When I first heard that the UK had become a ‘hostile environment’ for anyone seeking safe refuge from persecution in their home country, I didn’t actually believe it. It just seemed implausible that any civilised society could have such a policy. Inhumane even. But almost ten years on, its enduring imprint is all too obvious. Some of the most vulnerable people on the planet now routinely encounter a cold indifference that borders on a form of calculated cruelty. The recent tragic events in Glasgow stand as testimony to what can happen when we treat people in this way. Notwithstanding the sterling efforts of some Council staff and the extraordinary humanitarian response from community groups (petition calling for a public enquiry here), Covid has laid bare many long standing inequalities and vulnerabilities that should really be a source of national shame but have somehow become normalised – the plight of refugees being just one. Mounting food insecurity, in-work poverty (about to be compounded by soaring unemployment), and the daily hardships endured by so many simply because of disability, are now in plain sight. Keeping them in sight, now and into the future, will be a measure of whether we are genuinely building back better.
In the most recent briefing…
As communities begin to plan for the next stage of dealing with the multiple impacts of Covid (some argue that to call it recovery is misleading) there has been talk of how to encourage better collaboration at a grassroots level between those organisations that have been at the frontline of the emergency response. Effective collaboration involves much more than the occasional conflab but there is surprisingly little advice available about how to do it. A good starting point might be to seek out examples of where it is already happening. Interesting development in the south west of Edinburgh.
In the last 20 years, the number of pubs in the UK has fallen by almost a quarter. And as we begin to dip our toes back into what used to pass for a social life, it will be interesting to see how much of the nation’s pub habit survives the stricter, less socially relaxed, operating environment. There are fears also that many pubs may just not reopen at all – having fallen victim to the financial pressures of lockdown. A perfect storm for the pub trade into which we may find the community ownership model sailing to the rescue.
To some extent we’re all guilty of operating within ‘echo chambers’ where we only encounter those whose views we either understand or agree with, and as a result wrongly assume that everyone else subscribes to these views or at least understands what we stand for. But the reality is that the world is much more complex and diverse than that, and so we need to find better, more imaginative ways of engaging with that world. An interesting collaboration at Glasgow Caley which looks at the role of comics to develop a better understanding of what lies behind community action.
In this day and age, where does one look to for a trusted source of news? With the proliferation of social media platforms it’s become virtually impossible to know, with any confidence, which of them holds content that can be trusted. And ironically in this age of global tech company domination, these issues of trust are probably easier to resolve the more local the source. And that may explain the steady rise of hyper-local networks of journalists committed to speaking truth to power. An interesting example which seems to be spreading its reach is Bureau Local.
We hear a lot about the health inequalities in this country but unless you work in the health system I suspect, like me, you’ll only have a vague idea about how these inequalities actually manifest themselves. GP’s are at the front line of primary care and GPs with practices in the most disadvantaged communities probably will have some pretty well informed ideas about what’s needed. The Deep End Group – a national network of these GPs – has published a short report highlighting what they think is needed to improve health in these communities – and it’s not more GPs.
The future of Highlands and Islands Enterprise has been somewhat clouded ever since John Swinney announced back in 2016 that he was considering putting the enterprise body under the control of an ‘overarching’ committee. Seen back then as a centralising move, it was resisted heavily and eventually dropped. Now Orkney MP, Alistair Carmichael, has called for the current arrangements to be scrapped in favour of a body much more rooted in the communities that it purports to serve. Fearing the economic fall out of Covid, he argues for something much more akin to HIE’s predecessor.
Procurement has become a byword for minimising costs to the public purse, achieving ‘best value’ etc whereas its potential to deliver multiple social and economic goods has been largely ignored. It partly explains why the continual wrongdoings of outsourcing behemoths SERCO and G4S are routinely ignored, with contracts regularly renewed. Until now that is. Rather than line the pockets of shareholders, the idea that public spending can support local economies is starting to gain traction. The community wealth building ideas of Neil McInroy at CLES have recently found favour within Scottish Government.
A key strand of Carnegie UK’s work over the past few years has been its focus on the Enabling State – an attempt to articulate the transition from the paternalistic welfare state of the last century to one which is much more enabling and empowering for the individual and community – facilitating a more holistic approach to the design and delivery of services. Carnegie UK claims that a gradual paradigm shift in the way that the state operates has been occurring but that Covid has had an accelerating effect. They suggest seven steps that public services should be thinking about in response.