Why The Western Mail was wrong to question Communities First exit strategy funding

The House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee published a report in 2011 into the UK Government’s Regeneration to enable growth: What Government is doing in support of community-led regeneration. The committee’s critique of it is damning. In recognising that “funding for regeneration has been reduced dramatically and disproportionately over the past two years”, the Committee concludes, among other things, that the regeneration approach proposed in the document lacks robust enough evaluation frameworks. The danger in this grave oversight is that the impact of the withdrawal of funding, let alone, the impact of investing it, is not adequaltely analysed.

The Committee was particularly critical of the way in which Housing market Renewal Funding in England had been withdrawn “leaving many residents trapped in half-abandoned streets” (p.3). Evidence to the committee suggested that:

“the decision to end funding so suddenly has had a profound impact on the lives of people in town and cities throughout the North and Midlands”

Proof indeed that these strategies, or lack of them, matter. Gravely so.

In contrast to wrenching funding with minimal notice and no succession plan, of the projects the Community Fund investigated in order to assess the effectiveness of exit strategies developed by the organisations it funded:

“exit strategies…proved to be realistic in many cases and have been able to do what they planned”

This research is not new, however. It was published in 2002.

Thus there is a body of evidence and experience that shows that any achievements of community-led regeneration can be undermined by the lack of a planned, gradual, perhaps phased, withdrawal of funding and activity.

It is therefore sad and a reflection of the derisory standard and effort of print journalism in Wales that The Western Mail (29.09.12) poses the question “Should Welsh Government pay out £650,000 to 12 Communities First projects?”, claiming that:

“Questions have been raised about the Welsh Government’s decision to provide £650,000 in ‘exit strategy funding’ to 12 projects whose involvement in the Communities First anti-poverty initative is being curtailed”

It does not actually state these questions, choosing rather to quote an opposition Assembly Member’s hope that the money is “spent wisely…and not wasted in bureaucracy”. A hope shared by pretty much anyone, obviously. But therein lies the problem. Rather than delve into the Communities First programme and investigating and critiquing what it is intending to do, The Western Mail trots out trite and banal generalisms. It has never understood the Communities First programme; disappointingly, it has never been inclined to try.

The general thrust of the article is to paint a picture of ‘yet more good money being thrown after bad’. So rather than attempt to find out how the exit strategy funding proposes to accomplish what is widely regarded as an essential step in regeneration work, it reheats and rehashes the Plas Madoc scandal as a way of shoring up its cynical and sneering position. What regrettably happened in Plas Madoc is entirely unconnected to the process of allowing a small number of areas to exit the Communities First programme, in keeping with the recommended good practice. Instead the article serves to smear the programme and in so doing the disadvantaged communities it assists.

We deserve better of the self-styled National Newspaper of Wales.

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