Britain Labour era New Deal For Communities program, a civic engagement centric revitalization initiative
I recently wrote two entries on what I would do were I in a position to create a revitalization agenda for a weak market Rust Belt city like St. Louis ("St. Louis: what would I recommend for a comprehensive revitalization program? | Part 1: Overview and Theoretical Foundations" and "St. Louis: what would I recommend for a comprehensive revitalization program? | Part 2: Implementation Approach and Levers").
Part of the proposal outlined a program driven by engaged citizens, with funding for citizen-conceptualized and implemented initiatives at the neighborhood scale.
That's what the UK New Deal Communities program was about, according to an article the Guardian, "If Johnson is serious about ‘levelling up’, he needs to look at what Labour got right."
Columnist Polly Toynbee discusses a recent report, Turnaround: How to regenerate Britain’s less prosperous communities by helping them take back control (full report), by the Conservative think tank Onward, which declares that the only real successful regeneration program in the UK (it doesn't mention the EU structural adjustment program that had great success in communities like Liverpool) in the last 25 years was the New Deal For Communities program created during the Blair era, and immediately junked by the Conservatives when they took office in 2010.
-- The New Deal for Communities Experience: A final assessment The New Deal for Communities Evaluation: Final report – Volume 7, UK Department for Communities and Local Government, 2010
From the article:
In 2000, the millennium era of exuberant social optimism, Labour launched an extraordinary experiment. Identifying the country’s 2,000 most deprived estates, just 39 were chosen as a regeneration testbed. NDCs focused on lifting people’s quality of life by giving them the power and the money. Each neighbourhood received a 10-year budget of £56m – electing their own resident-dominated boards.
The targets set were eye-wateringly ambitious: 100% of housing was to be repaired to “decent” standard, crime and unemployment to fall to national averages, child and adult education qualifications to reach the national average, along with health levels. At least 85% of residents were to feel “satisfied with their area” and three-quarters “involved” in their community. ...
At first there was no “community”, no organisations to build on, only a handful of volunteers who hired some professionals. But what galvanised people was the cheque placed in their own hands to follow their own priorities. They created 64 projects, from debt advice, job support and training, arts and sports for children, clubs for the lonely, a community centre, an annual festival, a bike repair training scheme, family outings – and undertook massive housing repairs. New wardens walked the streets and dozens of crack houses were shut down.
Of course, gains reversed when the program ended. A lesson not likely to have much impact on the Conservatives. From the article:
Nonetheless, Onward’s study of all 39 NDCs finds 77% saw deprivation fall relative to the national average. Where communities were most involved, deprivation fell fastest. Those “satisfied with their area” rose by 18 percentage points, employment up by 10 points. That’s remarkable.
But here’s what happened next. “Interestingly” the report notes, “many areas saw their improvement in the Index of Multiple Deprivation start to fall back after 2010.” That “interestingly” is Onward’s political caution: more than half the NDCs that caught up to their local authority average fell back again. Nor does this report take enough account of how NDCs benefited from services improving all around them: Clapham Park opened two Sure Start children’s centres, the NHS was getting 7% more a year, while school results rose with a boost to teacher numbers and spending. Post-2010 cuts to public services and benefits meant few NDCs sustained their gains.