There can be little argument that the concept of community councils has been a great success; or rather it has in Dulwich where the Dulwich Community Council has been well attended, responsive and transparent. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a return to councillors’ surgeries or the tedium of full council meetings to discover what is going on in the ratepayers’ name. Now it is possible to hear the details of neighbours’ plans to build right up to your boundary line and even to voice your objections to the same. It is also possible, with some prior notice to raise matters of local interest and importance. As Bill Higman said back in 2005 when the mechanics of the first year of the Dulwich Community Council could be assessed, it worked rather like a New England ‘town meeting’ – “open to all and regularly attended by local councillors and Southwark Council officers who carry out the work on our behalf.”
One of the great attractions of Dulwich Community Council is that since July 2004 it has, like other Southwark community councils, been awarded a sum of money to spend on local improvements. Individuals and organisations have been able to propose items for such expenditure which are then reviewed and prioritised by the council. Because Dulwich is demographically smaller than the seven other community councils it receives a smaller slice of the total grant. The amount it receives is then divided into three equal parts which are then shared amongst College, Village and East Dulwich wards. The Dulwich Society has annually produced a list of potential improvement projects and many of these have been approved and carried out, in some cases supported by further funds of its own.
With the large cuts to local authority budgets it comes as little surprise that this largesse has been curtailed, indeed it is of greater surprise that what is called the Dulwich Community Council’s CGS (cleaner, greener, safer) grant still exists at all. It is, of course, only a shadow of its former self, standing at £15,000 instead of £316,000 in 2004, rising to £372,000 in 2007/8 and dropping to £325,000 in subsequent years until 2010/11, although this figure did not include a 15% project management fee. Basically the sum has remained the same for the past four years.
Despite this huge drop in the available cash there still remains the incentive to propose constructive improvements, albeit on a much more modest scale. It is envisaged that grants between £100 and £1000 will be considered, a far cry from the £25,000 or £35,000 grants of the past. Nevertheless, there is still an opportunity for creative thinking and members’ suggestions will be welcomed.