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 areasas
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
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
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
areasleading 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
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 programmeswhich 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
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
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 panaceaeven
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
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 fundingthis 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
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.
ABI AND WHETHER
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.