No doubt there are many complex factors underlying this week’s refinery strikes and protests over the employment of foreign workers, but it is hard not to see them as an early indication of how community cohesion can suffer in economic hard times.
When people are struggling to make ends meet they are naturally angered by the perception that other groups of people are receiving privileged treatment. Often these perceptions are unfounded but they can prove extremely tenacious.
At LGiU we believe that local councils have a key role to play in breaking down these misapprehensions – indeed their close connections with the community makes them uniquely well placed to do so.
That message is underlined by a new piece of research led by our very own Hilary Kitchin and published by the LGA this week. The report argues that councils need to take a strategic approach to communications and that while strong political leadership is vital, ward councillors also play an important part in anticipating and resolving tensions.
I think it’s a really important time to be emphasising these points. There’s a danger that we may throw the baby out with the bathwater in adopting a back to basics response to the economic downturn. As times toughen and belts tighten, worrying about cohesion or diversity may seem like an expensive luxury, but of course tough times are exactly when we most need communities to pull together. We will need to draw on the talents, strengths and insights of all sections of the community if we are to find our way out of recession, to support each other and to find new models of collective and economic organisation that allow us to achieve these goals. It’s a truism of course, but we are stronger together than apart.
This report offers valuable insights into how councils can and must help nurture that togetherness.