The purpose of this regular feature is to update Scotregen readers on relevant developments in the rest of the UK. It is widely agreed that more can and should be done to share lessons and best practice between UK nations in an era of divergent approaches via devolved administrations. This was a point emphasised by the Chief Executives of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Homes and Communities Agency at the 2011 SURF Annual Conference.

Here, senior Welsh civil servant Paul Dear highlights the Communities First regeneration programme.

Putting communities first
Major changes are underway to Communities First, the Welsh Government’s flagship programme to improve the living conditions and prospects for people in the most disadvantaged communities across Wales.

The programme was launched in 2001 and there are presently over 150 Communities First partnerships across Wales. Each of these partnerships brings together members of the local community with representatives of the public, private and voluntary sectors to develop local Action Plans. Small staff teams support each partnership. These teams are normally based in the heart of the community, and are familiar and accessible to local people, whom they help connect to service providers and support agencies.

Communities First partnerships support a very wide range of work with people of all ages and tackle very many aspects of deprivation, improving health, creating jobs, and bringing additional funding into these communities. Through Communities First, environmental and economic regeneration go hand in hand with community engagement and action for social justice.

A flexible, focused future
The National Assembly elections in May of this year resulted in a Labour Government in Wales. In the weeks that followed, the Minister for Local Government and Communities Carl Sargeant AM launched a consultation on the future of Communities First. The consultation document proposed some significant changes to how the programme will operate:

  • The programme boundaries will be more flexible. This means that there will be more attention to ensuring that Communities First supports the most disadvantaged individuals and groups, as opposed to having rigid geographic boundaries.
  • There will be fewer Communities First areas, but most will be considerably larger than at present. Many will include several existing Communities First areas. The new areas will be known as ‘Clusters’.
  • Funding will be provided to the new ‘Clusters’ to maintain community involvement and encourage joint working between areas with key partners.
  • Greater efforts will be made to ensure that Communities First areas are supported by a range of service providers and other Welsh Government programmes.
  • The management and support arrangements at local authority, regional and national levels will be reviewed in order to make them more consistent and cost effective. They will also have more resources devoted to delivery.
  • A New Outcomes Framework, using a Results-Based Accountability Model, will be introduced to ensure that the contribution of Communities First to tackling poverty can be shown more easily.

Cross-government coordination
Strengthening links between community action and strategic regeneration is one of the key aims of these changes. Huw Lewis AM, the Welsh Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage, has also signalled his desire for greater coordination between Communities First and future regeneration efforts.

There are presently several designated Strategic Regeneration Areas in Wales, including a large part of the South Wales Valley, several coastal Towns in North Wales, Swansea and Aberystwyth. There are presently Communities First partnerships in all of these areas, but the intention in future is that the regeneration and community action plans and spending will be much more closely aligned.