Is It Time To Invest In Local Communities?

At a time when government budgets are shrinking and likely to keep falling politicians from all parties are expecting communities to do more. But is it fair to ask local people to solve the problems of government?

Investing in social capital

In the private sector the airline and other industries follow a model that minimises costs by getting the customer to do as much work as possible. Government is starting to follow a similar path as it asks local communities to play a greater role in the delivery of public services.

Strong local communities contribute great value to society but their role is not to take on the responsibilities of government. Their strengths lie not in what they can do for government but in the links they create between people and groups to build social capital. Building such links adds tremendous worth to the economy and complements the work of government in a way that benefits everyone.

Social capital in this case is often described as the collective value that stems from the connections and interactions that develop within a community. It has a positive effect as it leads to better physical and mental health, greater levels of citizenship, a more vibrant social economy, and a fall in dependency levels. Building social capital leads to better outcomes for government and communities, as it provides common ground for the energies of those involved. Developing social capital improves people’s lives by encouraging a sense of belonging and reducing barriers for those who want to engage. Government should also invest in local communities as it ensures the social economy works in parallel with and complements the everyday economy.

Investing in local communities

Investing in communities also supports active citizenship, as it provides a sense of purpose and builds lasting bonds between individuals and organisations. It encourages local people to challenge the issues facing the community by engaging people with different skills and experiences to work on specific issues that affect the area.

Investing in local social networks has a positive effect too, not least because it improves people’s physical and mental health and creates greater training and employment opportunities. Understanding the nature and potential of the links and relationships that exist within a community is vital too, as each area will face different challenges. Identifying and understanding the key issues to focus on and building the necessary formal and informal links within the community start the process of creating social capital. Greater community capacity is developed and the ability to find solutions is increased as the power of local people taking action prompts positive change.

So, it is time for government to invest in local people and local communities as a way to build a better economy and a better society.