The Conservative Party has proclaimed the virtues of community engagement, community involvement and community action wrapping it up in the concept of 'localism' which in turn is part of the Big Society agenda. One of the leading proponents of localism is Greg Clark the MP for Tunbridge Wells.
The theory looks good, however turning theory into reality is somewhat more difficult. Step forward Kent County Council, under the kosh for its poor showing in the primary school performance league tables. The Council is responsible for youth services and as part of its budget reduction measures has decided to reduce funding for the youth service and moved away from a grants process to a commissioning process.
Kent County Council's commissioners rightly are looking for value for money but in so doing are able to influence the way in which the voluntary sector works, by encouraging mergers to reduce administrative costs and by reducing the number of organisations it has to engage with. Money talks, so the voluntary sector is controlled by the policies and decisions taken in County Hall.
A stark example of this is what has happened in Tunbridge Wells. Two organisations have fallen foul of the new commissioning regime and their future work, indeed the very future of the organisations now is in some doubt. At this point I declare an interest: I have been the chairman of both of the organisations, although my involvement ceased a few years ago.
One organisation, Number One Community Trust, put in a bid for funding, was unsuccessful and has been left high and dry. The other, Rusthall Community and Youth project, was put off applying by the 107 pages long notes for guidance.
Both organisations feel aggrieved that funding has been awarded to an organisation based in Ashford which will provide a mobile bus to service youth provision in the areas covered by the two organisations. The real worry is that the cuts in funding could lead to the demise eventually of both organisations, each rooted in and supported by the communities they serve. It makes a mockery of localism and reinforces my belief that when it comes to budgets statutory authorities (with a few exceptions) know the price of everything and the value of nothing,.