Local problem-solving

Unlovely the phrase may be, but area-based initiatives have become
the hallmark of this government’s programme to tackle poverty and
social exclusion. Contrary to the more extreme claims made by MPs
on the House of Commons urban affairs committee in their latest
report, ABIs have not been entirely bad news for the communities
they have sought to rejuvenate. But it is still true to say that
there are far too many of them, despite the best efforts of the
regional co-ordination unit established by the government to
contain the monster which it had itself set loose.

MPs on the committee are right to suggest that more regeneration
schemes should be initiated locally as this would help to counter
the community rivalries which they say contributed to racial unrest
in some northern cities last year. Among other things such a move
might help to galvanise local strategic partnerships, many of which
have started sluggishly. It would also be in keeping with the
government’s professed aim of restoring more power and autonomy to
local authorities.

Sure Start, one of the more successful ABIs, is set to be
“mainstreamed” within local authorities by 2010. Having pointed the
way ahead, many of the 22 other ABIs, including the Children’s
Fund, education and health action zones and the New Deal for
Communities, will be wise to follow suit.

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