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Centre for Regeneration Excellence Wales sponsorship feature

It’s been a very depressing few months for anyone engaged in regeneration in the UK as we have seen the consequences of expenditure cuts bite deep, even before the Comprehensive Spending Review results are announced. Abolition of the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) in England will see much of the economic regeneration work of the last ten years come to an end and their replacement by county level Local Enterprise Partnerships effectively removes regional policy and replaces it with the new ‘localism’. As a long-term champion of local decision-making and empowerment, I feel I should be rejoicing at the dawn of a new age of ‘people power’, but the new reality is one of local authority and business sector control where there is no space for community participation which is what the term localism previously referred to.

A collateral consequence of the abolition of the RDAs is the demise of the majority of the Centres for Regeneration Excellence in England. With only South West and the Scottish Centre for Regeneration surviving beyond this financial year, the recent meeting of the Sustainable Communities of Excellence Network (SCEN) was a depressing affair in which very little of the role of the Centres has been passed on to legacy organisations. When I first took up post with CREW, SCEN provided a vital background for me to begin the design of CREW and I received great personal support from network members. It now feels a much lonelier world in which an infant CREW is trying to establish itself.

Add to this the collapsed budget of the Homes and Communities Agencies, the demise of BURA, the welfare reform budget cuts of £11billion and you’d be forgiven for finding it hard to get up in the morning. The fact that much of what I have referred to is happening in England is no comfort and only adds to the sense of living through a ‘phoney war’ in Wales. The reality will hit when we are able to trace through the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) on funding in Wales. As I write this anticipating its consequences, we can only be sure that major challenges lie ahead.

It is also ironic that the cuts in regeneration activity always occur during recession when in fact regeneration becomes more essential. The lessons of the 1980s are that public expenditure cuts hit our poorest communities hardest and they are the first to experience recession and the last to recover. Indeed, for those who work in the field, it is self-evident that we are still trying to renew communities in Wales that were the casualties of the 1980s.

This brings me to the theme of this issue of WHQ. The young people who experience this recession as they leave school and try to enter the labour market will, without clear support mechanisms and a rigorous policy response, be the long-term victims of the public expenditure cuts. The transition from school to work is one of the most important determinants of the trajectory we will follow as life progresses. Failure to enter the world of work at this critical point shapes a future of unemployment, precarious employment and high risk of poverty. Current school leavers face fierce competition for work against the already experienced unemployed and university graduates who now reach further into the parts of the labour market usually occupied by the less skilled and unqualified school leavers. For those young people from our poorest communities with low educational attainment, this is a competition impossible to win.

CREW will be conducting research over the next 6 months examining school to work transitions in four areas of Wales to derive a better understanding of the problems facing young people in a recession.

So what can we do in the face of such a depressing context for regeneration? In the words of Joe Hill, the 1930s USA Trade Union activist, ‘don’t mourn-organise’. Now more than ever, it is a time to make every action achieve its maximum impact. Planned, co-ordinated and multi-disciplinary regeneration actions are now required to make the delivery of integrated and sustainable regeneration activity a reality. Deputy Minister for Housing and Regeneration, Jocelyn Davies AM will announce a new Regeneration Framework for Wales at the Regeneration Wales Conference (see www.iwa.org.uk/events) in Cardiff on the 20 October 2010, the same day as the CSR results. At the time of writing, we don’t yet know its shape and contours, but inputs from the consultation have stressed the need to integrate and unify WAG programmes and deliver a far more holistic approach to regeneration which combines physical and economic regeneration with approaches that tackle health, educational and housing inequalities. In a time of recession, regeneration is more than ever a matter of social justice. We all need to throw our efforts in unison behind the process of protecting and regenerating our most disadvantaged areas.

Central to this will be maximising the regeneration impact of all mainstream spending in Wales. The housing sector has shown the way in the Can do Toolkit. If public expenditure is focused to develop the local economy, major economic impact can be achieved. This aspiration will be in tension with the pressure to buy cheapest and to combine in consortia to source procurement savings from large UK and national suppliers. The case must be made for an accountancy model which includes calculation of the Social Return on Investment (SROI) so that the true impact of the way we spend can be fully appreciated.

CREW news

CREW held a recent event in collaboration with the Design Commission for Wales and Cynon Taf Community Housing Group. The event ‘People and Place. Tackling the Valleys Housing Challenge.’ focused on an area of low housing demand. Following a tour of the area, delegates broke into groups to conduct a physical and social design exercise. The physical design workshop was directed by Noel Isherwood an architect, urban designer and advisor on ‘Low Carbon Communities’.

He developed the Poundbury Series whilst in the role of Poundbury Representative at the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment. The social design workshop was led by Dave Adamson. Delegates developed a series of potential solutions to some of the problems identified and a report will be placed on the CREW website in due course (www.regenwales.org).

This event is very representative of the programme of future events currently in planning and a full programme will be posted on the CREW website once dates are finalised.

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