Communities Secretary John Denham today called on councils to sign community contracts with local residents as a way to drive up the standard of local services – including providing redress when things go wrong - and announced support to help them to do it.
Community contracts - or neighbourhood charters - are voluntary written agreements between residents and local services setting out clear standards of service and priorities for action as well as the role local people can play in helping the services achieve this.
Local services and residents work together to identify their priorities for the neighbourhood. These can include issues that are important to them such as anti social behaviour, litter, graffiti or street lighting. The contracts could also cover methods of redress when standards are not met ranging from a commitment from the council to solve the problem to considering financial compensation.
Evidence shows community contracts work. Eleven areas across the country have already piloted community contracts and an evaluation of the programme – published today – shows they can help local people understand what services they are entitled to, build better relationships with their councils and as a result secure improvements to services and neighbourhoods.
New guidance will set out practical advice on how councils and other services can develop and maintain contracts. A new online discussion forum will also be available on the IDeA's (Improvement and Development Agency for local government) website where people can share experience and good practice. Mentoring support will also be offered to areas wishing to develop contracts that are part of the Connecting Communities initiative - a £12million Government programme set up to help address the concerns of traditional working class communities.
Community contracts are another way of securing high quality local services people are entitled to. Over the past six months the Government has set out new measures to give greater powers to local people through:
- personalised budgets giving patients the right to more control over their care and the services they can ask for;
- rights to be consulted on services such as local policing, anti social behaviour;
- ensuring councils respond to petitions and tell residents what action is going to be taken to address their concerns; and
- enhanced scrutiny powers.
John Denham said:
"Community contracts are an important way for local people to tell councils and agencies about what matters to them and to get action taken on the issues that matter most to them. New guidance and support being provided will make it easier for local residents and service providers to get involved.
"Local councils and agencies provide vital services that affect our everyday lives. It is important they take account of the views of the people from the communities they serve."
There are already examples of community contracts working across the country for the benefit of local people. These include:
Residents on an estate in Sunderland have developed a Clean Green Safer contract with Home Group (the Registered Social Landlord that owns the estate) and a wide range of partners. Since the development of the contract the residents association has reported a drop in complaints about crime and anti-social behaviour, and litter picks, garden tidy ups and an annual garden competition have led to improvements in the local environment.
Residents in Oldham were concerned about crime and anti social behaviour. Working with the partners including the police and local councils they agreed how they would respond to and reduce crime in the area including what residents would do to report and prevent it. Residents involved in the scheme report a reduced fear of crime, improved relationships with police community safety officers and an increase in their perception of police visibility in the area.
In Barnsley residents were concerned about vandalism and litter problems. They worked with their council on a community contract to clean up their neighbourhood. Residents including young people act as community champions and provide regular feedback to service providers. People report that vandalism, graffiti and litter problems have reduced and the percentage of people saying they are satisfied with local services has increased.
Notes to editors
1) Community contracts are also known as neighbourhood agreements or local charters. Communities and Local Government ran a pilot programme in 11 areas from January 2008 which was managed by the National Association of Neighbourhood Managers. The areas were:
- Eastern Road, Brighton
- Fairstead, West Norfolk
- Oldington and Foley Park, Worcestershire
- Hathershaw and Fitton Hill, Oldham
- Plains Farm, Sunderland
- Croft and Cowpens Quay, Northumberland
- Springwell, Gateshead
- Athersley and New Lodge, Barnsley
- Lewisham, London
- South Bank, London; and
- Manton, Bassetlaw
2) The evaluation is available on the Communities and Local Government web-site - www.communities.gov.uk
3) IDeA's online discussion forum offering support will be available later this month. CLG guidance setting out advice on developing contracts will be published in the Spring.
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