Small is beautiful
But elsewhere the city’s engagement with social sector aims appears to be going in reverse. Funding cutbacks means that the third sector infrastructure has been reduced and the council’s engagement with communities –and the community sector – has suffered.
Atiha Chaudry is the lead for the city’s BME network and has seen a sharp reduction in funding for community networks across the city. ‘Civic engagement has been destroyed’, she says. ‘Networks that were there are no longer being funded. The demographics of the city are changing and new communities are coming in. The infrastructure for supporting them is not there which is impacting on cohesion and could have serious implications.’
While the larger organisations delivering contracts are thriving, the value to the local economy of small and medium sized civic organisations is not always recognised.
Organisations like Wai Yin, which supports ethnic minority groups across the city, and Levenshulme Market, have developed strong social networks in parts of the city left behind by the economic success story, and provide pathways to employment for those far from the labour market. Recognising and supporting the added value of smaller organisations such as these is part of the civil economy vision and has the potential to bridge the gap between the region’s economic and social success.
The Asset Based Community Development approach being developed by the city’s foundation Forever Manchester for example has proven the economic potential of small pots of funding for community-based organisations.
It is not only a lack of vision from those at the top that is holding back progress in the city. Charity bosses in Manchester admit that there has sometimes been a lack of innovative thinking between the council and the third sector and a lack of entrepreneurialism among their sector.
And some councils within the Greater Manchester region are busy building alternative approaches. Oldham council is part of the co-operative network and is rolling out a more participative approach to social and economic change, while Stockport is on its way to becoming a sustainable food city. Salford recently became the first social enterprise city in the north of England.
A new social contract
Richard Leese admits that poverty is already a drag on the local economy and says that poverty levels are coming down within Manchester. It’s not too late for the new devolved administration to use its new settlement to build a new social contract for a city region that is famously fuelled by people power. Civil society organisations are now focusing on developing a more powerful collective voice around devolution, amplifying their voices about the need for the alternative and making the case for change.