Regenerating the English Coalfields - Public Accounts Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  Thirteen years after the start of the schemes, the Department still lacks clarity as to how its initiatives can best revitalise the local communities in which it is investing. The Department should reassess the needs of coalfield areas in 2010, and articulate a clear, measurable and time-bound aim and develop an overarching strategy to achieve it. Its commitment to produce an action plan is a step in the right direction, and should set out how it will better lead and coordinate coalfield regeneration to obtain the best value for money from the remaining £450 million to be spent by its initiatives. The Department needs to assign action dates and specify how and when its progress will be measured and reported.

2.  The Department has failed to lead coalfield regeneration across Government. The Department should take the lead to bring together relevant Government departments to support enterprise, employment, education, health and transport in coalfield communities. The Department should agree clear terms of reference and establish national aims, underpinned with clear lines of responsibility.

3.  The Department has not sufficiently coordinated its three strands of coalfield regeneration, and funding for improving local coordination is at risk. The Department should define the respective responsibilities of the initiatives and how they should work together in coalfield areas. The Department should assess the additional value for money from improved local coordination between its initiatives and use this to inform future funding allocations.

4.  The Department has failed to develop a robust assessment of the direct impact of its initiatives, including proof that the money spent has created jobs that would not have been created anway. To demonstrate that its plans merit continued funding, the Department should establish the success of its initiatives using direct measures such as the occupancy rates on sites and the number of jobs filled by members of coalfield communities as a direct result of the initiatives. To better assess the true impact of the Programme, the Department should compare the benefits achieved by site redevelopment with those former coalfield communities whose sites were excluded from the Programme and publish the lessons learnt from this evaluation.

5.  The Department does not have a specific programme in place to help local people benefit from jobs on its site developments. The Department should have a specific programme in place for every site to help local people access job opportunities created by construction work and incoming business. It should urgently check all its site developments and make sure that such programmes are in place. And it should incentivise the Coalfields Regeneration Trust (the Trust) and the National Coalfields Programme (the Programme) to make best use of their collective networks and expertise to create job opportunities for local people.

6.  The benchmarks the Department uses to assess its spending on the contamination, housing and employment aspects of coalfield regeneration are too broad to give confidence over value for money.

  • To improve the comparability of the cost of treating land, the Department should develop separate and narrower benchmarks for differing levels of contamination, and
  • The Department should develop more sophisticated housing and employment benchmarks that exclude the unavoidable cost of treating land to meeting legal obligations, and are based solely on the incremental costs and benefits associated with the work.

7.  The Department did not act quickly enough to support enterprise in coalfield areas. By the time the £50 million Coalfield Enterprise Fund to support businesses was proposed in 1998, the employment, skills and confidence in many coalfield areas had been lost. An urgent response was needed but the Department took until 2004 to develop and launch a £10 million fund. And the Department took until 2009 to identify a mixture of public and private funding to reach the £50 million mark. The Department should urgently reassess the enterprise funding needs of coalfield areas.

8.  The Department is not confident of achieving its target outputs for the physical aspect of coalfield regeneration by 2017 because of the current economic downturn but it has not reviewed its spending plans. The capacity of coalfield areas to absorb new building developments on former coalfield sites and create jobs is dependent on the speed of economic recovery. The Department should re-evaluate how best to achieve its aim to revitalise coalfield areas in light of the downturn. It should reassess the immediate and long term needs of coalfield communities in light of further job losses. The Department should reassess the balance of spending between physical regeneration on sites, physical regeneration and infrastructure elsewhere, support for training and skills development, and support for enterprise, and set itself challenging targets to maximise its contribution to employment and sustainable growth in coalfield areas.

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Prepared 10 March 2010