It is now more than 10 years since the then Labour Government produced two reports which I thought were superb, seminal and might actually change the course of urban history and the long decline of many urban areas since the 1930s.
The first of this was a weighty tome about the ‘Urban Renaissance’ written by Labour Peer Lord Rogers. This was a superb physical description of how cities and towns could and should be planned and how the ideas might be retrofitted into existing urban landscapes. The report disappeared without trace. Few now know that it was even written.
The second of these was the national Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal. This strategy was developed as result of about two years work by 18 Policy Action Teams which looked at the long term decline and tried to find new ways of dealing with it. In short the Nat Strat as it was known said these things:
- That these problems had long been in the making and that short term solutions were not the way to deal with long-term and deep rooted problem
- That concentrating all our efforts about short term regeneration initiatives distracted us from the major way forward – of dealing with the basic problems in service delivery which had led to the problems in the first place
- Most of our major social problems were concentrated in some 3,000 poor neighbourhoods throughout the Country.
It implied that the right way to deal with these problems therefore was the development of a comprehensive long term plan for each neighbourhood which looked at the service failures and addressed them harnessing short term money for long term ends. So far so go. A new section was set up in Government, the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit” and programmes were set in train. A national Community Forum was established to advice on this – I was on it!
Unfortunately it began to fall apart from day one. Very few comprehensive plans were developed. The first years’ money was frittered away in attempt to keep council tax down that year. Full reviews were not undertaken in the areas of service failure and where direct intervention was undertaken it was through very stodgy and bureaucratic process such as New Deal for Communities.
The end result of this – if anyone cared to check – is that the 3,000 poorest neighbourhoods then are the 3,000 poorest neighbourhoods now. Yes many of them have some better facilities such as new schools or sure starts but the life chances and even life spans of those living in those areas remains substantially unchanged.
That is why I have great difficulty in disagreeing with the Government’s abolition of measures such as the Working Neighbourhoods Fund. All these palliatives have failed to work. I think the way that the Government has crudely abolished them at short notice is indefensible and crass but the policy direction is right.
Unfortunately the Government have not indicated an alternative. What a triumph it would be if this Government were to turn round and say the principles of the Nat Strat were right and they intended to finish what Labour could only start!?
In some ways the Government have already said that although they would not recognise the description. Within the CSR they announced the development of a community budgeting approach for ‘Families with Complex Needs”. Most of these, because of our appallingly segregated housing policies, live in the 3,000 neighbourhoods. The proposal is that all the budgets and staff and other resources devoted to dealing with these families ( in many cases costing up to £300,00 p.a.) would be merged into one simple, resource using, support giving, decision making stream which would provide far better outputs and outcomes than traditional multi agency meddling. All the signs are that in places like Westminster where is being applied it is working.
It must be said that some jobsworths in DCLG and other Ministries are not happy with this as they have tried to introduce layers of bureaucratic checks to monitor this work.
I now propose something which brings together Labour policies on Nat Strat and Coalition policies on community budgeting to propose – “Total Place for Neighbourhoods!”
In this we would take each of the 3,000 neighbourhoods in turn and:
- Map how much money each organisation spends in each of these neighbourhoods and what staff and what other resources such as staff and buildings it uses there.
- Map the outputs and, where they exist, the outcomes that each organisation wants to get for its money
- Develop a long-term, plan for the area which will give a series of outcomes that are needed to change the nature of the area.
- Develop a programme of outputs to meet those outcomes.
- Rearrange the delivery mechanisms around the needs not of the producer organisation but around the needs of the communities and the individuals with problems that live in them.
Simples – as I believe some small furry creatures now say!
Simples in theory perhaps but not in practice. Too few politicians and too few administrators have the guts to go for the long term changes needed to make a real difference. We defend our territory, we defend our specialisms, and we defend our status at the expense of new methods, new programmes and new solutions.
This needs Nick Clegg and David Cameron to put their weight behind the fundamental changes needed. Do this and all our research at the LGA shows that we can provide better outcomes with savings between 10 and 20% of spend.
So move over Laurel and Hardy – this job is too big for the monkeys we need the organ grinders to get involved!