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'ENGAGE CITIZENS TO BUILD STRONGER COMMUNITIES'

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The spirit of 'can-do Britain' was praised today by home secretary ...
The spirit of 'can-do Britain' was praised today by home secretary

David Blunkett as he applauded those who have made a real difference

to their own communities, urged others to get involved, and pledged

government support to help them do it.

Hundreds of local groups working up and down the country show how

communities can be turned around when local people get involved,

bringing about real and lasting change.

Mr Blunkett today called on citizens, groups and communities -

working in partnership with central and local government - to get

involved locally. He said: 'Can-do people the length and breadth of

the country are already making a huge difference to their own

communities, working hard to bring about real change, building a

better life for themselves and their neighbours. They are not

prepared to sit back see themselves as victims of an insoluble

community problem. They have turned their ambitions for a better

place to live into action, bringing back pride and respect to

communities which have been blighted by drugs, crime, unemployment

and apathy.

'They include groups like the Poet's Corner residents in Hove who

worked to bring the community together and improve the area's

physical environment, and Community Action Furness which has set up a

range of successful community enterprises in response to soaring

unemployment caused by the decline of heavy industry.

'These dynamic people are what make our country great, and we need to

bring that commitment, initiative and experience to bear on

strengthening and improving communities across the country. This type

of community action is the way of the future - we need many more

people to get involved and we need to give them the tools to do it.'

The home secretary today also published his second pamphlet on civil

renewal, 'Active Citizens, Strong Communities: Progressing Civil

Renewal'. Civil renewal is about engaging local people and groups

activ ely in the decisions that affect them.

The home secretary reiterated the vital importance of civil renewal

and set out his ideas about how it can work in practice. He

identified the three key factors which are necessary if communities

are to bring about change:

- Active citizenship: people should be given more opportunities and

support to become actively involved in defining and tackling the

problems of their communities, and improving their quality of life.

- Strengthened communities: communities should be helped to develop

their capacity to form and sustain their own organisations,

bringing people together to deal with their common concerns.

- Partnership in meeting public needs: public bodies should involve

citizens and communities more effectively in improving the planning

and delivery of public services.

Mr Blunkett said: 'In an increasingly globalised world, people often feel that they

have no say in the big decisions which affect their lives. Now, more

than ever, it is vital that people are engaged on a local level and

feel that they can make a practical difference to the issues that

directly affect them.

'Local communities are best placed to define and solve their own

problems, and we need to build the capacity and confidence of

community organisations so they can develop their own solutions.

'It is not about the community doing it all on its own, of course,

but neither should it be about the government dictating from above.

We need to create a genuine partnership, based on interdependence and

mutuality.

'We want to do even more to help local people play their part in

making their communities safer and more inclusive. The strength of

our community life will be greatly enhanced if we can release the

untapped energy of citizens and community groups.

'This will enable us to tackle our problems and build respect. It is

vital that we increase respect in order to change cu lture, to treat

each other better, and to reinforce self esteem and a sense of

community. Young people and adults need to be able to put their point

of view, but also to respect difference. Respect - within the family

and the neighbourhood - can prevent the breakdown of normal

communication and bring people together in creating the solutions to

the challenges that face them.

'I want to see a new relationship between government and governed,

and need to build and sustain trust between government and the

people. We must re- engage people in democracy in all its forms,

re-connecting them with civil and political life, empowering them and

helping them to make a difference to their own lives. People should

be inspired to make a positive difference to their communities, and

influence the policies and services that affect their lives.

'And of course there is a crucial link between civil renewal and the

Home Office's aims of cutting crime and promoting justice - and

indeed wider government work to reform and modernise public services.

As a government, we must take people with us - involving them at the

heart of the process of reform and service delivery.'

Mr Blunkett launched the Active Citizenship Centre website today, set

up with a £1m government investment, and announced that

Paul Whiteley will chair the centre's steering group. Under

Professor Whiteley, the new 'virtual centre' will bring together

'thinkers' and 'doers' in civil renewal in a partnership to develop

new ideas, best practice and cutting edge research. It will be a

valuable and respected resource, helping to support active

engagement.

A consultation document, Building Civil Renewal, was also published

today, looking at how the government can best support individuals and

groups to participate in community activity.

The home secretary's speech follows the announcement yesterday that

the £125m futurebuilders fund will now be managed di rectly by

the Home Office, enabling it to be integrated with the wider civil

renewal programme. The fund will continue to support front-line

community and voluntary agencies directly involved in delivering key

public services.

Mr Blunkett said: 'The energy of individual volunteers and the great potential of

voluntary and community sector organisations can be harnessed to even

greater effect when they are supported by targeted investment.

The futurebuilders fund, worth £125m over the next three

years, will help voluntary and community organisations play a more

central role in service delivery. This investment will mean improved

and expanded services that offer greater choice to local people in

key areas, including education and learning, crime, community

cohesion, health and social care and support for children and young

people.'

NOTES

1. Mr Blunkett was speaking today at a meeting of the Scarman Trust,

a national charity committed to helping citizens bring about change

in their. More details can be obtained from the Scarman Trust.

2. Mr Blunkett published his second pamphlet on civil renewal today -

'Active Citizens, Strong Communities: Progressing Civil Renewal'. It

is available here.

3. The Home Office consultation document - 'Building Civil Renewal' -

is available here. Responses will

contribute to the drafting of the government's capacity building and

infrastructure framework for the voluntary and community sector, due

to be published in early 2004 and to the development of the

Government's broader policies on community capacity building, so that

they provide a sound foundation for civil renewal.

4. Paul Whiteley is professor of government at the University of

Essex. He previously held positions at the Universities of Bristol

and Sheffield and in Virginia in the USA. He is director of the ESRC

Democracy and Participation research programme and co-director of the

British Election Study.

5. Mr Blunkett's first pamphlet on civil renewal, 'Civil Renewal: a

New Agenda' was published on 11 June 2003 (Home Office press notice

157/03). It is available here.

6. The home secretary also announced on 11 June 2003 that £1m

will be available to set up a new Active Citizenship Centre which

would to operate as a consortium of organisations, university

departments and think tanks - developing new ideas, best practice and

research. The Active Citizenship Centre will offer advice through its website.

7. futurebuilders is a £125m investment fund to help

individual voluntary and community organisations increase the scale

and scope of their public service delivery. It was first announced as

part of the in the Spending Review 2002. The fund is set to come on

stream in the second half of this financial year.

futurebuilders is closely linked to the government's commitment to

deliver world- class public services. It will be focussed on the

community and voluntary sector, delivering key frontline services in

health and social care, crime, community cohesion, education and

learning, and support for children and young people.

8. The vast majority of people in England and Wales recognise that,

as citizens they have rights and responsibilities towards the

community, according to the main findings from the 2001 Home Office

Citizenship Survey published on 16 September 2003 (Home Office press

notice 250/2003). The survey is available here.

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