Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cooperative & Communitarian: a common heritage

‘Communitarian social policies’ and ‘cooperative economic practices’ are two sides of the same coin. Instead of splitting them up into compartmentalised boxes, we should treat them as ideas from a common resource to build more inclusive communities in all spheres of life.

The terms, ‘cooperative’ and ‘communitarian’, are historically closely related. Robert Owen, William King and others in 19th century Britain pioneered cooperative ideas that call for the equal participation in decision-making by those affected by the operations of any given organisation. People who were involved as workers and/or recipients of the services in question were not only to be given an equal say, but supported with decent socio-economic conditions so they could function as partners, not subordinates.

When these ideas were exported to America, they came to be described as ‘communitarian’ because their prime concern was not with those with the power to order others or with individuals each making choices without reference to the common good, but with how communities could be developed to help their members flourish as free and responsible persons.

While the ‘communitarian’ label later came to be associated narrowly in some quarters with the writings of a few American academics, progressive thinkers such as Charles Derber and Philip Selznick in the US, and Henry Tam and Jonathan Boswell in the UK have always emphasised the cooperative lineage in their communitarian philosophy.

In his 1995 article for The Coop Commonweal, 'Communitarianism & the Co-operative Movement', Tam wrote, “the ultimate goal is the development of responsible citizens who are ready and able to co-operate with each other to make improvements for all, especially those who are least able to look after themselves.” To take cooperation seriously, therefore, requires a consistent commitment to steer government bodies, business organisations, and educational institutions towards the removal of barriers to reciprocal collaboration in all spheres of life.

The failings of deregulated markets, as much as misguided calls for a return to oppressive traditionalism, are now plain to see. We can neither leave the future to the anarchy of unconstrained profit seekers nor entrust power to a few self-styled gurus of fundamentalist doctrines. We will only be able to safeguard our being if we treat each other as equal partners in securing mutual protection through a collective endeavour to improve the conditions determining our common good. More than ever, we need to draw from the cooperative-communitarian heritage of reform ideas and practice.

Publications for Reference
Hale, Sarah, Blair’s Community: Communitarian Thought and New Labour, Manchester University Press, 2006 (pointed to the contrast between media coverage of ‘communitarian ideas’ and the radical communitarian writings of Boswell and Tam).
Tam, H., ‘Rediscovering British Communitarianism’, The Responsive Community, Volume 9, Issue 1, 1998/1999 (set out the broader heritage of communitarian ideas, particularly in connection with the cooperative movement in Britain).
Tam, H. Communitarianism: a new agenda for politics and citizenship, Macmillan 1998.
Tam, H., 'Communitarianism & the Co-operative Movement', The Co-op Commonweal, Issue 2 1995.
Boswell, Jonathan, Community and the Economy, The Theory of Public Co-operation, Routledge, 1990.

Friday, March 9, 2012

An Insider Look At Public Policy Development

(These are the notes for a presentation given on behalf of the Forum for Youth Participation & Democracy, at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, 1 Feb 2012)

What is Public Policy?

Public policy is why democratic control over state power is vital. A public policy is put in place in the name of our govt acting on our behalf and is binding on everyone. When people say “I can do this, it’s not against the law”, that presumes permission from public policy, a permission which could be withdrawn.
Public policy can take many forms:
• Law: restriction, duty, permission
• Organisation: structural changes, overseeing arrangements
• Opinion leadership: encouragement, admonition, criticism
• Partnership: collaboration, sharing of personnel, information, joint declarations
• Finance: tax, funding support, credits, subsidies, benefits

Who actually shapes Public Policy?
• Secretary of State, Ministers
• Special Advisers
• Policy Officials
• PM and Cabinet Colleagues
• MPs
• External Experts
• Commentators (Party Political and Non-Political)
• Stakeholders (those who can speak for those most likely to be affected)

How does the Policy Development Process work?

The generic process:
Minister’s request for action -> Policy Lead (Divisional Head/Deputy Director or Team/Branch Leader) -> Submission to Minister -> Minister’s response -> consultation -> Submission to Minister -> Ministerial approval -> implementation

Examples of 5 ways to get from an idea to a policy:

Manifesto Commitment: the value of getting a specific policy proposal into a party’s manifesto commitment. But even the simplest of commitment could have complex implications in being translated into a viable policy. Examples: Community Call for Action; Planning Circulars.

Legislate: A Bill or just a clause (scoping); Legal dimension (parliamentary counsel); New (Economic) Burden (assessment and budget); regulatory impact assessment; debates and amendments. Example: Duty to Promote Democracy.

White Paper: useful to announce a set of related policies, pointing to what will be legislated, or what will be reviewed, also to signal areas where more initiatives may be developed.

o Minister-led: Example – Correctional Services Standards Board (chaired by Minister, Hilary Benn), restructuring of prison and probation services; guidelines on sentencing.
o Commission with an Independent Chair and members appointed: Example – Councillors Commission (chaired by Jane Roberts), drawing attention to under-representation of women, minority groups and young people; different electoral approaches; duty to promote democracy.
o Informal Review with an external expert invited to lead: Example – Quirk Review on Asset Transfer (Chaired by Barry Quirk, then Chief Executive of London Borough of Lewisham), guidelines; support programme via the Development Trust Association; asset lock approach to risk management.

o Crime Reduction funding: bring different pots of money and different departmental strings into a single fund, AND divide it for the regions with each regional office developing with its local partners how best to allocate the money.
o Promotion of Participatory Budgeting: a promotional strategy; support independent Participatory Budgeting Unit to run projects.
o The Guide Neighbourhoods Programme: funding for the Guide areas, national sharing of learning.
o Funding for Gypsies & Travellers accommodation sites: was cut from £30m for one year to zero; but then business case made, support from Ministers secured, and back to £60m over 4 years. Limiting the cut to a vital budget to no more than halving it.

The Prospect of Your Voice Heard

How to get your voice heard:
• Party political contacts/networking
• Marketing your expertise nationally
• Cultivating working relationship with policy leads
• Organising yourself and others with shared concerns into a group with high visibility