Saturday, 12 September 2009

ICG raises the game on Community Engagement

A lot has been happening politically in the ten days or so since I last blogged, but probably nothing so significant as the Report carried through Executive by Councillor Paul Fisher on Tuesday which put the meat on the bones of the successful Motion on Community Empowerment put to Borough Council by the Community Group back in July.

The Report introduced the findings of the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) who had been commissioned towards the end of 2008 to look into Hounslow's general approach to the subject of Community Engagement. Engagement is, of course, one of those all-embracing buzz words that is used by councils of all political complexions but actually understood in its proper sense by few. To many it is an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction in which boxes have to be ticked before a piece of work can be done. What it actually is in its true sense however is a recognition that as members and officers our role is to offer the services to local people that they actually require from us.

Not wishing to cramp Paul's style I watched the meeting at home on the webcast and was amused by the tempered protests of one Executive member who complained that the Report had undertones of New Labour. Those of us who came together in an Isleworth pub in 1994 and who have been fighting ever since for our community to be elevated to its rightful place in the collective mindset of the local authority machine would not associate this project with New Labour, of all people, in a million years. Empowerment is about taking elitism and control-freakery out of our local politics.

There is a discussion still to be had about the developing role of Area Committees, which was lifted from the Report as it was felt it was a subject deserving of a separate discussion in its own right, however with this Report having been given the nod the dynamic is clearly for more local democracy, not less.

Paul's excellent Report was just the lastest manifestation of the Community Group's determination to have all the most significant aspects of its political programme incorporated into the process before the May 2010 local elections. Its passing was a massive development in the relentless onward march towards a people-focused council in Hounslow.

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