- deliver local community services
- enable public engagement with local decisions
- provide a means to deliver services the Council are legally obliged to provide (eg under recent community planning legislation)
These appear very laudable. After observing and participating fully in the system for the last 18 months, today I called for them to be scrapped on the grounds that they are inefficient and wasteful of public money and, particularly in terms of public engagement, are failing.
First public money. An extensive training programme for community members was neither effective nor focused on what participants needed. Council officers and members of the NPs put considerable effort into these training sessions but many were of dubious value. For example, I attended a totally wasteful afternoon on Government Standards for Community Engagement which produced an expensive glossy brochure and pretty well nothing in the Standards which was helpful for participating in NPs.
More concerning is that many NPs meet with a raft of Council Officers - typically 10-12 - in attendance and only a few members of the public. It is not unusual for the paid public employees to outnumber the members of the public. Council employees would be better employed on more productive work.
Then community participation. As we have seen participation is limited to a relatively few people. In my NP these are local people who care about the community. But there is a huge degree of frustration that they have not really achieved very much. This is because they have dealt with few real decisions and the system has been painfully slow to get up and running - or devolve real powers to NPs. Many - if not most of these people are already involved in Community Councils. The frustration is very clear for all to see.
Accountability. The presence of NPs adds another layer of bureaucracy to the delivery of local services. Council officers, already with a responsibility to their line managers and elected councillors, now also have to work to satisfy NPs. This divided allegiance is no way to deliver services efficiently. Then there is a democratic deficit. Often NP members are elected by no one and represent a particular interest. Because they are often retired people they are often not representative of the community in discussions and decisions.
All of these things make for the inefficiency which uses up scarce council resources. The current climate indicates trouble ahead for the economy and for public finances. I am in no doubt that a key priority of the voters who elected me was efficiency and effectiveness in public services. Neighbourhood Partnerships fail these tests and should be scrapped. There are alternative and better ways of achieving good local services.