On Wednesday 28 July, Phil Anderson, who represents Stanford East & Corringham Town on Thurrock Council, gave his maiden speech on his vision of how the Conservative’s Big Society can be effectively implemented across the borough.
Phil (right), who is an active Christian at Thurrock Christian Fellowship and the Stanford & Corringham 24-7 Prayer Boiler Room Community, told Transformation Thurrock, “While the council will consider working with any type of community group, it is a fact that the Christian church is by far the largest and most active community organisation in Thurrock. This record of energy, service, and commitment leaves churches well placed to take a lead in delivering great value, innovative public services. I would urge Christians to prayerfully ‘push on the door’ of partnership with Thurrock council at this time. We are entering a period of unique opportunity, and as Christians we are told to understand the ‘signs of the times’ and respond in prayer and action.”
The full text of Phil’s speech – which our colleagues at Your Thurrock describe as ‘The Anderson Manifesto’ – is as follows:
“The role of the faith, community, and voluntary sector in delivering council services during the current financial climate.”
I am pleased to be leading the first Adjournment Debate to be held under Thurrock Council’s new constitutional arrangements. In Parliament, these debates are valuable for two reasons. They enable members to highlight issues of particular importance to their local area, and they allow discussion of subjects which might not otherwise receive the attention they deserve. I hope that the same will be true of Adjournment Debates here in Thurrock.
Whilst many generous words have been said about the faith, community, and voluntary sector here in Thurrock, in reality the Council has largely treated the services they provide as an ‘optional extra’. A nice additional benefit to the community, but not central to our core priorities. We have heard tonight how deep and painful cuts are now unavoidable to help tackle the out-of-control national debt. Under these circumstances, community, voluntary, and faith groups must surely expect to be first for the chop.
I would like to propose a radically different approach. Rather than seeing these groups as an unaffordable luxury, we must start to recognise them as essential building blocks for a thriving community. I believe that voluntary, faith, and community groups are ready to rise to the challenge because they have three strengths that neither the public nor private sector possess:
- Firstly, these groups can deliver fantastic value for money. Nationally, for every pound of government money they receive, faith, community, and voluntary groups add a further two pounds themselves. This is in addition to the vast amount of time and skills provided by volunteers. This makes them several times more ‘efficient’ at using resources than either the public or private sectors.
- Second, they are a proven source of innovation. Two examples are the transformation of youth services in Kent and the ending of homelessness in Southport, both using innovative approaches pioneered by local Christian faith groups. The answers to today’s social challenges are more likely to come from a new generation of ‘social entrepreneurs’ than from top-down policies.
- Thirdly, they have a deep commitment to the local community. Public sector initiatives tend to come and go with political fashion, and the private sector are only there for as long as they win the contract. But community, voluntary, and faith groups are in it for the long haul (in some cases over 800 years). This allows them to develop strong relationships of trust and a deep understanding of local needs.
To fully take advantage of these strengths, we must start seeing Council services in a completely new light. The core of the Council will need to be trimmed back to doing just those things which are its unavoidable legal responsibility and cannot be delegated or transferred. Every other service should be renewed or re-imagined on a ‘community first’ model of delivery. The presumption must move away from ‘the council will do it’ and towards ‘the council will resource and support the community to do it’.
There are 3 steps which need to be taken to make this vision a reality:
- Recognise that the distinctive character of voluntary, faith, and community groups is a strength, not a weakness. State imposed political correctness has created a deep loss of trust, especially for faith groups whose beliefs and ethos are an inseparable part of their identity. We have to recognise that diversity is about valuing these groups for what they are, not expecting them all to think and act like a council department.
- Change our approach to commissioning public services. Everything that the council does must start with a presumption that it can and should be delivered by faith, community, or voluntary groups. We must move away from large, complex contracts which kill any chance of localism or innovation. If a local group want to clean their own streets, maintain their own park, or care for their elderly neighbours (and benefit financially in the process), why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so?
- Transform the nature of support that we offer to community, voluntary, and faith groups. Thurrock is fortunate to have some excellent and very committed people working in this area. They are hampered by a ridiculously complex structure of organisations, a constant need to fight for funding, and an approach to measuring their performance which looks at reports written, glossy brochures produced, and events run, rather than results achieved. The voluntary, faith, and community sector will thrive when the support we offer looks less like a quango and more like ‘dragons den’; backing ideas based on their potential to deliver great value, innovative local services.
The choices we make now will define the character of Thurrock for the next decade. If we cling to the old model of centralised provision, the future has little to offer us but cutbacks and decline. But if we are brave enough to embrace the potential that is around us, history may look back and see this as the moment when the renewal of our communities began.
Cllr Phil Anderson, Stanford East & Corringham Town
New Tory Calls For Bar To Be Raised
Your Thurrock posted another article on 4 August about Phil which slightly cheekily refers to his faith, but which at the same time is an acknowledgment of his integrity and commitment which comes from knowing and living for Jesus.
Written by Michael Casey, it reads, “It is his clarity of thinking that has impressed fellow councillors and the public alike. Indeed, you start to wonder if fellow Tories are going to wear wrist bands saying ‘What Would Phil Do?’”
Michael recognises that Phil “has made a considerable impact in the three short months since he was elected,” and goes on to say, “Phil, however, doesn’t hold back and believes that the reason he has made an impression is that the bar is relatively low. Phil believes it is time for the 49 councillors to raise their game.”
Watch the video at: http://www.yourthurrock.com/2010/08/04/new-tory-calls-for-bar-to-be-raised/
Besides his work as a local Councillor, Phil is also running the SUSA website (http://www.susa.info/) and the annual National Prayer Breakfast in parliament at Westminster. Phil flies a light aircraft up and down the Thames or around the M25 from time to time (see link).
Transformation Thurrock disclaimer: this article is NOT ‘Tory propaganda’!