As the gloom on the economic front worsens, UK secretary for Communities Hazel Blears warned that the recession could tip the country towards riots and civil disorder. But community organisations could counter the trend, she said and pleaded that their resource base be strengthened.
She also revealed that she had asked her officials to 'bring forward by the summer a package of measures to give communities sustainable sources of income, through the recession, and into the recovery.
AdvertisementCommunity organisations could create space for local action, and promote innovation and experimentation.' As well as transferring assets such as disused buildings, markets and leisure centres to community groups, they needed to be assured of the funding needed to make proper use of them, Hazel Blears said in her Edith Kahn Lecture.
She noted that the economic downturn could either drive communities apart or bring them closer together.
'We witnessed this in the 1980s and early 1990s, and at its most extreme, it culminated in cars and buildings burning on the streets of Brixton, Birmingham, and Liverpool.
'In some wards in my own city of Salford, we had 50 per cent male unemployment, and it has taken a decade to repair the damage.
'Or economic recession can be the catalyst for communities to come together, for neighbours to construct new forms of collaboration, and for citizens to discover new reserves of courage and kindness.
'Which end of this spectrum we tilt towards will depend on a decisive factor: the role of the government in valuing volunteering," she said and promised the government would step in by strengthening the nonprofits.
'In the wake of our mistrust of global financial institutions, there are new opportunities now for community shares and bonds, U.S.-style community reinvestment programmes and a much closer look on how we measure the social return on public investment.'
The US Community Investment Act, whereby financial institutions must plough some of their profits into communities, might serve as an interesting starting point,' she suggested.
'My conviction is that our route through this recession must be characterised by greater devolution of power, and more opportunities for communities to take control.
'Not "on your bike" like previous recessions, but how can we help you open a bike repair workshop, start a social enterprise to encourage cycling, start a bike-share scheme in your neighbourhood.
'In the light of the failure of the institutions of the free market, these institutions of co-operation are truly in tune with the spirit of the age.'
Liz Atkins, director of public policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations agreed that voluntary and community organisations played a critical role in supporting communities through the recession.
'Our organisations bring people together and help to tackle unrest. But to do so they need to be properly resourced.
'We will work with her department to ensure that the resources she has promised can be used to best effect,' Daily Mail quoted Mr.Atkins as saying.