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20 July, 2004

Cautious welcome for Home Office Strategic Plan

Tony Breslin has given a cautious welcome to the Home Office Strategic Plan 2004-08, published this week under the title Confident Communities in a Secure Britain.

In an interview with Young People Now the Citizenship Foundation's Chief Executive called for a stronger focus on active citizenship and community engagement, as well as strategic support for the voluntary and charitable sectors and a key role for the formal and informal education sectors.

“We welcome the focus on engaging communities in tackling the problems that they face”, says Breslin. “This is exactly the focus of our successful Youth Act! programme and a key element, through volunteering, of the established Giving Nation model.

“However, we are a little disappointed that the welcome words on the promotion of active citizenship have been rather obscured by the concern for penal responses.”

“We agree with the need to be tough on crime. But being tough about building low crime communities and about addressing the causes of crime remain as important as ever. Prevention is better and cheaper than cure!”

The strategy’s fifth objective, ensuring that ‘citizens, communities and the voluntary sector are more fully engaged’ is, he argues, at the heart of civil renewal. “It is vital to securing the other four, even if some of these have proved more newsworthy”, he says.

Worthy local initiatives, says Breslin, must be sustained and shared across a wider field. This calls, he argues, for a real focus from the centre on community capacity building and on strategic support for the charitable and community sectors:

“Core funding programmes and more accessible grant streams are vital here if projects like Youth Act! are going to evolve from local success stories in a small number of areas to models utilised regionally and nationwide.”

Education is of paramount importance, Breslin says:

“The correlation between, for instance, juvenile crime and school exclusion is remarkable. Here, the potential to engage the informal education sector and those in the youth and community fields is clear.

“The energies of schools, youth groups, Connexions Services and a host of other agencies must be harnessed to good effect, not least through the developing and community-facing Citizenship curriculum.”

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