Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 38 of Session 2003-04, dated 14 September 2004


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today there are early promising signs that the New Deal for Communities programme is achieving successful neighbourhood renewal but, at the same time, that he was disappointed that mistrust and tensions between NDC partnerships and local authorities have got in the way of progress.

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 38th Report of this Session, which examined the place of the New Deal for Communities (NDC) programme in wider efforts to regenerate deprived communities; engagement with the community; and the effectiveness and sustainability of the programme. In 1999 the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister launched the pilot NDC programme to give local communities a much greater influence in the way in which funds are used to achieve neighbourhood renewal. Funds have been given directly to identified neighbourhoods for them to manage via their New Deal for Community Partnership Board made up of local representatives, to purchase services to meet their regeneration priorities. The approach is being tested in 39 neighbourhoods across the country and is expected to cost some £2 billion over 10 years. The NDC neighbourhoods are expected to engage in partnership with existing service delivery agencies to reduce the extent of crime, unemployment, poor health, low educational performance and improve the physical environment.

The programme is still at a relatively early stage and it is not therefore possible to determine its full impact. There are, however, already examples of effective neighbourhood renewal arising from this new approach. But equally, some tensions have developed between some New Deal for Community partnerships, their communities and local authorities that need to be addressed if further progress is to be ensured.

The Committee found that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) should work with other Departments to streamline area based initiatives aimed at deprived communities. In some areas the NDC scheme is only one of more than fifty different initiatives with separate funding streams to address aspects of deprivation; initiatives need to be better co-ordinated and, where possible, pooled to reduce potential duplication of overheads. ODPM also needs to clarify the role of local authorities in NDC partnerships. Mistrust between some local authorities and NDC boards has prevented progress through the partnership approach. Clearer guidance on the role of the local authority, for example setting out the extent of its responsibilities for NDC project evaluations and financial control, would help to clarify matters and reduce tensions.

The wider impact on social cohesion of targeted and piloted approaches to neighbourhood renewal should be reviewed. NDC is being piloted in 39 of some two to three thousand communities suffering multiple deprivation. It is important that problems in the selected neighbourhood, such as crime and disorder for example, are addressed rather than displaced to adjacent communities, and evaluations of neighbourhood based programmes should take account of their impact on adjacent communities. Evaluation of the New Deal for Communities programme should focus on identifying the additional benefits from the specific approach adopted, compared to other approaches to neighbourhood renewal. To ensure that ODPM can determine the relative success of different approaches, the Department needs to track consistent data for all their regeneration initiatives.

For successful community engagement in the programme, community representatives on the NDC boards need the authority to represent their communities. Existing governance arrangements allow individual community representatives to nominate themselves. ODPM should review and strengthen the governance arrangements for NDC boards and require community representatives to be nominated by a number of local residents.

NDC partnerships should take more active steps to bring businesses and wealth into deprived areas. They could for example identify what skills shortages exist in local businesses and target training in the community to meet these needs. They could also identify what barriers there are to businesses moving into their areas, for example, reliable transport or building infrastructure and work with the relevant agencies to overcome these. NDC partnerships should also plan how momentum is to be maintained. Although the programme has several years to run, NDC partnerships need to consider at an early stage how successful projects and initiatives are to continue in the longer term once additional programme funding has ended.

Regional Government Offices should satisfy themselves that NDC funds are not being used to replace existing resources provided to local statutory agencies. A small proportion of service delivery agencies acknowledge that some NDC money is being used to substitute for local authority spending. The Government Offices need to monitor spending on projects to uphold the ODPM requirement that this money should not be used to finance projects that should be supported by existing public or private sector grants.

Mr Leigh said today:

“It is too early to judge the full results of the New Deal for Communities programme, but there are some promising signs that it is achieving successful neighbourhood renewal. At the same time I am disappointed that mistrust and tensions between NDC partnerships and local authorities have got in the way of progress. ODPM must address this, for example by setting out clearly local authorities’ responsibilities with respect to the programme.

The evaluation of such an experimental approach needs to be particularly robust. ODPM must be able to demonstrate that neighbourhood problems, for example relating to crime and disorder, are properly tackled rather than moved along to the next neighbourhood that is not in the programme. The NDC programme must be shown to add value to, not displace, other renewal programmes such as those funded by local authorities.”

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