5

Overview:

Balancing acts

Overview

This section examines;

  • factors that are helping Big Local areas deliver their plans
  • how Big Local partnerships are ‘balancing’ competing demands.

Summary

Big Local partnerships are having to negotiate a series of often complex balancing acts in terms of working to achieve their long term outcomes. At the most basic level, this is the tension between being seen to be doing something in their community now – as opposed to achieving more ambitious objectives in the long term.

Partnerships appear to be working more effectively where day to day management and activities are underpinned by that long-term vision. The partnership is also visible to the community – often through running, supporting or having a presence at large scale community events (Hanwell and Northfleet) rather than operating behind closed doors and expecting the community to come to the partnership. Balancing the Big Local tasks with the social functions of partnership working are critical factors in sustaining engagement.

Big Local areas are also balancing needs and wants. Is what a community (or just the most vocal part of that community) wants what is actually needed? Residents may agree on ‘the problem’ but be divided on the solution. In Blackpool Revoe, for instance, the agreed problem is visible substance misuse. What is needed, for some, is to move the problem away – for others it is the provision of advice and support pending treatment options. Partnerships, particularly in the most deprived areas, are also having to balance competing needs and growing demand on local services.

Big Local is intended as a catalyst for change – bringing about positive new developments in their area. However, in the current economic climate, they often take on the role of protecting the status quo: substituting for service cuts by the local authority or trying to protect existing assets which are under threat of closure (e.g. the library in Three Parishes). With further changes to local government finance, this tension is likely to increase in the coming years.

Managing Big Local at the local level requires constant judgements – wanting to be innovative but at the same time ensuring that resources are ‘safe in the partnerships’ hands’. They are required to make complex, often difficult, decisions which affect their immediate neighbours. They are balancing competing demands for their time – and Big Local resources. Big Local can, as one partnership diary keeper noted, be fun as well as hard work. What is impressive, especially in these hard times, is the commitment of resident partners to ‘the long haul’ and hanging onto the belief, or hope, they can indeed make their community an even better place to live.

Partnerships can be extremely inward looking – focusing of their immediate area. Such a hyper-local approach can be valued by residents in that services are delivered at the very local level. However, these are the partnerships which tend to be struggling to see ‘the bigger picture’ of the broader contexts in which Big Local is operating and may lack influence with those in power who make decisions about their community.

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