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

Memorandum by The Nine English Regional Development Agencies (GRI 36)

The contribution of area-based initiatives (ABI's) to broader regeneration initiatives and regional strategies

  The sheer volume of ABIs related to regeneration currently operating within the English Regions is astounding. In the North West for example, there are some 27 separate types of ABIs currently in operation such as the Single Regeneration Budget SRB), New Deal, Education Action Zones, and Health Action Zones. A similar volume of ABIs is to be found in other English regions. The numbers of ABIs and quantity of resources delivered through them appear to be rising. The recent Performance and Innovation (PIU) report on ABIs, estimated that £8.5 billion was allocated to ABIs in Great Britain over three year period.

  ABIs have been the subject of recent research commissioned by the former DTLR. This found that "there are few initiatives which are primarily directed to areas—as opposed to happening in areas. Only New Deal for Communities and many SRB schemes have the improvement of the `area' as a primary objective and even here the emphasis is on the people living in these areas". The report goes on to point out that "other initiatives are aimed more at specific groups (young children, older people) or at programmes (health, employment). Some initiatives emphasise holistic approaches and connections between programmes heavily (HAZ, NDC); others make fewer connections (EZ, New Start)".

  Although SRB is being phased out, it still accounts for a very large proportion of RDA total expenditure. The early years of SRB were run without an overarching regional strategy. Government Offices operated under national policy guidelines and it was not until the advent of the RDA's in 1999 that Regional Economic Strategies (RES) were developed and agreed with regional partners, and approved by the Regional Assembly and the Government to provide, inter alia, a regional strategic context for SRB and other programmes.

  Initially, SRB was a challenge fund, meaning that the applicants were forced to bid for funding in competition with other applicants. In most cases the applicants were Local Authority led bidding consortia who placed their bid within a Local Authority framework. This may have been an economic strategy, or it may have been a housing or social framework. Again the early DoE guidance led bidders towards housing and, therefore, physically based programmes. For later years the guidance developed more towards softer outputs such as capacity building, skills and job training.

  From 1999 the RDA's have worked with partners to re-design SRB schemes so that they delivered outputs in line with the RES although there is much committed activity in SRB programmes which does not contribute to the strategic agenda. The later years of the schemes were on a commissioning, rather than a challenge, basis that avoided both nugatory work as well as the inevitable disappointment for failed bidders.

  In overall terms, the success of ABI's has been patchy and, in some instances their contribution has been negative or ineffective. ABI's can often prove divisive because, by definition, they concentrate large resources into specifically defined local areas—leading to a situation, perceived or otherwise, that some communities get everything, others nothing. This has proved damaging in many areas.

  It is perhaps true to say that where success has been achieved it is often primarily down to the dedication of local people as opposed to any given process or level of funding.


    —  Clear analysis and identification of local needs.

    —  Activities being implemented in a clear strategic context which works with, rather than cuts across, mainstream funding agencies.

    —  A range of appropriate organisations (public, private, voluntary) willing to commit both financially and otherwise to the scheme.

    —  Realistic and achievable goals determined and agreed by all partners at the outset.

    —  Active community consultation and participation, with community representatives having a key role in the decision making process.

    —  Capacity building and training available to all partners.

    —  Good partnership working, with the mutual understanding and respect of partners and with the partnership Board taking a strategic role rather than focussing on project delivery.

    —  No one dominant partner.

    —  Adequately resourced with sufficient experienced and accessible staff based in the targeted area.

    —  Competence and continuity of staff, able to gain the confidence of residents, service providers, board members and others.

    —  A sustainable forward strategy without continuing grant dependence.


  Current wisdom is that the active participation of local communities is essential if regeneration schemes are to be successful; that residents should be encouraged to take ownership of the scheme; and that proposals should reflect residents' priorities rather than those of service providers.

  This is fundamental to success but requires a carefully thought out approach. There is a need to engage people and local agencies that are truly representative and avoid engaging the "usual faces". Too often, not enough attention has been paid to building the capacity of local people to manage long-term multi-million pound programmes—which is often daunting to deprived communities. Without capacity building, schemes often waste vast resources "getting things wrong" with the result that, perversely, regeneration is viewed as being "done to communities".

  In practice mobilising the community is not easy. The pattern seems to be that a small number of individuals become involved; some can be inclined to dominate the proceedings, often drifting away once a particular project in which they have an interest has been approved or rejected. Few residents are interested in committee work or the strategic management of regeneration schemes. There is a question mark over the extent to which current partnership based initiatives may be replacing local authority and other officials with community bureaucrats.

  With a few exceptions, committee and public meetings are not always well attended after the scheme has been operating for a while.

  The local business community is often difficult to engage.


  This is often a very confusing and much abused issue but is an essential ingredient of successful schemes. ABI's can set up cumbersome management mechanisms that are confusing to local people and open to abuse by interest groups and factions within communities. Open community elections have proved a useful tool in tackling representation but do not offer a universal panacea—even in areas where they have been very successful. Tensions sometimes exist between local councillors and community representatives over roles and responsibilities (and legitimacy) which undermines the effectiveness of deliver of the ABI's.


  Some evaluation reports on SRB schemes indicate that those where partners have tackled the identified problem in a joined-up way have succeeded in making a sustainable impact. It is worth noting that despite successive regeneration initiatives, the most deprived communities (by IMD standards) largely remain the same as 20 years ago indicating that (often) national and regional events have the greatest impact.

  Sustainable improvements are also best achieved where the characteristics of successful regeneration schemes (referred to above) are displayed and, in particular, where key activities are mainstreamed by key funding agencies or alternative sources of funding are found which links the activities to a broader strategic context.


  Appropriate exit and forward strategies need careful consideration from the outset of any ABI. Communities need to be weaned off ABI funding when appropriate to ensure projects and partnership activity does not end when the money runs out. In the case of community assets, serious consideration must be given to on-going management post-grant funding—this can be done through a number of mechanisms including mainstreaming activities in the programmes or key funding agencies and links establishing Development Trusts.

  In the best cases, exit strategies have been planned from the original design stage. Ideally, these involve the development through the life of the scheme of community owned income-generating assets, which will be self-maintaining after the end of the original public funding. In some cases, community businesses, or community enterprises have been developed which become part of the social economy. In effect, enterprises that move from being grant funded and supported to income earning from contracts for goods or services. Work undertaken by the Development Trust Association is helping to aid community based ABI schemes to develop ways and means of sustaining their existence beyond direct grant support.

  In some cases, the regeneration of particular areas can lead into neighbourhood management schemes with the agreement and support of Local Authorities, or alternatively a scheme can be taken back into mainstream Local Authority maintenance once the initial direct funding has come to an end.


  Unfortunately, most ABI funding of programmes have put too much emphasis on outputs and the need to meet expenditure targets as opposed to long-term outcomes. A long-term view is needed and an expectation of what will be a learning experience for the participants in the early stages. Good risk management is called for which requires experienced, competent and enabled local management. Short-term and definable outputs may be slower to appear, but there is a better prospect of a more sustainable outcome. The experience of regeneration programmes clearly shows that if outcome evaluation at the immediate point of closure (the end of public funding) gives a false picture as many indirect outputs including specifically private investment and jobs take a while to materialise, eg Leeds Urban Development Corporation evaluation at the end of its life showed poor overall private sector leverage. Ten years on the impact of the initial public sector investment in the CALLS, Sovereign Street, on Granary Wharf and the surrounding areas is plain for all to see.

  Within local authorities, ABI funding is too often seen as extra funding to supplement over-stretched SSA's. In this situation, funding can be used to provide basic local services as opposed to adding value to regeneration efforts.

  The new approach brought about through the Neighbourhood Renewal strategy has sought to effect change at a local level with LSP's in renewal areas being tasked with influencing mainstream service provision. It is too early to judge how successful this will prove but whilst the principle of the holistic approach to regeneration being encouraged through LSP's is laudable (provided it is tied into the Regional Economic Strategy) the ever increasing demands and expectations being placed on LSP's without addressing the issue of their capacity to deliver is an issue of potentially great concern.


  There is no doubt that regeneration policy has adapted and changed over the years based on the lessons of ABI. Estate Action Schemes and City Challenge provided valuable lessons for SRB. SRB in turn provided lessons for NDC and for other initiatives, but policy makers have tended to forget the first rule of policy making. All too often, instead of policy being a clear statement of intended outcome based on philosophy of intent, the policy makers have tried to design, usually from Whitehall, a delivery mechanism which must be the same in all local areas. This is always a mistake. The best connection between central policy intent and local achievement occurs when there can be local interpretation and adaptation for the purpose of delivery. Clarity of objectives, clear vision of the intended outcome, allied to local freedom of choice for the delivery vehicle will win every time.

  There is little, if any, evidence that new partnerships learn lessons from evaluation reports and other documents produced for previous initiatives. It is often the case that there is too much information available rather than too little. A lot depends on having experienced staff that take with them their knowledge and experience and use these to good effect in taking up appointments in new partnerships. This need should be at least partly addressed through the proposed Regional Centre of Excellence if the proposal to offer training and more networking opportunities in the regeneration field is taken up.

  A "joined up" approach to regeneration has yet to be successfully implemented and still seems a long way from becoming reality. Regeneration should encompass economic, social, physical and environmental factors.

  This fundamental principle is recognised by the RDA's who are using their resources to support the economic related measures that are needed within the context of truly integrated and comprehensive community based regeneration plans prepared by LSP's. The detail of what the RDA's do therefore will flow from those community based plans and the RDA's believe they have an important role to play in promoting comprehensive and integrated plans that fit into the regional context established by the Regional Economic Strategy. In this way the prospect of actions leading to sustainable impacts will be greatly enhanced.


  The key issue is not about introducing more ABI's as there are already too many, the combined effect of which is to mitigate against effective and co-ordinated regeneration. The pressing need is to co-ordinate (and streamline) the ABI's which already exist.

  In practice many ABIs are driven strongly by national policy priorities and the interest of individual departments. Greater co-ordination of ABIs (both between individual ABIs and between ABIs and mainstream funding) has been a priority of Government (RCU) for several years and the Regional Co-ordination Unit is now seeking to tackle this at a national level. However, the RCU cannot resolve issues on the ground at the local, sub-regional or regional level. The alignment of programme delivery clearly needs a significant (lead) role for Government Offices working with RDA's. This role should involve providing streamlined management systems for regional ABIs, working with Local Strategic Partnerships.

  Many Government Offices are already trying to co-ordinate activity across ABIs within regions (for example through the work of the six sub regional teams at GOWM). However, success across the country is patchy and there is a pressing need to secure full integration of ABI's at sub-regional and local levels.

  With regard to new ABI's Government should not just decide when to introduce an ABI. The ABI is but one tool in a wide-ranging toolkit of interventions. Thematic and demographic intervention can be equally valid tools to use. Government should content itself with deciding and clearly defining the outcome it wishes to achieve and the price that it is prepared to pay for that outcome. The means of delivery should be left to local determination to ensure that it fits into the Regional sub-regional and local strategic plans.

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Prepared 28 October 2002