Oral - The Communities Next Consultation
Today, the Assembly Government publishes its proposals for taking the Communities First programme forward. In 'One Wales’, we made a commitment to continued investment in Communities First. In doing this, we must celebrate and build on the achievements made across Wales under the programme to date.
Many Communities First partnerships across Wales are at the heart of regeneration projects in their communities. Examples of good practice include partnerships that are managing important community assets, such as community centres. They may be involved in the development of youth activities or in supporting Assembly policies, running healthy eating and cooking schemes, organising food co-ops, and organising Walking the Way to Health schemes. They may be involved in benefits take-up and debt advice.
They are also involved in many cases in skills training, both formal and informal. They are engaged in time-banking, and run environmental projects, from local clean-up activities and town centre brightening schemes to the Cydcoed forestry scheme. They promote local history and a sense of community pride, and work with local businesses to promote annual town carnivals.
However, we must also recognise that there is a need for strengthening the programme in key respects. The independent evaluation of the programme, published 18 months ago, made that clear. In particular, the Welsh Assembly Government’s view is that Communities First needs to have a clearer focus on addressing community regeneration in practical ways.
We will be looking to see successful evidence of programmes that are working with other partners, such as local authorities, local health boards and the police. Partnerships will have to agree a set of strategic priorities for their area, set out which outcomes are required to achieve improvement, and how they will work with local partners. To underpin this, we will develop and strengthen the delivery framework for Communities First, which is currently called the Communities First vision framework.
Currently, activities undertaken by Communities First partnerships must address six thematic areas: jobs and business; the environment; health and wellbeing; education and training; community safety; and active communities. Evidence shows that, with some notable exceptions, Communities First partnerships are less likely to focus activities on creating jobs, improving the employability of local people or generating income. We propose to revise the vision framework overall.
We will expect activities aimed at developing jobs and business to improve income generation within their communities. In addition, we will look at what can be done to strengthen the links between Communities First and town centre regeneration. Finally, we will add a new theme of tackling child poverty.
The Communities First programme is dependent on communities being active; therefore, the notion of active communities should underpin the whole programme rather than being a theme in itself. Partnerships have asked the Welsh Assembly Government to make clear what is expected from Communities First in its next phase and also to ensure that other key stakeholders, especially statutory service providers, play their part in delivering shared objectives.
As highlighted in the evaluation of the programme, the success of Communities First is often dependent on the active engagement - or bending - of mainstream programme resources. It is essential that the main services and programmes of the Assembly Government, its agencies and local authorities deliver long-term sustainable regeneration and decent public services for all.
In order to support effective programme bending and the mainstreaming of successful projects, we will seek to establish a new outcomes fund. Bids to the fund will be led by Communities First partnerships, working in co-operation with local service providers. We will expect these projects to show real evidence of engaging the statutory sector in delivering its services more effectively and more appropriately to people in Communities First areas. Service providers will be expected to demonstrate commitment to the programme by providing additional and equal resources throughout the activity.
We do not intend to lose the essential nature of Communities First as a community-led programme, dependent for its success on increasing citizen engagement. Indeed, our view is that the term 'Communities First’ should continue to be used at a local level. Citizen engagement is not an end in itself; it is a means to engage local people in the planning and delivery of innovative local solutions to local problems. Communities must be involved for a purpose.
We want to see a greater proportion of the Communities First budget going directly to Communities First partnerships. We are therefore reviewing the wide-ranging support arrangements that have been in place since the beginning of the programme. As partnerships develop, they should have less need for external support and we will be looking to switch that spending to the front line.
We will also take action to deal with partnerships that are failing. The consultation document suggests a number of critical success factors by which progress may be judged. These include, for example, external funding levered into communities from outside the Communities First programme.
Successful partnerships face different challenges and often aspire to become social enterprises. We have commissioned a review of our social enterprise strategy and will publish a revised social enterprise action plan later this year. The most successful partnerships will be encouraged to provide support to other Communities First areas. The consultation document sets out our proposals in more detail and invites key stakeholders to discuss and comment before the work is taken forward. Following the completion of the consultation, Communities First partnerships will be invited to submit applications for funding in line with the principles of Communities Next for the three years from 2009 to 2012.
I thank the external members of the task and finish group, Professor Dave Adamson, Barbara Castle, Anne Delaney, Roger Tarling and Dr Tim Williams, for their contribution. As we say in the document, we want to see a real translation of power and wealth to people in the poorest communities in particular. I commend this consultation document to the Assembly.