (parish and town) councils.
The event also saw the launch of a new policy pamphlet – What is Big Society? – featuring a series of essay by parliamentarians and other key thinkers on the Big Society who underline the growing importance of the first tier of local government.
Speaking at the fringe event Councillor Michael Chater said: “The Big Society is not a new concept for our local councils. They are made up of around 80,000 locally elected people who have decided to give up some of their time to work together for the common good of the area they live in. They have helped pioneer ‘localism’ and ‘Big Society’, hence we support efforts by the Government to shift power to a more local level through the Localism Bill and aspirations to see more local councils established as set out in the Open Public Services White Paper. Whether the collective efforts of our local councils are labelled as Big Society or whatever, our local councils always have been doing it – and making a real difference to people and communities – and they’ll certainly be doing even more of it in the future.”
Nick Hurd MP said: “I know parish councils are keen to do more and I’ve seen and heard some brilliant examples of your innovation, but I know there are issues about capacity and support. We are keen to address this and look at how we can help, be it with principal authorities who don’t get it and are blocking and getting in the way, or to help you take on new powers and opportunities. Make no mistake, this government is absolutely serious about doing something Governments aren’t good at, and that’s giving up power.”
Rory Stewart MP said: “The very exciting part of what we’ve been engaged in over the last year and a half is realising that so many of the criticisms flung at the Big Society have been misguided. I have been told that the kind of projects we’ve been involved in won’t work because communities don’t want them, communities can’t do them, communities ought not to be allowed to do them. The view is that they should be done by experts. This is wrong because communities prove again and again that there are certain kinds of projects where communities know more, care more and can do more than distant experts. Big Society matters because for some issues the community brings something that distant experts can’t. For us in Cumbria Big Society is about communities represented democratically through their parish councils. If Big Society is about anything, it’s about recognising that communities have that spirit, that will, that ability to do things that other people can’t do. Whether it’s working out how to organise the community pub buy-out, designing the neighbourhood plan, thinking through affordable housing or where to lay fibre optic cable, what communities want is the ability to get on with it, to use their common sense, to be trusted rather than micro managed.”
Micah Gold said: “Some of the biggest challenges lie in what principal authorities need to be doing. Notoriously they don’t tend to give up power or trust people. Often they are not trusted by local communities and are part of the cause of apathy. In order to create a Big Society we need to see a step change to involvement, it’s about changing the relationship and instead of seeing the person as a service users, we need to see them as a citizens every time, we need to engage citizens at scale, moving relationships from service users to citizens, engaging the front line and changing the choice architecture for citizens. This is about local people really having genuine influence.”
Local government minister Grant Shapps MP sets out his support for local councils in his essay in the new pamphlet: “Parish councils are living proof that small is beautiful. The practice of neighbours coming together to decide how to administer local services and improve their area remains vital to the future of our democracy. As we look to the future, Government is committed to helping parishes – and other forms of neighbourhood democracy – thrive. I see every prospect of parish councils continuing to grow in importance and prominence in the years to come, matching a long and rich heritage with a bright and busy future.”
James Morris MP writes: “Potentially a large network already exists to boost the Big Society revolution further: parish councils. They have the undoubted potential to make a difference. Now is the time for citizens, councils and communities to step up to the challenge, grasp the nettle and deliver the benefits which the Big Society can bring.”
Although subject to some local flashpoints, the relative calm of North Kensington & Westminster and its youth population over the recent riot period is due in no small part to partnerships involving community leadership, community policing, and the continuity of local regeneration and social and economic development over the last 30 years or so, and which is still tackling some of the most difficult neighbourhoods in London and the UK.
‘Youth’ is not a fixed phenomena, it doesn’t stand still, it is conceived, born and grows up over twenty years or more. Generational continuum is a central dynamic in the life of any community, particularly the adolescent phase. Youth is inquisitive, intuitively creative and full of an energy that sometimes screams out for something to do, some creative action. In the absence of positive options, energy becomes negative, destructive, socially dysfunctional, and feeds the inward and outer shoots of sociopathic tendencies witnessed in the recent rioting.
Youth budgets and support programmes are the first to be cut in periods of austerity when common sense dictates that they should in fact be maintained or even increased. Financing youth services is currently a discretionary not a statutory duty. This should change – now. Lack of creative and constructive engagement breeds destructive and dysfunctional behaviours. Investment in young people who live in deprived and disadvantaged areas does not provide the return demanded by classical market dynamics, there’s no money in a failing market.
Tribal, criminal activities are not new to this cohort, England has a history of gang warfare and riot, with legislation to prove it. Indeed, each generation produces its own manifestation of criminal gangs and social rage arising from cultural and economic inequalities, and it should not be surprising that this latest expression is through young consumerist violence and criminal theft rather than a real, bogus or imagined ideological rationale. The sight of young thugs firing guns at police as they loot the high street should signal an absolute commitment to the eradication of illegal supply chains that provide weapons to young people.
The almost incidental death of three young men mown down by a car while looking out for their community in Birmingham and the moving response by their families is the real story of these past weeks, not dysfunctional young people expressing naked consumerism perversely mainlined from a culture that encourages trillions of plastic debt as a means of GDP ‘growth’. Calls for moral rectitude are not helped either by examples of incompetence and corruption from within the heart of the English establishment, the pillars of the biggest society: Press, Police, Parliament and Banks. We had to learn from a grieving father in Birmingham the real meaning of ‘morality’ and ‘values’ coming out of all this.
There’s no one root cause for the riots across the country, but a range of economic indicators often associated with social unrest have been on the rise for some time. Britain is undergoing a seismic demographic shift – the consequences of which have yet to be strategically recognised by government or independent policy planners. There are a million more 15-24 year olds in Britain today than a decade ago, and it’s striking that those taking part in these riots are almost all in this age cohort.
The number of out-of-work young people (which excludes those in education) is at the highest level since records began in 1992, in some communities over 20%.
This isn’t just a 2008 deficit/recession problem, youth unemployment has been on the rise for many years and has merely raised its ugly head in this yelping crisis.
London is Britain’s most unequal region by far, in terms of the income gap. According to the definitive report from the New Policy Institute, 19% of the population of Inner London is in the top 10% for income nationwide while 16% are in the UK bottom 10%. In inner London 20% of people own 60% of total income. Add this to the fact that overall UK inequality levels have risen to their highest since the 1960s (or the 1930s, depending on whose statistics you trust). It’s notable that many of the areas affected by the rioting are within touching distance of poorer areas, as is the case in Tottenham where the rioting began, arguably because family and friends were not given the respect demanded of a police shooting tragedy. An hour between a senior police representative and the immediate family of the victim could have defused what subsequently kicked off a nightmare for the people of Tottenham and for those who suffered in the explosive epidemic that followed.
Whether anyone likes it or not, London has a high and growing proportion of families entirely dependent on benefits. According to a recent European Union study, there are 600,000 people under 25 in Britain who have never had a day’s work in their lives. This is an abject failure of domestic economic policy spanning decades.
London’s local authorities have borne much of the brunt of the Government’s austerity package – their grants from Whitehall fell by 11.3% this year and will drop a further 7.6% in 2012/13. And the first services to be cut include youth service budgets – Haringey’s was slashed by 75% leading to the closure of youth clubs. Clearly there are plenty of other factors behind the riots – and none of the above explains precisely why this chaos has erupted here and now. But they underline the fact that in economic and social terms, London and other major UK cities have been in a tinderbox state for some time.
Gang culture is again on the political agenda. Our collective failure to recognise the simple truth underlining growth in youth gangs, that it is an angry, atavistic parody of entrepreneurial economics, will continue to hinder real solutions. We know that there will be more young people seeking economic prosperity over coming years. How they achieve that is our challenge. Here in North Westminster/Kensington, in the middle of London, we have seen increases in gun and knife crime with two young people murdered on our streets over the last couple of years. Some neighbourhoods in London have seen even more death and injury through peer group competition and violence. This has produced a tribal market where young people play out the iconography of ‘youth culture’ with an energy not so far removed from City of London trading pits. Understanding these dynamics, these sad local tragedies, the wider riot phenomena and the exposure of the deep distrust between citizens and their public institutions, must play a key part in the future of Localism Policy, social well-being, and the strategic development of a local economic policy across London and the rest of the country. It’s time this is understood by policy makers and key change agencies.