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HOME SECRETARY: CIVIL RENEWAL MUST BE AT HEART OF GOVERNMENT

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A society where people and communities can increasingly shape and ...
A society where people and communities can increasingly shape and

control the world they live in is the ideal set out by home

secretary David Blunkett today. Mr Blunkett said that an important

part of this new agenda is the need to revitalise our democracy and

to find new ways of positively linking government to the governed.

The home secretary said that this vision of civil renewal needs to be

at the heart of the government's future agenda. To make this a

reality, government must not simply do things to people, but with

people. This is all about empowering people to take control of their

own lives and to contribute to solutions in the wider community.

Mr Blunkett welcomed recent Economic and Social Research Council

Democracy research which looked at these themes, but also challenged

the academic community to continue to take part in developing

achievable civil renewal policies for civil renewal and greater

participation. Addressing questions to achieve this is critical -

questions such as:

- what will re-engage people in modern politics

- in the modern world what kinds of engagement do people actually

demand

- what skills and resources do people need to overcome barriers to

engagement?

The home secretary stressed that the new Centre for Active

Citizenship, soon to be launched by the Home Office, will help

address some of these questions.

Building on themes outlined in his Edith Kahn Memorial lecture, Mr

Blunkett said:

'Civil Renewal provides a far reaching reform agenda - one that needs

to be at the heart of future Government policy. The government must

continue to fundamentally redefine its relationship with the people

it serves, and empower communities and boost active citizenship.

'We need to foster a society that helps people to take more control

of their lives and the decision-making that shapes the communities in

which they live. I am looking to promote a form of positiv e

consumerism where to get something back from society, we need to

encourage people to put something in.

'We are truly free when we act together as members of a community to

shape our own lives. That is what real democracy is all about - the

participation of citizens in the society in which they live, with an

enabling state providing the resources, legislation, framework and

accumulation of assets and capacity building, to equalise the chance

of this becoming a reality for those without wealth or access to

sources of personal advancement.

'There are many challenges to achieving this - particularly the

modern dilemma of how to engage people in mainstream politics.

Positively, evidence shows that the vast majority of people recognise

that they have rights and responsibilities towards the community.

However this isn't necessarily being translated into engagement.

'Our proposals for a Centre for Active Citizenship will bring

together 'thinkers' and 'doers' in a partnership to develop new

ideas, best practice and cutting edge research that can help drive

forward change.

'The centre will address some of the key issues facing our society

today. By working with the academic community we, in the Home Office,

can help create such a vehicle for change. There's been some useful

work in this area, but we're in the early stages of this debate. I am

challenging the academic community to play their part in civil

renewal by considering some of the issues I have raised today.

'Just as the late nineteenth century witnessed the transformation of

community through municipal action; and the twentieth century through

state intervention and welfare provision; so in the twenty first

century democracy must be revitalised to reflect aspirations as well

as the challenges of an electorate who want government at every level

to see them as partners, not simply as endorsers, of distant

decision-making which seeks merely to legislate the actions of

others.'

NOTES

1. Mr Blunkett was speaking at the Democracy & Participation

Programme Key Findings and Policy Implications Conference, Great

George Street, London, on 24 September 2003.

2. Mr Blunkett gave the Edith Kahn Memorial lecture at the House of

Commons on 11 June and published a pamphlet

entitled 'Civil Renewal: a New Agenda' which is available on the Home

Office website. The home

secretary also announced that £1m will be available to set up

a new Centre for Active Citizenship which would to operate as a

consortium of organisations, university departments and think tanks -

developing new ideas, best practice and leading edge research.

3. 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. The survey is available here.

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