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

Memorandum by Cities Research Centre, University of the West of England, Bristol (GRI 06)


  The Cities Research Centre at the University of the West of England, Bristol has been engaged in research on urban regeneration for a number of years. Recent and current research—usually conducted jointly with other organisations—includes:

    —  Collaboration and Co-ordination in Area-based Initiatives (CABI)—for the Regional Co-ordination Unit/Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, Report published by DTRL Spring 2002).*

    —  Community Leadership in Area Regeneration (CLAR)—for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation; Report published 2000).*

    —  Cross-cutting Issues affecting Local Government (CCILG)—for DETR, published 1998.*

    —  Joining It Up Locally: the Evidence Base (PAT 17)—for the Social Exclusion Unit Policy Action Team 17, published as Vol. 2 of the PAT 17 report, 2000.

    —  Evaluation of New Deal for Communities (NDC)—research currently in progress.

    —  Evaluation of Neighbourhood Management (NM)—research currently in progress.

    —  Evaluation of Local Strategic Partnerships (LSP)—research currently in progress.

    —  Bristol: an Integrated City study (BIC)—part of ESRC Cities Competition and Cohesion programme.

    —  Leadership in Urban Governance (LUG)—part of the ESRC Cities Competition and Cohesion programme.

  * Copy of summary of report attached[5].

  The Cities Centre has also made contributions to national and local policy making on regeneration and renewal—studies in Plymouth, Barnsley, Chester, Bristol, and Hackney. Staff designed the post SRB regeneration initiative for the South West RDA, are the providers of Distance Learning training in regeneration in an ODPM approved programme, and are contributors to the development of materials for, the on line information support system of the NRU. Recently appointed staff have been engaged in evaluations of URBAN and of Health Action Zones. The Centre has made major contributions to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation programmes of area and community regeneration.

  Although the research described above contains a wealth of material directly relevant to the Committee's inquiry, we are conscious of the Committee's wish to receive concise submissions. We have confined this memorandum, therefore to a few essential points about regeneration policy, and these are set out below in relation to some, but not all, of the issues identified by the Committee. Should the Committee wish us to elaborate upon these and/or to give oral evidence we would of course be pleased to do so.   


  There have been regeneration initiatives since the late 1960s, and many of the current schemes bear a resemblance to earlier initiatives—EAZs are not unlike the Educational Priority Areas, for example; neighbourhood management looks quite like the area management experiments of the 1970s; New Deal for Communities carries several of the same messages as did Comprehensive Community Programmes and the Community Development Programmes of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Yet few of the lessons are learned. In our review of the history of joined up, area-based working published by the Social Exclusion Unit we argued (PAT 17 Vol 2):

    The absence of integrated working is long-standing, culturally embedded, historically impervious, obvious to all concerned and deeply entrenched in central and local government . . . There has been a dominance of special funding and area-based initiatives at the expense both of policies and programmes directed at the most vulnerable groups and of main programme bending . . . Successive policy measures have reflected the ideology and values of particular governments, with successive phases of policy. Each phase brings on the one hand novelty in institutional form and on the other hand continuity in terms of a longstanding tension between area based and people based programmes. . . . The absence of integrated joined-up working has been a consistent theme. From the 'traditional' Urban Programme, CCPs and Area Management, through the Inner Cities policy of the late 1970s, and eventually into City Challenge and SRB, the inability of government—central and local—to work in an integrated manner has been widely acknowledged . . . Since 1991 there has been growing recognition of the merits of an holistic approach to targeted, multi-organisational initiatives and City Challenge/SRB have been seen as encouraging some movement towards integrated working . . . Over the whole period there has been extensive reinvention of the wheel, with successive area based initiatives embodying many of the characteristics of the past . . . Improved awareness of and techniques for involvement have supported community engagement within area regeneration (especially in partnership) but have not shifted the balance of power, for example by shifting control over resources"

  The most recent initiaitves have begun to give communities more time and resources to get on board and it is important to sustain this and to ensure there are not too many administrative barriers. While one part of government is genuinely encouraging involvement, others can make it very difficult with all the forms and hoops to jump through. There are still issues about timescales being bent to political imperatives and about sufficient time to develop meaningful programmes. At the same time communities—like politicians—are impatient for results and this common interest in getting things done requires a more flexible approach to ABI implementation.

  Local joint working can be prejudiced by Whitehall not being joined up, and it is clear that central government often provides an unhelpful role model when localities are told to get their act together. Equally at regional level, the apparent separation of social and economic responsibilities between Government Offices on the one hand and Regional Development Agencies on the other militates against the development of a holistic approach to regeneration. The Regional Co-ordination Unit has made progress in encouraging joint working centrally and regionally and its ABI review has begun a process of rationalisation, but the effects of this on the ground are inevitably slow to appear, and ABIs continue to appear without sufficient engagement of local stakeholders.




  In differing ways, all these three questions raise issues about the longer-term impact of regeneration and about its lasting effect. In general, research suggests that insufficient attention has been given to long-term sustainability. The CABI report argued that—

    There are inadequate mechanisms for ensuring that successful initiatives continue—whether in the mainstream or as projects—and little understanding of or commitment to sustainability.

  The question of mainstreaming has recently re-emerged as a key issue in government thinking (as of course it was in the regeneration thinking of the 1970s) but there is little evidence as yet of the bending of main programmes or of the long-term incorporation of ABIs into main programmes. Indeed the CABI conclusions were that—

    "Most ABIs represent a distraction from mainstreaming rather than a contribution to new ways of thinking about and dealing with core problems in mainstream services. ABIs must be more closely connected into the mainstream, and government—central and local—needs to make a major investment in the transfer of learning from ABIs into mainstream service delivery".

  This is beginning to change. Sure Start for example is addressing the issue of incorporating the lessons from early Sure Starts as that initiative rolls out to a larger number of areas, whilst some of the HAZ lessons are being learned as health authorities and PCTs struggle to develop a new public health which challenges the traditional medical models of health care. But there is much less evidence that lessons from SRB have systematically been taken into the mainstream and many argue that SRB schemes were simply sources of funding rather than mechanisms for learning and experimentation. Once more whilst there is as yet no firm evidence it is clear that in some areas at least the new Neighbourhood Renewal Fund has not been used to shift patterns of mainstream service delivery but has instead been seen either as the successor funding stream to SRB or as a supplement to main programmes which have suffered spending reductions. Mainstreaming is one of the issues we (with others) will be examining in the evaluations of New Deal for Communities, Neighbourhood Management and Local Strategic Partnerships.

  Emergent from the early published material on NDCs (and likely to be seen in neighbourhood management) is the concern that these initiatives are still too project based rather than process based, and offer insufficient incentives or drivers to main programme service providers to change. There are tensions between programme management and bending the spend, although these need to be understood within the context of how far services that are facing financial constraints and ever-increasing demands from above can find the flexibility to bend.


  Community involvement is widespread and in the later initiatives (NDC and NM) is bringing communities closer to where power lies and decisions are taken. Nevertheless the burden on communities is enormous and there is much evidence of partnership fatigue amongst the community leaders who have become involved in setting up regeneration initiatives. A key finding from research (CLAR) suggests that a major challenge to partnerships is "succession"—the handing on of leadership roles from one set of community leaders to another. This stems from a number of factors. The rules of engagement largely dictated from above mean that only those who can hit the ground running can engage; partnership working for communities is unpaid and demanding in terms of time and energy; the procedures are unfamiliar; initiatives which local people know they want have to go through complex processes of appraisal and approval before they start. The evidence from a wide range of our own and others' research is of the handicaps faced by communities and the inadequacy of the support given to them. We argue below that capacity building should not be confined to communities, but it is nevertheless important that new programmes and initiatives offer the time for communities to build up the skills to organise, deliver and evaluate before the more detailed requirements of monitoring and financial management are placed upon them.

  In emphasising the role of communities we would want to remind the Committee that regeneration programmes must address the needs of communities of interest. There is an emergent social cohesion agenda that neighbourhood regeneration only touches on, and the general lessons about programme development and management apply to the resources which go to communities of interest as well as to communities of place.


  The succession of area-based initiatives, and most notably the emergence of New Deal for Communities has shifted the balance between representative and participative democracy. This certainly weakens the traditional role of the local authority as the source of elected local government, but it does not necessarily weaken democracy as a whole. Indeed if area-based initiatives can generate the engagement of local people in community matters and can—as has been the case in some areas—attract more people to vote for community members of a local partnership than bothered to turn out for the municipal elections, then area-based, neighbourhood working can be seen to enhance democracy.

  Not nearly enough thought has been given to how the two forms of democracy—representative and participative—can engage. Councillors therefore remain unsure of their role and feel threatened by communities whom they perceive as "doing our job". In the long term there may be an issue as to whether both representative and participative forms can attract sufficient people to take a leadership role. It has been difficult enough to attract a wide range of people into local government roles; if neighbourhood regeneration offers more opportunities for involvement in something which is seen as attractive and rewarding, then a shortage of representatives for the wider role might emerge.



  The CABI research concluded:

    Whilst in local areas there is now some familiarity with ABIs and accommodation to the demands they place on local organisations, the continuing stream of initiatives represents an ongoing load on local capacity".

  The research concluded that there is continuing benefit from ABIs, but that more attention needs to be given to the ways in which they are introduced and managed. Capacity building is a central theme in regeneration and is normally applied to the need to build community capacity. This can be a patronising approach and avoids facing up to the issue that it is the larger organisations—local government, health authorities, police, LSCs at the local level, and regional offices and departments at the centre—which are most in need of capacity building—the capacity to engage meaningfully with community interests, to allow space for local implementation, to listen rather than talk down, and to create genuine partnerships in which the centre plays an equal role rather than act as monitor and manager.

  It is perfectly reasonable for central government to decide that it wishes a targeted, area-based approach to specific problems; it is right for central government to specify firm objectives and targets, and it is right for central government to ask whether the desired outcomes have been reached. But it is counter-productive for central government to specify the means and mechanisms which determine how an initiative should be delivered or to pretend that it knows best how a new initiative might best fit in with other pre-existing programmes or initiatives. Local stakeholders—working through the LSP—are best placed to think about location, linkages, staffing, and so on. Moreover it may only be if LSPs are given some clear responsibility for strategic resource allocation (though not necessarily delivery) that they will engage in joint working. There is a case for looking closely at a "regeneration pot" which might be available to LSPs to use locally to achieve objectives set by government but developed locally. The Neighbourhood Renewal fund begins to do this but it is worth examining whether there should be more explicit leverage between the NRF and/or a larger regeneration pot and main programmes. There is as yet little evidence to show that the NRF has been used to adjust main programme spending patterns as opposed to being a supplementary resource to replace the now defunct SRB.

  There are two further issues on which we would wish to comment.


  Partnership is an increasingly over-used and increasingly meaningless word. From a general wish to collaborate, through joint working arrangements to more specific structures for formal partnership, there emerges the need to think more clearly about how partnerships work. It is important to establish internal protocols about how partnerships should work—rules about membership, attendance, agendas, decisions, and accountabilities. Too often the traditional large partners (often local authorities) impose onto a partnership—perhaps unconsciously—an organisational culture which is alien to both the community and the private sector. Collaborative partnerships should not look as if they are local authority committees. It is also important to establish protocols about external relationships between partnerships. There is now a mass of both voluntary and mandated partnerships—the latter required for almost all initiatives. Relationships between partnerships have been unclear; there is often no sense of routeing about how particular issues might find their way through the plethora of local partnerships. Some people sit on six or more local partnerships; others, such as the community and voluntary sectors have to go to all the partnerships in case they miss out on some new initiative or funding opportunity. Local Strategic Partnerships are tasked with rationalisation of partnerships but the evidence so far (albeit limited) is of some increases in partnerships as LSPs spot the gaps in their structures.

  Above all partnerships need time to evolve, time for partners to get together to understand each other's position; time to remove stereotypes about how other sectors work. Our CABI work argued:—

    Partnership working is complex, dependent both on the history, geography, identity of the area, and on the vision, skills and behaviour of key individuals. . . . Central government has greatly overestimated the speed at which localities can develop effective new ways of working in partnership. Partnership overload leads to ineffective joint working. There remains a major need for capacity building—in the statutory sector as much as in the voluntary/community sector—if collaborative working is to become a reality.

  Our conclusion would be that good partnerships need up to a decade to bed down properly, and once more the evidence is that partnerships that build on existing partnership arrangements—or people who have been already working in partnerships—work more easily. At the same time there is evidence that many of the long-standing economic development or regeneration partnerships face difficulties in supporting a new culture in which health partners, partners involved in children and early years, partners concerned with community safety have a place. Just as new partnerships take time to build, so older established partnerships take time to adjust.


  Programme and project evaluation is now commonplace. New approaches are developing which reshape at the margin the requirements which derive from Treasury guidance about how evaluations should be conducted. The guidance itself is under review. There is a need, however, to rethink the role of evaluation in regeneration and renewal initiatives in order to ensure that evaluation is a learning process in which all partners—including central government—are exposed to processes which require them to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of programmes, rather than solely to concentrate on the activities of delivery agencies in meeting targets. This would require new theoretical paradigms to be explored, new approaches to the evaluation of joint working to be developed. A clearer distinction would be made between performance management (essential and valuable though it is) and a more reflective evaluation which asked questions about why things happen rather than just what happens. We should not underestimate the extent to which new approaches have been explored, in Sure Start, HAZ, and Local Strategic Partnership evaluation for example, but a much wider literature on evaluation theory needs to be translated into the practice of government funded evaluation if all the lessons from area-based regeneration and related initiatives are to be learned.

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