Communities in control? The challenges of neighbourhood governance with reference to local government reform in England
Recent local government and public service reforms in England have been orientated towards devolving public service delivery and decision-making to the neighbourhood level. These reforms have been driven by political, social and managerial agendas that aim to make local government more accountable and responsive to local communities, to build social capital and to enhance the cost-effectiveness of local services. This paper, with reference to the current policy framework in England, aims to identify and review the possibilities and challenges for local government officials and partner agencies in moving towards decentralised public service provision and governance. The paper initially identifies the key aspects of reform brought in by the central government Department of Communities and Local Government that seek to extend neighbourhood influence and governance structures. The discussion then turns towards considering the challenges in ensuring effective citizen participation – namely responding to multiple policy objectives; devising appropriate neighbourhood governance structures; re-thinking the role of local government; identifying and managing trade-offs; building community and local government capabilities for wide-ranging participation; and ensuring effective partnership working at all levels of local government. In conclusion the important steps towards tackling these challenges in England are recognised although a number of concerns remain.