Communities in control

I read with interest Bob Holman's article on funding community projects ("Down but not out on the estate", 14 August). Bob gives an eloquent illustration of why projects rooted in the neighbourhood are often more effective at reaching excluded people. I understand his concerns about creating powerful partnerships of professionals and funding them to take decisions for communities, and that is why we will ensure that a central measure of success for the proposed local strategic partnerships will be how effectively they engage local people. We would be wise to heed his strictures on the charge of top-down approaches.

However, Holman should give this government credit for what it has done to empower local people. My own department (Education and Employment) has developed the Community Champions Fund, which supports individuals and community groups who make things happen for their own and others' communities, whether they are communities of place or of interest. I can cite the example of a group of young single mothers living on the Ladywood Estate in Birmingham. Funded through Community Champions, they have come together to help each other overcome the barriers they face in accessing training and finding work.

We are working across government to make funding more accessible to communities, and additional resources are being made available through the spending review. I also take issue with Holman's view that small grants to communities represent an insignificant investment. Relatively small grants are more accessible, more flexible and can make an immense difference to local people - particularly when it comes to taking the first steps. I believe that we also need to invest strategically in deprived communities - perhaps by developing the concept of "social risk capital" - to make sure they are on a level playing field with service providers and can take control of the regeneration process.

Real, sustainable change will be achieved only if residents are directly involved and enabled to take control of the renewal process, and that is what we will strive to achieve through the implementation of the National Strategy.

David Blunkett
House of Commons

This article first appeared in the 28 August 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Secrecy laws will never be the same