News story

Big Society vanguard puts Whitehall on the spot to remove bureaucratic barriers

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Putting civil service resources at the service of communities.

The community coalition in the Eden Valley (Cumbria) Big Society ‘vanguard’ want to break down barriers and remove stifling regulation to change their local area - and have put civil servants on the spot in the process.

At an event in Eden Valley on Friday (5 November 2010), nearly 150 people from community groups took control and put their case for progress directly to civil servants from government departments, who in turn want to break down the barriers in the way of progress.

Eden Valley relish their vanguard status and have proposed some ambitious plans for the area, including:

  • the installation of rural broadband, which could benefit over 60,000 residents
  • ensuring neighbourhood plans deliver more affordable housing
  • installing a hydro-electric generator on the Eden River
  • developing better public transport provision in rural areas
  • letting the community decide how council budgets are spent.

The Big Society is a revolution in terms of how the civil service are operating. Instead of only being focused upwards on providing advice to ministers, Whitehall is now putting those resources at the service of communities nationwide.

Representatives from government departments (including Department for Communities and Local Government, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills) spoke about each project, and gave people and community groups direct advice on how to navigate the various terms, conditions, rules and regulations.

This direct support will also see departments completely removing barriers where they can, or making special concessions to see that community groups can do it for themselves.

Decentralisation Minister Greg Clark said:

“It’s local people who have the energy and the best ideas that can transform communities, not us here in Whitehall. But for too long the stranglehold of bureaucracy has stopped citizens and communities from getting on and taking control.

“We need to stand national government on its head. We are going to work with communities not by telling them what to do from London but by listening and supporting where we need to.

“It’s great to see these exciting ideas emerging in the vanguard areas that will help us to understand and resolve the bureaucratic hurdles that get in the way of locally driven social action, essential to building the Big Society.

“As the vanguards are showing, there is no shortage of talented and passionate people out there who every day think ‘I could do that better - and probably cheaper too’. I believe they are right and it’s these local innovators who need a government that actively supports them in their endeavours.”

Over the past few months, 4 vanguard areas across the country have been given dedicated support from civil servants to nurture their Big Society project - turning them from ideas to reality.

Their job is to remove the bureaucracy and red tape that impedes community action. Many similar barriers have been identified, including:

  • accessing the right information
  • navigating around the various Whitehall contacts and agencies
  • cultural barriers and perception problems in Whitehall

The 3 village communities in the Eden Valley want to deliver better value for money solutions to problems ranging from the need for cycle and footpaths to affordable housing to high speed broadband access for every home in the Eden Valley. They have been frustrated by the various tiers of government and its agencies ‘at every turn’.

Progress to date includes:

  • Cumbria is now named as a pilot area for superfast broadband and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and the Department for Communities and Local Government are working alongside Broadband UK and other officials to support the community in participating in the next steps
  • Department for Communities and Local Government and Homes and Communities Agency officials have made significant progress in working closely with Eden Valley communities and enable them to identify the local housing they need be built
  • Department for Communities and Local Government is brokering discussions with the community and the council over how we can give more power to the community over local budgets
  • support is being provided to help with the take over of community assets (eg a pub), development of local renewable generation and community transport schemes ideas

(Photo above by John Popham on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons).