On Tuesday Demos launched a report I’ve authored called Resilient Nation. The report argues that we live in a brittle society with over 80 per cent of Britons live in urban areas relying on dense networks of public and private sector organisations to provide them with essential services. But our everyday lives and the national infrastructure work in a fragile union, vulnerable to even the smallest disturbances in the network. And both are part of a global ecosystem that is damaged and unpredictable.
So how does Britain protect against threats (like terrorism), hazards (such as natural disasters) and major accidents? Much of our infrastructure is outmoded and archaic. And with their narrow focus on emergency services and institutions, so are the policies that underpin it. The pamphlet calls for a radical rethink of resilience. Instead of structures or centralised services, it argues that citizens and communities are the true source of resilience for our society. Resilience, I suggest, is an everyday, community activity. It is people’s potential to learn, adapt and work together that powers it. Only by realising this potential will we succeed in building a resilient nation.
The report connects neatly with the Government’s own work on community resilience – which could be a central plank in the next iteration of the national security strategy and may be a public strategy in its own right. The general feeling I got from meetings with officials in central and local government and relevant agencies as well as from people in pubs, sitting rooms, warehouses and meeting rooms was that citizens and communities were the missing piece of the resilience jigsaw.
More often than not in the past no one really bothered to talk about what role citizens and communities could play and this was reflected in official guidance and advice where they were seen as ‘a problem to be dealt with rather than a source of help’.
In short – the shift towards a more citizen focused approach to resilience is happening…and in the summer the Government will unveil its own thinking on the subject (one hopes using the 4Es of community resilience ).
And then I remembered the Government’s response to the Pitt Review and I began to have serious doubts about whether such a strategy will succeed.