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

Memorandum by Community Regeneration Department, Diocese of Birmingham (GRI 10)

  The Diocese of Birmingham, in response to the developing regeneration and renaissance agenda in the urban authorities covered by the Diocese, which include Birmingham, Sandwell, and Solihull, has recently created a Community Regeneration Department, with a full-time Director post, to increase participation by the church through parishes and community projects at local level and by increasing its capacity to participate in the strategic opportunities and debate.

  The Church of England has a history of developing community projects that engage effectively with disadvantaged residents of all backgrounds in the communities it serves. Some of these projects have established significant partnerships that have led to wider regeneration activity having considerable impact on improving the quality of life in target neighbourhoods. Representatives of the Church of England in the Birmingham Diocese have also served on Boards for City Challenge, SRB and New Deal for Communities.

  We would like to identify a number of key issues that have become apparent through the regeneration activity that has, and is, taking place in communities around the Diocese.


  Officers in the department would support the widely held view that multi-million pound top down regeneration initiatives have failed to make the impact that has been anticipated and that in many ways they have been divisive. Such initiatives by their nature have been managed and led by major statutory agencies and have therefore struggled to engage with residents in the communities that they have been set up to serve. We are committed to developing smaller neighbourhood approaches to regeneration, maximising the potential for the local church to engage as a partner with local residents and other agencies.

  Future success lies in developing neighbourhood approaches to regeneration and ensuring that the structures are in place to secure the support and funding that they require and deserve.


  The advent of the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund has been a timely indicator that the Government is now recognising the need for smaller, more local initiatives and in Birmingham we have seen that these can have a much greater and sustained impact. Balsall Heath, Druids Heath and Allens Croft all offer different routes to engagement and regeneration activity in their neighbourhoods but representatives find that they have a lot in common. In turn groups from these areas have built links with other neighbourhoods to support their development from grassroots.

  Areas selected for regeneration activity should whenever possible be self-defining neighbourhoods and the boundaries should be "soft".


  As many as nine self-defining neighbourhoods have come together as a result of having to compete for the second round of New Deal for Communities. It was accepted by the City Council that there should be broader participation in choosing the recipients for this major injection of money but they felt unable to respond to requests from the groups that the money should be shared as this would have been outside the guidelines for New Deal. It is somewhat frustrating that new opportunities to find different ways of applying regeneration monies have not been explored and that local and central government arrangements for managing and distributing financial resources have not changed.

  Opportunities for communities to explore new imaginative arrangements for equitably sharing pots of funding should be explored and new lessons learned.


  There are some good examples in Birmingham where partnerships have come together and established activities to meet specific needs in target communities. While it is essential that the local authority, through officers and councillors, is willing to participate, it is also valuable if the voluntary or independent sector is able to provide support to local community representatives in shaping the agenda and selecting partner agencies. To achieve this it has been important that some agencies have had a presence in the area before any funding is made available so that they can command some local respect for being there. Churches are usually able to demonstrate this and can often play a positive role as an honest broker.

  Agencies influencing the decision-making process in regeneration areas should have the ongoing support of local residents and community based organisations.


  Health Action Zones, Sure Start and Education Action Zones continue to focus on a single issue and have not fully explored the links with other service agendas. Experience tells us that while achieving high quality service delivery in education, housing, health and employment is a clear factor in successful regeneration programmes, progress in each is usually dependent on co-ordination with other component parts.

  The local regeneration agenda needs to address a range of issues including education, housing, health and employment and ideally the crossover between these service areas needs to be understood before activity begins.


  New arrangements for the introduction of the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF) in some areas have been seen to create new partnerships between local politicians and community organisations as a shared agenda for local regeneration has been established and new activity developed. The advent of Ward Advisory Boards in Birmingham as part of new governance arrangements, has been productive in developing debate and strategy but activity has been sidetracked by residents from outside the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods of each ward who feel that they should have access to the funding. Additionally there is evidence that Ward Advisory Boards have attracted residents interested only in securing funding and not because they want to participate in emerging arrangements for devolving decision making. The impact has, in some cases, been to swamp the structure and prohibit progress so that large amounts of NRF funding remains unspent and does not reach target communities. In this regard NRF funds and Birmingham's strategy to route funding through new local democracy arrangements has been divisive and arguably has undermined progress on local decision making arrangements. One can draw conclusions that money is divisive regardless of the amounts involved.

  Funding arrangements can all too easily distort the sound principles of community development that underpin the best models of regeneration and disrupt city council strategies to devolve decision making arrangements to local areas.


  The selection of neighbourhoods as recipients of large injections of finance has not produced the results anticipated in those communities but it has also been a barrier to other neighbourhoods accessing smaller amounts of statutory funding to support their regeneration action plan. Models do exist where communities with support from other agencies, including the local authority, have developed creative ways to make financial assets from land in their neighbourhood which can then be reinvested in their community. In turn partners have also secured finances to invest in the neighbourhood. This produces a cocktail approach to funding regeneration. Financial accountability lies with each individual organisation and the partners have to work very hard to maintain an up to date picture of the financial position. Without a central fund to draw on activity can tend to be funding led as money becomes available for lower priority activities before key elements can be addressed.

  Arrangements to make significant funds available to support core costs for voluntary sector organisations need to be reviewed. While NRF has been a step in the right direction, arrangements for its distribution mean that amounts are usually not significant enough to achieve the desired result for local communities, and consequently leadership and management defaults back to statutory bodies.


  While the need for regional regeneration strategies to develop the bigger picture is clear that it remains extremely difficult for locally based strategies to engage in this agenda. Significant funding is seen to be available at a regional level and promoted as being available to communities if they can make the connection. This is virtually impossible and leaves local residents and practitioners frustrated and disempowered. Most community led regeneration partnerships lack the expertise to access major funding streams and as a result opportunities to make progress are missed.

  Current funding arrangements through regional government are inaccessible to local groups. The advent of ICT and electronic application forms have placed an additional barrier between communities and funding and the requirements to review and interpret local guidance and strategy documents also demands skills and understanding that do not typically exist in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.


  Capacity building is now deemed to be an essential component of any regeneration initiative but it is notable that it is residents in disadvantaged communities who are deemed to need to gain the skills to participate rather than the professionals who manage the bureaucracy of regeneration. Clearly residents often do need to develop leadership, management and negotiation skills so that they can engage as effective partners but this principle could also be applied to the professionals involved.

  There is reluctance for the decision makers at the highest level to change the lines and rules of accountability and often the chain of regulation stretches from the local neighbourhood via an accountable body to Whitehall. Central administrators are apparently unwilling, or unable, to understand local circumstances and decision making arrangements even though these may be just as legitimate as their own traditional approach.

  Local people, regeneration professionals and other interested parties including accountable bodies and administrators need to develop their skills and knowledge and listen to and understand each other's priorities.


  Most regeneration programmes now place great emphasis on resident involvement in the decision making process and the expectation of residents is great. Experience shows that while many residents are happy to engage in a myriad of activities that contribute to improving life in local neighbourhoods only a minority are keen to commit to a process of meetings and discussion that frequently remain dominated by officers. The burden of managing activity can often fall on a small, unrepresentative group of residents who do not necessarily reflect the views of all residents and, in turn, these representatives can become the victims of opposition from their neighbours when activity does not bring the results they want.

  Principles of bottom up regeneration need to be maintained but greater thought needs to be given to effective ways of engaging residents in long term meaningful activity that impacts on the decision making process without inducing meeting fatigue.


  Regeneration is never quick fix and money, time and energy can be wasted if a clearly thought out agenda for action is not developed prior to activity beginning. Adopting a community development approach to engage and work with residents prior to the arrival of significant resources is the most productive and least divisive approach but requires an open-ended lead in period in order to build networks and partnerships alongside the development of an action plan.

  Local authority resourcing of community development activity across disadvantaged communities has been drastically reduced limiting opportunities for communities to develop their own agendas in their own timescales. Some examples of good practice, largely funded from charitable sources through the voluntary sector, do exist but these are exceptions.

  More funding needs to be made available to resource community development workers in order to prepare the way for more substantive regeneration activity. Grants need to be sufficient to enable local groups and organisations to fund posts over a number of years.


  Local arrangements for managing regeneration activities and funding should be robust but not prescribed by external bodies. They should be open, inclusive and accountable but with a high level of local autonomy. There needs to be a flexibility of approach which enables activity to move in new directions as unforeseen opportunities present themselves. Partners need to be willing to participate in a learning process rather than a regulatory process.

  Management arrangements should not be rigidly constrained by existing arrangements and innovative models need to be publicised.


  New arrangements for local governance are creating opportunities for local communities to increase the accountability of their mainstream service providers and to explore the possibility of taking over the management of some local services. This development could provide a significant vehicle for economic development providing local jobs for local people while increasing the quality of service delivery to the benefit of all residents. This would have immense benefit for the sustainability of regeneration programmes beyond a finite period of intervention. Representatives of neighbourhoods in Birmingham which are taking different approaches to regeneration are united in exploring opportunities for neighbourhood management.

  Examples of local management arrangements need to be publicised and best practice shared.


  There are clearly areas which have been physically changed for the better as a result of regeneration intervention but this has not brought about significant change in the lives of local people leaving them frustrated and disempowered.

  Long term sustainable outcomes must remain the goal in regeneration and residents should derive economic, social, and spiritual benefits from the process.

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Prepared 28 October 2002