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


Memorandum by David Ralph (GRI 18)

INTRODUCTION

  In my view, the regeneration agenda remains confused. It continues to be dominated by misunderstood and inappropriately used jargon and fundamentally delivers policy and process rather than action. As a result, it continues to exclude many important people, particular residents from within disadvantaged areas or communities, from contributing effectively.

  There is a lack of effective targeting on the ground (ie ensuring that those most in need benefit most)—brought about by a lack of co-ordination across different agencies and different initiatives.

  Most agencies demonstrate a lack of commitment to change the way they work and to deliver improvements to the most disadvantaged communities. This is reinforced by a government unwilling or unable to make these agencies change the way they operate. Clarity of purpose across agencies is vital to understand when and which regeneration intervention is appropriate.

  The following key interventions remain key to effective regeneration but must be brought together through broader but effective renewal strategies, which clarify: an overall vision and what interventions are to be implemented and by whom. It is often this lack of vision that contributes most to lack of change, and brings about a poor value for money through a lack of a logic to target particular problems and their causes and often duplication.

  Neighbourhood renewal—(an area based intervention)—is needed specifically to kick start local impact on small deprived estates or neighbourhoods. It is these areas, which often suffer the poorest public services, are most powerless and who are often the last to benefit from improvements. Neighbourhood based interventions are vital to counteract broader regeneration activity which is most likely to benefit more advantaged communities unless complemented by specific neighbourhood based activity.

  Supporting communities of interest—is vital to target minority communities who are often disadvantaged, often live in isolated pockets and are therefore doubly disadvantaged by experiencing the problems experienced in neighbourhood renewal areas.

  Neighbourhood Management—is vital to improve the way services to an area are delivered to all residents particularly in disadvantaged areas where these services are more acutely needed, often poorer and need to be better focused. This should include incentives (and penalties) to agencies to better target and measure service delivery to where they are most needed (both to geographical areas and communities of interest).

  Local assets and long-term core funding are vital to empower a community to be strong and sustainable and to avoid its continued reliance on public funding. It will also increase power within deprived communities who often have less access to those in authority.

  Broader regeneration programmes are vital to provide wider regional growth and increase wealth (although these is likely to have least (if any) impact on the most disadvantaged communities).

  The Policy Action Team reports remain an excellent and thorough diagnostic examination to the issues of regeneration. I am concerned that these conclusions and recommendations are not being effectively monitored and evaluated and indeed may even be being overlooked and superseded by less rigorous analysis.

  Similarly, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation study of New Commitment to Regeneration pathfinders provides some key messages and lessons to learn about the links between areas based and broader regeneration initiatives. This clearly identifies a lack of links between the two often to the detriment of effective change.

THE CONTRIBUTION OF AREA-BASED INITIATIVES TO BROADER REGENERATION INITIATIVES AND REGIONAL STRATEGIES

  It is important to reflect that there are many common issues other than solely their area-base which impact on effectiveness.

  Such schemes are usually time-limited, often very short term, usually led by some form of partnership (often in name only), they have extremely high expectations announced in a blaze of glory, often multi-disciplinary attempting to challenge the silo basis of many disciplines in the public sector, they are measurable and constrained by lengthy government guidance or advice, reporting requirements and financial regulations.

  Accountability is complex. It often rests partly with the local partnership, partly with an accountable body and partly with government who all have to be satisfied before activity can take place. This is often seen and feels over bureaucratic particular to residents and volunteers.

  Many staff within these organisations have limited training in the skills required to deliver effective regeneration, often do not come from the communities they seek to help. The role of volunteering is often undervalued and they seldom seek to empower local communities, with residents often being done to rather than doing it for themselves.

  These initiatives often require (or at least expect) quick solutions to exceptionally difficult problems which successive governments, whether national or local, and agencies have not been able to overcome and may have in reality even caused. They are driven by a need to spend and targeted at national set standards rather than local priorities.

  As an outcome they therefore often deliver unsustainable solutions, a lack of long-term problem solving, few changes in service delivery, little long-term evidence of change on the ground, gap funding over a short period for voluntary projects, funding for bottom drawer agency-led projects but little long-term change in outcomes.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCCESSFUL REGENERATION SCHEMES

  Leadership remains the key element of any regeneration scheme. Partners must be willing to give up or share power to deliver lasting outcomes. A particularly dynamic Board, Chief Executive or possibly champion within a particular agency will make a massive difference to the effectiveness of any regeneration programme.

  Considerably more work needs to be done in prioritising regeneration amongst service providers and equipping key decision makers in a greater understanding of the issues. Residents have a right to be at the table as it effects them and the communities in which they live; agencies have to earn that right by bringing specific skills including advocacy to the table. This includes a willingness to listen and share information and an agreement to change the way they work.

  Too often, too little work is done in recognising that a regeneration programme will require an increased work-load on officers within agencies and their contribution is simply tagged on to their existing workload. There needs to be more understanding that the regeneration requires specific additional resources targeted across the agencies to contribute effectively. Too often regeneration programmes are seen as an opportunity to divert scarce resources elsewhere. Hence we often see the poorest interaction with health and social care and education departments, which arguably are the two biggest drivers to disadvantage.

INVOLVEMENT OF LOCAL COMMUNITIES

  There is a general presumption that a lack of involvement of local communities has contributed to their ineffectiveness. Clearly, it is crucial that all communities are actively engaged in regeneration and that additional measurable efforts are made to develop a dialogue with those that are hardest to reach. However, the jury is still out as to what role communities should play.

  NDC appears to be moving away from a community-led approach because it is perceived as delaying delivery but it remains vital that a genuine community-led model is tried and evaluated effectively, for good or bad, to understand better the role of local communities as local stakeholders.

  It is deeply disingenuous to threaten community-led schemes, who are trying to address decades of failure in public services, with closure before they have been effectively reviewed and evaluated. Many, many agencies have suffered equally from a failure of delivery or have provided poor services but by and large they have been allowed to continue for many years due to the power they can bring to bear. To deny communities the same opportunity is further undermining the powerless.

DEMOCRATIC ACCOUNTABILITY

  In Bristol NDC, we probably have the strongest democratic mandate of any regeneration programme (54 per cent average turnout) to elect local community representatives. This is a vital component of our accountability and provides the major pillar of support for the partnership. This is twice the mandate of the local authority but is seldom recognised in terms of transferring assets or improving local delivery.

  A mandate as strong as this should be reinforced by a transfer of some of the levers of authority controlled by less democratically elected organisations but there is little evidence of a willingness to do so.

WHETHER AND WHERE AREA-BASED INITIATIVES HAVE BROUGHT ABOUT SUSTAINED IMPROVEMENTS TO DEPRIVED COMMUNITIES

  Some area-based programmes have been very successful and therefore area-based initiatives can bring about sustainable improvements. What we don't know is why some work and others don't. We need to be clear on what makes this most likely, which is why New Deal for Communities as a "laboratory of learning" is so important. We are poor at learning from previous practice—this culture must change to avoid continued degeneration, particularly within our most deprived communities.

  However, one size clearly does not fit all and therefore some clear good practice will make it more likely that disadvantaged communities can improve faster than their more advantaged neighbourhoods.

WHAT ARRANGEMENTS NEED TO BE PUT IN PLACE AT THE END OF A REGENERATION INITIATIVE TO ENSURE THAT BENEFITS TO LOCAL RESIDENTS CONTINUE?

  The weakness here is that forward strategies need to be in place far ahead of the end of the programme. The government is committed to mainstreaming as the main means of forward strategies for regeneration initiatives but this fails to recognise and facilitate a change in power by giving local community organisations real buying power through their own asset management plans.

  The lack of flexibility by government in freeing up the restrictions on local community organisations to develop their own long-term financing through a flexible local asset management plan is a key weakness in current regeneration policy. A sound asset management framework is a key basis for many businesses. This might include a local endowment fund, more flexibility on income and buying and selling assets. This is a crucial component to helping local neighbourhoods having a real say at the table and allowing the pump-priming started by local initiatives to continue.

  The alternative will be to exacerbate the reliance on grant funding rather than joint ventures through asset acquisition and is real weakness to lasting local renewal.

WHETHER POLICY HAS TAKEN ACCOUNT OF LONG-TERM IMPACTS AS WELL AS THE OUTPUTS CREATED

  I believe that local regeneration programmes have always been focused on changing outcomes. However pressure to deliver, and as important being seen to deliver, has forced the over-use of outputs as a poor measurement of performance.

  There needs to be far greater clarity on the purpose of different types of regeneration initiative. For example, large scale redevelopments must be held more to account on their impact in local neighbourhoods (particularly when public money has been used); agencies should be held more to account on providing evidence on how changes in service delivery are supporting local neighbourhood renewal and therefore providing better services where they are most needed; local partnerships should be held more to account on how they are actually improving the lives of local residents.

  This methodology provides a more co-ordinated response and clarifies organisational roles in delivering regeneration.

WHETHER INITIATIVES HAVE HAD AN EFFECT ON MAJOR GOVERNMENT AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT PROGRAMMES

  The New Commitment to Regeneration report and other studiers indicate that there has been little change in local or national programmes. The key to successful regeneration remains the linking of the agency policy with the needs and priorities of local communities and this still seems to be the least effective component of regeneration.

  Although still early days, early evidence of NDCs indicates little impact on mainstreaming and changing the ways agencies deliver. Agencies remains concerned by local precedent and therefore find it difficult to redirect resources to where they are most needed.

WHETHER LESSONS HAVE BEEN LEARNT

  Few lessons have been, and continue to be learnt from previous initiatives. There is something inherently wrong in the evaluators of previous schemes being the policy makers of the newest approaches. Regeneration practice needs to bring new skills to bear and in particular residents need to have the highest seat at the table.

  If the same familiar faces continue to prepare policy, deliver and evaluate, then regeneration will continue to fail to improve people's lives. NDC and the neighbourhood renewal framework has a major opportunity to do this by bring forward new disciplines and new residents to help deliver.

HOW THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD DECIDE WHEN TO PRODUCE AN AREA-BASED INITIATIVE, AND WHETHER THERE ARE SUCCESSFUL ALTERNATIVES

  Area based initiatives are a crucial component of regeneration but will only be truly effective where:

    —  they are part of a broader regeneration strategy which includes:

    —  clear of evidence of all agency commitment to an area-based approach

    —  specific work to support communities of interest

    —  some transfer of power to local communities through asset transfer and recognition of a local democratic accountability

    —  new skills (especially residents' views) are leading the change

    —  recognition that sustainable change may not be the same as quick change

    —  we learn from previous initiatives and monitor against PAT reports.

David Ralph

Chief Executive

Community at Heart, Bristol New Deal for Communities Pathfinder



 
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Prepared 28 October 2002