It’s been a long wait for government’s response to Dame Louise Casey’s review on opportunity and integration in our most deprived communities.
It finally arrived in March in the form of the integrated communities strategy green paper, in a period when issues of identity, faith and our history are high on the news agenda. As the the consultation phase ends early next month, this surely represents a great opportunity for James Brokenshire, the new housing and communities secretary, to achieve an early win, strike a bold tone, and put local government at the heart of one of the key challenges we face.
The political conflicts playing out on issues such as the Windrush generation and antisemitism are about who we are, how our elected representatives at all levels reflect this, and our rootedness in place. We all ultimately live somewhere, and these places are part of us; the starting point for our sense of belonging.
This is where local government comes in, as it always has. From the 1832 Great Reform Act onwards, local authorities have through (albeit often imperfect) geographically defined places, sought to represent and improve the wellbeing of the population.
The notion of what makes a strong community has become ever more complex in the modern age. But local government remains the public body capable of a new form of embroidery – of bringing together people, institutions and values around some shared hopes and ambitions as a democratically accountable anchor organisation.
Inevitably, central government feels clunky in how it seeks to promote and support this. The new green paper uses the language of integration, reflecting Casey’s plea for this process to be a two-way street, with shared responsibilities for all. Five ‘integration’ areas have been designated as trailblazers, with a focus on the role of local government which is to be welcomed.
Because if there is any area of public life in which Whitehall needs to listen, learn and contextualise the lived experience of doing this in local places everyday, it is when seeking to enhance cohesion and integration.
We need government to respect and reflect upon what is working. It must ensure its collective role and influence is putting resource into the right place, not creating perverse incentives or exacerbating the challenge (like recent reductions in English for speakers of other languages courses, or Home Office decision making on migration and nationality).
Government also has a role in supporting the scaling of effective practice. The explicit commitment to this in the opening section of the green paper is positive, as is the agreement to establish and fund a new cohesion and integration network to build capacity in leadership and practice across all sectors and share learning.
What is disappointing, though, is what I would characterise as the ‘boldness deficit’. While there are good ideas and sound proposals in some areas – especially in the work with children and young people and on language skills – elsewhere I would argue the paper is lacking.
For instance, its has a much weaker focus on one of the key wider determinants of effective cohesion and integration in public policy, where the role of local authorities is key: housing.
Housing strategy – and the renewed emphasis on housing supply from government as it seeks to address the single biggest issue for people under 30 – has to be at the core of where public services can enhance integration and reduce segregation over the next 20 years.
The other area in which the green paper demonstrates a boldness deficit is on the role of leadership. Dame Louise Casey tackled this head on. And while her take on it lacked nuance, at least it recognised the focus all of us in public life needs to give to what we say and do – and, at times, what we don’t say and do.
In Calderdale, we have sought to address ‘elephant in the room’ issues through collaborative value-based leadership. It’s work in progress, but the intent is always there, and our vision and strategic frameworks support this. We finalised our new cohesion strategy as the green paper landed, and following a period of extensive public consultation. It seeks to support our vision for Calderdale for 2024, and our aspiration is to create a place that is enterprising, talented, kind, resilient and distinctive.
I will never forget when a colleague in the council told me that she grew up in a part of the community in which she effectively didn’t meet anyone from a different ethnic origin to her until she was 16. This is not inevitable. A burst of boldness and intent is necessary in government at all levels can stop it from becoming the norm for our citizens and communities.
Robin Tuddenham, chief executive, Calderdale MBC; deputy spokesperson for community safety and resilience, Solace