Building Communities Trust’s Policy Officer, Matthew Brindley looks back at the election campaign for Strong Welsh Communities and outlines how the new Welsh Government and Senedd can help develop the strengths and assets of local people and community-based organisations.
Communities campaigning for change
The party campaigns leading up to last month’s elections saw a welcome focus on enhancing the roles and rights of communities and their organisations. In their manifestos all the main political parties in Wales talked about empowering communities and in some cases outlined specific legislation and funding to do this.
More importantly many of these debates were happening between local people and politicians across Wales. For example community groups in Caerau (near Maesteg) and Risca wrote to their local candidates calling on them to recognise and support the key role groups like theirs play in building healthier, happier and more resilient communities.
Elsewhere in South Wales Cardiff based Action in Caerau & Ely (ACE) and local group Together for Trowbridge and St Mellons teamed up with Citizens Cymru to participate in accountability sessions with party leaders securing important commitments for the future of community action.
Meanwhile in North Wales Together for Colwyn Bay organised a lively and well attended community hustings with constituency candidates, while down the road in Wrexham We Are Plas Madoc, in partnership with Together Creating Communities (TCC), met and secured commitments from Senedd candidates in their area.
What the parties promised
Most of the main political parties made clear commitments in their manifestos and in their conversations with community groups in support of enhancing community action in Wales.
These included pledges from Plaid Cymru to introduce a “Community Rights Act” and a “Community Wealth Fund” to “empower communities” to buy local assets with the support of a “new national service”. Similarly the Liberal Democrats and Welsh Conservatives both committed to introducing a “Community Empowerment Act” with the latter pledging to “empower communities to establish neighbourhood plans” and introduce a “Community Ownership Fund” and “Right to Bid” to help communities take over local assets.
Welsh Labour’s manifesto was less specific, but did commit to “empower communities to have a greater stake in local regeneration” and prioritise “collaboration” with community groups. Mark Drakeford, in his accountability session with ACE and Citizens Cymru, also expressed his support for taking an asset-based approach to communities and working to their strengths, not their weaknesses, alongside being guided by the principles of coproduction.
Promises were also made at our pre-election national hustings on Strong Welsh Communities with each candidate asked what their party would do to provide a supportive environment for community action in response to Covid and beyond:
“In term of the way forward we need to build back a fairer, greener Wales to tackle inequalities so starkly exposed by the pandemic and that has to start in communities and we need to use funding strategies and action plans to make this happen at national and local level” (Jane Hutt MS, Welsh Labour and now Minister for Social Justice)
“Community projects cannot be forced, they come about because of local people’s dedication and passion…the least we can do is offer a national structure to sure up these networks, provide longer-term funding and show them the respect they deserve and the opportunity to flourish” (Delyth Jewell MS, Plaid Cymru)
“The Welsh Conservatives would develop a long-term, overarching communities strategy to help empower local people and establish Asset Based Community Development as a key principle within community development” (Mark Isherwood MS, Welsh Conservatives)
We were also encouraged that all three parties committed to meeting the newly formed Community Movement Cymru to discuss the future of community action in Wales.
Three steps to enhance community action
As the new Senedd and Welsh Government take shape, we believe there is a huge opportunity for both Government and members to work cross-party to realise the common ambitions and commitments made during the election.
As a starting point we have identified three key steps they should take towards enhancing the roles and rights of communities and their organisations:
Our Building Stronger Welsh Communities report and Manifesto provide detailed recommendations as to how these steps can be achieved. They are informed by over 20 events we ran in every corner of Wales involving over 250 people from community groups. For many, it was the first time they’d discussed policy, and their experiences and ideas have fundamentally shaped this roadmap for change.
Now it’s time for the new Senedd and Welsh Government to help realise our communities’ strengths and ambitions.