Regenerating the English Coalfields - Public Accounts Committee Contents

1  Coordination of coalfield regeneration

1.  In response to the loss of 193,000 coal jobs and the closure of 124 coalfield pits since 1981, the Department for Communities and Local Government (the Department) developed three specific initiatives devoted to regenerating coalfield areas: the National Coalfields Programme (the Programme) to find new uses for 107 coalfield sites; the Coalfield Regeneration Trust (the Trust) to build coalfield community capacity; and the Coalfield Enterprise Fund (the Fund) to provide venture capital to small and medium sized enterprises in former coalfields.[2]

2.  As a result of the pit closures, the coalfield communities as a whole suffered from a legacy of physical dereliction, a substantial job deficit, high levels of poor health, low educational achievement and a weak enterprise culture.[3] Addressing these problems also fell within the remit of several other government departments such as the Department of Health, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department for Transport and the Department for Work and Pensions.[4]

3.  The Department acknowledged that it had failed to provide a lead and mobilise other Government departments for the benefit of former coalfield communities.[5] More active coordination at a national level would have helped local efforts to tackle a range of problems in coalfield areas such as improving health, education, and enterprise. Across Government there were no reliable mechanisms to bring departments together.[6] Nor was there a culture in Government departments of adjusting national programmes to address local circumstances.[7] Four Secretaries of State agreed the original response to the Coalfields Task Force but there was no Cabinet Committee established to drive progress.[8] The Department accepted that it should have been more skilful and more persistent in engaging with other Government departments.[9]

4.  The Department considered that an interdepartmental budget to tackle the problems in coalfield areas would not work at a national level. Such a budget might cause departments to restrict their support for coalfield areas to the pool of interdepartmental resources. This could lead to the withdrawal of support from other activities.[10] At local level, Regional Development Agencies have pooled resources to address multiple needs and reduce divisions of interests. Wigan was cited as an example of resources being pooled successfully.[11]

5.  The Department had not developed an overarching strategy defining the respective responsibilities of the three separate initiatives and how they should have worked together to deliver regeneration for coalfield communities.[12] The initiatives have provided funding in different locations and have different aims and objectives.[13] The Department has not incentivised the Trust and the Programme to work together to maximise benefits from each other's networks and expertise.[14] The Department introduced eight pilots to drive locally coordinated regeneration but the funding for these is at risk as a result of the economic downturn.[15]

6.  In places, coordination between agencies at local level had been strong.[16] The Department cited South Yorkshire as an example of where all the different funding schemes were coordinated, both within the coalfield areas and beyond.[17] The Department acknowledged, however, that it had missed opportunities to integrate its own initiatives to deliver programmes of support to local people.[18] In 2004, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Select Committee recommended that regeneration should not have gone ahead unless there was a specific programme in place to help local people access the job opportunities created on each site. Sixteen of the 20 sites visited by the NAO did not have such a programme in place.[19]

2   C&AG's Report, Regenerating the English Coalfields, HC (Session 2008-09) 84 Back

3   C&AG's Report, para 1.2  Back

4   Q 38 Back

5   Qq 3 and 42 Back

6   Q 7 Back

7   Q 34 Back

8   Qq 35 and 36 Back

9   Q 37 Back

10   Q 39 Back

11   Q 41 Back

12   Q 3 Back

13   C&AG's Report, para 3.18 Back

14   C&AG's Report, para 14 Back

15   Q 52  Back

16   Qq 3 and 76 Back

17   Q 30 Back

18   Q 34 Back

19   Qq 76-79 Back

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Prepared 10 March 2010