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Cohesion reforms could penetrate Whitehall silos...
Cohesion reforms could penetrate Whitehall silos

Tony Blair's decision to move responsibility for community cohesion from the Home Office to the new Department for Communities & Local Government provides a welcome platform from which to draw together local and national policy on this most sensitive of issues.

Two developments in the past few days have begun to put flesh on this form. First, the department's new structure has been revealed, placing a good chunk of local government policy alongside community cohesion and neighbourhood development.

Second, communities and local government minister Phil Woolas has begun spelling out a role for councils in rebuilding the institutions of civic society to draw their communities together. This theme will be developed in the autumn white paper.

Mr Woolas highlighted the need to fill the void left by the decline of institutions such as churches and trade unions.

In doing so he urged leaders to see themselves as providing leadership for the area itself, not just the

council - a role the best local politicians already fulfil.

The DCLG's willingness to seize this issue is a sea-change from a year ago. In the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings LGC enquired of the then-Office of the Deputy Prime Minister what role it saw for

local government in ensuring community cohesion. In an appalling example of Whitehall silo thinking, we were told it was a Home Office matter (LGC, 21 July 2005).

The advice so far pushes councils to establish an interfaith forum, ensure their race equality councils are effective, develop an intelligent approach to policing and stimulate voluntary bodies. Having healthy political parties, open and accessible to all parts of the local population, is not overlooked. The advice does not just focus on race; it also touches on engaging youth and local businesses.

As long as the government does not lurch into central prescription this is a welcome development which councils should make a priority. The alternative is unthinkable.

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