Regeneration demands co-ordination

16 Sep 99
Short-termism and vague targets set by councils are hampering innovative work on regeneration and economic development, the Audit Commission warned this week.

17 September 1999

Despite spending some £322m a year on economic development, councils in England and Wales compete with a wide range of agencies, often failing to deliver help to unemployed people and small businesses in their area.

Richard Brown, the author of the Audit Commission's report, A life's work, said many authorities made genuine efforts to regenerate their communities, but the complexity of national schemes exacerbated poorly planned strategies.

Brown called for a 'simplified' national framework. 'At the moment, there are 38 different regional and area-based initiatives,' he said. 'To compete for these funds, councils must spend a lot of time and money planning initiatives and forming partnerships. But there is a need for more co-ordination and better strategic planning from authorities.'

The report highlights 'a chaotic situation of competition in some areas that is undermining efforts to foster economic regeneration'.

Brown conceded that a certain amount of competition is healthy but he warned: 'There are some ridiculous situations where neighbouring authorities spend large amounts of money and administrative time competing against each other for funding, which is not a sensible situation.'

However, councils themselves are to blame for badly targeted economic development strategies, according to the watchdog.

Brown found 'questionable use of strategic analysis', with many councils embarking on a regeneration strategy based on 'woolly thinking and poor use of evidence'.

Tony Rich, a policy officer from the Local Government Association, backed the call to simplify the bidding system. He said: 'We would like to see more flexibility for councils to use mainstream funding for regeneration projects as well as cutting red tape to make administration easier.'

The LGA has launched a campaign for a less complex system to fund regeneration, which it said would end the short-term approach.

Rich added: 'We need to experiment with different forms of funding because the current system of bidding encourages the short-term approach'.


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