This is from an earlier version of this blog which never really got off the ground although one or two posts still seem apposite. I'm reposting them here (without updating)
I saw a council van the other day with the slogan 'looking after your environment' emblazoned across the side. It made me think about the way in which local government in the UK has changed and has detached itself from the community it supposedly serves. Many local authorities no longer operate on a public service ethos. The management speak of big business has taken over. That is why they can talk about 'your environment'. It isn't just just government at fault. Over the years local communities have been just as likely to see the council as 'them', demanding services and facilties for 'us'.
It doesn't have to be that way. I repeat - it doesn't have to be that way. It never had to be that way. An excellent book called Urban Renaissance by Dr Dick Atkinson looks at the failures of welfare reform. He estimates that about 30% of the population live in neighbourhoods experiencing problems - poor educational achievment, physical decay, unemployment - usually all at once. Something like £100,000,000 are spent in every neoghbourhood of about 15,000 people every year. By any standards that is a huge sum. Despite that some of these communities are still in dire need and have been since the 1960s.
Atkinson offers a real alternative. It depends on politicians giving up the power they have accumulated over the years and trusting local people to decide on what they need. Projects like New Deal for the Community and Neighbourhood Management are supposed to do that of course, but with some honourable exceptions they don't seem to be working. Atkinson proposes not a Welfare State, but a Welfare Society where communities in neighbourhoods organise themselves and take control of their own surroundings.
Shaw said, I think in the preface to Androcles and the Lion, that Barabbas has had 2000 years - its time to give Christianity a chance. Well, centralised welfare has had a chance - its time for the people.