Posted on March 13, 2015
The process of preparing the promised policy paper on local and community development has finally got underway with the publication of a draft paper, ‘Our Communities: A Framework Policy for Local and Community Development in Ireland’by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Submissions are invited by 10 April 2015. There is no indication as yet that the department will engage in a more intensive consultation with either the local development sector or the community sector.
Although not specifically stated, the policy paper is likely to replace the ‘White Paper on a framework for supporting voluntary activity and for developing the relationship between the state and the community and voluntary sector’ which was finalised in 2001 after a full process of consultation with the community and voluntary sector.
While the paper is a draft document, subject to changes following submissions, it is clearly focused on consolidating ‘Putting People First: an action programme for effective local government’ published in 2012 and subsequently implemented with the Local Government (Reform) Act 2014 - which resulted in new structures and processes at local level including:
- The Local Community Development Committee (LCDC), with management responsibility for the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP) and the development of a 6 year Local Economic and Community Plan (LECP).
- The Public Participation Network (PPN) through which the local authority will interface with community organisations.
The paper sets out the core objectives and measures of the framework:
- Engaging with communities via the PPN and other mechanisms to involve communities in planning and decision-making.
- Pursuing a ‘whole of government’ approach at local/national level by developing resources and skills and by establishing and supporting LCDCs.
- Planning for local and community development through the development of Local Economic and Community Plans.
- Establishing a National Policy Group on Local and Community Development to oversee development of effective arrangements for communication, consultation and coordination between national, local and community levels.
- Local authorities will exercise effective leadership to ensure greater coherence of service delivery.
- In relation to community level work, local authorities will develop effective relationships between national and local government and communities and improve community participation through the PPN and other mechanisms.
- Government, acting primarily through local authorities, will implement monitoring, evaluation and review processes.
The draft Framework is clearly focused on government’s objective to move local authorities from ‘a peripheral involvement in local development programmes’ to being the ‘primary vehicle of governance and public service at local level’. The previous reduction/absorption of the Community Development Programme and the granting of management oversight of SICAP to the LCDC facilitates the realisation of this objective.
The draft Framework is distinctly woolly in its understanding of the separate role and function of community development and local development and of the expected complementarity between the two. Community development is about social change linked to social justice, whereas local development seeks to garner, coordinate and direct resources towards local and regional development priorities, including addressing social exclusion (provided resources are dedicated to supporting/strengthening the community sector to that purpose).
Compared to the 2001 White Paper there is little understanding that community development activity is based on independence and choice. Civil society organisations cannot therefore be organised and directed by the state without negotiation and consent.
In stating that community development organisations ‘have become overly dependent on statutory funding’ there is some indication of a rejection of sole state responsibility to fund community development.
In contrast to the 2001 White Paper, there is no acceptance of the right of the state and the community/voluntary sector to constructively critique each other, something that is essential to achieving better services and better outcomes for disadvantaged people. Neither is there an acceptance of the structural nature of social exclusion and inequality as in the 2001 White Paper.
Finally, the draft Framework doesn’t outline the role of community development and local development in pioneering new approaches. The document is all about co-ordination and efficiency.
In conclusion, this is a draft paper for consultation, so there is an opportunity to inform its development. Given the concerns expressed above, and the variances with the principles informing the 2001 White Paper, it is extremely important that the draft is influenced and improved.
- ‘Our Communities: A Framework Policy for Local and Community Development in Ireland’ is available on the website of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government
- Aiden Lloyd is a member of the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Initiative, a network of organisations and individuals with a shared belief that increased protection of ESC rights in Irish law would contribute to a more just, inclusive and equal society. Aiden was the former National Community Development Coordinator at Pobal.