Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 1-19)




  1. Good afternoon. Welcome to our Committee. I am sorry we are slightly fewer in number than we might normally be, but various members are stuck at various points in the transport system throughout the country this afternoon. For the sake of our records, could you just begin by indicating your name.
  (Rt Revd Jones) I am James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool. I chair the Government's New Deal for Communities programme in Liverpool, which is the Kensington community.

  2. Welcome. Would you like to make an opening statement or are you quite happy to go into questions?
  (Rt Revd Jones) I am very happy to go into questions, but I should like to concentrate very much on what we mean by community-led regeneration, because this is meant to be the key to the New Deal programme. Certain things have become apparent over the last few years doing this programme and I should like to explore those with the Committee members.

  Chairman: We shall pursue certain questions but I am sure you will bring any lines of thought you have into your answers.

Mr Clelland

  3. May I say first of all how much I enjoyed reading your submission which, coming from Tyneside, I do understand, particularly the point you make about having to talk of the successes as well as emphasising the social problems. That is something we on Tyneside know very much about. As far as New Deal for Communities is concerned, this is intended to be led by communities, so perhaps you could tell us something about your experience in Liverpool. Is this what is happening? Is it being led by communities?
  (Rt Revd Jones) It is trying to be led by communities and it is being encouraged by the rhetoric, but very often the reality is very different. The emphasis upon delivery makes it feel as though the thing is being constrained by people outside the community rather than within the community. Three years ago the New Deal programme was started. What you have is an ad hoc group of people who have been cobbled together, people who have shown some sort of well-meaning towards their local community. They are then called upon to produce a delivery plan within about 12 months. Then you find you are held to this delivery plan subsequently. I think that is totally unrealistic because such an ad hoc group of people are still feeling their way, they are beginning to trust each other. After years of distrust, you cannot just come into a community and say, "Trust us", and think that those sweet words will overcome all the suspicions. There has to be a much more realistic expectation of the time it takes to build up a team of local people who are really in the driving seat of regeneration. The rhetoric is there, but the practicalities are not, and it is in the demand for the delivery plan to be met as specified that you really feel the thing is being led from outside rather than inside.

  4. You mentioned some of the obstacles to the position being led by the community, but are there any others? How do they interact with councillors and the voluntary sector?
  (Rt Revd Jones) There are years and years of distrust with people coming in with solutions, top-down solutions. People are told, "Now listen, you have the solutions". So they come together and they begin to articulate some of these. Then they can feel that they are just there as tokens of community representation and that nobody is really listening to them. If, for example, you look at a lot of the delivery plans—and I have not looked at all of them—they are very similar in the way they approach education, health, crime, fear of crime. My sense is that if these were genuinely community led, there would be a much greater degree of variety between those delivery plans.

  5. I notice that in Kensington you have quite a high turnover of residents; 18 per cent per annum it says here. Is that a particular problem when trying to keep people interested and there and taking part?

  (Rt Revd Jones) The other day I was at the opening of a scheme and I asked the person who had been doing the consultation work what the attitude of the local community was. She said about 50 per cent of the people really welcomed it and the other 50 per cent could not really be bothered. You just have to work very, very hard. In one of my papers I quote the advice given to Roosevelt when he came with his New Deal programme. He said that people need to be most on their guard when the government's intentions are beneficial. That is what people do feel. I did not appreciate just how far back you have to go to retrace your steps, to say to the community, "We really do believe in your ability to shape your own future". As I said in one of the articles, the tension is revealed in the sort of language we use. Those of us who live in communities use organic language. We talk about seeds, planting, grassroots. The people who control the funds use mechanical language, talk about triggers and levers and hits and outcomes. The truth is that you need both the organic and the mechanical. There are the communities who know that it takes time for a community which has died to live again and it does not happen in those neat three-month sections in the year. So if you have reached the end of the year and you have not spent the money, you are then penalised. That feels in the local community as though they are being punished. On the one hand you are saying, no, this has to be community led and you are affirming and encouraging. The moment they do not meet these targets which have been devised by an ad hoc group in the first 12 months of their existence, they are told, "That's it. You've lost the money". We understand that central government needs to work to times. The local communities are also asking for results. They are saying, "Look. We've got this money. What do we have to show for it?", but there has to be a greater understanding of the time it takes to build up a community's capacity to shape its own future.

Alistair Burt

  6. As professional politicians we have a vested interest in being concerned about this distrust which you indicate between people locally and their elected representatives. We appreciate that this is not just true in Liverpool, but true elsewhere. The word "distrust" is quite a strong one. Are you indicating that until an initiative such as this came along, there had been relatively little real interaction between community groups and their elected representatives? If so, to what extent has this initiative changed the relationship between elected representatives, because those relationships will continue for a long time. Are you seeing anything different in terms of the relationship so this distrust can be dispelled in the future?
  (Rt Revd Jones) Two of the most overworked words in the English language at the moment are "community" and "partnership". Having said that, partnership is what it is about. Interestingly, the Faith in the City report 18 years ago did say that partnership was the key to urban regeneration. We are beginning to experience partnership, but it takes a long time to build up the relationship of trust between community members on the board and the agency representatives. What that does actually require is a particular relationship. I actually feel a fraud chairing New Deal, because here I am advocating community-led regeneration, but I am not a community member. I am there at the invitation of the local community, because what the board and the chair have to be able to secure is the confidence of the local community and the confidence of government, be it local, regional, national. You can have the confidence of government and not the community, but you might as well pack up your bags and go home and some New Deal programmes have demonstrated that. Similarly, you can have the confidence of the community and not the government and be equally useless to the task. I feel that my job as chair of the board and chair of New Deal and working in the community is to build up the trust. I am for ever saying that we are people of goodwill here, we must believe the best of each other around the table. There are all sorts of suspicions and I leave a board meeting, I leave my time in the community and I go to my home. The community members are there, but they are the ones who get knocked up at midnight by neighbours saying they have heard a rumour that their street is going to be bulldozed. Community members are very, very vulnerable and they feel caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, sometimes they feel patronised as the token community representatives and on the other hand they feel that the rest of the community reckons they have betrayed them by getting involved in this process. There is no easy solution to any of this, but it does take time. That is why I come back to the delivery plan: it is unrealistic in terms of understanding the nature of the task to build up this real partnership between the community members and the agencies which you need.

Sir Paul Beresford

  7. Eighteen per cent is quite a high turnover. Are the new people in any way coming in because of the changes you are trying to bring in? Are they the same sort of people? Do they want to join in? Is there any sign of gentrification or anything like that?
  (Rt Revd Jones) At the moment the majority of those people coming in are asylum seekers. This is another issue where the community feels that it is powerless over the people coming in. We addressed this with the housing associations who were part of the problem as well as being part of the solution. Community members felt they had no control at all over the people who were being brought in to live in the community by housing associations. Similarly now, through the scheme of asylum seekers, there is no local control about the embracing of asylum seekers. That is not that there is ill will towards asylum seekers, but a community can only carry a certain percentage of people. I am not quite sure what the exact number is but a large proportion of the 18 per cent is asylum seekers.

Chris Mole

  8. You said, "Justice requires us to rethink the tax and benefit system to see whether or not we can use that to stimulate and engage local involvement". How should the tax and benefits system be used to get local people involved?
  (Rt Revd Jones) There are lots of ideas around and there are ideas which have come from the local community. We have not begun to think creatively enough about this. One particular project we are developing at the moment with Sure Start is to offer a parent in the first year of their first child double child benefit if they will avail themselves of a parenting course which allows them to develop skills in parenting in association with their peers, learning from one another and also gaining support from professionals in the community during that very vulnerable time. We feel that parenting education, not highly prescriptive but mutually supportive, enables especially young parents to handle issues of conflict, of low self esteem and also develop very basic skills and leadership as they take leadership responsibility for their own children. This is being worked up at the moment, together with a means of assessing the benefit of this. We have 600 families in the New Deal area with children between the ages of nought to four and the proposal would be to assess and evaluate the worth of this particular scheme, to see whether the benefits system can be used to stimulate and also to sustain community involvement in regeneration.

Mr Clelland

  9. In answer to a previous question you touched on the problems which communities have with meeting government-set timescales and targets. Would you say a bit more about those problems as you see them and in particular how you think they ought to be resolved.
  (Rt Revd Jones) There has to be greater flexibility on the part of government, especially as it is expressed through government offices regionally. They dance to a tune from Whitehall which seems to dance to a tune from politicians who understandably want to see results. That is why people like myself and others who are involved in regeneration need to speak frankly to politicians to say yes, you are right to demand community-led regeneration, but you really have to understand what that means. You therefore have to be much more flexible when it comes to the delivery plan for example. I would argue that if a New Deal programme has not spent according to its budget by the end of the year, instead of saying, "You are penalised", you should then sit down with representatives of the government to work out why that target had not been met, to see whether there was a case for that target, that amount of money to be transferred to the next year's budget.

  10. Is that not going to make it even more bureaucratic?
  (Rt Revd Jones) That is a danger. There is a need for good bureaucracy but it must be a bureaucracy which stimulates community flourishing and not oppresses it. In the past it has felt oppressive. What we are about in this New Deal programme is constructing a trellis on which the vine of different communities can flourish. It is happening and I think this is the best and the nearest we have ever got to community-led regeneration. I am here to say, no, you really have to understand the rhetoric much more than is presently being understood.

Sir Paul Beresford

  11. Do Ministers come out and look and discuss your programme with you?
  (Rt Revd Jones) Yes, they do.

  12. Any flexibility?
  (Rt Revd Jones) Yes, there is understanding. I have had discussions with government ministers about how you could use the benefit system to stimulate community involvement. They are very sympathetic. Then they say, "But this is the legislation, these are the rules and it is very, very difficult to be flexible". My feeling as a parson and not a politician is that surely it is not beyond the wit of us to try to devise a way in which we could actually do that. After all we use the tax system in a flexible way to encourage people to develop brownfield sites, to come into urban areas. If we can do that with the tax system, surely we can also use the benefit system in an equally creative way to stimulate and reward community involvement. As I said in one of my papers, we had our meeting and I asked people to say how many hours they had spent in the previous week on voluntary community activity, 10 hours, 12, 20, 40 hours. One woman said that she had in the previous years attended 174 meetings, most of them lasting between three and four hours. When I was in discussion with a government minister and I passed this bit of paper along to him, he gasped, rightly, and said that was a full-time job. The point is that we can pay a professional regenerator to go into a community. We can pay them £30,000, £40,000, £50,000 a year to bring their skills to bear—and we do need professional regenerators—but those people who live in the communities stay there, working to make it a better place and we pay them nothing. It seems to me that there is a principle of justice here. Surely if you stand back, you say to yourself it cannot be right when they are dividing up the case to allow the day tripper to be remunerated, yet to offer the people who live there no remuneration whatsoever.

Alistair Burt

  13. You said that "partnership" was one of the over-used words in this whole area. Apart from the issue of mistrust, which you spoke about earlier, could you tell us something of the practical difficulties of setting up the partnership between the various partners in your area?
  (Rt Revd Jones) The acquisition of appropriate skills to do it. I cheer when I hear people say that you have to have a board of which at least 50 per cent of the membership is local. At the first meeting I attended before I became chair the board spent two and a half hours on the minutes. You cannot make any progress if every meeting you simply retrace the steps of the previous meeting. Why is that? Because there was distrust. Why is that? Because there are not the skills. Here we are, middle class people, we create our hoops which we expect people to jump through, but they do not have the skills. It sounds patronising to say they do not have the skills, because they have many other skills. The people who live in the community have the skills of survival they have the self-knowledge, they also know the solutions. The example I gave was about the City Academy in Kensington. There was no secondary school when we did the consultation and people were saying that one of the major problems in the area was the disaffection of young people. I asked whether anybody had ever asked for a secondary school. The answer was instructive. They said, "No, we wouldn't be allowed that". That hits the nail on the head because what you have here is low aspiration, low self-esteem, a sort of dependency culture where people think they would not be allowed it. I said, that this was New Deal for Communities and they were meant to be able now to dream their dreams for the future, they had the solutions. The thing is that they do know the solution and in fact we have gone ahead and we are into the first round of submitting a serious bid for a City Academy. The problems are low self-esteem, low aspirations, not sufficient skills. I know these are cliche«s but community capacity building must be one of the priorities. We took a long time to get started because on the board we had to devise a constitution. We were simply out of our depth. Nobody had any experience of drawing up constitutions and we just flailed around doing this. Hindsight is a great thing. What I reckon would have been useful for New Deal programmes would have been if central government had provided a number of options, say free templates of constitutions which people could have picked off the shelf., but we had to do all that work ourselves and people did not have the skill to do it; I did not.

  14. Your answer to my question was understandably based around the problems of the community in working with their partners, but looking at the partners' side, those who would come into the community to provide support and build up to New Deal, what have your relations been like with them? Were they understanding of the problems you were facing with the community themselves. Is it easy to work with them? Did they find it easy to work with each other and the community?
  (Rt Revd Jones) I know them to be people of goodwill, but I think there were and are two problems with the agency involvement. Firstly, it is not always the same representative of the agency who comes to the meeting, especially the local meeting; the board is different, but the sub-group is where much of the work is done. Bearing in mind that the key thing is relationships, if you have a different person coming to each meeting it is very difficult to build up that relationship of trust. The second problem—and this is both at the board level and at the sub-group level—is not having a person of sufficient seniority to make a decision of commitment on behalf of the agency, therefore if you are going to, which you must, have the agencies involved, it has to be somebody of sufficiently senior level to be able to say, "Yes, we can do this".

  15. I am particularly interested in two groups and how they relate to you. The first is the private sector and whether you feel they have been fully engaged and helpful. The second is faith-based communities. Have they been an active partner in this particular concept?
  (Rt Revd Jones) On the private sector, I have been to the chamber of commerce and after two years we are beginning to get some private sector involvement. This is a bit of a caricature now, but Single Regeneration Budgets (SRBs) seem to be very much business led and New Deal for Communities is very much community led. My hunch is that we need a regeneration scheme which has a dual emphasis of both business and community. SRB was business-led with some community add-on. New Deal is community with any private sector which you can get interested. There has to be a twin approach, so that we make our communities good places to live and to work. You need genuine economic regeneration. That brings me to your second point, which is the involvement of the faith communities. I believe that they are crucial. I speak now as a minister in the Church of England. One of the strengths of the Church of England is that we have a presence in every community. It gives us an authority to speak about where comfortable and uncomfortable Britain is today. Unlike other professionals, we are there seven days a week. In fact I was making this point to the chief constable recently, when a vicar had been in particular need and had rung for police assistance and the police had been very slow in coming. This is an exception but I was trying to point out to the chief constable the unique position that a clergy person has in a community. On the one hand you are seen as a symbol of compassion so that if somebody is in need the address of the vicarage is advertised, the telephone number is there and the person will literally come to the vicarage door. If you have had a run-in with the social services and you feel that all authority is against you, the Church then becomes a symbol of authority and if you have a brick in your hand and are passing the church or the vicarage, then you will lob that at the building. I think the Church has a unique place within the community and in many places they will do some of the community capacity building. That has been demonstrated through Faith in the City and the Church Urban Fund. There the single biggest contribution the Church made is building up the capacity of the community to be involved in decision making. You will find that there are clergy and lay representatives heavily involved on the boards of NDCs; on the primary care trusts, any of those local groups like the police liaison committee, you will see very strong Church representation and other faith communities too.

Chris Mole

  16. Programmes like New Deal for Communities were meant to influence the wider behaviour of partners such as local government and central government departments. I think the term is bending the mainstream funding. They are also supposed to create more flexibility in those partners. Is there any evidence so far that this is happening and what more might be done to improve performance?
  (Rt Revd Jones) This is anecdotal as all of this is anecdotal in a sense. At the beginning I felt that there was an encouragement for New Deal for Communities to be very dependent on a local authority; this was three years ago. I sense the mood has changed. The pressure is that the local authority has to be much more involved in bending the mainstream funding. This goes back to my earlier point that if there has been a history of a breakdown in relationships between communities and a city council, then you have to do a lot of hard work to overcome that. Certainly on our board there was suspicion of the city council, especially when it seemed the city council had to become our accountable body and there was a lot of resistance to that. However, the city council officers have worked very hard with the community to demonstrate their own goodwill and I think they have won the community over. As with most media programmes, we take days away—have away-days—where the agencies and the city council and the community members work through some of these issues of distrust and begin to work together as a team. That is happening, but it is three years on.

Sir Paul Beresford

  17. Hopefully on a more positive note, what real improvements could you give us as examples which you have achieved already, those you anticipate and those which are pie in the sky which you might be able to pull down?
  (Rt Revd Jones) In the end community regeneration has to be about people in local communities caring for each other. That is the bottom line. I think that is happening. We have a public meeting for New Deal and we have 400 people turn out. This is an area which is notoriously low in turnout for elections. I find that heartening. People feel there are real issues which affect their lives and people are working together in citizens panels, on the board, in neighbourhood planning groups and beginning to trust each other and look out for each other. It is very difficult to quantify that. It is much easier to look at a row of houses and say 20 houses have been restored and tick a box. It is not so easy to tick a box and say here is a community which is beginning to breathe again, beginning to flourish. In the end that is what is at stake, whether a community will come together to care for its own and we are seeing signs of that.

  18. Is your 18 per cent joining in?
  (Rt Revd Jones) We now have a representative of asylum seekers on the board of New Deal. We are looking at how people who are the asylum seekers can be integrated into the community.

  19. He loses his appeal and moves off.
  (Rt Revd Jones) We would always hope to have a representative of that part of the community on the board. This is anecdotal but when asylum seekers have been treated badly over using their vouchers in the shop, I have heard local community members going to the support of the asylum seeker and that is very heartening.

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