Skip to Main Content
Power and leadership

Reimagining community and neighbourhood governance

As Local Trust publishes two new reports on community governance, Steven Barclay, Local Trust’s policy officer, reflects on what the key findings could mean for our most under-resourced communities.

In 2021, we asked community activists from Big Local areas to tell us about the issues that are most important to them, to inform our national policy work to secure well-funded, long-term support for communities.

Collectively, there was consensus that the most important issue was not housing or regeneration, or the quality of local public services – but the way in which our current system makes it difficult for communities, particularly those in the most under-resourced neighbourhoods,those that might be described as ‘left behind’, to take action to improve the places where they live.

“The participants in our discussions argued that we needed to reimagine our current processes to enable communities to have more power and control on the local issues that most affect them.”

In response, we’ve been thinking hard about how our approach to community and neighbourhood governance needs to change. And, this week, we’re releasing two reports on the topic.

Trusting local people

Our in-depth report, Trusting local people, aims to inform the review of community and neighbourhood governance promised in the Levelling Up White Paper ‘to empower communities’. It also seeks to inform the Labour Party’s thinking on how to achieve one of their stated aspirations: to enable local people ‘to take back control’.

The report examines how well current community or neighbourhood governance work for the neighbourhoods that are most lacking in power and resources and argues that there is currently a two-tier system.

The areas that would most benefit from parish and town councils and neighbourhood forums – in which residents most need a voice and access to resources to improve their areas – tend to lack them for a range of reasons, including that current processes are too complicated and time consuming.

Meanwhile, there is also concern that neither parish or town councils, nor neighbourhood forums, really offer the powers and responsibilities that communities need to improve outcomes for local residents.

The report argues that, in order for any new system to meet the needs and respond to the aspirations of under-resourced neighbourhoods, we need:

  • investment in their social infrastructure (places to meet, community organisations and groups, digital and transport connectivity)
  • measures to build residents’ capacity to improve their areas
  • a genuine transfer of power and resources to their communities by developing a system of ‘community partners’ – existing community organisations eligible to take on the powers and duties of parish and town councils and neighbourhood forums in areas that currently lack them, as well as a strengthening of these powers.

The report also points to the need for a reset in the relationship between communities and local government, since local authorities can promote or stifle community initiative.

Reforming neighbourhood governance

The second report, Reforming neighbourhood governance to realise community potential, is a summary of the proceedings of a two-day consultation at St George’s House, which brings people together from different sectors and backgrounds to explore solutions to major challenges.

Held in September 2022 in partnership with Local Trust, the discussion considered community and neighbourhood governance, including what works and what needs to change.

Those who participated in the consultation also want to see real change, particularly for under-resourced communities. The report echoes our report in calling for:

  • a shift towards a community-led approach and more flexible structures, so that communities can engage on their own terms
  • making sure that community or neighbourhood governance processes are as non-bureaucratic as possible, so local people can get on and tackle the important issues that matter most to them
  • boosting community capacity to get more residents engaged.

The report also discusses how local government should support community governance.

Supporting under-resourced neighbourhoods

Both reports conclude that changes to community and neighbourhood governance should be judged on whether they support the residents of the most under-resourced neighbourhoods, to improve their areas and the prospects of residents.

If this is achieved, we will have created the conditions in which every community has the opportunity to thrive and where residents, no matter where they live or work, have access to what they need to make their neighbourhood healthy, prosperous and sustainable, for years to come.

Explore more in our latest reports, Trusting local people and Reforming neighbourhood governance to realise community potential.

About the author
Steven Barclay

Policy officer at Local Trust