County Durham community engagement consultation
Tell us what you think about proposals to improve how we work with our communities and residents to better support your future needs. A number of changes have been proposed in an independent review of our current community engagement practises.
An independent review of our current engagement practices has made a number of proposals to change the way we do things and better meet the needs of our residents, communities, councillors and main partners. By community engagement we mean the ways in which we work together on a local level to improve community life. In particular, the review looked at how community engagement can involve more people in affecting local decisions based on their needs, strengths, and ambitions.
Why community engagement is important
We know that communities working together to identify solutions and take action is a good thing. Community engagement projects works to improve community life, social connections and supportive relationships, and to build strong communities. Doing community engagement in the right way can help us to recognise, value and build on positive factors that support the wellbeing of our communities and will help us to overcome some of the key issues we face.
What we do now
Since 2009, our 14 Area Action Partnerships (AAPs) have been one of the main ways for us to connect and engage with you on a local level. Since their start, they have helped to fund over 10,000 community based projects. AAPs are made up of members of the public, our staff (including AAP staff, senior managers and councillors), town and parish councils, police, fire, health, housing, business, and voluntary organisations. Together they work with communities and organisations to agree local priorities and the actions required to deal with them, give funding to local organisations and check what difference that funding and support is making to the communities. They also provide a means to consult communities on service changes, provide a way of connecting local communities, ourselves and partners.
Why a review is needed
Since AAPs were established, there have been a lot of changes to local and national policies, so it was the right time to request an independent review to see if our AAPs were still fit for the purpose they were created. The proposals have been developed by independent consultants, working with AAPs and partners, over the past six months, having been appointed to carry out a review in June 2022.
The consultants have come up with a series of proposed changes covering:
- community development
If these proposals are to be adopted, the consultant believes that it will have the following benefits:
- increase the effectiveness and consistency of community engagement across the county
- provide opportunities for more people to affect policy and include the opinions of all our communities
- make it clearer how local needs are identified and considered in the development of wider policies and allow for more meaningful discussion around community issues instead of being often just about funding
- community staff will be able to spend more time in communities and be more responsive to local needs
Proposal one: model
The consultant has proposed that we improve our extensive local networks so we can:
- understand the strengths of our communities better
- involve more and a wider range of people
- reply to local needs effectively
- involve partners in achieving results together
The proposals are:
- Replace AAP Boards with community networks. Meetings would be every two months, be open to all, not have a core Board membership and be chaired by a member of our staff. County councillors would be encouraged to attend meetings and events.
- Base our community network meetings around a new theme at each meeting covering environment and climate change, the economy, community safety, health and wellbeing, and children and young people.
- Ensure staff spend less time on managing budgets so they can focus on other ways to engage with communities in addition to attending network meetings.
- Work more closely with our communities by being more visible. This could include community network teams working in community centres, libraries and / or family hubs.
Proposal two: boundaries
The consultant has proposed that we make sure community engagement is delivered effectively across the county by reconsidering our approach to size and population.
The proposal is to introduce more evenly sized geographical community network areas based on population. There are three separate boundary options to consider for this.
- Keep our current existing geographical boundaries but split East Durham AAP into two or three community networks.
- Make the boundaries the same as the new electoral wards (following the ongoing Boundary Commission Review) and divide into seven community networks which would be introduced following the May 2025 local election.
- Make the boundaries the same as the 13 NHS Primary Care Network (PCN) boundaries but create 14 community networks by splitting Derwentside PCN into two areas given its large size.
Proposal three: funding
The consultant has proposed that we make the funding process simpler and easier to complete. This will make sure staff can spend more time working in, and with, communities.
The proposals are:
- Introduce a new fund known as the Community Chest where discretionary grants of up to £300 could be awarded by community development workers to support new and/or small scale activity with a more straightforward and simple approval process.
- Replace the current Area Budget (a fund for local projects) with Strategic Grants which are allocated on a four year funding period, in line with the election period. Funding proposals would be developed by co-ordinators during year one in consultation with the community network and local councillors. Approvals would be given by the County Durham Partnership at the end of year one providing projects up to three years of guaranteed funding ie from April 2026.
- Each community network will receive a set amount of funding for the Strategic Grant. Areas will then receive extra funding based on a range of factors such as population size and levels of disadvantage. A proportion of the Strategic Grant would be specifically given to economic development projects.
- In advance of the new four year system being introduced, funding will be aimed at dealing with cost of living pressures.
- County councillors will be supported by community network funding in developing projects for their Neighbourhood Budgets (an allowance that county councillors can give out), so there is less need for community network coordinators and their teams to do this.
- Create a simpler approach to consider and approve county councillor's Neighbourhood Budgets especially where we have requests from repeat applicants and council lead projects. The need to report back to the community networks about Neighbourhood Budgets would be removed.
Proposal four: community development
The consultant has proposed that we review our current staff resources to inspire and motivate a new wave of community action and engagement.
The proposal is to create a community network team with roles and responsibilities enabling our community development staff to:
- build on community engagement in local areas and ensure people continue to be involved in development, changes and decisions that affect them
- support partners including residents' and voluntary community sector organisations
- help local people to develop new projects and get them up and running
- help organisations to secure funding for the first time
- identify gaps in the local voluntary and community sector
- be visible in our communities and more able to react to changing priorities, especially in areas where it is needed most
- support intelligence and knowledge gathering on local priorities.
- manage the new Community Chest process
- work closely with county councillors to share local information that will help inform decision making
Accessing the report
The consultants full review report is available here to read.
Have your say
The deadline for comments was 5.00pm on Sunday 23 April 2023.
What happens next
The feedback from this consultation will be used to finalise proposals for our community engagement function. Cabinet will review these proposals in June 2023.
- Community engagement consultation