SOCIAL FABRIC

Turnaround: Learning from 60 years of regeneration policy

Lessons from the regeneration of Britain’s less prosperous communities – and how to take back control.
Will Tanner, Fjolla Krasniqi, James Blagden
September 11, 2021
Turnaround: Learning from 60 years of regeneration policy
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If Ministers are serious about levelling up in the long term, they need to build local capacity that can endure – and help local people take back control of their communities. The Government should use neighbourhoods – the most effective organising unit in society – to drive regeneration in the places that need it most, working with local communities to build new institutions, invest for the long term and better use local assets.

Will Tanner, Director of Onward

 

60 years of regeneration policy shows that we need to empower neighbourhoods to level up

Regeneration schemes have been attempted by every government of every stripe in the last fifty years in successive attempts to turn left behind lagging places.

From Wilson’s Urban Aid programme to Thatcher’s Urban Development Corporations to Blair’s New Deal for Communities (NDC) and the current Government’s Levelling Up Programme, billions have been spent and considerable political will has been expended. Yet for all that activity there has been remarkably little policy focus in Whitehall on understanding what works best in improving outcomes in the most challenging communities in the UK – and how successful approaches can be scaled more broadly to communities everywhere. That task is the subject of this paper.

Looking at previous regeneration initiatives in this country and abroad, and find that the most successful schemes focused on smaller geographic areas such as neighbourhoods, invested in community capacity over the long-term, and helped communities take ownership of local assets.

Our analysis of previous regeneration schemes finds that:

  • Of the 39 local areas that were part of New Deal for Communities, 30 (77%) saw levels of deprivation fall relative to the national average between 2004 and 2019, and 20 (51%) saw deprivation fall faster than the surrounding local authority. But this improvement slowed after the programme ended in 2011.
  • The areas that experienced the greatest improvement under NDC were those with the strongest base of civic assets, such as community shops and charities, and the most engaged communities, suggesting fostering local civic culture is important. There is a statistically significant (R2=0.51) relationship between the strength of community engagement and falling levels of deprivation.
  • Improvements in the lived environment were most correlated with falling levels of deprivation, with NDC areas outperforming their local authority by an average of 18 percentage points on the living environment deprivation measure. In contrast, NDC areas which suffered poor housing and access to services tended to fall behind their local area.
  • The most successful regeneration schemes ensure communities have a stake in the regeneration process, including by putting local people in charge of priorities, devolving budgets, and building new community-level institutions, such as Neighbourhood Councils in Berlin and “Pacts of Collaboration” in Turin.
This report was kindly supported by Local Trust and Power to Change.
Sep 15
15:30-
16:45
Event Full

Problems with regeneration to date

What we recommend

Too often, government funding streams are centralised, competitive funds, rather than a true devolution of power and responsibility. This has a number of effects:

  • It benefits places that are experienced at bidding to central government, who are not necessarily the places that most need support.
  • It prevents places which lack institutional capacity or civic networks to develop them themselves, depending instead on Whitehall.
  • It removes communities themselves from decision-making, meaning interventions are done to them rather than with them.
  • The focus on capital spending rather than revenue also prioritises infrastructure projects rather than the kind of capacity building that can be most effective.

The risk is that even if the funding has a positive impact in the short-term, it is unlikely to build capacity in the places that need to be levelled up the most to drive longer term improvement.

There is also, despite five decades of successive interventions, a weak evidence base about what interventions are most effective at turning around different places. This is exacerbated by a lack of consistent data at a granular enough level to test different policies robustly.

We argue that the Government should take steps to ensure neighbourhoods can take a more active role in supporting local regeneration through the levelling up agenda, through:

  1. The establishment of Community Deals to allow local communities to take greater control of their area. These would put forward a long-term improvement plan for the local community, funded through the Community Renewal Fund and Shared Prosperity Fund. They would be encouraged to set up local endowments – in the form of a community trust – to take ownership of local buildings that would be sustained by and for the community.
  2. Funding for capacity building in the communities least able to exploit national funding. This would ring-fence a small share of existing funding streams to support the areas most in need to identify the key challenges they face, design and manage interventions, and apply for different streams of funding.
  3. Introduce a comprehensive measurement of community strength to create a gold-standard dataset on social outcomes in every local area, to both improve the evaluation of interventions and support a much more sophisticated debate about what is happening in different communities in different parts of the UK.
  4. Develop a detailed understanding of what works in regeneration to guide future policy. This could take different forms, but the most promising would be to found a new institution to develop and promulgate evidence-based practice, building on the success of the Education Endowment Foundation.

Problems with regeneration to date

Too often, government funding streams are centralised, competitive funds, rather than a true devolution of power and responsibility. This has a number of effects:

  • It benefits places that are experienced at bidding to central government, who are not necessarily the places that most need support.
  • It prevents places which lack institutional capacity or civic networks to develop them themselves, depending instead on Whitehall.
  • It removes communities themselves from decision-making, meaning interventions are done to them rather than with them.
  • The focus on capital spending rather than revenue also prioritises infrastructure projects rather than the kind of capacity building that can be most effective.

The risk is that even if the funding has a positive impact in the short-term, it is unlikely to build capacity in the places that need to be levelled up the most to drive longer term improvement.

There is also, despite five decades of successive interventions, a weak evidence base about what interventions are most effective at turning around different places. This is exacerbated by a lack of consistent data at a granular enough level to test different policies robustly.

What we recommend

We argue that the Government should take steps to ensure neighbourhoods can take a more active role in supporting local regeneration through the levelling up agenda, through:

  1. The establishment of Community Deals to allow local communities to take greater control of their area. These would put forward a long-term improvement plan for the local community, funded through the Community Renewal Fund and Shared Prosperity Fund. They would be encouraged to set up local endowments – in the form of a community trust – to take ownership of local buildings that would be sustained by and for the community.
  2. Funding for capacity building in the communities least able to exploit national funding. This would ring-fence a small share of existing funding streams to support the areas most in need to identify the key challenges they face, design and manage interventions, and apply for different streams of funding.
  3. Introduce a comprehensive measurement of community strength to create a gold-standard dataset on social outcomes in every local area, to both improve the evaluation of interventions and support a much more sophisticated debate about what is happening in different communities in different parts of the UK.
  4. Develop a detailed understanding of what works in regeneration to guide future policy. This could take different forms, but the most promising would be to found a new institution to develop and promulgate evidence-based practice, building on the success of the Education Endowment Foundation.

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