This evening the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) team with whom I'd spent a highly productive hour yesterday held a session with Executive members, discussing together what Community Engagement means to us as members of the administration and how we feel our residents could be better kept informed and involved. As well as Lead Member Councillor Paul Fisher and myself, the Executive was represented by Conservative councillors Lin Davies, Pam Fisher and Paul Lynch.
It was particularly useful having major service departments represented at the meeting. There were perspectives that were unique to Children's and Adult Services which they brought to the meeting, and Cllr. Lynch's sterling work with the Gurkha community provided a fine example of how we were endeavouring to improve Community Cohesion by understanding the particular difficulties faced by newly-arrived communities.
Area Committees featured prominently in a discussion on improving local democracy. It was brought to our attention that the London Borough of Southwark had eight such bodies (it calls them Community Councils) where we have five, and that they are provided with a total budget of £3 million. Now three million pounds is a lot of money, even to Paul Fisher, until one considers that much of this spend is simply passported to the local groups as opposed to having to be committed centrally, often to the same areas of the council's operation. By giving the money to the devolved groups to spend, however, it is more likely to end up where it is truly wanted and needed by Southwark's local communities. Food for thought, surely?
The IDeA team will be presenting a summary of its findings tomorrow afternoon, and I look forward to having more to report following that event.