Elite ‘Dominate Community Groups’

Government efforts to encourage community participation in public service delivery have resulted in the same small group of well-connected individuals taking up seats on the boards of more and more projects, according to a report.

In recent years, the Government has put considerable investment into encouraging ordinary people to join boards, forums and partnerships to get their community’s voice heard in the running of public institutions.

But new research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation questions how much benefit communities actually gain from this participation, when the same people are sitting on the boards of numerous tenants associations, schools and community projects.

The report’s co-author, Paul Skidmore of think-tank Demos, said: “Whilst it makes sense that social networks encourage communities to tackle problems themselves, and access external resources such as money or support that traditional public services perhaps wouldn’t achieve, the reality is that the school governor is the same person as the chair of resident’s association.

“It is these already well-connected people that are making all of the decisions and as a result becoming even better connected.”

The report urged ministers to develop new governance structures to attract a wider range of participants, rather than simply setting up more and more of the same kind of governing boards.

Opportunities to take part in decision-making could be offered to parents gathering in school playgrounds every morning, rather than assuming that only those willing to turn up for meetings want to get involved, suggested the authors.

“We need to change the culture of participation rather than invent more structures of participation,” said Mr Skidmore.

“The long-term goal would be both to increase and to diversify the pool of people involved in governance. Participation should be something we expect of all communities, and the Government should reward neighbourhoods with the appropriate funding and support.”