Community challenge falling flat

Government drive to get community groups to run public services fails to draw much interest.

Communities have responded with apathy to a Government drive to encourage them to run public services.

Interest in the Community Right to Challenge - asking community groups, charities or workers to run public services - is almost nonexistent, according to research by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), despite Government funding of £26m being available.

Of the 56 councils that responded, just over three per cent had received an expression of interest in the opportunity from charities or community groups and fewer than four per cent from staff.

Outlining the results at an APSE one-day parks seminar in Regent's Park, London, last week, APSE assistant chief executive Mark Bramah said the general lack of understanding and interest may not prevent the powers being used in future because the Government could decide on a future push.

In addition, "Trojan horse" organisations such as Capita are trying to take advantage of rules that allow them to partner with eligible groups. "Companies are looking to partner up to open up the market in community services. There's a whole range of organisations that are trying to promote the use of these powers," said Bramah.

According to the APSE research, only 17 per cent of local authorities are actively encouraging challenges and 19 per cent encouraging partnership working with the council. The majority, 41 per cent, are only doing the minimum necessary to comply with the law.

Bramah suggested it might be better to be proactive. "Councils are trying to get on the front foot rather than waiting for challenges."

Vox pop - Delegates confirm lack of interest

A quick vox pop at the seminar reflected the research results. Only one delegate at the event had received a challenge.

Cheshire East Council open-spaces development manager George Broughton said a local group wants to manage a park playing field.

"At the moment we are discussing it with them but we are not sure if they have the knowledge to do what they want to do," he added.

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