MPs and Big Local
MPs who are well informed about Big Local can help publicise what is happening through the programme and work with residents to tackle the issues that they have identified.
Big Local area’s relationships with their local MPs develop and change over time. For many areas the relationship starts from just getting in touch with their MP to let them know about Big Local. This can then move on to MPs sharing information and publicising Big Local and in some cases the relationship has moved on to the area actively working with their MP.
Big Local reps have told us that 42% MPs with a Big Local area are supportive of what they are doing through Big Local. And whilst very few MPs are currently perceived as negative (3%). This leaves 55% of area’s MPs who are neutral about Big Local.
Many Big Local areas have found that opening up communications with MPs can provide opportunities and connections that were previously not expected.
Turning potential critics into allies
Sharing of learning and informing an MP can turn a potential critic into an ally for what an area is trying to achieve through Big Local. But, building a relationship with your local MP can be challenging. Particularly if the MP does not have a good understanding of the long-term, resident-led nature of Big Local or they have unhelpful preconceptions.
When there's little information, MPs (like anyone else) can speculate about how Big Local funding is being used and whether it's appropriate, and can come to misinformed conclusions.
How have Big Local areas engaged their MPs?
Big Local areas are interacting with their MPs in a range of ways. The types of engagement can roughly be grouped into three types of activity:
- Informing your MP
- Getting support from your MP to attract publicity and interest in Big Local
- Working together to tackle issues in the area
Areas have shown that they can straddle more than one of these types of activity. Areas often move through these types of engagement. Whether they do this depends on what they require, and how the level of trust between them and their MP develops.
1. Informing your MP
Most Big Local areas start contact with their MP by dropping their MP a note by email or letter to let them know what is happening in the area. However this can often turn into a meeting, or an MP sharing information with others about Big Local.
Whitley Bay Big Local found out how an email to their MP quickly turned into a meeting
Partnership board member and Big Local ambassador Sue Miller knew that Whitley Bay’s MP – Alan Campbell - had become aware of Big Local through a range of contacts.
Sue and the wider Whitley Bay partnership are natural alliance builders, and look to make connections that will advance the aims of Big Local in Whitley Bay. They recognised the potential usefulness of more direct contact with Alan. So Sue emailed Alan to update him on what is happening with Big Local.
They have now met and he is planning to join the group for a walkabout in the area. We’re looking forward to finding out how this meeting goes and how their relationship progresses.
North West Ipswich have been keeping their MP up to date, and are looking at how they might work together in future
‘We have been keen to work with Dr Dan through Big Local. What we are trying to achieve through Big Local overlaps with his constituency duties. He has helpfully publicised our activities on his website and his endorsement can add strength to our plans.’
Faye Smith (North West Ipswich project officer)
Dr Daniel Poulter MP has been the MP for Central Suffolk since May 2010. In July 2010 North West Ipswich in his constituency was announced as a Big Local area by the Big Lottery Fund.
Dr Dan has been supportive of those involved in Big Local from the beginning. He keeps up to date directly by meeting with residents involved in Big Local and also finds out about progress by regular contact with local councillors.
More specifically, Dr Dan is a qualified and practicing medical doctor and served as a Parliamentary under Secretary of State in the Department of Health. Improved health is a major aspiration as set out in the area’s Big Local plan. With activities such as working towards becoming a Dementia Action Alliance representing this focus.
Faye has explained that the area plan to continue to engage with Dr Dan, with future quarterly meetings currently being put into the calendar. She is also already thinking about how the area can work with Dr Dan to share more widely what they are doing in North West Ipswich to influence how communities are supported nationally.
Above: Dr Dan meets with the North West Ipswich Big Local team at the Castle Hill Community Centre for an overview and to discuss future planning.
2. Getting support from your MP to attract publicity and interest in Big Local
Publicity for what you are doing may just encourage that extra volunteer or two to get involved, or that extra community organisation to apply for funding.
Thurcroft Big Local have worked with their MP to publicise Big Local
Kevin Barron MP helped Thurcroft Big Local to publicise their small grants scheme, by encouraging applications in an article on his website.
On the evening of the awards he awarded 11 small grants from Big Local funding. All the projects support one of the three themes in the Thurcroft Big Local Plan - community pride, regeneration or children and young people.
Above: Kevin Barron MP makes an award of £187 to the ‘Tiny Explorers’ project.
Arches Local have worked to build relationships and consensus in their area
Arches Local have found their local MP Tracey Crouch to be incredibly supportive.
‘Tracey is an MP that is interested in what is happening in her constituency, so it was natural that she would be interested in Big Local. We just had to set up an initial meeting and things have carried on from there.
She can always be relied on to turn up to an event to lend a hand, such as when she opened our new Pocket Park.’
Stephen Perez, local resident and Big Local worker
Tracey can be relied on to attend events organised by Big Local. She also shares with her constituents information about projects Arches Local are involved in.
Above: Tracey Crouch posting about Arches Local on Facebook
‘I am extremely proud to be supporting Arches Local in their continued work for the benefit of all that live in the Arches Local area. This is a group that brings local people together to push for positive and lasting difference for the community and I was particularly delighted by their recent successful funding award for the Luton Millennium Green to become a Pocket Park.
Increasing the availability of green space draws more people outside, giving people in Medway more space to relax, exercise, get together with their neighbours, grow food and provide a safe space for their children to play. This is just one of the benefits Arches Local has brought to the community and I look forward to supporting the group in the future.’
Tracey Crouch, Member of Parliament for Chatham and Aylesford.
3. Working together to tackle issues in the area
In some cases Big Local areas relationships with their MPs have moved one step further. They are actively working together to address the issues identified by residents.
Toothill’s MP uses his specialist skills to support them
Those involved in Toothill Big Local have kept their MP – Robert Buckland up to date with Big Local as they have progressed. They have found it helpful that the MP has provided public support for what they are doing. He has been happy to provide quotes for when they have achieved press coverage, he has written about Big Local on his blog and made himself available for photo opportunities.
The MPs support to the Big Local group goes further than his help with publicity. Robert is a trained solicitor and those involved in Toothill have looked to him for advice about issues such as what services are local authority statutory provision and what is additional to this. This has been helpful in identifying roles and responsibilities as the local authority are the locally trusted organisation.
Robert has also provided advice to the area about the provision of funding to support the medical costs of a very sick young resident as well as during discussions about a potential park and open space project.
What specialist skills does your MP have, and could they be put to good use in support of Big Local?
Wormholt and White City Big Local have a good relationship with their MP, Andy Slaughter
Wormholt and White City residents keep Andy informed about Big Local and he is on hand to publicise what is happening through Big Local. The relationship goes further than this though – they actively work together.
Andy has made himself available to pick up residents issues referred to him by the Big Local group. Particularly housing, health and welfare concerns. Those involved in Big Local sign post residents who have particular issues to Andy and his staff, particularly where there are issues that are relevant to the MP that are not currently a plan priority.
The Big Local group referred a man from the Big Local area to Andy. The man had his leg amputated and had waited over nine months for benefits to be awarded. Following intervention from Andy an appointment was offered for the person to attend a medical assessment, and then a welfare assessment. This resulted in benefits being awarded plus also discretionary housing benefit.
‘Andy is well known in the Big Local area, he speaks on behalf of the people in the area, campaigning to support their concerns and lobbying parliament on a number of high profile issues.’
Angela Burns, Wormholt and White City resident and befriending co-ordinator.
Above: Andy Slaughter MP tweeting about Wormholt and White City festival
What we can learn from these Big Local areas?
When Big Local areas initially make contact with their MP it is usually to share and inform. Relationships with MPs take time to build, but when an MP has a good understanding of what a Big Local area is doing, they may be able to publicise what is happening or even work with the area on specific issues.
For some areas their MPs can provide healthy challenge, be a good information source, a connector, a good way to gain valuable column inches and communicate with residents in their area.
Making sure MPs are informed about Big Local is very important. If they know what's going on, even if it’s a behind-the-scenes activity, they will be more likely to be supportive.