News analysis on neighbourhood renewal and agency workers

Regeneration is the
name of the game

The Neighbourhood Renewal Unit is charged with ensuring that,
within 20 years at most, nobody should be disadvantaged by where
they live. Lauren Revans reports on who the key players are and how
they aim to do it.

Joe Montgomery has undoubtedly spent some time pondering the
recent riots in Burnley. As head of the government’s new
Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, the clashes will have served as a
timely reminder of the sheer scale of the task facing him.

After three consecutive nights of unrest in the Lancashire town,
questions were being asked about underlying issues of social
deprivation and fractured communities – the same questions raised
in previous weeks about Oldham, Leeds and Bradford – as analysts
searched for the root causes behind this summer’s string of
race-related clashes.

The Commission for Racial Equality was quick to call for
“leadership on the ground” and for marginalised white and Asian
communities to be given a reason to believe in a future in which
everyone will have a role.

“Hope, ambition and enterprise must replace frustration and
alienation,” insists CRE chairperson Gurbux Singh. “Public money
needs to be spent more fairly and more effectively. Not all
regeneration projects are properly directed. People in these
communities feel that money is being spent but no one really

“Unemployment remains at high levels for some and housing
conditions are appalling,” Singh adds. “Facilities for young people
are often totally inadequate.”

All four troubled northern towns feature in the government’s
neighbourhood hit list of the 81 most deprived local authorities,
compiled according to Indices of Deprivation 2000 measures.
Compared to the rest of the country, these areas have twice as many
people dependent on means-tested benefits, 30 per cent higher
mortality rates, three times more child poverty, and 70 per cent of
all English ethnic minority residents.

Montgomery and his unit are charged with narrowing this gap so
that “within 10 to 20 years, no one should be seriously
disadvantaged by where they live”. A further seven areas identified
as requiring “transitional protection” are also in line for

The government’s action plan on neighbourhood renewal was
published in January,1 effectively laying out the NRU’s
mission statement. The strategy outlines a new approach to tackling
deprivation in the 88 areas through new local strategic
partnerships (LSPs), greater involvement of local communities, a
£900 million three-year neighbourhood renewal fund,
neighbourhood management schemes, and minimum floor targets.

The floor targets set specific deadlines for eliminating
substandard social housing, lowering burglary rates, improving
educational attainment of all children, lowering child mortality
rates and increasing life expectancy, and raising employment

The NRU’s own policy statement, published three months later
when the unit was formally launched, went on to highlight the
unit’s key role in policing the strategy’s implementation and
progress to ensure that all parties were playing by the

“Effective implementation will depend on good management and
development of the strategy not only in Whitehall, but throughout
the public sector and the community,” it warns. “The Neighbourhood
Renewal Unit will be responsible for co-ordinating and monitoring
these processes, and ensuring that they have a decisive and durable
effect upon deprived neighbourhoods across England.”

As part of its policing responsibilities, the NRU will meet
senior civil servants in the key departments shortly to make sure
that floor targets are being “owned and addressed”, and to help
them develop programmes and structures that cut across departmental

“The ambition is to work collaboratively with the departments to
find joined-up ways of intervening with the problems that they can
then mainstream into their routine provision,” Montgomery

He is keen to stress the importance of not just harnessing the
commitment and will of the people at the top, but finding practical
interventions that will deliver change on the ground. He wants to
see joined-up thinking among service providers on what their
priorities are, who their services are supposed to be reaching, and
how they can make their work “mutually reinforcing”.

“We have to engage with them, mostly to get people at the front
end of the process – people who are working in neighbourhoods – to
have less regard for organisational boundaries and think much more
collaboratively,” he says.

Montgomery has already appointed 65 people to the NRU and
intends to employ a further 30 within the next few weeks. He is at
pains to point out that his team members have backgrounds covering
a wide range of sectors and services and have not simply been
transferred from other central government offices.

“We have tried wherever possible to advertise these jobs outside
of Whitehall because we want a range of skills, talents, networks,
and expertise,” he boasts.

Montgomery comes with impressive regeneration credentials. He
was formerly executive director for regeneration at Lewisham
Council, south London, and prior to that spent four years in the
Department of Trade and Industry’s Inner City Taskforce and two
years as chief executive of Deptford City Challenge.

He describes one of his most important achievements as his
involvement in an early experiment in neighbourhood management. The
project was set up to improve co-ordination of a broad range of
public and voluntary sector agencies working on a troubled and
deeply unpopular estate in Lewisham.

“The residents felt as though mainstream service providers
didn’t care about their issues and their problems. I chaired and
pulled together a large group which included council officials,
probation service providers, and a whole range of social care
providers, not least from the voluntary sector, to try and address
the community’s agenda.

“Over time we managed to tackle not only the practical day to
day problems of cleanliness and the physical environment, but also
sort out severely ingrained problems to do with drug dealing. Over
the years we helped them to transform the reputation of the
neighbourhood, so residents didn’t feel stigmatised by where they

Based in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the
Regions, the NRU will be supported by new neighbourhood renewal
teams in each of England’s seven regional government offices. Six
million pounds has been spent on preparing regional office staff
for their new neighbourhood renewal roles, which will include
accrediting and supporting LSPs, administering funds, and providing
feedback on what is going on locally.

Montgomery rejects the suggestion that developing LSPs from
existing partnerships could lead to undemocratic and
unrepresentative boards. He argues instead that, while existing
partnerships can definitely be used as a base, they will have no
choice but to change and broaden their membership if they are to
meet accreditation criteria. Crucially, an effective LSP will also
be a condition of receipt of money from the neighbourhood renewal
fund for the 88 eligible authorities.

“It’s important for the government offices in the various
regions, when accrediting LSPs, to ensure that there is a genuine
sense of partnership rather than just the usual suspects dominating
the proceedings,” Montgomery explains. He is convinced that, as
long as checks are in place to ensure the voluntary and community
sectors in particular are not squeezed out, LSPs will be fair –
even if they can’t always offer every interested party a seat at
the table.

Over the past few weeks the NRU has approved 20 additional New
Deal for the Communities partnerships, launched the Community
Empowerment Fund, and produced guidance on LSP formation.
Montgomery’s immediate goals for the NRU are now launching the
Community Chests, setting up a number of neighbourhood management
pathfinders, and creating an advisory “community taskforce” of
around 30 specialists from a range of sectors.

Community Chests, worth a total £50 million over three
years, will provide small grants to formal and informal community
groups to support community activity and mutual self-help within
the targeted deprived areas. Yet, despite the fact that voluntary
LSPs are likely to be set up far beyond the 88 areas, support for
community and voluntary groups is unlikely to be available further

Montgomery admits that there is a conflict between focusing
resources on a very specific set of locations and seeing dramatic
results, and casting your net more widely with reduced impact. But
he has resigned himself to the fact that the NRU’s is restricted to
tackling the “deeply ingrained social exclusion problems in the 88
most deprived areas” only.

Montgomery’s longer-term vision is of LSPs providing a wider
framework through which more specific partnerships can build
relationships, share thinking, and broker across agencies,
cross-cutting priorities as well as cross-cutting responses to the
most acute problems.

“It’s important to regard LSPs as broad overarching partnerships
that provide a proper nexus for all of the mainstream institutions
to think about what the priorities are for them, and provide a
forum for the local authority to share things about its community
plan and its neighbourhood renewal strategy,” he explains.

Looking ahead to the arrival of the voluntary care trusts
outlined in the Health and Social Care Act 2001, Montgomery adds:
“The LSPs should be an asset to the emerging health partnerships.
They should provide an opportunity for the health partnerships to
draw in the support of other mainstream bodies that are critical to
the delivery of their cause.

“One would hope that, over time, the relationships would be
sufficiently strong for there to be a better alignment between the
various partnerships. If at a local level they could find ways to
streamline these partnerships to make it easier or simpler, then my
colleagues in Whitehall would always be keen to listen.”

1 Social Exclusion Unit, A New Commitment
to Neighbourhood Renewal: National Strategy Action Plan,

Cabinet Office, 2001

2 DETR, Neighbourhood Renewal Unit Policy
, Department of the Environment, Transport and the
Regions, April 2001


Ruling boosts temping option

Improved holiday rights for agency workers have made temporary
employment even more attractive. But could it make employing
permanent staff harder still for councils and agencies, asks Ruth

The old adage about the greenest grass being found on the other
side of the fence must suddenly seems very pertinent to the
dwindling number of permanent staff working in social services

Ten years ago most permanent workers enjoyed the sort of
benefits that would have been unthinkable for an agency temp.
Exceptional job security, non-contributory pensions, paid holidays
and generous sick leave meant that the insecurity of temping was
considered a last resort.

How times have changed. Social care stafff are in demand, and
the burgeoning number of specialist social care recruitment
agencies are able to negotiate hard on behalf of those willing to
stick their toe into the boiling hot job market. As a result many
agency staff enjoy extremely favourable employment terms.

The danger of getting burned as an agency worker, for instance
by a period of unemployment, has also receded in recent years.
There are thousands of jobs available, and agencies are offering a
variety of perks and incentives to staff, including paid leave,
income guarantees and generous bonuses.

Now a ruling by the European Court of Justice has narrowed the
pay and conditions “gap” between permanent work and temping even
more. The ruling, made last week, overturns UK law that insists
that staff have to work for the same employer for an uninterrupted
13 weeks before starting to accrue holiday. Instead, staff will be
entitled to paid leave from day one – so that someone who works for
a month full-time will be entitled to two days paid leave.

While no one bemoans temporary staff their holiday, the upshot
for local authorities and other employers who rely on agency staff
to fill gaps, or even to provide entire services, could be serious.
It will inevitably increase costs – and it would be naive to expect
agencies to absorb those costs rather than passing them on to
customers. But it also raises the spectre of managers having to
hire temporary staff to cover other temporary staff who are on

Steve Mullins is general manager of Social Workline, an agency
specialising in residential and field social workers, both
qualified and unqualified. He says that the agency saw the writing
on the wall in terms of paid leave some time ago, and it has
already budgeted for the additional costs generated by the European
ruling. But he admits that many other agencies, particularly
smaller outfits, are likely to feel the pinch.

“For us it won’t cause a problem, but for smaller agencies I
think it may be difficult. If you have only 40 or 50 people on your
books and 10 of them want to go on holiday you may run into

Mullins acknowledges that the ruling could make working for
agencies more appealing for fed-up permanent staff. “The
differential between permanent and agency work is being gradually
eroded. In a local authority, you can be the best social worker on
a team – alongside other people who may not be quite as good – and
you will all get paid the same regardless, which hurts.”

“Agencies can bargain about your value, and you can go to
interviews and say ‘I want this much money’ and turn down anyone
who doesn’t offer you what you want.”

Lisa Christennsen is director of social services for the London
Borough of Lambeth. More than a third of her staff are provided by
agencies, a situation that will be replicated in many other London
boroughs. “The preliminary advice from my HR guru is that it will
mean higher agency costs – as it will be the employing agency who
will have to meet the commitments on leave,” she says. “Across the
whole department we’re running at about 28 per cent agency staff in
terms of management and social workers,” she says, “and it varies
from 17 per cent in day care, to 58 per cent of home care staff. It
could be difficult.”

“Potentially this ruling makes us even less competitive as an
employer,” Christensen admits. But she argues: “Rather than
thinking of it as major doom and gloom, I think we should be
looking at the way people want to work now. The days of expecting
to have 100 or even 80 per cent of posts filled are long gone.

“People like the idea of having flexible, ‘portfolio-type’
careers, they want to be able to develop their skills, and they
won’t work for bad employers,” she adds. “The message for us is
that, in a highly competitive market, we have to address the way
people want to work – which could mean setting up internal
agencies, or offering different incentives and flexible work

It seems unlikely that long-serving staff will desert their
posts en-masse to take up insecure temporary jobs as a result of
this ruling. But there is an issue here for employers. A constantly
changing succession of temporary faces brings its own set of
problems – such as keeping tabs on professional competency, about
ensuring that service users are protected. If we accept that a
transient social care workforce is not good for clients, employers
are going to have to find novel and ingenious ways of persuading
staff to stick around.

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