Community groups fear ‘single pot’ will end social regeneration funding

Government officials failed to convince
delegates at the Urban Forum conference on neighbourhood renewal in
Brighton last week that spending on social regeneration would be
maintained once the “single pot” for physical, social and economic
regeneration starts in April 2002.

In late March the single regeneration budget
(SRB), introduced in 1994 to provide resources for regeneration
initiatives in England, will cease. Instead, the money will be
combined with other regeneration programme funds in a “single pot”,
managed by the nine regional development agencies (RDAs).

Guidance from the Department of Trade and
Industry states that this “holistic approach” will make scarce
resources work harder, and that a single budget will increase
flexibility and enable the RDAs to “eliminate artificial divisions
of effort”.

However, voluntary sector and community
representatives said they were concerned that the RDAs would focus
too much on physical and economic regeneration, and that social
projects would miss out.

Urban Forum policy development officer
Caroline Bond said it was unlikely that RDAs would back things that
were not considered economic development given their links with the
business sector.

“No money is ring-fenced within RDAs,” Bond
said. “They have a lot of freedom to spend money on what they want.
Community and voluntary sector groups have said they are really

A survey carried out by Urban Forum in
February found that only two of the nine RDAs – Yorkshire Forward
and Advantage West Midlands – said they would honour existing

But junior minister for regeneration Sally
Keeble told the conference that RDAs would continue to support
existing projects set up under rounds one to six of the SRB.

“RDAs are responsible for economic
regeneration,” Keeble said. “But that does not mean they should
steer clear of social regeneration. The guidance says social
regeneration should be an integral part.”

Delegates voiced concern that the RDAs’
measures of poverty were too employment-focused and would not
measure reduction in poverty where returning to work was not an
option, for example for some single parent families.

– Regeneration minister Lord Falconer
announced £21.6m last week for a skills and knowledge scheme
to support deprived neighbourhoods in England. The money will
include £10m for community learning chests to be added to the
Community Chest programme from April 2002 to help the community and
voluntary sector, acquire the skills they need to help transform
their neighbourhoods.

Groups feel isolated from

More than a third of local voluntary and
community groups in the 88 most deprived areas of England have
stated that their involvement in setting up local strategic
partnerships and local neighbourhood renewal strategies had been
below average or poor.

Sixty-two local groups from across the country
responded to a questionnaire sent out by Urban Forum, a national
voluntary organisation dedicated to supporting community and
voluntary sector involvement in regeneration and renewal.

Two-thirds of respondents said they were aware
how the neighbourhood renewal fund would be spent in their area
this year, but that they had had no involvement in the spending
decisions made. Almost half were not aware of any community or
voluntary groups who would benefit from the NRF.

One in five groups said there was no agreement
with the regional government office as to how Community Chest money
would be delivered. Other concerns related to impossible
timetables, the general lack of information and understanding, and
local authorities controlling the decision-making processes.

The survey’s findings were reinforced at the
Urban Forum conference, where delegates said they were disappointed
that this year’s neighbourhood renewal fund had been distributed to
local authorities before LSPs had been established.

Camden Council’s regeneration manager Seema
Manchanda said the £9m neighbourhood renewal fund distracted
LSPs, whose main purpose was to identify local priorities to spend
their mainstream budgets on together. “They focus on the £9m
instead of the bigger issues,” she said.

Voluntary and community groups who were not
part of a larger forum or umbrella group also expressed their
annoyance at the difficulties they had had accessing funds or
receiving information in relation to the neighbourhood renewal

Andre Schott of Fitzrovia Youth in Action,
Camden, said: “The only people getting into it are the big
organisations who receive a lot of statutory funding. We are
getting the crumbs.”

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