The Green Party and the Holme Valley Independent Councillors have called for a radical change to the way Kirklees Council goes about its budget setting process to give local communities greater say over how and where money is spent.
The Greens and Independents proposal entitled ‘Kirklees Budget 2.0’ would see the establishment of a separate budget pot to be allocated by Village Associations, Community Forums and Parish and Town Councils on priorities that are set by local communities.
Leader of the Green Group Councillor Andrew Cooper said,
“The funds that would be directed to these plans would not be mainstream Council funds from the Council Tax or the Revenue Support Grant provided by central government. Instead they would be from a variety of public funds and money made available to communities that Councils themselves cannot easily access.”
“Let’s make no mistake I don’t agree with the Governments Budget cuts and how they seem to be targeted at the most vulnerable. What we do need to do is find practical ways we can help to direct more support and involve people in deciding where funds are best directed. In this way we can help ensure that the things people care about and that make up the fabric of community life have a secure future and are more resilient against the annual cull of local services and facilities”.
Leader of the Independent Group Terry Lyons said,
“To make this work we are going to need to establish local plans and get more people involved and interested in carrying out worthwhile projects to improve and enhance their local communities and the environment. There is already a lot of good work going on out there with better directed support from Kirklees we can help communities access more funds from an array of sources”
Kirklees Budget 2.0 – Community led budgets to protect facilities and services
This is not a proposition to create a new Kirklees Council led budget but one which directs a proportion of funding to devolved groups such as Ward Community Forums and Parish Councils which are demonstrably ‘community led’ organisations with their own locally determined priorities.
The overall rationale for this proposition is:
• Council resources are increasingly stretched and focussed rightly on maintaining essential public services
• We need to establish new ways of funding local priorities that take into account the wishes of people in all our communities across Kirklees
• Supporting communities to do more through cooperation and to take more responsibility for themselves is central to the councils vision; and vital if we are to reduce dependency on public services to deliver more sustainable communities and reduce future demands on the public purse.
• A proactive approach is needed to ensure we make best use of combined resources to deliver outcomes in local areas.
Community directed resources and decision making
Increasingly government is directing limited resources and decision making directly to community organisations and parish councils, bypassing principal councils such as Kirklees. This has included one-off funding pots, such as Community First, but as new legislation and government policy comes into force, this effect will increase and become more systemic.
In addition to resources, a range of formal decision making powers are being focused at the parish/community level, a significant example being the ‘neighbourhood planning’ aspects of the Localism Act. Other provisions in the Localism Act (those relating to ‘assets of community value’ and the ‘community right to challenge’, for example) signal a clear desire for communities to be more actively engaged and involved in developing new locally-based solutions for delivering local priorities and outcomes. Further, more radical devolution of neighbourhood level services to parish level has also been mooted in the Open Public Services White Paper.
None of the above is inconsistent with the aspirations we have already agreed in Kirklees Council’s 2014 vision, but we need to be proactive in how we shape and guide these changes. The danger is that there is not the capacity, or in some cases the will, in local areas to take advantage of these funds or decision making powers, meaning that more disadvantaged communities could lose out, as more articulate and wealthier communities take the lions share of the cash and new opportunities. This could lead to further marginalisation of disadvantaged communities, increasing inequalities and widening gaps; resulting in poorer outcomes and escalating costs for the principal council.
Kirklees Council’s role must be to remove barriers and enable communities to realise their own aims and ambitions. This could make up for the deficiencies in the Government’s ‘Big Society’ model and actually make it work.
Taking the opportunity offered by Neighbourhood Planning
As mentioned above, the Localism Act provides a strong incentive for why we need to support the development of capacity in communities at a local level. The option for areas to produce Neighbourhood Development Plans is both a threat and an opportunity, it is quite right to be cynical about them as being a charter to ‘build as much as you like but not as little as you would wish’ so long as they don’t contradict the numbers in the Local Development Framework. But equally they provide a real opportunity for local dialogue and ownership, not just focused on development and new houses, but around communities’ broader aspirations for their local areas.
We need to ensure that communities have equal chance to develop Neighbourhood Development Plans that are properly resourced, not in conflict with each other and that are not hijacked by developers or other organisations with dubious motives. It would be inefficient to support a locally led Neighbourhood Development Plan Process and then not use to that work to help consolidate that capacity to ensure there is ongoing community based approaches to direct resources and actions on local priorities. As such the establishment of ward based community forums where they don’t exist (and don’t conflict with parish boundaries) should be a priority for Kirklees as should the consolidation of support for them where they do exist. We should also lend our support to enable Town and Parish Councils to realise their potential as bodies to coordinate the delivery of services in their communities.
Potential sources of funding
There are a variety of sources of funding and capacity which could be better aligned to support local community capacity building and the delivery of local priorities and service solutions under the model proposed through this budget amendment. Potential funding sources include:
• Funding which can be accessed by community organisations, but which is not available directly to principal councils – including:
o Parish/Town Council precepts – this is an existing funding stream which has been used to successfully lever in funds from other third sector sources, e.g. Kirkburton Parish Council/East Peak Innovation Partnership.
o Community First and similar initiatives
o Support for capacity building
o Support for the development of community led cooperatives and mutuals
o Funding for community-led energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives, e.g. the Local Energy Assessment Fund
o Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) - Localism Act reforms to the CIL will require a ‘meaningful proportion’ of the levy to be handed over to the local neighbourhoods where the development takes place)
o Big Lottery Funding
o Landfill Tax funding
o Big Society Capital (formerly referred to as the Big Society Bank) - will not make direct grants but will instead act as a wholesaler of capital, attracting funding from foundations, institutional investors, companies and private individuals, to invest in intermediary organisations. Applicants, from all parts of the UK, could approach the intermediary organisations and access capital at a more competitive rate than through a normal bank.
• Kirklees Sources:
o New Homes Bonus – the intention behind the New Homes Bonus which sees the government match the council tax on any new properties for the first six years, was to incentivise communities to ‘go for growth’. It is arguably wrong for the council to rely on such funds for core funding and can lead to accusations, fair or not, that the Council seeks development to fund core services at the detriment of the local environment. If instead this funding was directed towards local communities to resource their priorities there would at least be a logical symmetry in that communities have taken the ‘pain’ of new development but have access to benefits and could direct funding to locally determined priorities
o Land and assets – could be made available, for example through Community Land Trusts to support local priorities and new service solutions (a similar rationale could apply to Parish/Town Council assets).
o Green Deal Partnership funding - the Governments ‘Green Deal’ is introduced this year and partnerships between Councils and Green Deal providers offer real opportunities to raise significant funds based on access to Council, Parish and Community endorsement. This will be new funding that is available and unaccounted for in current Kirklees Budgets
o Community Infrastructure Levy – we could go further than the minimum requirements under the Localism Act and direct a greater proportion of S106/CIL monies to community forums or parish councils
o Kirklees Community Development support and support to local area governance (funding and staff capacity)
o Proportion of planning officer resource
o Proportion of devolved Area Committee budgets
o Other, mainstream Kirklees Council resources, which relate to the delivery of neighbourhood level services, provided they could be disaggregated to a more local level without losing economies of scale or strategic coherence.
Clearly, the arrangements proposed here will take time to develop and embed – it would not be necessary or even desirable to take a ‘big bang’ approach to consolidate the above capacity and funding. What is required, though, is a meaningful enough initial investment to give a clear sense of commitment and provide sufficient leverage to engage parishes and communities, which could then be built up incrementally.
If we are serious about building local community capacity and maximising the impact of increasingly limited but very disparate funding sources, we need to create a new solution to oversight and governance of community level resources. A key principle behind this budget proposal is the need to bring together currently fragmented resources and capacity to enable community-led solutions to emerge and flourish. We have to accept that the traditional ‘top down’ forms of area based governance cannot fulfil this role alone, given that an increasing level of resources are outside of the direct control of the council or local councillors.
The overall thrust of the government’s localism proposals arguably presents a real challenge to local democracy and local community leadership. The approach outlined here, provides a potentially powerful response to that challenge and an opportunity to stimulate a much more dynamic and entrepreneurial role for Kirklees ward councillors.
In addition, it creates an environment where community activity, enterprise and capacity can be combined with public, private and philanthropic resources to stimulate innovation and create added value.
A mechanism needs to be created whereby these resources and funding streams can be collectivised and fairly allocated. We propose establishing an overarching not-for-profit body, independent of Kirklees Council, established with a clear public interest purpose. (Membership of the body could include senior Kirklees councillors, parish chairs, third sector leaders, community representatives, partner agencies, business leaders and others. This would be the primary vehicle to which relevant public sector staff, capacity and resources would be transferred. Similar Community Interest Companies could be established at lower levels of geography, such as Parish/Town Council boundaries, to create, lead and administer community-led programmes and activities, pooling resources available at these lower geographies, such as the parish precept, Area Committee monies, CIL, New Homes bonus etc.. Kirklees ward councillors, working alongside parish councillors and others, would have a key leadership role using the more locally focused CIC’s as a vehicle to pool resources and develop local initiatives based on local priorities and aspirations.
The local CIC’s would draw on the expertise, staff, resources and capacity of the Kirklees-wide body who would provide overarching support, community development capacity, capacity to help support the development of Neighbourhood Development Plans, funding expertise and administrative / back-office support.