RSA Under Fire Over Citizen Power Peterborough

08:10 Monday 7th February 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
Paul Stainton talks to Matthew Taylor, the Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Arts.

PAUL STAINTON: The big question this morning is, is the Big Society finished? Is David Cameron’s big idea turning into a big flop? This morning the head of one of Britain’s leading charities has warned the Prime Minister his project is being undermined by him and his spending cuts. In Peterborough, the Council has spent over £300,000 on Big Society projects over the last year. The Neighbourhood Councils, and Citizen Power Peterborough, tasked with getting residents more involved in shaping the city’s future. Earlier we spoke to Cllr Stephen Goldspink, part of a committee of councillors who voted for the Council to scrap Citizen Power. He told us why. (TAPE)
STEPHEN GOLDSPINK: .. we have concluded that basically it’s a mirage. That nothing is going to happen with this. The people of Peterborough aren’t going to benefit. What it is, it’s an arts project in disguise, pumping a large amount of money into the arts to benefit artists, and hiding behind the veil of pretending to benefit the people of Peterborough. And it’s just not going to happen. They’ve got no objectives, no measurements, no nothing. And I’ve looked at this from my professional perspective as a project manager. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well Citizen Power is partly funded by the Royal Society of Arts. Their Chief Executive is Matthew Taylor. Morning Matthew.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: Hello.
PAUL STAINTON: You’re just a mirage, are you? Just something that’s concentrating on looking after the arts, according to Councillor Goldspink.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: A figment of my own imagination really. No. It’s interesting this conversation with the Big Society at the moment. In a way it could alter suggestions that the Big Society is dead, because the Big Society is happening all around us. It’s people volunteering, it’s the work of the third sector, it’s people getting involved in debates and consultations. So I think when people say the Big Society is dead, what they mean is attacking the idea that central government can somehow make more of that happen, basically when it’s cutting services. But I think what Peterborough is doing, what Peterborough City Council is doing is very interesting. Peterborough is a great place. It’s got a lot going for it. It’s also got some specific problems, and some particular ambitions. The problems Peterborough has got, it’s got quite low levels of trust, quite low levels of engagement, certain kind of problems, drug addiction, alcoholism, anti-social behaviour are slightly worse than they ought to be for a place like Peterborough. And also the city has got a mission. It wants to be a real leader on the environment. And it wants to strengthen its arts and cultural offer. Now Citizen Power, which is a project where £3 are being spent in Peterborough for every £1 that Peterborough is putting in.
PAUL STAINTON: 125,000 of our pounds.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: Yes. The Peterborough Council is putting its money in, the RSA as a national charity is putting money in as well. And so is the Arts Council putting in money. And it has a whole strand of work, all of which is focused on those particular issues. So for example, because Peterborough’s schools don’t do quite as well as they should, we’ve got a project with a number of schools in Peterborough, exploring how it is we can strengthen the links between schools and communities. Now employers often say when kids leave school they haven’t got the right skills. So how can we get more employers, other kinds of organisations, the local football club, the Cathedral, to go into schools and support children’s learning? And also so the children’s learning is more about the place they’re in, so it feels more relevant. Another project is working with local community groups, that want to develop their own environmental ideas, you know, whether it’s recycling, or alternative energy, working with those groups to develop their own ideas. A third strand gets together the kinds of people who make the Big Society work, neighbourhood activists. And we’ve identified by talking to councillors and various other people across the city. Bring them together to discuss ideas, things that they think the people of Peterborough could do to improve their city. So for example, a couple of weeks ago, at a meeting that I think Cllr Goldspink was at, we had national leaders talking about what communities can do themselves to tackle anti-social behaviour. Because some communities have trained themselves, they’ve got better at tackling these issues so they don’t have to call the police in. So these are the kinds of very practical things that people are working on in this project. And yes, there is an arts strand, but it’s a really interesting arts strand, doing very surprising kinds of things. One thinks of art as being in galleries, and about very middle-class people. The kind of work we’ve been doing , let me give you one example. A group of young girls had been banned from a shopping centre in Peterborough, because they kept messing around, and they’d been excluded. Artists came in, worked with those young people. They spent a day in the shopping centre. They interviewed people, collecting stories about the place. And now the shopping centre has offered them to be ambassadors.
PAUL STAINTON: Matthew, I’m sure we’re all listening to this this morning thinking, they’re all great things, and we all want to do them. But in a time when so many things are being cut back, and people are seeing their pay cut, their services cut, their council tax going up, can we quantify, can we back up spending £125,000 a year of our money on slightly fanciful things that we’d like to have in a perfect world?
MATTHEW TAYLOR: In a way I think it’s the reverse. It’s that if we are going to .. you know I’m old enough to think back to the 1980’s, where lots of services were cut back. And lots of things them deteriorated, parks deteriorated, streets became less safe. It really felt as though the social fabric of society was declining. Now this time we also face cuts. We need to try and do it differently. And the critical thing there is whether people themselves come forward and have ideas, and work with each other.
PAUL STAINTON: Many people will listen to this this morning though Matthew thinkig that 125 grand could be better spent elsewhere.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: Sorry?
PAUL STAINTON: Many people listening to this this morning will think that 125 grand could be a lot better spent elsewhere.
MATTHEW TAYLOR: OK. But let me just ask you this. When you think about public services, and the way we spend our money, what’s the most important determinant of whether a child succeeds at school? It’s whether their parent is involved in their education. So how can schools get parents more involved? What’s the most important driver of costs in the health service? It’s our lifestyle, it’s the food that we eat, it’s whether we drink too much and all those kinds of things. But actually our own behaviour, what we do, are the things that drive costs in the public services. So actually the only answer, when you face difficult issues, is for people to come together.
PAUL STAINTON: Matthew, we’ve got to leave it there, I’m, afraid. But thank you for that. Matthew Taylor Chief Executive of Citizen Power, partly funded by the Royal Society of Arts. But £125,000 of our money goes into it every year.

1 thought on “RSA Under Fire Over Citizen Power Peterborough”

  1. One is reminded of the farcical antics of a carry on film, or in particular Kenneth Williams and “Infamy, infamy they’ve all got it in form me”. (Probably not considered art though)

    Which leads one to think of irony, irony since real citizen power is doing all it can to get rid of the burden of Citizen Power

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