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

Memorandum by National Association of Councils for Voluntary Service (NACVS) (GRI 11)


  1.1  NACVS is the National Association of Councils for Voluntary Service. NACVS welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Urban Affairs Sub-Committee's Inquiry into The Effectiveness of Government Regeneration Initiatives.

  1.2  NACVS is the growing network of over 300 Councils for Voluntary Service (CVS) throughout England. We help to promote voluntary and community action by supporting our member CVS and by acting as a national voice for the local voluntary and community sector.

  1.3  A CVS is a voluntary organisation that is set up, owned and run by local groups to support, promote and develop local voluntary and community action. CVS support their members by providing them with a range of services and by acting as a voice for the local voluntary and community sector. Usually funded by the local authority and other local statutory agencies, there is a CVS working in almost every district and city in England. Individual CVS differ in character and size, although they usually work to the same geographical boundaries as the local authority. They also differ in name. Many are called CVS, while others might be called Voluntary Action or Voluntary Sector Council.

  1.4  In so far as this Inquiry is concerned, it is worth noting that CVS across the country are actively engaged in, and support, the involvement of local groups in a wide range of area-based and other regeneration initiatives.

  1.5  In preparing this response, NACVS has, in the short time available, consulted our members. This has involved a paper-based survey (which was backed up with an option to respond electronically via our website) and a consultation meeting, which was held at our Annual Conference on 11 September. The points outlined below are based on the written and verbal feedback that we have received from our members.


  2.1  As indicated in paragraph 1.4, CVS are actively engaged in, and support, the involvement of local groups in a wide range of area-based and other regeneration initiatives. Research commissioned by NACVS in 2001 and undertaken by Sheffield Hallam University[6], set out the extent to which CVS were at that time involved in a range of government initiatives. Examples included Welfare to Work programmes, Health Action Zones, Lifelong Learning Partnerships and Community Safety Partnerships. The report also highlighted CVS involvement in broader regeneration initiatives, such as the Single Regeneration Budget and New Deal for Communities (NDfC).

  2.2  In the months since the research was published, the extent of CVS involvement in regeneration and strategic partnership work has increased. Indeed, the role of CVS in this area of work has been explicitly recognised in separate Government guidance to local authorities on Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs)[7] and on the development of Community Strategies[8]. In the 88 local authority areas that are in receipt of the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF), CVS are, with the assistance of the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), playing a lead role in promoting the development of voluntary and community sector participation in LSPs. Across the country, CVS are also working with local authorities and other public bodies to develop local compacts, which are helping to underpin the relationship between the various sectors involved in regeneration work.


  3.1  The contribution of area-based initiatives to broader regeneration initiatives and regional strategies.

  3.1.1  Many of the respondents to NACVS' survey felt that Area Based Initiatives (ABIs) have contributed to broader regeneration. Respondents said that ABIs have led to the physical improvement of neighbourhoods, have helped build the capacity of those involved, have provided a clear focus and have led to improved voluntary and community sector participation.

  3.1.2  However, a message from many respondents is that ABIs require a greater degree of local co-ordination, need to take a holistic approach by linking social, economic and environmental issues and need to be linked to other local developments. In particular, it was felt that LSPs have the potential to bring together the different parts of the public, private and voluntary and community sectors to ensure that ABIs and mainstream services support each other.

  3.1.3  Respondents raised difficulties associated with ABIs, and these will be set out in the points that follow.

  3.2  The characteristics of successful regeneration schemes

  3.2.1  Respondents to NACVS' survey felt that the key characteristic of successful regeneration is the effective participation of local groups and communities. Without effective participation, regeneration becomes a top-down process, which has a negative impact on the sustainability of the regeneration work. The Government has taken positive steps to enhance participation and ownership, notably through the CEF and Community Chests. Whilst these resources are welcomed, they are only available in the 88 NRF areas. Consequently, effective participation in non-NRF areas is a greater challenge. Further points will be made on this aspect of the Inquiry in section 3.3.

  3.2.2  Genuine partnership working is also regarded as a key issue by those who responded to NACVS' survey. Despite the progress that has been made in recent years, it is felt that many statutory organisations still "do regeneration to local communities", rather than with them. In addition, it is felt that many statutory agencies lack a genuine commitment to partnership working, and regard it as a means of accessing funding. The development of effective local compacts is seen as a key tool to ensure that partnership working is genuine, and recent Government moves to strengthen and broaden the compact are welcomed.

  3.2.3  There is also a need to continue the capacity building work within local authorities and other local public sector organisations working locally and regionally to ensure that they understand the role, culture and value of local voluntary and community sector organisations.

  3.2.4  The way in which ABIs have been rolled-out has also caused concerns, with time-scales and targets creating the greatest difficulties. Tight time scales and a focus on quick wins has not helped build partnerships. Respondents to NACVS' survey argued that long lead in times are required, and that programmes need to be delivered over a six- or seven-year period.

  3.2.5  As indicated in 3.1.2, it is felt that successful programmes take a holistic approach, and recognise the cross-cutting nature of issues that face deprived communities.

  3.3.  Involvement of local communities

  3.3.1  It is worth repeating that the key characteristic of successful regeneration is the effective participation of local groups and communities. Respondents to NACVS' consultation felt that community participation is essential if real change is to be achieved. One respondent described it as the "Holy Grail of regeneration".

  3.3.2  NACVS' survey revealed concerns about the "cherry picking" of community representatives and tokenism. Mechanisms need to be in place to ensure that representatives are representative. Reporting back mechanisms are also vital. It is felt to be important to involve communities from the earliest stages, but it is recognised that involving hard to reach groups is difficult, and requires support.

  3.3.3  Respondents stated that successful regeneration requires community ownership. It is argued that communities need to be encouraged and supported to put forward their own project proposals. Greater resident control over assets and budgets is also required.

  3.3.4  Measures of community participation, such as those being developed by the Audit Commission or used by Yorkshire Forward[9], may be of assistance in demonstrating effective participation.

  3.3.5  Support for community participation, such as that provided by the CEF, should be made available across the country.

  3.4  Democratic accountability

  3.4.1  Once again, respondents felt that the way to improve democratic accountability was through effective community participation and the community ownership of assets. Respondents questioned the role of local councillors, and referred to the dominance of local political agendas. It is felt that there is a need for clarity over the role of elected councillors on regeneration bodies.

  3.4.2  It was widely felt that local authorities and other statutory agencies have tended to agree decisions, and then try to carry communities with them. Equally, it is felt that the fact that many local authorities do not let go and act as "accountable bodies" means that they retain power and control. As set out in 3.3.3, there is an argument for assets being owned or controlled by communities.

  3.4.3  Suggested ways of improving democratic accountability include the election of community representatives, as has happened in NDfC partnerships; and ensuring transparency of decision-making, including opening up partnership meetings and utilising mechanisms for participation and feedback.

  3.5  Whether and where area-based initiatives have brought about sustained improvements to deprived communities

  3.5.1  A number of respondents referred to the physical improvements that regeneration initiatives had brought to localities. However, others commented that the focus of regeneration has been too narrow, focusing only on the physical. It is argued that regeneration is most effective when physical improvements are matched by the upskilling and development of communities.

  3.5.2  Comment was also made on the difficulty of measuring the benefits that ABIs might have delivered, with respondents stating that it is too early to say that ABIs have delivered benefits. It is argued that further research is required.

  3.5.3  Most importantly, it is argued that ABIs have brought about sustained improvements to deprived communities when there have been high levels of community participation and ownership. This, respondents argue, requires support, which needs to be sustained over a period of time.

  3.6.  What arrangements need to be put in place at the end of a regeneration initiative to ensure that benefits to local residents continue

  3.6.1  In addition to the section dealing with the characteristics of successful regeneration and community involvement (see 3.2 and 3.3) this issue prompted the greatest response from NACVS' members.

  3.6.2  Respondents argued that sustainability needs to be built-in from the outset, with clear forward planning and exit strategies. On-going support, particularly to enable community participation, is essential.

  3.6.3  Resources are, unsurprisingly, seen as a key to continued success. Many of the problems of deprived neighbourhoods require long-term investment and commitment from all partners. The mainstreaming of particular initiatives is seen as essential if any benefits delivered by the scheme are to continue. This requires resources to be found from elsewhere.

  3.6.4  Means of transferring ownership and management of assets to the community should be considered. Community-based organisations, such as neighbourhood trusts, can ensure sustainability at the end of a project. Resident ownership, or at least an influential role in managing the project from the outset, is a key to ensuring sustainability.

  3.7  Whether policy has taken account of long term impacts as well as the outputs created

  3.7.1  Many respondents to NACVS' survey said that the long-term impact was difficult to measure. This is exacerbated by the short term nature and output-driven agendas of some regeneration initiatives. However, examples were given where the delivery of mainstream services has been influenced by ABIs.

  3.7.2  Several comments were made about the reporting processes, and the fact that they are often output driven. One respondent said: "reporting is so output driven that I'm not sure whether people know about long-term impacts. We can tell how much we have done to how many people, but not what lasting difference it has made." This focus on output figures has led to the impression that some initiatives have not been strategy driven.

  3.7.3  However, respondents working in NRF and NDfC areas commented that both of these initiatives appear to have a greater commitment to long-term outcomes.

  3.8  Whether initiatives have had an effect on the major Government and local government programmes

  3.8.1  Comments on this aspect of the Inquiry were cautiously optimistic. Respondents to NACVS' survey said that lessons from earlier initiatives seemed to have been learned. It is felt that the way in which the NRF has been rolled out has been influenced by earlier initiatives, in that local support and involvement is integral to the initiative.

  3.8.2  Local governance has been influenced and in particular, the level of community participation is increasing. However, there is a long way to go and further support for local groups and communities is required if their participation is to become truly effective.

  3.8.3  The current emphasis on bending mainstream funding, it is argued, appears to have been influenced by the recognition that ABIs cannot bring about long term sustainable regeneration by themselves. Although it is acknowledged that in practice, bending locally available funding to meet local needs will be difficult, given the wide range of targets that are set for local authorities and other local public sector bodies by central government.

  3.8.4  Despite the cautiously optimistic views voiced by respondents, it was felt that there has not been sufficient evaluation of past initiatives and that community participation is not embedded.

  3.9  Whether lessons have been learned from previous initiatives, such as City Challenge, and applied to new regeneration initiatives, such as New Deal for Communities and Local Strategic Partnerships

  3.9.1  Whilst lessons have been learned, and in particular community participation has increased through initiatives such as the CEF, it is felt there are other lessons still to be learned.

  3.9.2  It is felt that the time and resources given over to partnership building have been inadequate. In NRF areas, too many key decisions had been made by LSPs before the CEF was available.

  3.9.3  Impossible deadlines and quick wins are cited as a continuing problem. Respondents felt that there was pressure on those involved in NDfC partnerships to spend the resources available to them quickly. It is felt that this eroded confidence and led to a situation where large organisations were able to respond more quickly than small groups, and thus attract funding for their projects.

  3.9.4  Despite these criticisms, many respondents felt that LSPs were trying to bring all sectors together and offered real opportunities. It was also felt by some respondents that LSPs should not be seen purely as regenerative initiatives, and that the focus of LSPs is much broader.

  3.10  How the Government should decide when to introduce an area-based initiative, and whether there are successful alternatives

  3.10.1  There was a large degree of consensus from respondents that ABIs should only be introduced with the consent of local residents. Respondents said that the Government should "listen to local people", "not impose own ideas", "recognise the value of local knowledge" and "let local people decide, but be prepared to support them". It is argued that "one size does not fit all".

  3.10.2  In terms of alternatives, it was suggested that effective LSPs are in a position to work with communities to make decisions and offer a "sustainable way of doing regeneration". One respondent argues that LSPs should have independent staff and should not be overly influenced by the political considerations of the local authority.


  NACVS is pleased to be able to respond to the Inquiry, and looks forward to having an opportunity to expand on the points contained in this memorandum. From the responses to our survey it is apparent that two key themes emerge. Firstly, successful and sustainable regeneration requires effective community participation. Indeed, it requires community ownership. Secondly, resources are required to support the building of community capacity, Although CEF is welcome where it is available, a long-term strategy is required to ensure that all communities have adequate support to enable them to engage in community regeneration.

6   The Role of Councils for Voluntary Service in the Social Inclusion Agenda, Sarah Pearson and Gareth Morgan, Voluntary Sector Research Group, Sheffield Hallam University, 2001. Back

7   Local Strategic Partnerships: Government Guidance, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, March 2001. Back

8   Preparing Community Strategies: Government Guidance to Local Authorities, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, December 2000. Back

9   Active Partners: Benchmarking Community Participation in Regeneration, Yorkshire Forward, March 2000. Back

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Prepared 28 October 2002