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Key Note for Voluntary Action Leeds AGM

November 16, 2010

16th November 2010 Wheeler Hall, Leeds Cathedral

  • Thank you for the invitation to speak with you today.  It is a very real privilege.
  • Let us get a little perspective on the last decade or so…real growth in the sector and the budgets that it has at its disposal…but have we made the impact on social justice in the city that would hope for in the course of such relatively plentiful times?
  • For a decade or more we have pursued a dumb strategy, taking Govt money to do Govt work in our communities.
  • We have let politicians in Whitehall and increasingly their celebrity friends do our research and development, come up with new schemes and programmes, which they have paid us ‘roll out’ in our communities
  • Now we need a smart strategy…one that does not trap us in the hands of the economy and politicians; but that puts us at the heart of our communities and their development.
  • Now is the time to start listening, responding to and facilitating the people who we are here to serve (NB this is not civil servants and ministers but people in our communities, especially the marginalised)
  • We have in recent years lost ground in our communities as we have pursued the dumb strategy – but it is ground that we can and will make-up.  We are uniquely placed to respond.
  • We must no longer look at the economy as the only thing that matters.  Economy, culture, society cannot be separated out.  Making GDP ‘king’ is daft! Other forms of wealth matter too.
  • Mark Prisk Secretary of State for Trade and Industry may have shown some interest in the role of the third sector in contributing to the work of the Local Enterprise Partnerships and the Regional Growth Fund.   We should not turn our back on this opportunity, but we must recognise that this is more about increasing the tax base for the Treasury than it is about growing local, vibrant and most importantly sustainable communities.  We must be careful not keep pursuing a dumb strategy.
  • And a word on big society.  Again there are opportunities and risks.  Risks in getting drawn into a London centric debate about using volunteers to deliver front line services.  Risks in developing initiatives that maybe under-capitalised, under specified and deliver more political impact than social justice.
  • There is another big society.  One in which local people come together to support themselves in pursuing their own agendas for change and progress.  More ‘Our Society’ than ‘Big Society’…
  • The role of community organisers in the city?  Well, I love what the people behind Leeds Community Organising are trying to do, but are we in danger of that project being swamped by Mr Cameron’s army of Community Organiser?  If delivered on a per capita basis we would have about 60 in Leeds.  If paid this would require a budget of well over £1m a year.
  • So who is driving ‘development in our city’?  It is still the money men and woman.  The bankers, the insurers, and the investors, supported by the planners and the architects
  • Physical regeneration matters, but it is expensive, elitist (investment goes to where the ROI is greatest in the short term ie commerce) and slow.  Main beneficiaries are builders, developers, architects and investors.  They tend to suck money out of our community and return it to shareholders elsewhere.
  • Eastgate, Trinity, The Arena on the large scale. But on a smaller scale too I see asset transfer and similar projects channel love, energy, wisdom, experience and millions of pounds into re-casting concrete, bricks, stone and steel in a city already full of under-used infrastructure.
  • Now of course physical regeneration matters….but …
  • Psychological regeneration matters more.  How do we engage 700 000 Leeds residents in making progress in their own lives?   Regeneration between the ears can be fast, relatively cheap and egalitarian – for every pound that is spent on physical infrastructure how about a penny being put into community development and facilitation?  Contributions from Trinity, Eastgate and Arena would be roughly £12.5m over next 5 years.  Add that to philanthropic sources and we have a serious budget – even in times of austerity.  The question is can we, a coalition between public, private and third sector generate a return on investment in the long term.  Real cultural change.
  • How do we help people to plan and organise in pursuit of what really matters to them?
  • Time to put social justice right at the heart of our work….
  • Time to get to work
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