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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Why Communities First will not be mourned

When I blogged less than three weeks ago on the need for an effective Welsh anti-poverty programme I did so in the knowledge that the Welsh Government's flagship Communities First scheme was on the verge of being phased out. Yesterday the Minister confirmed that was the case.

Communities First has consumed more than £300 million of public money in its 15 year life and yet, despite some isolated schemes which seemed to have an impact, it failed in its unltimate objective of raising the communities it was targeting out of poverty.

In my view it was poorly focussed and improperly monitored. There were no proper meausures in place to determine how effective that expenditure was in improving educational, health or employment outcomes in the communities where the money was spent. And often it seemed as if the Welsh Government were just creating a self-perpetuating network of community workers so as to give the appearance of action.

Ultimately, Communities First failed because Welsh Ministers insisted on directing it centrally. It would have made far more sense to deliver a scheme administered by local councils, tailored to their particular circumstances. In that way the expenditure of £300m could have been coordinated with other local initiatives and we would have got far more bang for our buck.

Whatever replaces Communities First, I think that the odds are it will not be as well funded. That is because the announcement yesterday was, in my view, more about budget cuts than an acknowledgement of failure.

For that reason, the successor scheme has to be better aligned with existing programmes both national such as the pupil premium, healthy community initiatives, and Jobs Growth Wales, and local, such as regeneration schemes, housing and education programmes and employment and training initiatives.

It should be controlled by councils not remote civil servants in Cardiff Bay, and have clear, measurable objectives with proper perfomance indicators. And it should be part of an effective cross-cutting anti-poverty strategy that actually seeks to improve outcomes for people rather than alleviate the symptoms.

That is a tall order but it is the least we can expect from the Welsh Government. It is time for devolutoin to start delivering. This is an opportunity for Ministers to show that they really can make a difference.
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