Changes in urban policy towards more inclusive community driven partnerships from 1991 ‘became a metaphor for the absence or withdrawal of services by the state’ (Hoggett, 1997: 10). Pre 1991 ‘policy became refocused not on people and communities but on property and physical regeneration’ (Colenutt and Cutten, 1994: 237) and the ‘trickle-down’ process (Brownill and Florio, 2000; Davidson and Lees, 2004; Ginsburg, 1999) whilst post 1991 policy was ‘tempered by softer references to the ‘community’, and ‘partnership’ between government, business and the local people’ (Robinson and Shaw, 1991: 61; Marinetto, 2003; Murtagh, 1998). It was the City Challenge and Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) together with the Planning and Compensation Act and Millennium Lottery Funds that ensured the government as a facilitator and not as the principal provider. Under New Labour, Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs) and New Deal for Communities (NDCs) partnerships continued and enhanced community institutional frameworks of local governance (Imrie and Raco, 2003). ‘Communities, then, are arguably part of the reinvention of government (urban) policy programmes’ (Imire and Raco, 2003: 5). Certainly, there are a wide range of benefits associated with community involvement including their superior and essential knowledge, their dynamism and synergy, the impact they have in terms of social capital, the redistribution of resources they provide as well as their ability to address the ‘democratic deficit’ (Ball, 2004; Taylor, 1997; Makintosh, 1992; Bailey, 1994; Lowndes and Skelcher, 1998). However, to what extent have these advantages transpired through partnership initiatives from 1991? Also, although communities are bracketed within partnerships, have they really been able to impact?
Partnerships & Central Features
Ball and Maginn (2005) identify partnerships to have two central features: firstly, and ever-increasing diverse combination of actors from the public, private, voluntary and community sectors; and secondly, they highlight the necessity for the community to be involved in the decision-making. This is well and good, though who actually constitutes as the community ‘is a notoriously slippery concept and carries with it a variety of connotations’ (Robinson et al., 2005: 15). Cochrane notes how in theory community refers to ‘a territorially delimited neighbourhood, within which there is deemed to be some sort of shared identity or set of interests’ though ‘in urban policy practice a community is generally simply understood to incorporate those who live in a particular locality’ (Cochrane, 2007: 48). This general definition creates a number of issues which revolves around the fact that ‘the community is not a homogenous mass with one shared set of interests and a consensus view. In reality there are many communities of interest with differing views and wishes; there are splits within community organisations and groups’ (Robinson and Shaw, 1991: 71). Involving a diverse range of local groups in participation schemes leads not only to an ‘unwieldy organisational structure’ but also to ‘heightened prospects for tension and conflict between community representatives’ (Mc Arthur, 1993: 309).
This was the scenario within the Deptford City Challenge which ‘turned out to be a more complex phenomenon…consisting of different and sometimes conflicting interests’ (Mayo, 1997: 17). The Deptford City Challenge response was to appoint a Board of Directors that reflected a wide range of interests which ended up totalling 23 members (London Borough of Lewisham, 1992). Mayo critiques this handling, for it created ‘divisive effects of intense competition within and between communities for resources’, as well as there not being ‘adequate mechanisms for ensuring that they [representatives on committees/boards] were and continued to be accountable to those whose interests they were supposed to represent’ (1997: 22). Furthermore, this was compounded with the fact that ‘all the participants, not just the council and government but also the local people themselves, have very different notions of community’ (De Groot, 1992: 205). This demonstrates the inability of partnerships to recognise how complex the community is, which in Deptford resulted in conflict over funds between representatives resulting in ‘one community up against another in a scrabble for crumbs from the wider ‘partnership budget’ (Mayo, 1997: 18).
Moreover, there is no telling how democratically representative community participation within partnerships really are because some groups are excluded and may not even know about the existence of these initiatives. This was apparent in the Deptford City Challenge where ethnic minorities which correlated with those who were unemployed had low levels of participation (Mayo, 1997), a feature that is relevant in many other localities. For example, the Bangladeshi community represent a high proportion of the population in the Ocean Estate NDC in Tower Hamlets (Lowndes and Stoker, 1992; Watt, 2009) and are representative of an ‘urban village’ (Abu-Lughod, 1969) in which there has been ‘a partial restructuring of a rural community within an urban environment, maintaining many of its cultural characteristics and resisting integration with the host society’ (O’Loughlin and Friedrichs, 1996: 37). Partnerships hence can be seen to not be able to respond to the complex macro-social problems in they have the ‘prevalent tendency…to treat the local and the community as selfevident and unproblematic social categories’ (Hickey and Mohan, 2005: 17) and that ‘merely setting up a partnership does not make conflict go away’ (Ball and Maginn, 2005: 23). Communities are no longer determined through class by industrial sectors, but along disconnections of identity and fragmentations along ethnic and sexual lines which are amongst many others (Jameson, 1991; Anderson, 1998; Shaw and Davidson, 2002).