Cameron’s community organizers: an initial assessment
Certainly, there are many more questions than answers at the moment in the plans announced today by Cameron for 5,000 ‘full time, professional community organizers’.
At first sight, it really does look like more back of a fag packet stuff, but perhaps more details will emerge. I won’t hold my breath, mind.
Questions include how they’re going to be paid for, of course. 5,000 professionals on full-time contracts doesn’t come cheap. At, let’s say £20,000 per year inclusive of on-costs, we’re talking about a cool £100 million per year, even before we start thinking about training and recruitment and support.
This can’t all come, as Cameron seems to suggest it might, out of the derided but actually very good Futurebuilders programme (I should know, the voluntary organisation I run has a £160,000 loan for a community nursery and family centre.). That’s because the whole operational budget is only £51 million in 2010-11.
So it’s almost certain, if this programme were to ahead, that it would be calling to a great extent on funds already disbursed by central and local authorities to provide all the staff who already have a role very similar to the one now envisaged as utterly new and innovative by Cameron. Has he never heard of Councils for Voluntary Service, for example, or enquired as to what they might do?
Then of course there is the broader question of how the new community organiser role relates to that of the local councillor, which I’ll no doubt write a great deal more about, not least because I’m both a local councillor and a pretty decent ‘community organiser’ having personally draw in over a third of a million quid to my village of 2,500 people in the last couple of years, as well as organising the saving of the school.
Related to this is who exactly will be responsible for the appointment of these community organisers, and what will be their brief if and when they’re given the money to do so. It is of course, no great surprise to see Stuart Etherington, the business-like manager of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, endorse Cameron’s announcement. There’s business to be had there, not least in relation to the ongoing turf wars with other voluntary sector infrastructure organisations.
More specifically in terms on what the community organizers will or won’t do, there is the question of just how combative and challenging to existing structures will they be permitted to be under their new contracts. The concept of hidden state power through the depoliticization of the notion of community will not, of course, be unfamiliar to most readers of this blog.
In general, then, what at first sight appears to be bold and new move by the Conservatives, will turn out – I suspect both to be a reannouncement of old monies if it ever comes to pass – and also fraught with the kind of power asymmetries that will make real change, real local control, a figment of the policy makers’ imagination.
(Coming later when I”ve organized muy community for a bit: a wantonly gleeful ‘In your face, trolls!’ response to those who trolled this post about the costs of media-initiated ‘community organising’, and how to go about it. Do the comparative maths, trolls.)