One Stop Shops and All That

On the 18th July the Society welcomed Peter Van Hagen to talk to us about 'Neighbourhood Offices'. He is the leader of the recently elected Lichfield District Council and is also a neighbourhood officer in Walsall. It was a thoroughly entertaining and informative occasion which didn't quite follow the normal conventions of our monthly meetings, turning out to be more in the nature of an informal discussion - and all the more enjoyable for that.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Walsall Council established virtually overnight thirty-five neighbourhood offices located throughout the Borough. It was a radical experiment, which has proved to be enormously successful, based on the objective of bringing services closer to the people whom they were designed to serve. The core function of the neighbourhood office was housing related; e.g. allocating accommodation, dealing with benefits etc., but it has expanded to incorporate certain social services activities. The offices now assume a much wider role. They provide a local place of contact for dealing with a range of problems - planning, footpath maintenance and dustbin collections - becoming focal points in the community and often a venue for public meetings.

Peter Van Hagen explained that the Council were not intending to translate the Walsall experience to Lichfield District but the idea of local one-stop shops was an attractive one and over a period of time, beginning in Burntwood, it was hoped to establish a network of such shops throughout the area. These one-stop shops would not merely deal with District Council matters as they would also be supported by the County Council and voluntary organisations such as the Citizens' Advice Bureau.

The impression given by members at the meeting was that here was a genuine attempt to decentralise services - or at least access to them - from what some people find as the intimidating environment of civic centres. Allied to that was the prospect of much wider consultation and discussion before important decisions are made. If that proves to be the case, then it is to be welcomed.

Mike Tole
July 1995