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Civic duty alive and well

Nine per cent of the public are driven to get involved with their local communities, according to new research published today.

And report author Professor Peter John from The University of Manchester says most of them – 68 per cent – do it out of a sense of community.

The surprising results contrast strongly with the more pessimistic findings of this week’s Demos report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which put the figure at one per cent.

Using data from the Government’s 2005 English and Welsh Citizenship Survey, Professor John’s research examined the activities of 10,000 people.

He found nine per cent of people had taken part in groups making decisions on local health services, regeneration, crime, and education within 12 months.

In a separate development, there were also encouraging figures on public consultation:

Within the same 12-month period, 13.7 per cent of respondents had completed a questionnaire, 6 per cent had attended a public meeting and 4.6 per cent had been involved with a group set up to discuss problems in local services.

Professor John, who is Director of the University’s Institute for Political and Economic Governance, said: “My report shows that contrary to commonly held opinion, community participation is alive and well.

“It also shows the government is able to encourage citizens to get involved with matters that affect their neighbourhoods and are essential to our democracy.

“This is hardly the ‘minority sport’ which you sometimes read about in the media.

“Roles such as school governors, volunteer special constables, lay member of police authorities, youth offender panels and members of patient and public involvement forums are actually quite popular.

“This sort of activity is high. My hunch is that it’s actually growing -though we’d need to do more research to find out for sure.

”The Joseph Rowntree Foundation figure of one per cent is too restrictive because it’s just about community decision-making.

“But citizens get involved in many more aspects of what we call citizen governance activity than that as my report shows.

“Indeed, even in isolation, most forms of citizen governance activity I looked at are greater than the Joseph Rowntree Foundation one per cent figure.

“What is fascinating is that people are even more inspired to take part in these supportive activities than in groups set up to discuss problems in local services at 4.6 per cent”

He added: “This form of civic renewal activity was championed by David Blunkett when he was Home Secretary – especially in the area of crime.

“What is promising is that many of these roles are filled by people who actually use the services.

“Participation can only help to reverse the decline in trust our political system has endured over recent years.

“And if marginalised groups are indeed getting involved, then it might even encourage other aspects of democracy, such as voting.”

Jon Keighren | alfa
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