what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

part VI - trying to tame the system

I realise that I am breaking the rules of blogging (and writing) by using it to serialise a longer paper. What you are reading first on a blog is the last thing written - and, at the moment, these "blogs" have references which can be properly understood only by looking at earlier "blogs".
But it's a useful process for me - since placing the text on the internet (accessible to everyone and anyone) forces me think of the reader and therefore helps editing. Generally, my first thought is for the ideas - and this is very obvious by the size of the original paper from which the text is excerpted is key paper 5 on my website which you will find on "links" (publicadmin reform).
And I do have to be clear why I bother to draft these papers (on "key papers" on the website) about the lessons from the various initiatives I've been involved with - and, in particular, about events of 30 years ago. Part of the answer, I suppose, is that international consultancy is a lonely business. You don't get the chance to take part in internal seminars - so you have to talk to yourself! That may explain the more recent papers - but not the accounts of earlier events. I suppose the reason why I still think and write about these older events is because so few others do. Those who write books are pursuing the modern - which carries with it the implication that what went before was useless. And few books are written about the work done by the hundreds of thousands of officials and councillors at the coal-face. I do feel that our sense of who we are requires us to have an historical perspective - particularly about our working lives. Who was it who wrote that without a sense of history, we are doomed to repeat all the mistakes??

In those days (the 1970s) the mythology was that the urban ghettos (which were actually the new housing schemes on the periphery of the towns and cities) had a disproportionate amount of money spent on them. The opposite was in fact true: it was the middle class who benefited disproportionately from state spending - particularly education and housing subsidy.

Up until then the attempts of a few of us to persuade our political and officer colleagues that (a) the conditions in the housing estates were unacceptable and (b) that there were better ways of using local authority resources had met with indifference and hostility. There was, we were patronisingly told, nothing we could do to change the behaviour of such people.
In 1975, however, a national Report (Born to Fail) gave us proof that the conditions were much worse in the West of Scotland than in the rest of the UK: each town had its collection of housing schemes which were seen as problematic. They could not therefore be fatalistically accepted. They were not God-given!
And, furthermore, this was not an internal report with confidential status and restricted circulation. It was a public report which had aroused the interest of the regional and national press. It could not be ignored. Some sort of response was called for.
In trying to develop a response we faced strong resistance from two sources - first the left within the Labour Party who argued that economic realities meant that there was nothing that could be done at a local level (and in this they were joined by Keynesians). Growth and redistribution were matters for national Government.
The second difficult group was the staff of the public sector whose loyalties were to their particular profession rather than to a local authority, a neighbourhood or policy group! And many staff had deeply-held prejudices about the capacity of people in these areas - and the desirability of working participatively with them - let alone other professional or local politicians.
How we devised a policy response - and its focus - had to be sensitive to these attitudes. The search for policy was also made immediately more difficult by the absence of any "experts" in the field. We knew there were none within the Council: and appeals to the local Universities produced no responses in those days.

We could, however, vaguely see four paths which had not been attempted -
· Positive Discrimination : the scope for allocating welfare State resources on a more equitable basis had been part of the "New Left" critique since the late 1950s (Townsend). Being a new organisation meant that it was to no-one's shame to admit that they did not know how exactly the money was being allocated. Studies were carried out which confirmed our suspicions that it was the richer areas which, arguably, needed certain services least (eg "pre-school" services for children) which, in fact, had the most of them! And, once discovered, this was certainly an area we considered we had a duty to engage in redistribution of resources - notwithstanding those who considered this was not for local government to attempt.
· Community Development : one of the major beliefs shared by some of us driving the new Council (borne of our own experience) was that the energies and ideas of residents and local officials in these "marginalised" areas were being frustrated by the hierarchical structures of departments whose professionals were too often prejudiced against local initiatives. Our desire was to find more creative organisational forms which would release these ideas and energies - of residents and professionals alike. This approach meant experimentation (Barr; Henderson; McConnell).
· Inter-Agency Cooperation : there needed to be a focussed priority of all departments and agencies on these areas. Educational performance and health were affected more by housing and income than by teachers and doctors! One agency - even as large as Strathclyde - could not do much on its own. An intensive round of dialogues were therefore held in 1976/77 with District Councils, Central Government, Health Boards, Universities and Voluntary Organisations: it must be said that considerable time elapsed before there were material results from this eg it was 1984 before the Joint Area Initiatives in the larger Glasgow Housing Schemes were up and running.
· Information and Income-Maximisation : the Region could certainly use its muscle to ensure that people were getting their entitlements : ie the information and advice to receive the welfare benefits many were missing out on. The campaigns mounted in the late 1970s were soon pulling millions of pounds into these areas: and served as a national model which attracted the active interest of the Minister at the time.

45 areas were designated as "Areas of Priority Treatment" (APTs); to try to work differently in these areas; and to learn from that.
Basically the approach was that local residents should be encouraged to become active in the following ways -
· have their own local forums - where, with the local politicians and officials, they could monitor services and develop new projects.
· have access to a special local initiative fund - The national "Urban Programme" Fund. It was not a lot of money - 10 million dollars a year from a total development budget of 300 million and had problems referred to in section 11.1 below. But without it, there would have been little stomach for the innovative (and risky) projects. At the best of times, senior management of most departments would have been a bit ambivalent about locally designed and managed projects: and these were not the best of times!
· have their own expert advisers (more than 300 community workers and more specialist advisers (in such fields as housing, welfare benefits, credit unions, community business) in what were initially 45 designated priority areas of, on average, 10,000 people with unemployment rates of about 20%)

Such an approach allowed "a hundred flowers to bloom" - and the development in 1982, after an intensive and inclusive review of the experience of the first five years, of the principles and framework of the Social Strategy for the Eighties.

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