Memorandum by David Ralph (GRI 18)|
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
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 interestis
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
Neighbourhood Managementis 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
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
It is important to reflect that there are many
common issues other than solely their area-base which impact on
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 practicethis
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
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
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
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.
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
This methodology provides a more co-ordinated
response and clarifies organisational roles in delivering regeneration.
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.
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.
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
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.
Community at Heart, Bristol New Deal for Communities