About a month ago I posted an account of the early closure of the New Deal programme in my local area. This post described some of the problems associated with this type of grant making and today I want to explore some of the problems in more detail.
Simply throwing money at disadvantaged communities is not necessarily the panacea governments expect. The need to be seen to be doing something overshadows the need to do something worthwhile. Overall, if you throw £52 million at a neighbourhood, it would be an exercise in monumental incompetence if it were all wasted. Of course it hasn't been wasted, many sectors of the neghbourhood have benefited from competently run projects.
What the money has been unable to do is to support the sense of a neighbourhood pulling together; grant aid tends to be divisive. Where there is money there will always be struggles for unilateral control. Most of the conflict within communities are over control of resources.
Most community leaders in Britain tend to be leaders of sections of neighbourhoods. Very few aspire to be accountable leaders across the neighbourhood as a whole. Or if they do have these aspirations, they lack the skills to achieve it.
Time and again I have seen collusion between unaccountable community leaders and council officers to bring large grants into an area to fund projects with no local mandate and often duplicating work that is already going on in the same neighbourhood. Most of the time this is quite innocent, no rules are broken and everyone thinks they are acting in the 'interests of the community'.
The damage is done to what is sometimes called social capital. When attention is paid solely to funds and not to relationships, then social capital is eroded. Large scale funding tends to support the exercise of large scale unilateral power. The building of relationships, will tend to lead to the exercise of accountable power on a shared mutual or reciprocal basis. This is when funding can be most effective on a community scale.
Social capital is divided into two main types, bonding and bridging (see chapter 3 of Journeying Out by Ann Morisy). Bonding social capital is within groups and bridging between groups. So, multi-cultural communities will often show strong bonding social capital and weaker bridging social capital. Large scale unilateral unaccountable grant-making will drive wedges between groups in a neighbourhood as they compete for funds but can also erode bonding social capital as communities compete once funds are perceived as under the control of one unaccountable faction.
Organised neighbourhoods can be a focus for investment into neighbourhoods beyond the capacity of government funding. They do this by building relationships with those who are in a position to effect real change. Sadly, many neighbourhoods are so poorly organised they are unable to visualise what the possibilities might be. There is a spiritual dimension to this but the churches seem to share the lack of motivation to explore what might be possible. In my next post, I will describe one simple thing some churches are doing which can help with the growth of social capital.