As stated in his networking report on page 15, SURF’s Edward Harkins convened three Food For Thought events at the request of the Scottish Government earlier this year. This short series was SURF’s main contribution so far to the regeneration policy discussion process instigated by Scottish Government in February 2011 with the launch of the Regeneration Discussion Paper, ‘Building a sustainable future’.
A wide range of SURF contact stakeholders from across the regeneration field in Scotland participated in the series. The intention was to draw out and debate their informed views on the paper’s three main themes.
Some of the core and recurrent matters that arose included:
- In the current challenging climate of change, and upheaval it is vital to retain a sufficient shared clarity, consistency and coherence on what is meant by ‘regeneration’ – and by the all too often confused terms of, ‘community’, ‘community-led regeneration’, ‘community engagement etc.
- Where does addressing poverty lie in Scottish regeneration thinking and practice? To what extent has policy been about defining poverty as purely income and wealth related – and undervaluing aspects of wellbeing and quality of life? Public funding must include an adequate ‘preventative investment’ element aimed at avoiding problems and related expenditure occurring again and again in future.
- There are probably significant untapped resources for community level activity to be obtained from the private sector where it has a local community presence. The aim has to be to combine the best of what the community and voluntary and private sectors can offer at community level.
- There is general goodwill and support expressed by many participants for local authorities. Most local authorities are seen as being good on localism and reflecting the diversity of their communities. On the other hand, many participants also saw local authorities as not so good on engaging at the very local scale and as struggling to understand the ‘functionality of neighbourhood’.
- Community Planning is recognised as an asset and an improvement on what went on before in public services; but on engagement with the public and with communities, the outcomes are very varied and tend to the unsatisfactory.
- More effective and transparent prioritisation in public investment in regeneration and infrastructure is essential. From a private sector perspective, markets need clarity, whereas a broader economic vision is seen as currently lacking. For example, is there a definitional difference between local and national regeneration? If so, what is it?
- Scottish Government could help simplify some of the channels to and from the large institutional fund managers and the front-line deliverers of regeneration. There were seen to be dangers of big decisions, based on big projects and big funding, all being taken without proper process, effectiveness or accountability
- One potentially productive way forward, was better project viability testing. This has long been talked about as being integral to investment decisions in infrastructure and regeneration. The reality, many participants asserted, has been far different.
- The importance of clarity of language around money. ‘Finance’ is appropriate where the project is likely to make a profit; ‘funding’ may be appropriate if the project is seen as important but unlikely to generate monetary profit.
- Property investment in the UK is becoming ever more concentrated in cities – part of the new ‘economic geography’. Examples included how, in Glasgow and Edinburgh, retail property demand has doubled in recent years, but in Stirling, Dunfermline other places have seen a complete fall to almost zero.
- Notwithstanding the problems in sourcing other funding, large scale money could be made available through the European Union (EU) Joint European Support for Sustainable Investment in City Areas (JESSICA). Further opportunities with the European Investment Bank could also be exploited. The continuing attributes of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) were also praised. The ERDF was described as having recognised the importance of urban regeneration, and as having built on its experience incrementally and consistently for its duration.