Archive for May, 2011

Visit to Community Links

Today I found my way to Community Links – meandering amongst the road works and reconstruction taking place in certain parts of the London Borough of Newham.

When I arrived at Community Links, I managed to catch the last of an open access advice session and I could see that this was a great way for people to seek help from very experienced members of staff.

I had a chat with David Robinson and Maeve McGoldrick and we covered some really important themes which included:

1. Contracting for public services

2. Public sector procurement and whether it is weighted against voluntary and community sector organisations.

3. Who assess the use of sub-contracts – for example in the Work Programme.

4. The changing language of public/private/voluntary sector partnerships.

5. The need to deconstruct current approaches to personalisation.

6. Commissioning

7. Prevention of social problems and the work of the Community Links task force

8. Early intervention childcare and youth work

9. The value of open access services.

We were then by joined by Geraldine Blake and the Chair of Trustees and we then covered another really interesting discussion which covered a number of topics including Community Hubs.

We concluded another discussion by concentrating on how their experience informs policy development and how they feed into policy discussions at a local and national level.

The changing economic climate and what the potential and limitations are of securing further funding from the private sector. We also examined the need for government to look more carefully at creating an infrastructure of support for community based organisations. There’s also the issue about how procurement and commissioning by local and central government needs to change to create more of a level playing field for the sector in bidding for contracts to deliver services. There is, for example, a  need for government to engage suppliers in drawing up a community framework.

Overall I was hugely impressed and the range and scale of work being carried out by Community Links. Many services were open access and clearly addressed the need for local people to get advice and guidance to help them address the problems they were facing. But it went further than this. Staff seemed fully engaged in the process of not only helping people but giving them skills and knowledge to help themselves. They were also trying to develop skills to prevent problems arising in the first place.

Just as I was leaving David Robinson gave me reading material. I reflected positively on the fact that not only are they an active staff – developing and delivering important services – but they also write about their work and seek to influence policy discussions. I was just hugely impressed.

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It was an early start to the day and I got up before dawn one what was a beautiful clear morning (if a little cold) in Durham.

I headed to Police Headquarters for 5.30am to be met by Paul Anderson, Neighbourhood Inspector for Durham City. I was going to be accompanying the police as they undertook a series of drug supply raids throughout the City.

I then joined a large number of police officers for coffee and a briefing by the Assistant Chief Constable Michael Banks and Chief Inspector Colin Williamson about how the police operation would be carried out and undertaken. This included the reasons for the raid and why it is important to the safety, security and sense of well being in Durham City.

I was told that a number of raids would be made throughout a number of areas in the city including Langley Moor, Framwellgate Moor, Gilesgate, and just outside the city in Haswell, Sacriston and Nettlesworth.

Officers in different groups were then despatched to different areas to undertake the raids simultaneously.

Reflecting on the operation, it was well executed and I was vastly impressed by the professionalism of the police and the very calm and ordered way in which they undertook this major piece of work.

Along with other community representatives, I was able to witness drug suppliers and dealers of Category A drugs as they were arrested and evidence from their homes and cars taken.

Officers were very keen to remind us that the activities of the morning had been a long time in the planning and making. Evidence gathering, for instance, had been going on for at least six months following intelligence that initially came from a local PCSO. Personally I feel this really validates the role of PCSOs and shows what can be achieved in terms of tackling crime by having police build up good community contacts.

On the way back I went to Durham Police Station to see the Command Centre. The morning finished with a look around the command and control rooms at the Police Headquarters.

The reality is that drug dealing is an issue that has affected the city centre from time to time and residents do raise issues of concern with me.

 The evidence of course is well documented: not only are individuals harmed but communities can suffer as users can turn to crime to finance habitual drug use.

All in all, I was seriously impressed by the police and their operation. It is important that residents know that the police in Durham do take their concerns seriously and are working hard to address these issues. I think it is important to tackle drug dealing and prevent it if at all possible and I was grateful to the police for acting on residents’ concerns.

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