We have to prepare both our structures and minds to effect positive social change.
I have chosen the legacy of the Labour government’s immigration policy to illustrate the need and benefit of structured changed management within a community setting; and how the lessons learnt could be applied to local planning.
Successful change must be participative, and not imposed, if it is to endure. Local politicians must actively engaged in a meaningful way with the community, undertaking and sharing an analysis of the proposals and be prepared to change plans. Depending on the resources available to conduct the required studies and the specific objectives of the analysis, and some methods may be more appropriate than others, always look for the community and local media etc. to help with the means of the study too but above all else LISTEN.
The consensus of most commentators continues to be that the Labour government “got it wrong” when it allowed uncontrolled immigration from EU ascension states including Poland, Hungry and Czech Republic in 2004. It had estimated that approximately 13,000 people a year would come to the country with a net migration peak of over 250,000 by end of 2010. Ed Miliband has since said: “It was a mistake not to impose transitional controls on accession from Eastern European countries. We severely underestimated the number of people who would come here. We were dazzled by globalisation and too sanguine about its price.”
My consideration is that failing to properly identify the numbers of migrants leading to significant pressure on jobs, wages, social and private rental housing and public services especially in health and education was the greater mistake. Within the larger urban areas, with established settled communities of various nationalities, much of the impact could be lessened. However, in the small towns and rural areas, where there were the most employment opportunities the impact was significant and noticeable.
The great shame, and lost opportunity, was that when the policy was exposed there was still an absent of energy, resources and commitment to put it right. It was initially the impact on public services which was felt first, many people struggling to get children a school place. Housing then took the hit, a pressure on social housing as many local authorities struggled with policy and directives but more significantly private rental suddenly became at a premium. Properties were quickly taken up, including previously available family homes now becoming multi-occupancy properties and many unscrupulous agencies taking up such properties to exhort rents in exchange for poor and sometimes illegal living conditions. In the rural areas, especially where agriculture and food production has tradition of reliance on an abundance of unskilled and cheap seasonal labour, this was a boom time. Unfortunately, and largely due to intention, the economic benefits accrued by the increased profits and tax revenues was not set aside or directed to the areas where there already pressures identified.
Both Government and local authorities,either unaware or disavowed of resources, did not enquire, enforce or prosecute the myriad of failures thus allowing criminal elements, as well as the incapable, to exert influence and to profit from an increased misery from poor housing, unlicensed working conditions and breach of pay regulations. The migrants themselves continue to feel isolated and most would never consider making complaint or protest about their situation through fear of loss of job, housing or still worse outcomes.
It is debatable how many of the jobs undertaken by migrants would have otherwise have been taken by the British, as the vacancies were there before 2004, however there must certainly have been an impact upon opportunities and wages as all parties would have increasingly looked to have made a living in the black market. It was also another “real” example which people would relate and relay. It also allowed others to take political advantage by filling the void of information, and failing to apply resources, to challenge the successes of the policy.
Where we are
For many local people they have felt they were abandoned to “like it or lump it” position by the Government, and certainly with a lack of material response at each level of government I emphasise. This, no doubt, is how we have ended up with the rise in support of the Far-Right. Whilst many people I have spoken with claim they have only voted UKIP “to make a point” the consequences have actually been more damaging to our circumstances . I have been consisted in my position, the policy facilitated open immigration but the real failure was not investing in the infra-structure before the migrants arrived, and thereafter making no attempt to “manage” what for many communities has been the single biggest social change they might experience in the lifetimes.
What I have also consistently argued it that there is no going back – and must challenge head on any suggestion that is possible and oppose all racism. As the economy grows and contracts businesses and people may move on, and of course individuals will always have life choices to make. However, most people will stay in or around the town and this includes migrants many of whom are now third generation families. However we decide to move forward we can only succeed as a whole community, the decisions and resources have to be applied for the common good through the evolution of common goals and a shared appreciation for “our” town.
The political response
The Far-Right continue to campaign against immigration, presenting it as the root of the problem despite most people accepting that many of the jobs society depends upon including care workers, nurses, agriculture, and public transport could not function. But also that many of the largest employers in this country are foreign-owned corporations, or that we wholly depend on continuing growth of foreign trade for us continued economic growth. This will no doubt become a regular area of debate in the lead up to the EU referendum. Many national politicians felt it necessary to also speak out against the symptom rather than the cause, maybe through fear of highlighting their own failure.
Local politicians have also found it difficult to know how to respond, many courting the vote rather than challenging the position. Again, the Far-Right have sought to exploit the position with local protests, and continue to seek to exploit the concerns and local incidences. What has improved is awareness of the exploitation many migrants have experienced also, there has been some response from authorities and police in dealing with criminal elements but much more needs to be done. It is the exposure of the poor practice and criminality which might surely persuade more people of the complexities that migration attaches.
However, what we continue to miss and I believe might still provide a path forward is a through structured review of each community, and the commitment of resources to deliver the change and support which is needed. It should have been done at the start but importantly it can still make a difference. Also, it is a tool which can be readily adapted and will sit alongside other strategies not being dependent on a particular economic model for example although of course the outcomes and required actions from the assessments stand alone.
We need to know where we are, and then agree what to do.
Local government is responsible for delivering of a balanced bank book, alongside social, economic, and environmental objectives. A consideration for politicians, and to a lesser extent community leaders, is deciding how much and what types of development the community can accommodate without compromising the day-to-day quality of life for residents. A social and economic assessment is essential to ensure communities in making decisions that promote long-term objectives including economic prosperity, a healthy community, and social well-being. Assessing both social and economic impacts requires both quantitative and qualitative measurements of the impact of a proposed development. If it remains the consideration that the single most important item impacting the town is immigration then of course it must be regarded as a change which must be accordingly “managed” whereas to a large part it has largely been ignored.
For example, Cromwell Road retail development in Wisbech may provide an increase in employment in the community but it might also attract more people to live in the town and add further to the demand for affordable housing. It is likely also to remove retail trade from the town centre, what would be the impact on remaining businesses, and how would residents without transport travel to the new shops. The impacts are quantifiable, and of equal importance should be the perceptions of community members about whether the proposed development is consistent with a commitment to preserving the “market town” character of the community. Assessing community perceptions about development requires the use of methods capable of revealing often complex and unpredictable community values.
A study of social and economic impacts will highlight how a proposed development will change the lives of current and future residents of a community. The indicators used to measure the potential social and economic impacts of a development including:
- Changes in community demographics;
- Results of retail and housing market analysis;
- Demand for public services;
- Changes in employment and income levels; and
- Changes in the aesthetic quality of the community.
Whilst quantitative measurement of such factors is an important component of the social and economic measures the perceptions of community members about how a proposed development will affect their lives is a critical part of the assessment and should contribute to any decision to move ahead with a project. In my view this is the singular greatest failure of Labour’s immigration policy; and every resulting problem stems from the continued failure to pause, consider and respond.
The social and economic impacts of a proposed development on a community begin the day the project is proposed. Every decision taken thereafter affects like the ripples from a cast pebble in a pond. Changes in social structure and inter-actions among community members may occur once the new development is proposed. In addition, real, measurable and often significant effects on the environment. From the time of the earliest announcement of a pending policy change or development project, attitudes toward the project are formed, interest groups and other coalitions prepare strategies, speculators may lock up potentially important properties, and politicians can manoeuvre for position. The Labour Government singularly failed to commit sufficient resources to champion the change either within or outside formal structures. It is not just the way to “sell” social change, it should be a principle which underpins our democracy.
The community need to own the change
The community must own the change, with the authority to influence the outcome. An effective assessment will consider the effects of a proposed development on a community’s social and economic well-being, as such the process should rely heavily on involving community members who may be affected by the development. In the case of immigration it should certainly include both migrants and settled people. Others who should be involved in the process include community leaders and others who represent diverse interests in the community such as community organisations, local business interests, trade unions, and an effort to reach out to minority and low income groups. This might chide with the politics of some but it is the nature of a true democracy, to consider the voices of the many and the few.
There are multiple benefits; it is used to alert the community, including residents and local officials, of the impact and magnitude of the proposed development on the community’s social and economic well-being. The process of assessment can help communities avoid creating inequities among community groups as well as encourage the positive impacts associated with the development – for perhaps the first time voices at neighbourhood level might be heard. It might also provide an opportunity for businesses to come forward with long-running or complimentary proposals which might be incorporated for shared benefit, or perhaps an environmental risk or concern might be raised. Too little of our planning is done in the dark fearful of objection or delay but I would venture often it can be seen at the cost of long-term benefits. For the cynical, the planning process, when not open to public scrutiny, may also be susceptible to corruption.
Remember we are planning for tomorrow not today. The assessment of a project’s need provides estimates of expected changes in demographics, housing, public services, and even the aesthetic quality of the community that will result from the development. Equally important, the assessment provides an opportunity for diverse community values to be integrated into the decision-making process. Together, these components of the assessment provide a foundation on which decisions about whether to alter or change a proposed development can be made. It can be seen how helpful this might have been in preparing for the first few years of migration, in provision of additional school places and perhaps review of housing needs and developments.
It is critically important to devote attention to the potential impacts of development on vulnerable segments of the community, or those who require advocacy and support to contribute. No category of persons, particularly those that might be considered more sensitive or vulnerable as a result of age, gender, ethnicity, race, occupation or other factors, should have to bear the cost of adverse social impacts. A comprehensive analysis of social and economic impacts can help avoid future inequities associated with new development by pre-emptively considering the potential impacts of a project.
FIRST RULE OF NAVIGATION: KNOW WHERE YOU ARE
Again, I have written many time of the apparent failure of Fenland Tory politicians to consult and consider the long-term impact of their proposals. The endless pursuit of what I term the supermarket economy is testimony to the lack of thought to the environment, employment, housing, jobs as well as the heritage of the market towns. Against the impact of migration the result has been miserable, the impact will be long term, but the experience has been palpable. But none of this is due to the presence and contribution of the individual migrants and their families – we must not allow racists to make scapegoats of them, and divide our communities.
A housing market analysis helps determine whether the proposed development will be beneficial to your community in terms of its effect on your housing market needs. In the case of a residential development, the market study assists in ascertaining whether there is sufficient demand for the type of housing proposed and whether a sufficient number of households in the area can afford to purchase or rent the proposed type of housing. We should consider the connections between the housing market and employment. For example, if the proposed development is a retail park expected to generate a specified number of low-wage jobs, can the community’s current housing market absorb the new workers or is there a need for more affordable housing?
To understand the impact of a new residential development or a new employment centre on your housing market (or on the regional market), the initial step of the analysis is to complete an inventory and analysis of existing and projected housing needs. To better understand whether your community is meeting the needs of residents and workers in terms of affordability, an analysis of housing affordability which includes an examination of typical rents and mortgage payments compared to what households at various income levels can afford is necessary. This analysis should be part of the standing responsibility of the local authority in discharging their responsibilities for housing.
RETAIL AND EMPLOYMENT
Growing communities attract a variety of commercial developments including both free-standing stores and retail parks. These developments provide a community with products, services and conveniences important to the quality of life of local residents. The challenge to accommodating these types of new developments becomes one of minimising losses to existing retailers in the area, such as within Wisbech the historical marketplace, while allowing the market to respond to the wishes of the increasingly demanding consumer.
Development directly influences changes in employment and income opportunities in communities. Such changes may be more or less temporary (e.g. construction projects, or seasonal employment) or may constitute a permanent change in the employment and income profile of the community should the development project bring long-term job opportunities for community residents (e.g. establishment of a light industrial, manufacturing, or commercial establishment). Assessing these types of changes is an important component of social impact analysis because growth in employment places additional demands on community services and resources. For example, a development that brings lower-wage jobs to a community may generate the need for different types of housing in the area. Changes in income also influence the social environment in a number of ways such as raising or lowering the average standard of living for residents – as the provision of improved transport links would increase wages. It is essential that politicians understand and account for the dependencies and impact of all elements of their plans.
The new residents and their associated activities will require a variety of services provided by both the public and private sectors. A social impact assessment must determine the quantity and variety of anticipated needs. The goods and services most commonly included in a social evaluation are open space and parks; cultural and recreation facilities; education; health care; special care for the elderly, the disabled, the indigent and pre-school age children; police and the full range of administrative support functions. The optimum amount of resources that would be required for the satisfaction of needs is based on either planning standards, which are guidelines established by professional organisations and government agencies, or service levels. I have previously highlighted above also the specific additional resources required in support of migrants including improved levels of review and enforcement for Gang masters, safeguarding of housing and increased provision of translation services for example.
Impacts on the aesthetic quality of a community are often the most obvious sign of development; yet, are too often not included in the development impact assessment. It seems self-evident that towns and villages should reflect the local environment and be sensitive to the heritage of area but also that it would look “nice”. I believe there are many models and excellent examples, and my personal suggestion is that the principles of Garden City design continue to present the highest of these values. Shopping centres against a rural landscape are a local and recent example of the impact development has on the aesthetic quality of a community. In many cases, community members perceive themselves as powerless in guiding “the way development looks” in their community and thus do not participate in making decisions that protect the visual and aesthetic qualities of the natural and built environment. While aesthetic impacts are often associated with environmental impacts, they also have a significant impact on the social well-being of the community and resident perceptions about the quality of life in the community.
MEASURING COMMUNITY PERCEPTIONS
I have commented previously on people’s perceptions of change. There seems to be an unconscious connection between the arrival and settling of migrants and the decline of the town centre. A reluctance for people to acknowledge their personal contribution to the changes by their supermarket custom? A formal analysis for assessing changes in a community’s social well-being that result from such developments. Social change is more difficult to quantify than changes in the social environment because the assessment relies on the perceptions of current and new residents about how a proposed development may affect their quality of life.
However a social impact assessment is critical because it helps politicians, local officials, planners, developers and the public identify and address potential conflicts of interest that may accompany development. In addition to quality of life issues, it is important to assess how a proposed development may influence neighbourhood cohesion or cultural differences among members of the community – essential therefore in relation to a change as fundamental as immigration.
QUALITY OF LIFE
The attitudes community residents have toward development and the specific actions being proposed as well as their perceptions of community and personal well-being are important determinants of the social effects of a proposed action. Such attitudes are a reflection of the quality of life residents seek to enjoy and preserve, whether it be limiting growth in order to maintain the rural image of a small community; expanding the boundaries of the village; or providing a variety of housing choices to new, diverse residents and businesses. Changes in a community’s social well-being can be determined by asking the individuals and representatives of groups or neighbourhoods to make explicit their perceptions and attitudes about the anticipated – or applied – changes in the social environment.
Information about attitudes and perceptions should be gathered from community leaders because their attitudes are important and may lend insight into the overall attitudes of residents if community leaders are perceptive and sensitive to community concerns and interests. However, it is perhaps more important, though generally more time-consuming and costly, to profile the attitudes of the residents living and working in the community and each of the distinguishable social groups because they represent the population in the community most affected by changes in social well-being.
The Essential Toolkit
The various changes in the social environment and social well-being of a community that result from development may be significant, yet they are often subtle and not easy to quantify. However, this does not mean that such a study should take place. Indeed, a pro-active and forward looking local authority will already deploy many of the studies referred to as a means to ensure day-to-day activities are supported by efficient and cost-effective policies and procedures.
Whilst certain individuals or community groups may be active and forthcoming with input into the planning process, other community groups (e.g. low income or minority groups) might be difficult to engage or perhaps disproportionately affected by the proposed development may be less vocal in expressing concerns and interests. In situations where traditionally disempowered groups may be impacted by a development, it is important to make a concerted effort to involve them in the social impact assessment process. This is in my view one of the absolute failures of the so-called 2020 Vision – I have criticised it previously as a meaningless amalgam of existing strategies and plans.
I cannot underline the importance of the studies proposed. The resulting analysis not only forecasts impacts, but should also identify means to mitigate adverse impacts and provides an insight into opportunities. Mitigation should include efforts to avoid an impact by not taking or modifying an action; minimising, rectifying or reducing the impacts through the design or operation of the project or policy; or compensating for the impact by providing substitute facilities, resources or opportunities.
Anyone who has worked in Change Management will have faced the frustration of dealing with an organisation who views Change as an organic process, or as a consequence of requiring it to happen. Against the delivery of Government policy in respect of immigration these seem sophisticated views. A principle of successful Change Management is to have the engagement of as many users as possible. The relationships between number of users, the effectiveness with which they operate in the new environment, and the speed with which they come “on-board” are directly correlated with the success of the project.
Too often organisations undertake change management with the goal of changing everyone’s behaviours overnight. The result of this is often a failed initiative, which then leads directly to two additional outcomes. First, whatever changes were desired or required of the initiative do not happen. The second and potentially more significant consequence is that the organisation and its users come to understand that they can simply “wait out” any initiative and it will blow over quickly, allowing status quo to continue. This is a dangerous precedent to set.
Change management isn’t an overnight sensation. It will require significant effort over an extended period of time, long enough that the change of behaviour moves from being an exception to being the norm. In other words, the changed behaviour must become a habit. We too often ignore change management. The project will not deliver itself, in many respects the “go live” or mobilisation could be viewed as a project in itself. If you want your project to reach its full potential, the system must be accepted by those who are going to use it; let us learn from the recent past:
The only constant is Change
We ain’t going back! It matters not what people may believe, or for the minority that agitate for such, there is no political future where by what is now third generation of immigrants would be deported. The reality is that the local economy is wholly reliant on low paid and low skilled labour, and there is insufficient local people to meet the demand. If you then also consider the promotion of large retail parks with similar demands of labour, there is an ever greater risk that even more people will be needed to be brought into the region. The political response has been pitiful – in many ways impotent and mostly through fear of exposure. There must be the courage to engage with the community and open up discussion of what we need to move forward – how we can embrace the opportunity; this must include challenge and openness. We need strong civic leadership, which I have not seen in the time I have lived here. A clear direction, a gathering of resources, and a clear commitment from all to move forward.