Examination of Witnesses(Question 59-79)|
MONDAY 28 OCTOBER 2002
59. Good afternoon. For the purpose of our record,
could you introduce yourselves?
(Mr Webster) I am Andrew Webster of the Audit Commission
and I have my colleagues Scott Dickinson and Katie Smith with
60. Would you like to make an introductory statement
or are you happy to go straight to questions?
(Mr Webster) We are very happy to go straight to questions.
61. We have just heard from our last witnesses
that a minority of ABIs actually achieve lasting and significant
improvements in their areas. That seems rather to reflect the
less than ringing endorsement of your evidence. Do you think there
is a future for government sponsored ABIs?
(Mr Webster) We were clear that there are always going
to be some circumstances in which ABIs are the right thing to
do, particularly where there is a very substantial problem which
will be beyond the resources of any local agency. We cite some
examples around major decontamination costs for example, or where
there is a time-limited problem which requires some exceptional
action which would be too much. We also endorse the remarks that
clearly the capabilities of different local agencies vary very
significantly and therefore some regime which supports people
to do better so they are more capable of taking local action themselves
will be important. Equally we were very clear that unless there
is a very clear focus by the initiative on what matters in the
locality, any amount of satisfying central government will not
be successful. We see a future but one in which the balance is
different and in which there is less focus on the intervention
and more on the local capacity.
62. Would you go so far as to be able to identify
which kinds of ABIs you think have a future and which ones should
(Mr Webster) I identified in my last answer some criteria
which you might use. I would hesitate to start going through schemes
and saying this sort of scheme works, this sort of scheme does
not work, because it is a much more complex matrix of the problem
which was presenting, the approaches which were taken to it, the
history which existed before, the likelihood of success. We know
from our other work that predicting success in any kind of government
change programme is incredibly difficult to do and we never seem
to find any correlation with anything. It requires quite sophisticated
(Mr Dickinson) The recent innovations following the
social exclusion unit's work did highlight where Area Based Initiatives
should be treated as important, where estate-based activity in
particular needed to be improved. We can actually say what criteria
are required. Initiatives which try to get into an area, only
deal with physical developments, do not look at wider social issues
and the delivery of public services tends not to produce sustainable
improvements for the people who live there. So we can produce
criteria, but it is difficult to say that one will not work, that
one will. That is all we hope we can move towards.
63. You said that it is important that local
authorities and others try to ensure that the mainstream funding
gets diverted to support the areas which are receiving money from
the special initiatives, but you also say that the plethora of
new initiatives coming out means that the various bodies are chasing
their tails trying to cope with initiatives and are not really
devoting the time to their mainstream funding and trying to make
sure that is skewed in an appropriate way. Is this a real worry?
Are you having discussions with government about how you can sort
(Mr Webster) Yes, it is a real worry. A much more
general problem than simply to do with regeneration initiatives
is that a large proportion of local government is busy satisfying
the criteria of one central initiative or another and probably
a large part of the public sector. We found in our work and in
the report we have presented to you that focusing on what will
make the difference in this locality and then delivering that
through a variety of means is the more likely route to success.
Our hope is that people will develop their capability and confidence
to have a much more coherent local vision of what they are trying
to achieve, to use their own resources to do it and to draw in
government and other resources to match that rather than what
many perceive to be going on the other way round which is that
local resources get skewed by chasing a particularly attractive
source of funding which the government or European Union have
introduced more recently. We see great advantage in more coherence
and more local coherence, but we see very variable capacity to
do that. We welcomed the initiatives in central government to
rationalise the relationships with local authorities and with
other bodies and to co-ordinate and reduce the number of initiatives,
but if you ask many of those bodies, as I am sure you will go
on to do, they will still be looking for more.
64. I shall ask you as you are before us now.
Do you think there should be further reductions and if so what?
(Mr Webster) We do think that there should be further
rationalisations and we were pointing in that direction. It is
not that the policy and programmes are going in the wrong direction
or that the criteria are wrong, all those things are right. It
is the credibility which needs to be gained that it will actually
be delivered and will make a difference. We observe many different
departments of government very attached to their own ability to
intervene in particular localities and particular parts of the
initiatives and a lack of confidence in local government that
that is going to stop and that greater coherence will be brought
to those things. So we would be reflecting back the need for that
and for the measures which have been put in place through the
regional co-ordination unit and through the Office of the Deputy
Prime Minister to be seen to work and then to move on to look
at other ways in which that could be expended.
(Ms Smith) One of the things we have done is look
at what the regional co-ordination unit has put forward. We have
liked a number of the things in the review of the ABIs. It does
seem to us to make some progress in terms of trying to reduce
the burden on local practitioners which we hear a lot about in
terms of administrative costs and the complex system they have
to negotiate in implementing these ABIs. That has been quite helpful.
Also the fact that it actually does highlight a number of practical
tasks for individual departments and individual units to do in
order to better rationalise this very fragmented set of initiatives
is quite helpful also. What is not clear is whether or not the
regional co-ordination unit has any clout, whether it can actually
hold other government departments to task. The tendency does tend
to be to announce new initiatives. There is a great tendency to
announce something new to sort a problem out. Whether the regional
co-ordination unit's protocol will have any clout is not clear.
It is there and it is definitely progress, but it remains to be
seen whether or not it will be able to reduce the number.
65. Your memorandum said very little about government
sponsored place based schemes, government sponsorship for the
large scale place based regeneration schemes. Does this mean that
you do not really see a future for them?
(Mr Webster) No, it does not mean that we do not see
any future for them. I partly answered that in my earlier answer
to Mr Clelland, where we see circumstances in which place based
schemes are the right things to do. Earlier witnesses have said
that it is much more complex than that, people's affiliations
work at a variety of different levels and people do move, people
want to move, it is a positive thing. It is where there is a strong
place or time dimension to something that we see there being real
value in having those kinds of initiatives. Where something is
within the purview of everyday management and leadership of everyday
services, then greater capacity building and mainstreaming would
be a much more desirable way of tackling those kinds of issues.
We are not saying we do not see a place for them, we are saying
we see a much more focused and limited role for them.
66. We have spoken once or twice about Hulme
and a number of colleagues have mentioned Hulme. Did you get a
chance to look at Hulme and if so did you deduce why perhaps that
has been a successful scheme?
(Mr Dickinson) The key bit there is that Manchester
as a city did not isolate Hulme as just one place and put everything
there. They did try to see it in the context of the rest of the
city. It is a location close to the city centre. Manchester suffers
from extensive deprivation so any number of areas could have been
chosen as a focus and what they have tried to do is put it in
a strategic context. Although a lot of the work in Hulme was ground
breaking and has been seen to be successful and has changed the
nature of the area, it was never seen in isolation from the rest
of what was going on in the city. That is one of the key things
which we find: you have to make the connections both to other
public service provision and wider economic development and that
is what they made sure they did.
67. It coincided with the UDC and the success
in the city centre and a general buzz about Manchester and therefore
your sense is that it picked up on that and was partly successful
because of what was happening in the city as a whole.
(Mr Dickinson) Yes. Although it was a very focused
approach and still is for East Manchester, it has always made
the connections back out to other things which were going on in
the city. That is essential if things are not going to be seen
as isolated developments which then are very difficult to sustain.
68. Has anyone actually evaluated Hulme or is
it a nicely constructed myth? I would suspect that probably 10
per cent of the original population is still in Hulme. It may
be that for them that was success, but the other 90 per cent who
were displaced will not be too happy. I would think most of the
drug dealers moved into Mosside; not particularly good for Mosside.
Has it been evaluated?
(Mr Dickinson) We have not done that sort of evaluation.
There are always issues of displacement; it cropped up with an
earlier witness. There are always those issues, but when Manchester
have gone about these things they have tried to see things with
a strategic view. They have not just not assumed that things will
not get displaced. I have not seen work which follows up where
the people who used to live there have actually gone, but there
are issues about whether people want to stay in some of these
areas as well, so developments are about helping people and helping
places. It is not seen in isolation in Manchester, so they have
tried to deal with the displacement effects well and that has
been inter-agency with the police as well as the local authority.
(Mr Webster) I was recently in Manchester for another
purpose though looking at their regeneration and they were very
clear that they had learned a lot about how to do it in Hulme.
They would not necessarily replicate everything they did there
in other parts of the city; in fact they would not. There were
things about community engagement, the links between physical
and social regeneration which they have done differently in East
Manchester and plan to do differently in North Manchester. There
is a very important point to be made there, that even if Hulme
were the model, it might only be the model for Hulme. There may
well be other things which would work in other places where we
would see that capacity in the local agencies and in particular
the lead local agency, which in that case is the city council,
to look at what did and did not work. To adapt, to change, to
modify and then apply differently in other sectors in a coherent
way has been probably more important than what initiative it was
done under or what particularly happened in that locality.
69. One of the features of ABIs is that it is
hoped, in fact intended, that they should lever in additional
investment from the public and private sectors. Have you been
able to evaluate to what extent they are successful in doing that
and what levels of investment have been achieved?
(Mr Webster) Across the totality of ABIs, no, we have
not. We cannot say this much went in and they brought in this
much in total. We have inspected quite a lot of councils' economic
development and local regeneration strategies. We do find examples
of striking success. One I would particularly draw your attention
to is in Easington which attracted something of the order of £400
million in additional investment. It clearly is possible to do
it and whatever people did in Easington may well be replicatable
in a slightly different way in different places. I think that
what we can do is point to isolated examples of success and then
hope that other people will learn from that or particular cases
where that had not happened, which we would also do in places
where people were found to be performing less well. In terms of
taking a view across the entire country, we have not done that.
In fact even if we had been everywhere and you took all our reports
and added them up, you would still have problems in that they
were looking at different times and different regimes and so on.
Our answer is that it is possible but not universal.
(Mr Dickinson) Although we do not have a universal
view of this there is a lot of anecdotal information which points
to the other view which is that sometimes when an area gets an
Area Based Initiative mainstream resources go out because people
say, "They're sorted". There are issues about not only
not attracting extra but losing some of the mainstream services
and spend you would have had because of the ABI.
70. You have not been able to do any evaluation
as to how outcomes are affected by additional investment or lack
(Mr Webster) In some places we can point to evidence.
71. Can you give examples.
(Mr Webster) Not that we have collected but evidence
which other people have supplied to us that outcomes have been
improved. I guess our examples of places which have been particularly
successful would be Easington and another one would be Hartlepool.
72. What about places which have not been successful,
which have not succeeded in bringing in additional investment?
Have you been able to assess how that has affected the outcomes
of the schemes, perhaps detrimentally?
(Mr Webster) What we can say is that the advantages
one might hope would have come from those have not materialised.
We do have to say that causality is not always that easy to establish
here. Is the place poor because the services are poor or are the
services poor because the place is poor? We have not been able
to establish a direct line of cause between those two things.
Regional factors can be tremendously powerful and national factors
can be tremendously powerful. There is nothing any council can
do to account for any major national or international economic
change. A degree of anticipation of those things might better
inform what choices are made but it may well be that having made
those choices the deliverability was never there. We could compare
and contrast examples with our material but we have not done it.
73. Can we take it the other way round? What
are the recipes for success? Are there three or four things which
really are essential? Is it bringing in extra funding? Is it the
capacity of the local authority? What are the key things which
make some of these clearly successful and some not?
(Mr Dickinson) There are some basic factors which
we could try to highlight. One of them inevitably is the capacity
of the local authority and other key partners such as the police
and primary care trusts to know what they want for their area,
know what they want for the services and be able to use the money
sensibly as opposed to simply going for targets which have been
handed down. People are not consciously analysing the needs of
their area. They do not generally use the money well. We also
think that working with local businesses and local communities
so that they own the issues and can follow through once the grants
have stopped is the crucial factor in making sure the success
is there. We might even have examples of where local labour has
been used in construction but if nothing is planned for what happens,
it is still not sustainable. That is another key factor in making
sure things are successful. I always get concerned when people
make attracting extra resources their target for success. The
grant regime sort of requires it so they have to pull down extra
resources somehow. I am more concerned with what happens afterwards
in terms of the quality of jobs or the quantity of the services.
We would look for people looking at those outcomes rather than
just whether they got extra money spent in their area.
74. That is quite helpful. The question then
is: should we be spending money in places where none of those
(Mr Dickinson) There the evidence is that you need
capacity building in the first instance and that is where a differentiated
approach may be needed for greater flexibility in setting those
targets. Some areas have a capacity to do that; others would not
necessarily have the capacity and that needs to be built in, something
which can be deliverable in a sustainable way.
75. Should that capacity be the responsibility
of the local authority to build or do you have to build it within
the local authority?
(Mr Dickinson) That is a case by case basis. It might
be the local authority which needs the capacity built. It might
be local businesses. It might be local communities. We cannot
really make a general comment there. It is a case by case basis.
76. Some of those who have submitted evidence
to us have been particularly critical about the number of single
issue initiatives which come along and cloud the rest of the major
initiatives which may be taking place. Tom Russell from Manchester
wrote and said, "One important issue emerging from area regeneration
where progress in policy terms at a national level has been slow
or inconsistent concerns the integration of initiatives. The growth
in the range of single issue area initiatives, all with their
own staffing, management structures, objectives, targets, outputs,
accountabilities etc, has greatly added to the complexity of area
regeneration in recent years". He goes on to say that in
his area there are ". . . three SRB initiatives, New Deal
for Communities, Education and Sports Action Zones, Sure Start,
On Track etc". We had a similar representation from the Diocese
of Birmingham. Should Ministers receive a sharp rap over the knuckles
and just stop doing some of these things because they mess up
other people's work?
(Mr Webster) We said in our earlier answer that we
welcome the steps which have been taken to try to rationalise
this and we think it should go further. It is not our place to
say whether that is a rap over the knuckles.
77. It is a tactful one.
(Mr Webster) It clearly is the case that this plethora
of initiatives can sow confusion; it does not necessarily do so,
but it can. It is difficult, if you are trying to look at a whole
area, to establish the real priorities in terms of responding
to government initiatives. It is difficult enough to look at the
real priorities locally, but when you try to marry them up to
a whole series of changing national initiatives, that can be difficult.
There are some people amongst the more able and successful places
who do manage to do this. So there are local partnerships which
have integrated all of this into a very successful range of Area
Based Initiatives. The question is: is that something we could
expect everybody to do?
78. Exactly and can you extract particular key
factors which make them successful and spread them to other areas?
(Mr Webster) We have highlighted some of those. They
look first at their local things, they have capacity, they work
well in partnership, they are focused, they are very ambitious.
They have many things which drive them through this tangle to
something which is coherent for them, but there are many other
places where for one reason or another that does not exist and
in those cases a wide range of single issue initiatives either
becomes a co-ordination problem or an excuse. We would not wish
either of those things to be the case. There is definitely an
argument for giving greater attention to the capacity of people
to knit these things together and for a more careful scrutiny
of single issue initiatives. There is evidence that is happening
because, for example, health action zones are now being integrated
into these things. There are other opportunities to rationalise
things. This is not the case of us sitting here saying we need
to clear all this out of the way and have a year zero on initiatives.
We are not saying that at all. What we are saying is that the
recognition which has been given to that problem needs to be consolidated
and seen through and the things which make people well able to
deal with it need to be encouraged and promoted so that there
are better prospects from both sides.
79. Do you think enough emphasis is given to
training some of the key people involved in co-ordinating these
local initiatives so that they know what they are doing and when
these initiatives arrive they are given the benefit of what has
been happening in other places? Instead of just concentrating
on the initiative itself, some time and effort should be spent
with some of the senior individuals who will see these things
through, whether they are community based individuals or officials
from various agencies.
(Mr Webster) Are you talking about in the locality?