Thursday, 3 November 2011

On home turf - regeneration policy

The Communities and Local Government Select Committee published a report on the coalition government's regeneration strategy, or lack thereof to be more precise. The story was quite high up on this morning's Today programme and is still on the front page of the UK BBC news website as 'MPs criticise 'disastrous' cuts to regeneration schemes'. A tweet on my stream suggested this should be front page news. I sort of agree, the issue is important, but I sort of don't.

My main beef is with regeneration policy more generally. It's always been an absolutely piddling amount of government expenditure. The old Scottish Executive spent £345 millions on community regeneration over three years, out of a total managed expenditure of £100 billions. The cuts to the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder that this report criticises amount to a reported £10 billions a year, out of total managed UK government expenditure of something around £400 billions. This is why regeneration will never be successful in "turning around" deprived neighbourhoods. One metaphor to use to describe this funding might be a pebble in the face of a tsunami of problems. I think I prefer the metaphor of pissing in a swimming pool.

The attention that the Select Committee are giving to this issue is the latest example of the extraordinary attention provided to such a piddling amount of money, dating back to the fantastic critical Gilding the Ghetto evaluation of the Community Development Projects; the Inner Area Studies that led to the Policy for the Inner Cities and the National Audit Offices fantastic unpicking of the Urban Development Companies in the early 1990s. Yet, as Michael Edwards noted right back in 1997(£) - is all this focus on processes management and policy actually making us miss the substance of the issue: poverty and inequality? But then regeneration policy is always going to be the focus of political interference, as Peter Hall argued, again back in 1997, because politicians like it because it provides tangible benefits (new homes, new community centres) that win them votes. More cynically, it will also always be the focus of attention because of a big strand of public discourse that basically says that these communities don't deserve extra investment and additional service provision. And if an article I've written gets accepted then it will be me arguing that point.

With a bit of luck this will be the first of two posts - the second I plan to grapple with the thorny issue of what sort of regeneration policy we might want.

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