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Spelman: Regenerating our communities is a social, not just state, responsibility

In her speech to the Conservative Party Conference, Shadow Local Government Secretary, Caroline Spelman said:

"As I travel round the country I am constantly reminded of the growing gulf between the "Haves" and the "Have-nots" which makes me burn with a sense of injustice.

You can't govern for the Haves alone, and if anyone thinks that - in my view they've gone into politics for the wrong reason.

The solutions to social injustice are as complex as the causes, and politicians don't have all the answers. There is no silver bullet.

Down the decades we've channelled money into the fight against poverty, but the poorest areas a century ago are still the poorest today.

You know the areas I'm talking about.

Areas where crime and gang culture have filled the vacuum left by the loss of community; and law-abiding people have retreated from the streets.

We need real fresh thinking on Social Justice, not just treating the symptoms but also the causes and I want to look at what works.

The projects which succeed involve their community and the ones which fail do not.

People need the chance to change and improve their community and to see these improvements as their own.

We need shared responsibility in communities because with responsibility comes pride, and if you live somewhere you feel proud of you want to keep it nice.

But you can't ask people to take shared responsibility for something they don't have any control over.

Take the Pathfinders regeneration scheme, where thousands of Victorian Terraces are being bulldozed regardless of local opposition. This goes against everything we have learnt from the past.

Local opinion must never be dismissed by Whitehall, and that's why we will overhaul the Pathfinder scheme and give local people a strong say in how their communities are improved.

Balsall Heath, the former Red Light district of Birmingham, has been transformed by local people getting together and taking practical measures to turn it around.

Volunteers man a local police station instead of it being closed down;

people take it in turns to lead a 'walking bus' of children to and from school;

and a monthly residents' forum meet to hear the view from the street.

The change is amazing.

To cap it all it doesn't even cost vast sums of money - it's amazing how a little money goes a long way when the goodwill of the community is harnessed to a vision they created.

Money is a factor though and the way it is currently administered is a shambles. At the moment there are 50 different funding streams for housing and regeneration which makes accessing the money one heck of an exercise in bureaucracy.

This has to change. We will roll up these fragmented resources into a Cohesion Fund and make repeat funding available to those projects which prove their worth.

The politicians closest to their communities are local councillors who rub shoulders with their constituents daily.

In so many ways councillors should be best placed to effect local change but they can't under labour's straightjacket.

Decision-making is being taken further away from the people under the guise of regionalism. It's a by pass down which the government steam-rollers its will regardless of local opinion.

I know I said I don't have ALL the answers, but it strikes me a good place to start is abolishing the unelected Regional Assemblies.

And when we've done that we'll abolish the Standards Board which puts people off serving their local communities and has proved a vehicle for so many malicious claims.

We need to transfer powers, responsibilities and budgets away from Whitehall into the Town Hall. And from there to the community.

We are serious about giving power back to local people.

But when I talk about this transfer of responsibility I don't think it should stop at the level of councils.

In this example is that the council was brave enough to acknowledge that this faith based charity could do a better job than it could and simply delegated responsibility to who was best to get the job done.

There is a whole network of Social Enterprise schemes which are doing great work, and given the chance could be doing even more.

We need to release the spirit of social enterprise rather than contain it.

Commercial enterprise has been the bedrock of our economy - and social enterprises can become the bedrock of our communities.

Social enterprises are some of the best drivers of social change, and we all know how much that change is needed.

The fracture in our society between communities that 'have' and those that 'have not' fuels misunderstanding.

The ghettoisation of our communities breeds fear and distrust.

At no time has there been a more urgent need to weld our communities back together, to break down the barriers which have turned some of our communities into recruiting grounds for terrorists.

But this cohesion cannot be delivered from central government.

We must start by offering opportunities and resources that will bring united communities with shared values.

Opportunities like David Cameron's idea for the 'Young Adult Trust' where together, after leaving school, young people can get involved in a community activity - at home or abroad.

Ideas like this are not just aspirational - they're essential.

We all share responsibility for tackling the social injustices, in whatever form they take; homelessness; discrimination; unemployment; illness and disability.

Delivering physical and social regeneration is a social responsibility, not just a state responsibility.

The challenge for us is to help people, help themselves.

As the Big Issue slogan says "A Hand Up Not a Hand Out".

And that is exactly what David Cameron's modern, compassionate Conservative Party is all about."

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