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The New Beginnings Fund was set up by a group of funders, including Barrow Cadbury Trust, to provide support to organisations involved with welcoming and integrating refugees into the UK.   Phase 1 of the Fund completed earlier this year.  Find out about some of the initiatives funded under Phase 1.  The applications for phase 2 of the New Beginnings Fund are now open.  The deadline for submitting an expression of interest form is 30 October 2016.  Please note, that web page will direct you to the relevant Community Foundation website.

For this phase grants will only be awarded in Yorkshire, the East Midlands, the North East, the South West, the South East, the East of England and Cumbria, Staffordshire, Manchester and Cheshire.

The New Beginnings Fund was set up to support small groups. Applicants must meet certain conditions before being awarded a grant. Find out more about the eligibility criteria.  Read the Documents and Policies checklist before you submit an expression of interest.

Questions in the expression of interest form and application form


Equalities charity brap published recently their ‘Making the Cut’ report about the challenges facing Birmingham community groups over an 18-month period.  Here, brap’s CEO, Joy Warmington, examines the findings and asks what the next step might be in addressing the difficulties and finding solutions.


The work of community organisations has always been underpinned by three key values. The first, and most obvious, is self-help: providing services when the state can’t or won’t, or when self-help is actually more effective or appropriate. Second is self-organisation. Community groups are often at their best when they’re movements for change in society, transforming attitudes about everything from homosexuality to disability to mental health. And finally, there’s independence: working strategically with local and national government to make life better by closing gaps in services and loopholes in the law.


That’s the history: what about today? In the current climate, community groups are facing unprecedented budgetary pressures. Making the Cut asked what impact is this having on frontline services and the people using them?


To get a better idea brap has been regularly speaking to community organisations in Birmingham for over a year. These organisations work with some of the most vulnerable in the city and cover a range of sectors, including housing, domestic violence, and youth employment.


What we’ve found is that cuts to spending and changes to public service design are forcing individuals to go to community organisations for the support they need. Whether it’s welfare changes, the closure of local housing advice offices, reductions in youth services, or countless other things, people are increasingly turning to local voluntary sector organisations for help and advice. Between November 2014 and July 2015, for example, 77% of community groups said they had faced a ‘significant’ increase in demand for their service.


But that’s not all: over the same period, 88% of project participants had to make changes to their work because of cuts to funding. For most this meant changes to admin and management support. A lot of organisations have also said there is less funding for overheads and the ‘softer’ activities that help create a fuller, more holistic support service.  At the same time funding has become more short-term, making it harder for organisations to invest in their sustainability and to plan long-term interventions. A youth service, for example, might find itself in the unhelpful position of spending a few weeks working with a troubled young person only to have them referred back to the organisation some months later. Having more time with the individual in the first place might have allowed the agency to really get to grips with the problems they faced, giving the young person the confidence and resilience to solve their problems independently.


What is more, community groups are finding it harder to lobby local and national government about the concerns they have. This is partly because with fewer resources and increased demand, most voluntary organisations just don’t have the time to challenge this cycle of diminishing returns. For most the time available to analyse policy, engage with decision-makers, and draw out the strategic implications of new policy, practice, or legislation on their day-to-day work has been massively reduced.


Additionally, the constraints on speaking out are also partly because contractual relationships can make it harder for community groups to say what they need to. Increasingly, commissioning contracts – not just locally but nationally too – are stipulating that organisations can’t speak out about the impact of funding cuts. And many organisations don’t want to risk the relationship they’ve built up with their commissioner because funding is so tight. The customer is always right.


Since the report was published a number of local councillors and council officials have expressed concern about its findings. As communities see the impact of funding cuts really start to hit vulnerable people, most decision makers have said they are keen to deepen their links with the voluntary sector (and, in fact, some community organisations have recently told us they’ve noticed a move toward greater partnership working). Some respondents have since promised to press for formal mechanisms with which the sector can talk to and engage new governing bodies (such as the West Midlands Combined Authority). Others have offered to explore how the contents of contracts between the council and community groups are communicated, as, they claim, the intention has never been to stifle the voice of the sector.


This is a crucial exercise.  For  we ignore the work, expertise, local intelligence, and advice of voluntary organisations at our peril. Many have a unique insight into the cumulative impact of welfare reforms and public service changes. There is a role for public authorities now, more than ever, to engage community organisations in discussion about how to ensure vulnerable and excluded groups aren’t being left behind. And there’s a role for us, too, as a society to think carefully about what kind of voluntary sector we want to see. Because at the moment there’s a danger we’ll lose the side of it that campaigns, and agitates, and demands. We can’t just be content for community groups to fulfil the first of the values we outlined at the start. Historically, community groups have built hospices, sheltered refugees, and made public transport accessible for the disabled. If we forget this role, we are forgetting its potential. We are forgetting its vitally important role of holding up a mirror to society and speaking truth to power.


Our new work supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust will feed into the ‘Making the Cut’ project by creating a series of voluntary sector “conversations” around social cohesion and inclusion in Birmingham.  Watch this space.


For more information about the Making the Cut project go to


British Future’s Sunder Katwals and Steve Ballinger went along to Wembley to hand out La Marseillaise songsheets and watch the England v France friendly.


This blog was originally posted on the British  Future website.



“I’m not sure I can pronounce any of it, but I’ll give it a go…” England fans were well aware of our nation’s difficulties with foreign languages when we handed out lyrics to La Marseillaise to them at Wembley this evening, under the watchful gaze of Bobby Moore’s statue. But we  still ran out within a few minutes, writes Steve Ballinger – everyone knew straight away why we were doing it.


They all knew they would sing two anthems this evening – and that this was no ordinary football friendly.


On Wembley Way, as we walked towards a Wembley Arch turned red, white and blue with ‘Liberte, Egalite, Franternite’ illuminated below, merchandise vans had sold out of ‘half n half scarves’ in the colours of England and France. An anomaly at most matches – who supports both teams? – they felt entirely apt at tonight’s game.


The atmosphere inside the ground was hard to describe. In many ways it didn’t feel that different – though the Englishman in front of me probably wouldn’t usually wrap himself in France’s Tricolore flag. We sang ‘God Save the Queen’ with gusto. And then the French anthem, the words displayed on Wembley’s giant screens after a campaign on social media and asking the FA to help us all sing La Marseillaise. The French fans nearby us sang it loud and proud; the English joined in gamely, as one might with an obscure hymn at a wedding. But then the bit we could all get right – “Aux armes, citoyens! Formez vos bataillons! Marchons! Marchons!” – rang out from every voice in Wembley stadium – tens of thousands of voices singing together and reminding us why it was so important that this game should go ahead.


The match itself, only ever a friendly to give Roy Hodgson’s team a taste of playing higher quality opposition,  was wholly overshadowed by the events that proceeded it, as one might expect. England’s opening goal, the first in England colours for Tottenham’s Dele Alli, was a beauty. It was typical of England to win a game where the score didn’t matter.


There was a standing ovation when France’s Lassana Diarra took to the field in the second half, just days after learning that his cousin had been killed in the Paris massacre; and a brief reprise of the French anthem in the 89th minute, as supporters from France waved their flags. A rousing applause followed the final whistle.


Then we all tramped off to queue for the tube home. News that another friendly, in Germany, had been called off due to another security alert, provided a grim reminder that the atrocities in Paris were not a one-off – and that tonight’s game,  important symbol though it was, would not be enough on is own to keep us all safe. But we were glad, all the same, that we had been at Wembley tonight,  part of this important moment of solidarity between two nations.

Miss Macaroon Community Interest Company (CIC) was started by Rosie Ginday, combining her passion for beautiful hand-crafted food, baking, and her desire to help disadvantaged young adults in her local area Birmingham.  Having trained to become a pastry chef at one of Birmingham’s four Michelin starred establishments, Rosie wanted to make the highly competitive Birmingham catering industry more accessible to marginalised young people from deprived areas of the city. Here the founder, a trustee, and a member of the team blog about the success of the Miss Macaroon model.

The Founder

“I set up Miss Macaroon in 2011 to bring together my passion for making the handed crafted delights that are French macaroons and providing supportive work placements for marginalised young people. Through a family member’s experience in the care system and chance encounters with a young homeless man in my home town I have always felt that I was extremely fortunate not to have been in a precarious situation myself. I dreamt of a business that combined my love of food, its power to create strong connections, a sense of community and nourish supportive relationships, throughout my time at school, university and abroad while setting up my first restaurant.

With help from amazing mentors, board members and University College Birmingham, where I did my catering training, I started producing our delicious French macaroons and ran a pilot training programme in 2011, out of which the Macaroons that Make A Difference programme emerged. To date we have worked with 17 of the most difficult to engage young people. I love making our beautiful product, quality control (taste) testing, and creating new flavours, but the thing that keeps me engaged after baking the 5000th macaroon of the day is seeing our newest member of staff practicing all of the skills he learnt on the first day he started the MacsMAD course. Initiative, time management, communication and team work are all improved by working in our kitchen. I’m really proud of the huge amount of hard work and commitment to learning and growing he has shown in working to get his apprenticeship and succeed in the Miss Macaroon kitchen, so much so that he is now called ‘Flash’!   With the support from Barrow Cadbury we can now increase the number of training placements, work experiences, mentor support sessions, and paid employment opportunities we can provide for young people who have been involved with the criminal justice system, who have been in care or found themselves homeless.

The new board member

Rosie Ginday’s Miss Macaroon has it all; exquisite hand-made French macaroons and a great cause. So when I was invited to join the board of this CIC I jumped at the chance. I’m very happy to help a project which supports young adults by providing work experience and practical help to guide them into work or education. It’s an exciting company and the energy and enthusiasm oozing from Rosie is highly infectious. She is a fantastic role model, not only for the young adults the organisation helps, but all SME business leaders, including me. Each time I attend a board meeting or catch up with Rosie in between time, I inevitably reflect back on how I can improve my own business. The Board consists of a group of experienced SME leaders with a wealth of experience across all aspects of business and it’s always interesting to get their perspective. However the most rewarding aspect is knowing (hoping!) I can play a small part in improving the work and educational opportunities for some young people. This was brought home to the board recently when one young man who had been given a short term contract at Miss Macaroon came to speak to us about his experience. He was confident, happy and had certainly soaked up some of Rosie’s enthusiasm. It was a pleasure to meet him and confirmed for me the real value of this worthwhile organisation.   I also get to eat some of the product; a perfect indulgence!

The newest full-time member of the team and beneficiary

My name is Zee and I’m 25 years old. I’m a trainee pastry chef doing an apprenticeship at Miss Macaroon. I work in the kitchen and prepare macaroons. I do a lot of the filling, packaging and baking.   When I was in a hostel last January I came across a flyer advertising the MacsMAD course as an opportunity to learn new skills. I had been unemployed for four years so the course was a good opportunity to readjust to a working environment and meet new people. I saw the flyer and thought it was something worth engaging with so I applied to get involved in the MacsMAD course. I met Rosie who helped me as mentor and gave me an introduction in to the catering industry. I also gained my food hygiene qualification. My confidence grew throughout the process. I stayed in touch with Rosie who encouraged me to get some work experience.

I was offered the opportunity to get some experience one day a week and grow in the industry. After that I got offered a position. I then went on to do three days a week. It’s been a good transition I guess to start off on one day then three days, and finally on full time hours. There hasn’t been pressure – I’ve gradually been allowed to fit in. It’s been easier than just going straight in to full time work which would have been a bit more pressure if I hadn’t had the chance to develop the way I have.   I was asked to speak at a board meeting in July and I didn’t know what to expect. I was a bit nervous but excited too. I definitely learned a different side of business and how this is a crucial part, how different minds and skills come together to improve the company. I felt privileged to be involved and it will be great to put on my CV. The opportunity was good for me to express myself about my experience at Miss Macaroon. It reassured me that I wasn’t judged. It was a good experience – definitely something positive to take forward in life. I learnt more about everyone’s roles and more about management.

Miss Macaroon has helped me to get a job in catering. It’s helped with skills, confidence, direction, focus and determination. It’s given me the opportunity to be part of something positive and constructive and to appreciate what skills are required in the work place. Rosie is a good motivator so my confidence has grown. Setting goals is now part of the way I work which I didn’t do before and that’s because of the five year plan we have put in place.

Find out more about Miss Macaroon on their website.   Twitter: @IamMissMacaroon Facebook: MissMacaroonCIC

Joy Warmington, CEO of brap, writes about 30 years of equalities practice in Birmingham and the need for clarity, a shared vision and getting on the front foot.

Here’s a quick question for you. For every £100 that a man working in Birmingham earns, how much do you think a woman earns? Ninety five pounds? Ninety pounds? Maybe as low as £85?


We’ll reveal the answer at the end, so while you’re mulling over that here’s another one. The unemployment rate for white people in Birmingham is about 9%. What’s the rate for black people? If you doubled 9%, try again. The answer is actually three times higher – 26%. The unemployment rate for Pakistani and Bangladeshi residents is similarly out of kilter, currently standing at 18%. But here’s the really interesting thing. Back in 2004 the white unemployment rate was 6% while the black rate was 18% – again three times higher. Over the course of a decade, despite all its strategies and plans, the city was unable to reduce this stark inequality.


Why is this? Well, it’s not just Birmingham that’s been asking these questions. A number of cities – from Plymouth to Sheffield to York – have held fairness commissions in recent years to understand why entrenched inequalities persist. As useful and, in some cases, penetrating as these commissions have been they have tended to ignore the nuts and bolts of how public agencies ‘do’ equality – how they go about tackling discrimination, eradicating social patterns of disadvantage, and fulfilling their legislative equalities duties. This is a serious gap. Understanding why these approaches have failed may go some way to explain why serious inequalities continue.


New research From Benign Neglect to Citizen Khan, providing a bird’s eye view of equalities practice down the decades shows that many ideas have been resistant to change. Whereas society has changed greatly over the last 30 years, our equalities tools have remained remarkably similar. For example, in 1984 Birmingham City Council set up a Race Equality Unit with the aim of addressing institutional racism and improving access to council services. By 1989 the Unit had 31 staff, including race relations advisers in housing, education, and social services. The Unit’s annual report for that year shows its activities included training, monitoring uptake of services, helping different departments devise race equality schemes, improving access to services (mainly by translating information), and organising outreach events. If you were to include something about community development (helping local community groups to support disadvantaged people) these activities would all be part of the Standard Six – the half a dozen key actions that have dominated equality strategies and policies over the decades. They’re the things that crop up time and time again, regardless of the organisation’s sector or the demographics of its service users. Ideally, equality approaches would be dynamic – constantly evolving as we better understand what works. Unfortunately, this generally hasn’t been the case.


We don’t want to suggest that no progress at all has been made, of course. For one thing, the number of excluded groups considered by equalities practice has increased. For example, public authorities in Birmingham didn’t fund any lesbian or gay groups during the 1970s or 80s – a situation which would be subject to serious scrutiny today. In addition, equalities practice is beginning to explore the impact of leadership and organisational vision when it comes to embedding best practice, and organisations are beginning to focus more on partnership working. However, there are still some things we need to get better at.


Firstly, as agencies work together more closely we need to be crystal clear about what ‘equality’ means. This may sound simple, but if you speak to people in different organisations you’d be surprised at how many answers you get. This is no longer an option. Different agencies have to be on the same page when it comes to delivering fairer outcomes for the most vulnerable. Secondly, and connected with this, we need a shared vision of what good quality of life looks like for Birmingham’s residents. This needs to be informed by what people think is important and by the common needs of people from different communities in the city. In other words, it will involve much more clarity about the ‘domains’ of equality that are important to a wide range of people in the city. Thirdly, we need to devise a series of entitlements necessary to guarantee these needs and measure the provision of these through a multi-agency, multi-sector programme of activities.


Finally – and perhaps most importantly – we need to take equality, cohesion, and integration seriously. In addition to the Standard Six, the clearest feature arising from a historical survey of equalities practice is that we’re constantly reacting to things. Whether it’s an influx of new migrants, riots, or legislative changes, equalities practice has always been devised in response to a particular crisis or problem. We have never stood back, thought about the type of society we want to create and then pursued this vision with vigour. It’s clear that equalities practice has usually been seen as a side show to the main business of delivering services. This can’t continue. We need to get on the front foot. Rather than react to problems we need to proactively shape the future.


Which brings us back to where we started: how much does a Birmingham woman earn compared to a man? The answer is £81 for every £100 he earns – a gender pay gap of 19%. This is bad enough itself, but it’s also worth noting that at our current rate of progress it’ll be 2038 before pay equality is achieved (and this is assuming there will always be progress: between 2012 and 2013 the gender pay gap actually increased). It’s becoming increasingly obvious that our traditional approaches to equality are delivering progress at too slow a rate. If we do what we’ve always done we’ll get what we’ve always got. And what we’ve always got has let down too many people.


It’s time for a change.


Jennifer Tankard blogs about the Community Investment Coalition’s new report on what bank lending data tells us about financially excluded communities

The Community Investment Coalition (CIC) campaigns for a radical re-shaping of the provision of affordable financial services in deprived communities.  This will reduce reliance on high cost credit, support innovation and competition in financial services markets and give people the financial tools they need to participate in the economy.


Key to achieving this change is increased transparency and public accountability of financial service providers to support consumer choice and allow effective intervention in under-served markets.  For this reason, we have championed the need for disclosure of bank lending data at a geographical level. Our campaign is supported by a range of politicians and organisations, including the Church of England.


In its final report, Changing Banking for Good, the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards stated that: ‘Increased disclosure of lending decisions by the banks is crucial to enable policy makers to more accurately identify markets and geographical areas currently poorly served by the mainstream banking sector’.


In 2013, a voluntary framework for the disclosure of bank lending data was agreed, with the first tranche of quarterly data released in December that year.  So nearly one year on, with four sets of data released, what do we know? A new report ‘Tackling Financial Exclusion: Data Disclosure and Area-Based Lending Databy Coventry and Newcastle Universities is the first significant analysis of the data.  Commissioned by Big Society Capital, CIC, Citi Community Development and Unity Trust Bank, the research found that currently, the lending data is limited and publication at postcode sector level increases the technical requirements and costs of meaningful analysis. The data does provide for some analysis of regional disparities of lending.  For example:


  • Median personal lending per adult in Great Britain in 2013 was £602. Lending per adult in the lowest 10 per cent of postcode sectors was around two-thirds of this figure or less, whereas in most of the highest 10 per cent of postcode sectors lending per adult was around a third or more above the median figure. Data suggests that average personal lending tends to decline as the area’s deprivation level rises.


  • Average median SME lending per business in Great Britain in 2013 was £47,072 with lending per business in the lowest 10 per cent of postcode areas below £35,000 and in the highest 10 per cent of postcode areas lending per business was over £68,000.


But this is not sufficient to support effective intervention to tackle under-served markets.


The study concludes that although the UK is now a world leader in disclosing area-based lending data, the existing data sets need to be strengthened and broadened to allow detailed and insightful analysis of which of the UK’s communities are under-served by the UK’s main high street banks.


The Parliamentary Commission, commenting on the voluntary framework, stated that ‘It will be important to ensure that the level of disclosure is meaningful..’ and that ‘the devil will be in the detail of the disclosure regime’. CIC has always and continues to welcome the significant step in bank transparency represented by the existing framework. But we believe that the quality, detail and type of data disclosed needs improvement for it to be able to identify markets and areas poorly served by the UK’s banks.


Jennifer Tankard is Director of the Community Investment Coalition



Saidul Haque Saeed, Community Organiser for Citizens UK: Birmingham, blogs about the success of a recent Public Accountability Assembly


Founded in April 2013, Citizens UK: Birmingham – a chapter of Citizens UK – is our city’s largest civil society alliance of faith, education, trade union and community groups, committed to training and applying the craft of community organising.


Last summer, we launched a ‘citizen’s listening campaign’ when teams of leaders in each community had thousands of face to face conversations. We heard the real life stories of the people of our city. We built relationships and we built collective power.  Then in October over 200 of us came together to turn these stories into a common social justice agenda and recruit leaders onto action teams. We have 5 specific areas of work: living wage, mental health, jobs, benefit payment delays and public safety. Five action teams have been working hard over the last 6 months to impact change.


On the evening of Wednesday 14 May, 429 citizens from across our membership and diverse communities gathered to do some business at our Public Accountability Assembly. We put our priorities to the decision-making powers in Birmingham. This was not a hustings or an elections debate. We assembled to seek public commitments to our specific social justice agenda.  Our approach is simple and effective.  We believe that ‘90% of an action is turn out’, mobilising hundreds of people from across our alliance to attend. The buzz and energy in the room with so many people added to the sense of unity and reinforced what a milestone the evening was.


Every proposal was preceded by a moving testimony by a person affected by the issue. They were people speaking publicly for the first time in their lives – the youngest were 10 years old.  No multi-slide power point presentations for speakers to hide behind, no jargon and strategy speak.  Any long-winded response not addressing the issue wasn’t going to go down well when compared to the powerful testimony which connected with the audience moments earlier.


And then we put our proposals to the decision-makers to see if they agreed with them. And they all did – with every proposal we put forward.


  • We won a pledge from a Clinical Commissioning Group Chair for a world class mental health service for young people, ending the scandal of no access for 16 and 17-year-olds.
  • We won the Council’s backing for our campaign to make Birmingham a Living Wage city and a commitment to a roundtable meeting with employers and business leaders on jobs investment.
  • We won the Police Commissioner’s backing to pilot the CitySafe scheme in our neighbourhoods. He also agreed to host a meeting with the boss of National Express (re bus safety).
  • We secured the Department for Work & Pension’s commitment to take action on benefit payment delays and provide a direct contact point for our alliance to refer cases.


Community organising is about building power and participating in democracy: being realistic in what we demand and winning key victories to improve the lives of people across the city. There is no better example of this than from the many young people at the Assembly who demonstrated their readiness and ability to train as leaders and act in public life.



Email:  [email protected]      twitter:  @CitizensUKBham        facebook:  Citizens UK Birmingham

The report released today proposes that a radical review of Big Society thinking is needed in light of millions of people being excluded from the Big Society, whilst the charities that support disadvantages people are themselves experiencing cuts to their funding.


The Big Society Audit, released by Civil Exchange and supported by  the Barrow Cadbury Trust, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and DHA points out that despite the rhetoric surrounding the Big Society, some of the most vulnerable are adversely affected by the policy. People with disabilities will experience 29% of the cuts, whilst 500,000 people in the UK are now dependent on food aid.


The report highlights stark differences between communities with regard to how they have been affected by the Big Society. The Big Society is at its healthiest in affluent and rural communities. Those living in the most deprived 10 per cent of the country were less likely (52%) to  agree that people pulled together to improve things than those in the least deprived 10 per cent (79%). Charitable giving and formal volunteering were more common in affluent areas and those living in affluent areas were more likely (73%) to say people in their neighborhood could be trusted that those living in disadvantages areas (22%).


The voluntary sector, despite an increased demand for its services has been largely left out in the cold. Many voluntary sector organisation, particularly those that work with vulnerable people, often in disadvantaged areas have experienced cuts to sources of income that they relied on. Many are now ‘running on empty’ with further funding cuts in the pipeline.


There are, however, positives to report. Communities are taking over vital assets and local services, greater transparency and accountability, and higher levels of volunteering, particularly amongst young people.


Read the full report here.

Policy Network deputy director, Michael McTernan, examines how we should respond to the rise of populism across Europe.


Populism is a new force in European politics. Tearing up the ideological contours of the 20th Century, its exponents vary from the grievance politics of the radical right and the far left through to dangerous forms of extremism and nationalism, values-and issue-based campaigning and the virulent currents of anti-politics and distrust of elite political projects which are sweeping across Europe.


As the Policy Network and Barrow Cadbury Trust project into the relationship between populism, extremism and mainstream politics shows, underlying the growth of all these populist movements is a series of deep-seated stresses that come to bear on liberal democracy and its mainstream party systems. They are socio-economic, cultural and political in nature.


The conclusions of this extensive cross-European study into how the mainstream parties have responded, and where they have failed to date, underlined the importance of 3 related strategic responses:


Firstly, acknowledge the rise of populism as both a threat and a corrective to democracy. The rise of anti-immigrant and anti-EU populism, for example, should be taken as a signal that mainstream parties have not correctly acknowledged past mistakes or the levels of concern which surround these issues. Progressive political parties cannot simply evade or dismiss the perceived, imagined or real grievances related to identity, cultural dislocation and immigration. Acknowledgement is a precondition to countering myths, getting back in touch with voters and responding to the root causes of discontent. Reframing, ignoring the problem, or simply labelling “reluctant radicals” as ugly racists, fans the flames of populism.


Secondly, work extensively on a governing agenda driven by the acknowledgement of past failings. In essence, getting on with the difficult policy work of formulating strategies in relation to education; housing; social mobility; labour markets; skills and training; sectoral intervention; regulation, i.e. predistribution; community building; policing; public interest regulatory bodies; dispersal of power i.e mutual and co-operative councils; and tackling the EU legitimacy crisis.


Thirdly, ‘contact democracy’ as a strategic response to political distrust. This means championing initiatives, tools and organisations that engage citizens in political dialogue and participation.


The emphasis on acknowledging the problem and ‘improving government’ is nothing particularly new. Moreover, progressive governance has become even more difficult and complex in these times of crisis, with national governments holding less power due to the forces of globalisation and the constraints of the debt crisis on public finances. At the same-time, the digital revolution and technological innovation have left many mainstream political parties hollowed-out and lagging in the past. As The Financial Times commentator Philip Stephens points out, “the political mega-trend of recent decades has been the diffusion of power – from states to other actors and from old elites to citizens.”


The focus on contact democracy and new forms of voter engagement is therefore a crucial supplementary step to building new coalitions which can carry a popular and credible governing progamme. Politics needs to regain legitimacy and this means people feeling more ownership and engagement.


Amidst the cult reportage of the maverick figure-head Beppe Grillo, the often-missed point about the rise of the Five Star Movement in Italy has been their successful use of the internet to encourage grassroots co-ordination among activists at the local level. As Anthony Painter, the author of the final project report, puts it, they have “mastered a viral form of contact democracy”. Italian-based political scientist Duncan McDonnell has documented the use of new tools such as, which have been very successfully used by the movement to mobilise and empower supporters. The Five Star Movement has many faults, but their internet and activist engagement success cannot be ridiculed.


To be sure, micro-democratic solutions and deliberative democracy forums do not offer the answers to the complex governing questions around growth and economic rebalancing. But the point is that political elites will soon lose their mandates to take on these difficult challenges with-out opening-up old clientele power structures and dispersing power more widely, embracing the digital revolution and new forms of campaigning and contact democracy. Progressive politics has to focus on the party of the future, not the party of the past.


Michael McTernan is deputy director of Policy Network @mmcternan