Thursday, April 7, 2011
COMMUNITIES FIRST OR LAST?
Given the row that has erupted today over the alleged future of the Communities First scheme, it is worth noting the conclusion of the Assembly's public accounts committee last year, which stated that Communities First "has not delivered good value for the significant amount of public money spent on it".
According to the Committee, this was largely a result of "weaknesses in the Welsh government's construction and management of the programme...we are particularly concerned that the Welsh government provides insufficient direction to service providers and is not adequately monitoring the programme."
Indeed, the Committee was spot on on the deteriorating state of the programme, although this is hardly news to those of us who have been commenting on this area.
For example, back in July 2007, I noted that "the (Communities First) programme has been accused of adopting a top down approach that has largely focused on the administration of the programme and becoming yet another bureaucratic jungle for individuals and communities to navigate through. Such organisational and operational problems have culminated in the scandalous position of £6 million of Communities First funds allocated to our poorest communities being returned unspent to the Assembly Government last year (2006)".
As an article in the Economist from a year ago pointed out, the biggest obstacle in developing poorer communities is likely to be the inertia of the bureaucratic, rule-bound public sector. It also notes that success may depend on the emergence of a subgroup of social entrepreneur that (are called) “civic entrepreneurs”, who can navigate the treacherous waters of bureaucracy.
Given the difficulties within social enterprise programme such as Communities First, the question is not whether we have such civic entrepreneurs in Wales, but whether any are ready to put their heads about the parapet and make a difference within their local communities?
More relevantly, will the civil service in WAG become less anally retentive about their micro-managerial approach to any type of community that receives public money?