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Liverpool’s New Deal for Communities initiative

Mike Lane | 21.09.2003 08:56 | Repression | Liverpool

Liverpool’s New Deal for Communities initiative, which encompasses 4,000 houses and 14,000 residents, is oppressive and proves that local government subjugates and domesticates communities.

Such is the level and pace of the evolving bureaucracy connected with the KNDC it is now quite impossible to keep up with it. What is happening is a classical example of over administration primarily to put as many administrators into as many paid jobs as possible. Reference is given to a consultant called Navarro. This consultant agency is comprised of two ex council officers who are man and wife. These people were called in by members of the Community Roots team, which is managed by Collin Watts, himself an ex council officer. The Navarro agency charged the KNDC about £9,000 (£400 per day per person) to put together a 51 page report (of which only 26 pages deal with the problem, the rest was lists) and to organise four or five badly attended meeting. i.e.:

Times, dates and attendance of meetings:

· KNDC board – 31st March 2003 (15 people)
· Kensington Fields Community Centre - 15th May 2003 (16 people)
· Police Club – 2 sessions – 16 May 2003 (7 people)
· Police Club – 1 session – 17th May 2003 (1 person)

Navarro further quoted in the report:

However, due to poor attendance the session on the 16th May (2 people at 1st session – 5 people in the afternoon) and the 27th May, and after a meeting with the Community Participation Working Group, (which was probably only comprised of a hand full of people) it was agreed to identify other opportunities for talking to people.

(The “Community Roots to Success” team employs 9 people some are office workers some are community outreach workers, who impose the “dominant cultures” community participation agenda onto the unsuspecting New Deal community. There are 2 people (one of which used to be a city council officer and the other from the Kirby unemployment centre, a probable marxist Trot) who manage the Community Roots team. Both work part time (17 hours per week each). Each one earns £14,000 per year. This means that each person earns in the region of £280 per week for just 17 hours work per week. The outreach workers earn a full time wage of about £18-19,000 per year. Only 3 of the 9 people who work for the Roots team live in the NDC area).

Mr Boyle (£57,000 per yearcheif exec of the Kensington New Deal admin)

I asked Mr Boyle did he think that the present structures, which have been put into place concerning community participation, are:

1. Oppressive?
2. Suit the agenda of outside vested interests, such as the RSL’s Community 7 and riverside Housing, property developers, the Liverpool City Council and others?
3. Not conducive with community empowerment?

Mr Boyle said no to all three questions but admitted that community participation was poor and could be improved. He said he was open to dialogue concerning the issue of participation.

I asked Mr Boyle what he thought about Board members running for the council to which he replied, there are two Board members who are councillors and as such it did not bother him. He also said that he had no problems with elected members working for regeneration initiatives.

I asked Mr Boyle how many times a year the Board met, to which he replied, the Board met about 14 to 15 times per year. He also stated that there were five sub-groups, which are: Housing and Environment, Life Long Learning and Education, Finance or Operations, Community Safety, Health and Community Participation. Each one of these groups has delegated power from the KNDC board to make decision on the spending of up to £250,000. (The names of the latter sub groups seem to differ all the time).

As far as can be ascertained the staffing structures of the KNDC are:

· Ann Turner, operation and finance manager
· Cathy Williams, physical and environmental regeneration manager
· Graham Burgess, housing and neighbourhood service manager
· George Allen, lifelong learning employment and enterprise committee
· Tony Cross, communications officer
· Allan Kelly, community regeneration manager
· Community Roots team 10 staff
· KNDC has 9 staff and 6 neighbourhood planners who administer the five Neighbourhood Planning Groups, which is headed by Allan Murphy.

Total staff = 30-31 and is still increasing.

Such is the growth of staff due to the obvious over administration of the initiative; plans are now in progress to move the KNDC team to a larger building in the New Deal area.

As can be observed from the above staffing structures the paid workers may soon outnumber the community activists. In my opinion and based on my observations there are only 50-60 community members, including the board, involved in the NDC initiative and this number can fluctuate downwards. The latter number can be given further credibility by the Navarro report in which it was stated that over a period of the 31st March to 10th July the consultants were in contact with just 66 people and a question mark hangs over whether they were all residents.

Only 25 of the 51 page Navarro report consisted of text that gave a picture of what was happening in the community. The rest of the report was lists under the headings of: What is Already in Place, Barriers and Future Actions. All in all it was a very short report that contained nothing original and gave a very sketchy picture of how the structures that are already in place were organised i.e. there were several question marks throughout the report which indicated that the writer of the report did not really know how many people or paid workers were involved in the project.

It is now apparent that there are two or three groups of people emerging within the NDC community. It would seem that these groups are comprised of people who are involved in the Community Participation Group and the 5 Citizens Panels and what the Community Roots to Success team call the Project Development Working Groups, of which there are nine. This group, although being involved are highly critical of the service providers, i.e. the Roots team and the KNDC team. Then there is a group who have to a large degree ignored the structures that have been imposed onto the community by the Roots team and the NDC administrators. This group are mainly from the Smithdown area of the KNDC zone and they work mainly within the neighbourhood Planning Groups and have at least 2 members on the Board.

The Project Development Working Groups were set into motion by the Community Roots to Success team with the sole intention of taking over from the citizens Panels. In my opinion this was deliberately done so as to disempower the Citizens Panels because they were asking too many embarrassing questions and they were becoming increasingly knowledgeable of the diverse manipulative behaviour of the Community Roots and the KNDC teams.

The Citizens Panels are comprised of the 50 – 60 people, but on most occasions only a hand full of these people participate in the Citizens Panels because, again according to the Navarro report, over the past 12 – 18 months there has been restructuring of the way in which local people can participate in the approval of projects. The Citizens Panels have now been relieved of their role as the mechanisms for agreeing on what projects could potentially be funded.

In my opinion the Roots team and KNDC team are concerned that the 5 Citizens Panels will consolidate as one group and as such will unify themselves and demand that different structures, structures which are more conducive with open democratic procedures, are introduced from within the community itself. The Roots team could be disbanded and its staff made redundant. As has already been mentioned in this paper the unification of the community, be it in whatever form, is a threat to the dominant culture’s (the dominant culture can be found in all the structures of local government and civic society) hegemonic position within the community.

As has already been mentioned the KNDC’s Community Roots to Success team has introduced 9 project development-working groups that report to one of the themed sub-groups of the Board depending on the nature of the project. According to the Navarro report the KNDC’s Roots team established the working groups (which are open to any local person in the KNDC area) with the aim of providing an opportunity for local people to be involved in the development of projects with professionals and other interested local people from the “idea” stage through to the final stage of approval.

It would be interesting to note how many people turned up at these 9 development-working groups and whether these people were the same people who were and still are involved with the Citizens Panels. Collin Watts is involved with these groups and has told me that many of the Citizen Panel members turn up at the 9 development working groups. If this is the case what was the real reason for changing the present structures? Again, in my opinion, it is more advantageous to the dominant culture at local government levels if the community is divided into as many small groups as possible so as to make it easier for that same dominant culture to keep the community uninformed by imposing structures which incorporate a divide and rule philosophy. No one is suggesting that Mr Watts and his team are doing this on purpose. In my opinion, the Roots Team and the KNDC team are largely unaware of the fact that they are stultifying any bottom up approach and are actually contributing to the lack of participation, especially by the wider community.

Mr Boyle said that there were five non-voting members who were responsible for monitoring the Board and the Board committees. The Liverpool City Council, who is the accountable body for the NDC project, is also responsible for monitoring the NDC project. Government Office for the North West also has a senior civil servant who monitors the initiative. But in a directory produced by the Roots team it was stated that there was 8 Board observers. Whether the latter is the same as the people who monitor the Board is unknown. There are so many bodies now involved that it is almost impossible to give a correct picture of what is going on, even members of the KR staff are now losing touch with the complicated continual changing of the present structures.

I asked Mr Boyle did he have any idea as to how many NDC residents were involved in the NDC project. Mr Boyle said: That there was approximately 300 people involved in the 5 Neighbourhood Planning Group meetings and 50 people involved in the 5 Citizens Panels.

The 5 Neighbourhood Planning groups are mainly comprised of homeowners i.e. 40-50 homeowners and 7-8 tenants turning up at each of the 5 groups that represent five areas of the NDC zone, even though, as already mentioned in this paper, the tenants are in a 60% majority. The homeowners are mainly concerned about possible demolitions and other factors, which could affect the price of their houses. Homeowners blame the tenants for the NDC areas demise, which they believe has, in some cases, led to negative equity. This is now being turned about through Liverpool’s successful European Capital of Culture bid. The success of this bid has led to the price of houses rising even in worst areas of the NDC zone.
Each Neighbourhood Planning group has what is known as a Forward Planning Group, which is comprised of about 12 people, again, just like the NDC board and all the community participation structures, these groups do not fairly reflect the situation of tenure within the community and as such are mainly comprised of homeowners with one or two tenants attending each Forward Planning group.
It is quite obvious to the critical observer that the regeneration administrators have imposed their participation agenda and structures onto the largely unsuspecting New Deal community. Paulo Freire wrote in his book Pedagogy of the City: For us community participation involves a more active presence of the subordinate classes in history, instead of their mere representation. It involves the political participation of the popular classes, through their representation, on the decision-making level, not just to carry out pre-planned projects. The authoritarian understanding of participation obviously reduces it to a presence of the popular classes in the administration conceded only at certain moments. Popular participation, for us, is not a slogan, but the expression of the city’s accomplishment of democracy and the way to it.
The more firmly we consolidate the democratic practice of participation, the further away we will be moving, on the one hand, from antidemocratic, elitist practices and, on the other, from the no less antidemocratic grass-roots practices. I realise it is not easy to implement projects or experience community and grassroots participation as a government programme and as a political ideal. Above all, it is not easy on account of the authoritarian traditions, which we need to overcome, and this cannot be done solely through the discourse contradicted by authoritarian practices. (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the City, 1993).

Mike Lane
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  1. IGNORANCE IS BLISS — vinnie