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

Memorandum by Bishop of Coventry (GRI 32)

  Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the effectiveness of Government regeneration initiatives.

  One of the first issues we encounter with urban regeneration consultations is the extremely tight time-scales that are set. Political time-scales have to be set for reasons of accountability, but regeneration and community development can sometimes take a long time, particularly where the work means engaging a variety of different cultures and where capacity to engage is generally at a low start point. The pace of consultation, application and delivery often precludes involvement from smaller locally led voluntary organisation. Traditionally the big organisations with paid staff and existing networks hoover up the available cash. In Coventry, for instance, it was the Church who highlighted the need for a better time-scale for the Children's Fund when the local authority had initially imposed a month's notice for an expression of interest! The result of this intervention was agreement to ring-fence a portion of the money for groups that needed a longer time to apply.

  Local authorities are the major players in the regeneration consultation process, and are inevitably bureaucratic because of audit concerns. This has the practical effect of making it difficult for them to provide a user-friendly method of working with voluntary organisations. The need for proper accountability in funding is appreciated but the over zealous, labour-intensive and time consuming process of monitoring and reporting has a detrimental effect on service delivery by voluntary organisations who then get blamed for failing to deliver to time-scale/target.

  Experience in working with local authorities provides relatively few examples of good practice in dealing with the voluntary sector. For example, local authorities, understandably, often enter into partnerships with voluntary sector groupings. eg Council for Voluntary Service. The reality is that the larger voluntary sector organisations dominate and the smaller, emergent groups are not always able to have an adequate voice. Other local authorities offer capacity building help to small groups but this can sometimes mean that the service offered is to the local authority agenda and not necessarily to the disadvantaged communities' expressions of need. For example, in areas where there is an abundance of regeneration funding the development is targeted to the external aspirations of the funders and may not be exactly what local people prefer. In other words a centralised welfare advice service operates because it can attract resources, but this leaves some local communities disadvantaged compared with others who historically have developed their own localised and accessible service. These are harder to fund but nonetheless are more valuable.

  Experience of the New Deal for Communities in Coventry has been that the NDC has been very effective in involving the local community, but the time commitment demanded by the numerous meetings is proving difficult for volunteers to sustain and some are falling away. The great success of NDC in Coventry has been that for the first time the community itself dictated terms to the local authority rather than following the more traditional style in allowing the local authority to dominate. However, this was only possible because of the skilled advocacy of a local vicar who was instrumental in enabling the local community to take the lead. Her particular contribution was recognised by the award of an MBE.

  One of the key concerns locally is the long-term sustainability of regeneration resourced activities. As soon as a scheme begins, it needs to develop a sustainability strategy beyond the current length of the regeneration programme. It is too early to say whether the Local Strategic Partnership process will effectively pick up the small-scale funding needs of organisations that will allow them to continue to provide good practice. Generally, at the moment money is geared toward new or time-limited project initiatives.

  Capacity building community workers often advise community groups wanting to access regeneration monies to ignore European money if at all possible (because it requires huge input of time and effort both before and after service delivery) and then to choose other regeneration money on a basis of economy of effort. Frankly, going to Lottery and grant-making trusts for even small pots of money is often far easier than engaging with Government and local authority bureaucracy. Does this suggest that regeneration money, rather then being an aid to communities is actually often an obstacle? Not that such largesse is unwelcome or should cease to be offered!

Yours sincerely

Colin Coventry

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