Sharon Squires, Director of the Derby Community Safety Partnership was the 2007 winner of the Ashridge Public Leadership Centre’s essay competition, in partnership with the Guardian (read the Guardian’s excerpt from her essay here). Her essay looked at the changing relationship between citizens, politicians and public servants, using her own career history to argue that public services should not be led from London: ‘public services have become too distant from local communities; micro management has deskilled local leaders and innovation has been lost.’ Her essay resonates with a book I am currently reading about Catholic Social Teaching and the market economy.
Edited by Philip Booth and published by the IEA, it argues that a ‘thick’ state motivated by the ideals of social justice through redistribution will tend to undermine the very culture it seeks to create. The essayists argue that extensive taxation and initiatives such as the National Lottery have had a deleterious effect on charitable giving, and that the conflation of compassion with government action has had the effect of narrowing the popular understanding of charity towards a predominantly material definition that neglects the Christian understanding of charity as love. Booth concludes that: ‘Christians would do well to spend more time influencing their culture rather than influencing government to influence their culture.’
Sharon’s essay, in a secular context, shows how a local community transformed the troubled Austin Estate, significantly reducing crime and the fear of crime, by focusing on processes that enabled them to exercise their own leadership rather than depending on centrally-controlled outcome targets. The Catholic notion of subsidiarity is central to many philosophies of the state. Sharon’s work with the Austin Estate shows subsidiarity in action, and what can be achieved when people focus on changing their own culture rather than relying on ‘the government’ to do so.