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SALFORD INVOLVES LOCAL PEOPLE

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An independent report out today praises Salford City Council for its success in involving local people in making de...
An independent report out today praises Salford City Council for its success in involving local people in making decisions about issues that affect their everyday lives.

Two examples include improvements in street cleaning arrangements following community consultation, and a drop in the fear of crime as a result of community-based measures including summer activities for youths.

The council has a track record of valuing and supporting its communities and a good knowledge of who they are and what their needs are, says a team of inspectors from the Audit Commission. As a result, they judge the council's approach to community engagement to be of a good, two star standard with promising prospects for improvement.

However, the council is conscious that it has less knowledge and understanding of 'hard-to-reach' groups, and has made concentrated efforts to support community organisations in particular communities of interest, so that it can deliver services in a culturally sensitive way.

Audit Commission relationship manager Clive Portman, said: 'In the past 30 years Salford has experienced major changes in its culture and economy. It now faces new challenges - arresting the decline in its population, regenerating its most depressed areas, and embracing the growing diversity of its residents. Throughout, the council has remained firmly committed to working in partnership with local communities, mainly through the community committees representing each of the eight neighbourhoods in the city. We believe the council is now ready to build on its success to date, and move beyond consulting and involving local communities. This would involve allocating budgets and making service managers directly accountable to local people.'

Inspectors found the following strengths:

-All council staff are firmly committed to involving local communities in delivering services, and local people are frequently consulted and asked for feedback.

-Community committees have a good understanding of local issues and are becoming increasingly able to apply for and manage funding from different sources.

-Some council services are experimenting with giving community committees greater decision-making powers, for example in the areas of grounds maintenance and sports development.

However:

-Community committees are not representative of the make-up of the neighbourhoods they serve, and this makes it difficult to delegate significant funding to them.

-Action plans produced by community committees are of a variable standard and are not clear about exactly what will be delivered and and when.

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations including:

-Up to now, the council has not particularly analysed what it wants out of community engagement, or how it would judge whether its policy is successful. Therefore, by September 2004, it should be clear about what good community engagement is, and develop a system to measure how well it is meeting its goals.

-Many action plans developed by the community committees are not followed through. Therefore, by April 2005, the council needs to ensure that the committees' action plans are linked in with the council's own plans for service delivery so they have a greater chance of being implemented.

-By April 2005, make sure all examples of successful community engagement are shared and communicated so all council staff can learn from experience and apply what they learn to new situations.

At a national level, the government is putting increasing emphasis on the greater involvement of local people in the delivery of public services. In the mid-90s Salford City Council adopted 'responsive to community needs' as one of its three main working principles, and has put this policy into practice by grouping its 20 wards into eight neighbourhoods, each of which has a community committee. These are currently run by a board made up of residents together with local ward councillors.

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