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

Memorandum by Urban Forum (GRI 29)


  Urban Forum is a national community and voluntary sector organisation with 450 members across England. Most members are local community and voluntary groups with a wide range of experience in regeneration and neighbourhood renewal.

  Urban Forum is the only national voluntary organisation with an urban policy focus and is widely recognised as being the lead body in the voluntary sector on urban regeneration and neighbourhood renewal.

  Since the Forum was established in 1993, it has built effective channels of communication between community and voluntary groups and local and national government. Urban Forum provides a heavily used and comprehensive information and advice service on regeneration issues, including a web site that attracts over 20,000 visits monthly. The Forum runs an extensive events programme around the country and produces various publications. Urban Forum is the first ever voluntary organisation to receive "strategic funding" from the ODPM.

  Highlights of the Forum's current and recent work are listed below:

    —  Currently conducting research on the impact of the wind-down of SRB and the introduction of the RDA "Single Pot" for the ODPM;

    —  Currently running an "Active Partners" project, funded by the Home Office, designed to maximise community and voluntary sector involvement in Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs) and neighbourhood renewal;

    —  Currently co-ordinating a national network of residents from New Deal for Communities (NDC) areas including two national conferences and a further national event planned in Bradford;

    —  Currently leading a national project looking at the role of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) in supporting social regeneration;

    —  Currently organising four regional feeder events and a fringe event for the Urban Summit;

    —  Led the Government's national consultation and dissemination exercise on the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal for community and voluntary groups. This involved organising over 20 consultative events attended by over 2000 groups in 2000-01;

    —  Members of several national research advisory groups for example the ODPM national SRB evaluation conducted by Cambridge University and national LSP evaluation led by Warwick Business School;

    —  Members of the ODPM Regional Co-ordination Unit (RCU) Area-Based Initiatives (ABI) Forum.

  Urban Forum would be pleased to supplement this written evidence with oral evidence if called upon by the Select Committee.

1.  Contribution of area-based initiatives to broader regeneration initiatives and regional strategies

  This issue has been well covered by recent published research, including a study by the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol led by Professor Murray Stewart. Area-based initiatives have dominated recent regeneration initiatives including Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) and even more so with neighbourhood renewal initiatives, which are exclusively area-based.

  One concern for Urban Forum is that with the wind-down of SRB, opportunities for community and voluntary organisations (CVOs) to engage in thematic regeneration initiatives or to reach "communities of interest" are becoming more restricted. In extreme cases, this can contribute to a breakdown in community cohesion as evidenced by the riots in several English towns and cities in 2001.

  Local ABIs have opportunities to contribute to broader regeneration and regional strategies through LSPs and regional networks. Urban Forum gives considerable support to local and regional CVOs to help facilitate these linkages but the resource and funding base of local and regional CVOs is patchy and fragile. The recent Treasury cross-cutting review of the voluntary sector (September 2002) aims to address this issue.

2.  Characteristics of successful regeneration schemes

  There is now a massive body of research in this area, including many studies commissioned by ODPM and its predecessors. Many of the recurring findings are really just common sense, such as the importance of having a clear and shared vision of what is to be achieved, realistic goals and targets and a genuine commitment to partnership working across sectors. The commitment of individuals in leadership roles to making things happen also crops up frequently as a critical success factor.

  Beyond generalisations, other success factors can be determined by the unique nature of individual schemes. For example, taking account of the local culture or geography. A key issue for government here is whether or not there is enough flexibility in national and regional programmes to allow for local diversity. Successful schemes are likely to share the aims of central programmes and successfully engage with all interested and relevant scheme participants and beneficiaries.

  Urban Forum research and experience suggests that the greatest barriers to success are local authorities who are unable or unwilling to work in genuine partnership and a lack of involvement of CVOs and residents in the beneficiary areas. This issue is addressed further in 3. below.

3.  Involvement of local communities

  This is a core issue for Urban Forum and lack of involvement was the main reason why local groups set the Forum up in the first place. Again, government research conclusively shows that where effective community involvement is present, the chances of success are higher. This was a clear finding in the interim report of the national SRB evaluation published by Cambridge University in 2001.

  Government has progressively made regeneration schemes more "community friendly" since the mid-1990s, notably by making SRB Guidance more explicit in the need to involve CVOs and residents. This trend has continued with the introduction of neighbourhood renewal and LSP guidance and the introduction of direct funding from government to CVOs, such as the Community Empowerment Fund, Community Chests and regional CVO networks.

  The biggest weakness is the capacity of CVOs to engage due to lack of funding. Unlike the public sector and business, there is no strategic funding for local CVO infrastructure, which results in the lack of capacity for CVOs to engage in regeneration effectively and consistently. The Treasury cross-cutting review of the voluntary sector (September 2002) aims to address this issue at least in part.

  Community involvement in regeneration initiatives led by the RDAs through the single pot (which has replaced SRB) is under threat by the economic and physical development bias of RDAs, as reflected by national targets set by government.

4.  Democratic accountability

  Government regeneration initiatives pose a real challenge to local and regional democratic accountability. Combined with the Regions White Paper, reforms to modernise local government and low voter turnout in many areas, the role of democratic institutions is in a state of flux. The enhanced role of regional Government Offices (GOs) as the "ears and eyes of Government in the regions" and the continued central control of some public bodies such as DfES and Learning and Skills Councils (LSCs) further complicates the picture.

  Perhaps the most glaring challenges are at neighbourhood level. Billions of pounds of public money is now being invested in neighbourhood ABIs, with no corresponding form of local governance at neighbourhood level. Elected neighbourhood forums in some areas may be a partial, stop-gap solution but they are no substitute for elected and participative democracy at its best. Nobody wants an extra layer of bureaucracy but the role of local councillors needs an urgent review in this light. In some areas, community representatives elected at ward level are polling more votes than local councillors raising fundamental questions about neighbourhood governance.

  Urban Forum has long advocated for the Government to take a lead in supporting the evolution of new forms of neighbourhood governance to bring local government closer to the people. This issue cannot be avoided for much longer.

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

  In a physical sense, there are many examples. These would typically be housing improvements (as in Royds Estate in Bradford) and city centre improvements as in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and parts of London. However, these types of improvements do not always benefit deprived communities as much as they might.

  For example, not enough is done to make sure that residents from deprived areas are able to take up employment opportunities generated by renewal due to lack of skills and support. Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities often receive a particularly bad deal, for example the lack of employment opportunities generated in the Liverpool City centre renewal.

  Another feature of "successful" regeneration is that deprived communities can become displaced as areas become gentrified or turned into "urban villages" where houses become unaffordable. Where physical improvements fail, "those that get on, get out".

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

  Sustainable improvements will leave behind a legacy of support for local residents. This could take many forms, including community buildings, community development and youth facilities, training resources and mainstream funding for initiatives that prove their worth following regeneration investment. This could include sustained investment in CVO "infrastructure" where residents and community groups can go for advice, support and learning opportunities.

  Residents and intended beneficiaries need to be involved in all stages of regeneration schemes (design, delivery, evaluation and forward strategy) to ensure that what is left behind is what they want and need.

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

  Current policy is largely progressive in this area, as evidenced by the 20 year neighbourhood renewal strategy including the 10 year NDC programmes in 39 local areas. Whether the funding and political commitment is maintained for that long is a moot point.

  The impact of area-based schemes on surrounding areas (which may be almost as deprived) is an emerging problem, as recognised by the new Community Cohesion Unit set up in the Home Office.

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

  The extent to which regeneration initiatives impact upon mainstream public programmes is disappointing. This was graphically illustrated by a recent study carried out by UWE led by Professor Murray Stewart. In short there is precious little evidence that initiatives have made much impact, but at least this is now more explicitly recognised by the Government. One example is the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit initiatives on learning, knowledge and skills, which actively seeks to promote learning across initiatives and mainstream initiatives.

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

  In terms of community and voluntary sector involvement (Urban Forum's main interests), yes. At least in terms of Government guidance on current initiatives. This is all so recent that it is too soon to say whether the lessons have been learned in practice or the change will remain rhetorical only.

  In terms of what happens at the end of special initiatives (forward strategy), investment in CVO infrastructure and linking learning from initiatives to mainstream activity, the lessons do not seem to have been learned to the point of significant differences in practice. There is, however, now more debate and consideration of these issues than before, which is an encouraging sign.

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

  Urban Forum welcomes the initiative by the RCU to co-ordinate area-based initiatives across Government and the aim to reduce duplication. New area-based initiatives should only be considered where existing ones are unable to meet identified need. This may well be the case, for example, in areas that are not eligible for Neighbourhood Renewal Funding (NRF).

  Successful alternatives would include thematic regeneration initiatives, city-wide and region-wide initiatives to complement the emphasis on neighbourhoods and initiatives that reach disadvantaged communities that are not concentrated geographically (communities of interest such as single parents, disabled people and people on low incomes in smaller towns and rural areas).

  Government should consult widely at an early stage with local public bodies, businesses and CVOs before introducing new initiatives.

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Prepared 28 October 2002