Leadership and partnership
1. What leadership are you offering on community cohesion from your board, within your organisation and with your partners?
This question is based on the premise that best practice emphasises the importance of visible vocal leadership in making a successful contribution to community cohesion. The question also recognises that joint action is invariably far more effective than working in isolation.
Self assessment questions
- Are all the leaders experienced in and committed to the principles of community cohesion, community engagement, equality and diversity and partnership working?
- Are all the leaders clear about the connections and differences between each of those principles?
- Are leaders aware of the diverse range of communities within the area you serve and do they know what divides and unites these different communities?
- Do you have a board level leader with specific responsibility and authority to champion community cohesion?
- In what ways do leaders communicate their commitment to community cohesion (to staff, partners, suppliers and to communities)?
- Do you have an evidence based strategy for community cohesion and does the board receive regular reports about progress and effectiveness in delivering the strategy?
- Does the strategy set clear, measurable objectives for community cohesion and is the level of stated priority matched by an allocation of resources?
- Does your strategy address the key objectives of reducing health inequalities and investing for equality of outcomes that are fundamental to community cohesion?
- Do you subject board level decisions to community cohesion impact assessments?
- Are the leaders involved in partnerships with other key public, voluntary and community sector agencies?
- Are leaders involved in partnership working at different levels (i.e. local neighbourhoods, LSP or district wide, regional)?
Some examples of good practice
In Coventry the city-wide partnership sees community cohesion as part of a strategic approach to the city's key issues. Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr Kevin Foster says:
"There are no easy answers. We can not solve all the problems by just getting different people into the same room. We need a holistic approach which ensures we are aware of the changing issues and do not stick rigidly to strategies that may be out dated or which do not reflect a changing situation."
He argues that the greatest threat to community cohesion can be failing to address the inequality of opportunity between those born into a wealthy background and those from our poorest communities.
"We need to make sure we understand the differences in life chances between people living in different communities and then address the issues in three ways:
- By tackling prejudice through education and communication
- By making sure all our services are delivering what different sections of the community need, whilst ensuring equality is maintained
- By accepting that we won't reach a state when all the issues are resolved and we can cease to work, building cohesive communities is a never ending journey, not a simple A-B route."
Such an approach means that all the key public agencies, the voluntary sector and faith groups must work together to ensure that community cohesion is not a strategy on a shelf, but a way of life for local people.
One of the main themes of Lord Darzi's review, 'High quality care for all' (2008) is closer working between the NHS and Local Government. The review makes several specific proposals for joint working:
- Integrated care organisations will be established, based around groups of GP practices and jointly run by the local NHS and councils;
- From 2009 personal health budgets, designed jointly by NHS, councils, carers and patients, will be introduced for people with some long-term conditions;
- PCTs, in partnership with councils will be responsible for commissioning wellbeing and prevention services, tailored to local needs but focusing on the six priorities of tackling obesity, reducing alcohol harm, treating drug addiction, reducing smoking rates and improving sexual and mental health
- By spring 2009, all PCTs must publish strategic plans for delivering the Darzi proposals that emphasise strong partnership working between PCTs, councils and the private and third sectors.
All these proposals present a great opportunity to improve health services and enhance community cohesion at the same time.
Middlesbrough has a Cohesion Partnership which was successful in their bid in 2006 to the NHS to become a national Single Equality Scheme Learning Site. The group consists of a range of organisations including the PCT, Cleveland Police, the Council, Middlesbrough College, South Tees Hospitals Trust, Tees and North East Yorkshire Trust and Tees Valley Housing. They have agreed a common vision for a joint single equality scheme framework and are developing a joint action plan to address shared issues around equality, diversity and community cohesion. The group has publicised its commitment to joint working through the Middlesbrough Equality Pact and organised a joint stakeholder event to launch the framework both for service providers and the wider community stakeholders.
'Community cohesion: seven steps, the practitioner's toolkit', published by the Government in 2005, contains a chapter on 'Leadership and commitment', with a number of examples of good practice from their case studies. In the Bury 'Community cohesion Pathfinder' awareness raising sessions were held for all elected members at strategic and local ward level to build an understanding of cohesion into their leadership role. In Oldham, councillors have a community cohesion hour at the beginning of each council meeting. This is an opportunity for councillors to participate in debate about how to improve cohesion, listen to the views of local people and learn from experience elsewhere. One session included discussion with a group of sixth formers who had researched the views of young people. In Hillingdon, representatives of a political party with extremist views were distributing material, containing inaccuracies, so a cross-party group of councillors worked together to leaflet commuters at the local tube station, pointing out the inaccuracies and countering the extremist policies. In response to a racist letter published in the local paper three party leaders wrote a joint article countering myths about asylum seekers and describing their positive contribution to the local community. Similar leadership was displayed in Stoke where the mayor championed a myth busting strategy, helping asylum seekers to integrate and contribute to the community in the city.
Hampshire County council has adopted policies and strategies to address unfair discrimination against disadvantaged people within its service delivery and supported this with high profile leadership. All Chief Officers report to the chief Executive who champions the "Quality through Equality" strategy.