Dame Louise castigates the myriad of reviews on cohesion and integration in terms of the tangible impact they have (not) had, with resources targeted at easy wins and irrelevant activities whilst segregation has been exacerbated by public policy. In her view, difficult conversations have often been avoided at a local level. This isn’t my experience in local government, as a school governor, and an active citizen where at all levels, there are people prepared to do the key three things – ask the unaskable, think the unthinkable and say the unsayable. It’s just finding out who is doing it and how they are doing it and creating safe and amplified spaces to do this.
The Royal Society of Arts has done some thoughtful work on connecting communities and networks in south London. They found the connectors can be different and disparate in different places. In one area, it may be someone with formal status power like an effective MP, but in other areas, a teaching assistant, street cleaner or the counter person at the Post Office is playing that role.
Dame Louise’s review has been challenged for its tone and content which appears to place the onus to change on those minority communities and those recently arrived. The APPG on Integration’s recent report proposes an alternative ‘2-way street’ model based on a contract between all communities of interest and place.
Few commentators have recognised Dame Louise’s welcome emphasis on ‘small acts of kindness’ that glue us together, nurture compassion and lead to an economic benefit of £56bn per annum.
So what next for public services and local government leaders in particular? We are still waiting for a formal response from Government. Some of the more eye-catching elements such as the proposed ‘Integration Oath’ appear to have received some support informally, but confirmation of this has not been announced. Other recommendations advocate a shift in policy direction away from the relaxation of monitoring burdens with mandatory performance indicators and area plans.
It’s not clear at this point whether this becomes another review with a limited impact like others it castigates, or whether it does gain some traction, focus and resource. Whatever happens next, I think there are three questions to ask right now in early 2017 relating to opportunity and integration at a local level in local government:
- What understanding do I/we have as civic leaders of the lived experience of those migrating and those experiencing the impacts of immigration at a local level?
- What is the impact of the decision I/we are taking today on reducing isolation, and segregation in our community?; and perhaps most importantly;
- How can I/we facilitate and amplify simple acts of kindness at a local level that nurture compassion and challenge hatred and misunderstanding?