Conservative-led Peterborough City Council is putting the Big Society into practice through Citizen Power, a programme of work which is getting local people to take more responsibility for solving the city's problems.
The project, which is publishing an interim report, is an innovative partnership between the local authority, the RSA (The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts Manufactures and Commerce) and the Arts Council England. It has already attracted £700k to Peterborough and over 500 people in the local area have been involved.
Citizen Power is a direct response to the Council's wish to soften the blow of public spending cuts, by thinking radically about how citizens can be encouraged to become more self-reliant, more engaged with running public services, and more active in improving their local communities.
The project has six strands of work all addressing priorities identified by the local authority and its residents:
Work with five schools on the creation of the Peterborough Curriculum, which seeks to encourage higher levels of civic participation amongst pupils, parents and develops learning in partnership with local organisations.
A series of projects, which are building ‘green skills’ amongst citizens while bringing waste land back into use
The development of new civic commons where people are being trained and supported to tackle local problems like anti-social behaviour and social isolation.
A new approach to drugs services where people who misuse drug and alcohol are being asked to co-produce services and develop a network of ‘recovery champions’.
A programme of arts and social change which supports local artists, raises awareness of the arts, engages local citizens and provides a firm foundation for developing a sustainable arts offer for the city.
Developing a map of the civic leaders out there who have the enthusiasm, ability and networks needed to generate citizen powered change.
Citizen Power has been working closely with the Local Strategic Partnership which is now set to incorporate the project’s core principles into its Single Delivery Plan.
The programme - which continues to the summer 2012 - aims to un-tap the potential of Peterborough’s communities and citizens. Its aim is to ensure that public services increase social value and help communities become more resilient and self-reliant.
Commenting on the report, Paul, Phillipson, executive director of operations for Peterborough City Council said:
"Local authorities and their leaders cannot, as much as they might want to, solve every problem their area faces. Citizen Power is an innovative way that we are working with other agencies to support local communities to become more resourceful and capable of tackling issues amongst themselves."
"Citizen Power has also enabled us to attract additional funding to Peterborough that would have otherwise been spent in other towns and cities. By introducing Citizen Power the city has levered in over £700k from outside sources."
Commenting on the report, RSA Chief Executive, Matthew Taylor said:
"Local government across the UK faces an almost impossibly tough decade. A critical factor determining whether councils are able to shield their citizens from the worst effects of public service austerity will be their ability to sustain and enhance civic capacity. This has profound implications for how local authority leaders operate. Peterborough Council is a fantastic example of a local authority which has firmly grasped this agenda and it should be commended for taking steps towards protecting its citizens from the full brunt of cuts to public spending."
Commenting on the report, Helen Lax, Regional Director, Arts Council England said:
"One year on from the inception of Citizen Power Peterborough we are starting to see the very real and positive effects the arts can have on individuals, organisations and places in the city. The Arts and Social Change strand is using culture to bring about a shift in perceptions, bringing diverse residents together and creating a sense of a shared identity despite ethnic and social divides.
Our commitment to the arts in Peterborough will continue to go from strength to strength over the coming years. We will develop and support a sustainable and high quality arts offer for the city, which will help to really put Peterborough on the map and stimulate further investment."