A SURF ‘Food for Thought’ lunch event was held in July 2010 on the theme of ‘How Can We Make More Effective Early Interventions in Vulnerable Communities to Deliver Long-Term Regeneration’.

This event followed on from the SURF Open Forum on the same theme held in the preceding May.

The range of guests on this occasion contained a strong element of international contributors – including respected representatives with Canadian, African and Nordic experience. Participants’ contributions were of a high quality, with time running out on discussion.

Participants were generally agreed that

  • Much of Scottish society still carries on with an assumption that everybody grows up in a home with two parents who are fully employed, either as dedicated parents at home, or in the labour force. The realities that disprove this perspective are one justification for early intervention
  • The way in which Scotland has held to it’s system of starting school at age five or six has perpetuated social stratification and unjust inequality. At those ages the disadvantages are already built in for some children whilst the advantages are already built in for others – another justification for early intervention
  • There are arguments for early intervention being taken into even earlier stages – and why is it not more accurately labelled as ‘prevention’ rather than early intervention? There were, however, some warnings offered from the Scandinavia experience where authoritarian intervention and punitive labelling, it was claimed, is commonplace
  • The need to be pragmatic about the realities of policy and practice in the current economic scenario; perhaps best summed up by the statement, “We are driven by performance measures, budgets and sadly we are controlled by accountants…”
  • Nevertheless, there are grounds for optimism about much of the successes that are going on in the field of Scottish community regeneration and the role of early intervention. Even the recession was seen as a ‘wake-up call’ on the need to acknowledge where the old and conventional approaches just don’t work and that there are alternatives
  • More controversially and in a wider public expenditure restraint context, there is a need for strong public sector leadership if the necessary resources for (preventative) early intervention are to be redeployed from other, seemingly more pressing, short-term responding to crisis needs
  • That there are formidable challenges in seeking to change damaging cultures and behaviours among individual people in the face of ‘the consumer society’.

More diverse and contrasting views were expressed around arguments for and against better public policy support for people involved in very local community structures, networks and cultures as partners in public service delivery. Ongoing discussions with SURF’s partners at the Scottish Government’s SCR are aimed making the best possible use of the Open Forum and networking programme in supporting policy considerations in these challenging times for regeneration.

The intention is to focus closely on a limited number of regeneration policy themes over the remainder of the year 2010/11. This will involve some more targeted direction of the programme and SURF will keep readers briefed in subsequent editions of Scotregen on these developments.