Regenerating the English Coalfields - Public Accounts Committee Contents

2  Informed decision making

7.  Reviving the former English coalfields has been one of the largest regeneration challenges to face the country over the last 30 years.[20] There was a huge decline in the number of people working in the coal industry, from 200,000 in 1981 to 7,000 in 2009.[21] Many former coalfield sites contained contaminated land.[22] Some were among the most highly contaminated in Europe and some sites had a very low economic potential.[23] The Department had a legal obligation to make the land safe and up to 90% of the costs of bringing former coal pits back into new use could be for treating the land.[24]

8.  The Department's benchmarks for physical regeneration were too wide to give it confidence that it had achieved value for money.[25] It used a range of benchmarks as the levels of contamination and the range of outputs varied enormously from site to site. To reflect the breadth of the Programme, the Department used other benchmarks, such as the cost for building a house and the cost of creating a job, to support its assessment of value for money.[26] The Department was unable to demonstrate the value for money of the jobs created by the Programme as it did not capture information on the expenditure on making the land safe, as distinct from the money that was being spent to generate jobs.[27]

9.  The Department has not monitored which groups have benefited from its initiatives or assessed the number of jobs that have been filled by people from former coalfield communities, but the Audit Commission estimated that 38% of the jobs created have gone to people outside the coalfield areas.[28] The Department expected some people from coalfield communities to commute to jobs outside the area and for others to travel in because the labour market has ceased to operate on a highly localised basis.[29] There was a shortage of skills in the coalfields and people from other communities who travel into coalfield areas for jobs bring additional skills, and create economic diversity and wealth.[30] Overall there had been a modest net increase in the number of people commuting from coalfield areas.[31]

10.  The Department did not have a sophisticated measure of the additional jobs created by the initiatives.[32] Some of the jobs created have been due to general growth in the national economy and some have been the result of the coalfield initiatives.[33] The number of additional jobs could have been between 8,000 and 16,000.[34] The Department commissioned an evaluation of its initiatives which estimated the number of jobs the initiatives have helped to create, but this estimate was based on benchmark projects and did not draw on a representative survey.[35]

11.  The main indicators of unemployment suggested that the coalfield areas have improved compared to national averages,[36] and there has been a fall in people claiming Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance and also Incapacity Benefit.[37] The Department asserted that it monitors key indicators for deprivation, which show that coalfield areas have made progress compared to the national average.[38]

20   C&AG's Report, para 1.1 Back

21   Q 13  Back

22   Q 63 Back

23   Q 66; C&AG's Report, Figure 8 Back

24   Qq 20, 21 and 90 Back

25   Qq 43  Back

26   Q 90 Back

27   Qq 65 and 66 Back

28   Q 13 Back

29   Q 27 Back

30   Qq 13 and 24 Back

31   Q 28 Back

32   Q 15  Back

33   Q 26 Back

34   Q 15  Back

35   Qq 24 and C&AG's Report, para 4.6 Back

36   Qq81-84 Back

37   Q 14 Back

38   Qq 80-83; Ev 14-22 Back

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