A New Deal For Communities, mark 2?

Published by Tony Mullin on

Remember the halcyon days of regeneration, back in the nineties and early noughties?

Tony Blair launches the New Deal for Communities Programme in 2001

Oh what bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, knee deep in multi million pound regeneration programmes; Single Regeneration Budget, New Deal for Communities, Neighbourhood Renewal, Housing Market Renewal, more ‘Pathfinders’ than you could shake a stick at. We even had well staffed and funded Regional Development Agencies, specifically set up to reduce economic inequalities across the country.

In term of a definition as to what was going on, Leeds City Council captured it nicely in one of their regeneration strategies of the 1990s:

“Regeneration is targeted and coordinated public sector intervention to address market failure affecting people and places”

Well not much public sector intervention is happening in these austere days, co-ordinated or otherwise. In fact, look around today, and there is not a single government funded regeneration initiative worthy of the name.

So have those market failures been addressed, is inequality now a thing of the past? I think we all know the answer to that but in case you don’t, the UK is the 7th most unequal society in the developed world, as measured by the Gini co-efficent, the internationally recognised way of measuring these things. And those things are not moving in the right direction. Our co-efficient has increased (which is a bad thing by the way) by 42% since 1979, which is higher than at any time in the last 30 years.

So why pull the plug on a programme which, for all its faults, was addressing head on a problem that blighted, and continues to blight, the country today? Funnily enough, it is a very different picture elsewhere in the UK, where devolved governments are taking a rather different view. Community led regeneration is at the heart of the Scottish government’s wider regeneration strategy, the Welsh Government has committed over £100m to local authorities to help their ‘Regeneration Framework’ and Northern Ireland also has a similar government backed framework for ‘community regeneration and community development activity’.

We do seem to have gone quietly into that good night, in England at least. I would say it was the coalition in 2010 that finally turned the lights off (although the little glitch we had in the banking system back in 2007 certainly didn’t help).  Now it is perhaps time to turn them back on again?

However, I’m not sure bringing back regeneration, as was, is the answer. Too much of that funding, ultimately, was wasted (I know reader, I wasted some of it, on projects I couldn’t sustain). On balance, I’m no longer a fan of time limited, multi million pound programmes descending on tightly defined areas, all pomp and ceremony, making grandiose claims about impending transformation that could never be met, then quietly packing up and sloping off once the money runs out.

Maybe we need something more subtle, more pragmatic, more ongoing, more targeted at specific issues and tangible outcomes. It might include, say, digital inclusion, access to high quality public spaces and facilities, tackling loneliness, basic skills, healthy living, mentoring young people….

There are some deep rooted social and economic problems that are not going to be solved any time soon, 30 odd years of neo liberalism have seen to that. So let’s not pretend we can ever be a panacea for the ills of society, or fly in the face of some incredibly powerful free market forces that we are simply not equipped to go up against. Instead, why not just focus on some issues, on areas where we can make a difference, and in doing so make the country a better place, and people’s lives more fulfilling, than otherwise would be the case.

Not sure what umbrella term might capture such an approach…..improving life chances? Watch this space…

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