In his recent comprehensive spending review speech to the House of Commons, the Chancellor announced that proposed Local Area Agreements are to be piloted in the coming year in each of the nine English regions. The Deputy Prime Minister, in his foreword to ‘Local Area Agreements: a prospectus’ states:
“Local Area Agreements represent a radical new approach to improve coordination between central government and local authorities and their partners, working through the Local Strategic Partnership."
“They will focus on a range of agreed outcomes that are shared by all the delivery partners locally, and which they all agree to work towards achieving."
“They will simplify the number of additional funding streams from central government going into an area, help to join up public services more effectively and allow greater flexibility for local solutions for particular local circumstances."
“I expect that joint working will be promoted for everyone's benefit and the role of the Local Strategic Partnerships will be strengthened”.
Under the heading ‘Strengthened National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal’, the prospectus goes on to suggest:
'The advantage of bringing the NRF and its delivery mechanisms into Local Area Agreements – where other funding streams are also included – will be to clarify arrangements for cascading neighbourhood renewal priorities to local partners, enhance performance management of delivery and also to strengthen further the existing emphasis on mainstreaming, and at the same time to draw other delivery partners more closely into the community strategy.'
Most significantly, the prospectus states:
'The Government sees the Local Area Agreement approach outlined here as a first step which, if successful, would be taken further in a more comprehensive model. In one of the nine pilot areas…a ‘single pot’ Local Area Agreement will be developed in which there would be no barriers…where there would be more flexibility in spending funding on agreed local priorities.'
Proposals for the agreements have been developed in the context of an increasing concern, especially among those delivering 'special initiatives' and local public services, about the organisation, operation and performance of 'neighbourhood renewal' and regeneration-related activities, (a key consideration of the ‘Growth Coalitions’ project since 2002’s Urban Summit).
Work over the last year by high performing councils under the umbrella of the ‘Innovation Forum’, has sought to address problems with the coordination and delivery of partnership initiatives.
On the governance front, The New Local Government Network has been setting the agenda and leading the debate, which calls for an enhancement of the position of local authorities, through the granting of greater freedoms and flexibilities in order to realise a ‘New Localism’.
A ‘Growth Coalition’ is a body of representatives drawn together for the purpose of achieving a series of mutual objectives driven by the vision of a growing, successful, local economy where serious disadvantage is alleviated.
Building on Local Strategic Partnerships – in this case overseeing a single pot of funds derived from the range of relevant sources – 'Growth Coalitions' have been devised to improve on existing arrangements for regeneration-related activities and a concern to integrate actions both horizontally and vertically, locally, regionally and centrally.
This is to be achieved by the creation of an overarching, strategic objective for the delivery of specific local services (including 'special initiatives'), rooted in furthering the economic development of an area – improving existing arrangements by 'joining up' regeneration-related activities including those addressing local quality of life and well-being.
Details of the proposals include utilising the 'tools' available to bring about incentives that might enhance operations at all levels, resulting in the harmonisation of the range of performance management, contractual, regulatory and inspection regimes.
Those working for community cohesion will be well aware of the multitude of most sensitive issues that are raised when addressing the matter. More often than not, these issues arise as a result of a desperate, high-profile effort, which is often necessary given the current malaise of policy and project initiatives.
It could be argued that ideally, community cohesion is fostered as part of an over-arching theme or strategy for local action. Community Cohesion could be part of the subtext under such a strategy, with the resultant benefits that could arise, when addressed appropriately, for all local communities.
During the early 90s, I was responsible for working up a tailored economic development strategy and programme for Bethnal Green City Challenge (a deprived neighbourhood to the east of the City of London) - reviewing existing projects and their performance and resolving their shortcomings in order to meet the needs of the local communities and economy.
The evidence that emerged from the review was useful when 'tailoring' the new programme to the local situation.
Different community groups were operating within the local clothing sector (a key component of the local economy), so community cohesion was promoted by setting up initiatives to support them all by achieving a common, economic, aim. Issues of access to finance were tackled, also the formalisation of business operations, business skills training seminars were run, with business healthchecks and ongoing tailored support offered by experts drawn from the local communities.
Export generation initiatives were developed for the larger, more established firms.
We were acutely aware of the needs of the minority ethnic business community and were able, (working in partnership and building consensus in order to achieve neighbourhood ownership) to address them in a sensitive way, that met all local business requirements for growth and prosperity.
This approach to the promotion of economic development in Bethnal Green and the process required to achieve this, (focussing on the mutual benefits that could accrue to all of the local communities, in consideration of their inter-dependency) resulted in positive regeneration and necessary, community cohesion outcomes.
Essentially, ‘Growth Coalitions’, as the platform for ‘Local Area Agreements’, would incentivise the whole shooting match –providing the opportunity to fundamentally address the 'joining-up' and mainstreaming agendas in localities across the country.
Most importantly, the starting point for the proposals have been the need, in a world of limited resources, to fundamentally tackle deprivation in all manners of its representation, building on existing good practice on the ground.
Growth coalitions, therefore, provide the opportunity for those working locally to engage, through an enhanced Local Strategic Partnership, to ensure that strategies that address local regeneration and community cohesion are one of the same.
Further information on the growth coalitions project is available through: http://www.growthcoalitions.org.uk/.