Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Home Office (SOC 26)


  1.  The Committee has invited witnesses to submit written evidence. This memorandum is the Home Office response.

  2.  Following the 2001 disturbances the Home Secretary set up a Ministerial Group on Public Order and Community Cohesion to consider how national policies might be used to promote better community cohesion. He also set up the Community Cohesion Review Team to seek the views of local residents and community leaders where the disturbances had occurred about what needed to be addressed to bring about cohesion and to identify good practice.

  3.  The two bodies published their reports in December 2001. The Review Team made a range of proposals. The Ministerial Group set out the Government's response in terms of action already taken, and proposals for further action; including the maintenance of the Group to ensure continued cross-Departmental working, and the establishment of an independent Community Cohesion Panel of people with relevant knowledge to support Ministers and agencies. The Panel is supported by a series of specialist practitioner groups dealing with a range of subjects including housing, education, policing, employment and regeneration. The work of the Panel and practitioner groups is discussed further below.

  4.  In early 2002 the Home Office set up a dedicated Community Cohesion Unit. The Unit supports Ministers and the Community Cohesion Panel as well as working to ensure that community cohesion is mainstreamed into Whitehall policy-making, and that some local areas become beacons of good practice in community cohesion. The Home Office is working closely with the ODPM to take forward community cohesion in the context of neighbourhood renewal.

  5.  The Community Cohesion Unit, jointly with the Race Equality Unit of the Home Office, has responsibility for Home Office PSA target 9—to bring about measurable improvements in race equality and community cohesion across a range of performance indicators as part of the Government's objectives on equality and social inclusion.

  6.  The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, which came into force in April 2002, imposed a positive duty on public bodies to promote race equality. The duty not only requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful race discrimination in performing their functions but, importantly in the context of community cohesion, to promote good relations between people from different racial groups. The legislation is being enforced by the Commission for Racial Equality.


  7.  The Community Cohesion Panel was appointed in April 2002 to support local authorities and other agencies, and the inter-departmental Ministerial Group on Community Cohesion, in developing policies and action which foster community cohesion. The Panel, which meets bi-monthly, feeds local learning and best practice into Government policy-making, and is able to challenge policies which may work against cohesion. The Panel has contributed to the Guidance on Community Cohesion for local authorities (see paragraph 12 below) and has helped to ensure that guidance and incentives are provided to relevant bodies. Panel members each lead on a particular theme, and have convened practitioner groups involving some 200 practitioners from the private and voluntary sectors, central and local government. More information about the practitioner groups is in Annex A.


  8.  Progress by the Government Regional Offices in taking forward neighbourhood renewal is reviewed by the Home Office-led Regions and Renewal Strategic Board, with representatives from the ODPM and Government Offices. The Strategic Board reviews the progress made by Government Offices in taking forward renewal. The Home Office has set up a Neighbourhood Renewal Team which is currently looking to increase awareness of the renewal agenda throughout the Home Office. The Team will be looking at delivery plans, programmes and funding streams to assess the extent to which the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal has been taken into account.

  9.  The Home Office Community Cohesion Unit has worked closely with the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit of the ODPM, and through Government Offices in the following areas:

    —  community cohesion-focused activities for children and young people during the summer of 2001 and 2002 (in 2003 this has become incorporated into a single funded inter-Departmental programme);

    —  the community facilitation programme, under which regional co-ordinators have been appointed to undertake conflict resolution work where tensions are identified, and strengthen existing capacity for conflict resolution. This programme has raised the profile of community cohesion at the regional and local level and facilitated the building of relationships and partnerships between agencies to address community cohesion and conflict. It has successfully supported the development of new approaches to addressing community conflicts;

    —  the development of community support teams, consisting of a people and skills base that can be deployed flexibly across a variety of institutions in areas at risk. These teams, which were deployed in Bradford and Burnley, included senior personnel able to support and develop local political leadership to supplement existing local authority management capacity. The Bradford team gave impetus to "Bradford Visions" partnership work on community cohesion, and the "Driving Change" programme of strategic initiatives. The Burnley team addressed Leadership and change management, race and community relations, youth and conflict resolution, and consultation and communications;

    —  the Community Cohesion Pathfinder programme (see paragraph 11 below). Eleven of the 14 Pathfinder programmes correspond or overlap with Neighbourhood Renewal Areas; and

    —  community cohesion guidance to local authorities (see paragraph 12 below).


  10.  Six Best Value authorities currently enjoy community cohesion beacon status under the Beacon Council Scheme. These authorities have shown significant achievement on community cohesion, and a commitment to disseminate good practice to others. The authorities represent a broad range from a fire authority (Cheshire), through a cross section of first tier authorities (Barnet, Leicester, Rochdale and Tower Hamlets), to a rural district (Tewkesbury). These authorities hold beacon status for community cohesion from April 2003 to June 2004, and during this period their good practice will be disseminated with the help of the Improvement and Development Agency.


  11.  The Community Cohesion Pathfinder Programme launched by the Home Office and ODPM in October 2002 aims to build examples of areas that are successfully mainstreaming community cohesion into all their core service delivery functions. The programme encompasses local authorities, the community and voluntary sector, and communities themselves. Fourteen pathfinders have been selected and a further 14 local authorities ("shadow pathfinders") are benefiting from support under the scheme. The programme will run from February 2003 to October 2004 at a cost of about £6 million. Detail about the programme is in Annex B.


  12.  In December 2002 the Local Government Association issued guidance to local authorities about building community cohesion (copy at The Community Cohesion Panel and the Home Office were heavily involved in the preparation of this guidance, which provides advice on ways to review existing policies and practices so that they help to build more cohesive communities. The Home Office will be working with the LGA and other partners to issue revised guidance in 2004 which reflects good practice identified by the Beacon Council Scheme, the Community Cohesion Pathfinders Programme, and the work of the Community Cohesion Panel and its Practitioner Groups.

  13.  Community cohesion is reflected in the methodology for the current district authority Comprehensive Performance Assessment; and this will also be reflected in the methodology for the next round of the first tier local authority Comprehensive Performance Assessment due to take place in 2005-06. All councils are expected to respond to the outcomes of the Assessment. The Home Office has been involved in the recovery planning process for councils assessed as poor. It has for example worked closely with Oldham, the ODPM and the Audit Commission to embed community cohesion into the council's overall strategy, which has included the setting up a cross party leadership group and the development of a joint vision for Oldham and Rochdale.


  14.  Measurement of community cohesion is essential to planning and monitoring. One vehicle for this is the Home Office Citizenship Survey carried out biennially in England and Wales. The survey which is currently being conducted includes questions relating to community cohesion. In addition to the main survey there is a local areas boost in which local residents in 20 areas are being interviewed to capture how community cohesion is working at the very local level. Findings are due to be reported in spring 2004, and the next survey in two years time will allow the measurement of any changes in community cohesion. More information about the survey is in Annex C.

  15.  The Home Office will shortly be publishing "Building a picture of community cohesion—a guide for local authorities and other local stakeholders". This will suggest 10 indicators that can be used to help build a picture of community cohesion at the local level, and to enable comparisons to be made between areas, through a data-sharing network being established by the Home Office.

  16.  The Community Cohesion Unit plans to update its website by September 2003 to provide comprehensive information, guidance and best practice about community cohesion, and a discussion board for policy-makers and practitioners.


  17.  The Home Office has worked with Bradford, Burnley and Oldham to address the issues in the Community Cohesion Review Team report—resulting in the development of community cohesion plans for those areas.


  18.  The Community Cohesion Unit has been closely involved in the promotion of local activities to promote community cohesion in Bradford. Bradford Council had identified community cohesion as an issue before the 2001 disturbances, establishing Bradford Vision as the local strategic partnership, which has developed effective partnership working across the range of neighbourhood renewal and community cohesion. Bradford Vision commissioned the Ouseley report "Community pride not prejudice" (published the week after the disturbances), which has helped set the agenda for community cohesion in Bradford. Bradford Vision produced the first local community cohesion plan in 2002, in line with the community cohesion guidance to local authorities, consulting widely on delivery, and Bradford Council has recently approved their three-year delivery plan. Key issues addressed by the Council and local agencies include:

    —  access to social housing by black minority ethnic communities;

    —  involvement of young people in decision-making, Youth Parliament and school councils, and in positive activities for young people; and

    —  close monitoring of community tensions.


  19.  Since the reports into the 2001 disturbances there has been:

    —  the development by the local authority and its partners of an Action Plan responding to the recommendations of the Burnley Task Force Report, published in December 2001. The Local Strategic Partnership is overseeing the implementation of the Action Plan and has built community cohesion into its community plan;

    —  the establishment, on 24 January 2003, of the East Lancashire Community Cohesion Board, chaired by the Leader of Burnley Borough Council and with a membership which includes the Members of Parliament for Burnley and Pendle, the Chief Constable of Lancashire, the chair of the local strategic partnership and a representative of the Home Office Community Cohesion Unit. The Board aims among other matters to initiate and co-ordinate short-term community cohesion initiatives; and to co-ordinate and communicate key short-term community cohesion messages;

    —  better co-ordination between the police and local authority on intelligence gathering and contingency planning;

    —  the establishment by West Pennine Police Division of a Racial Incidents Unit and a new risk management approach to help prevent disturbances;

    —  improvement by Burnley Borough Council of its media strategy for dispelling myths about the allocation of funding to communities.


  20.  The Leader of the Council has the portfolio for community cohesion. There is a "Cohesion Hour" before every full Council meeting to debate ways in which members can best promote community cohesion in Oldham and review progress. Community Cohesion is a key theme reflected in the Corporate Plan and Community Strategy. Common Ground North West set up in the Autumn of 2001 is a network of local groups and voluntary, statutory and governmental agencies committed to promoting community cohesion across the region.

Home Office

1 July 2003

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