Lessons Learnt: The impossible task facing Communities First

 (Title Image: Daily Post)

Communities Committee
Communities First: Lessons Learnt (pdf)
Published: 25th July 2017

Chair’s Statement – John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East):

“We know just how valued Communities First projects are within their communities….We, therefore, decided to examine the decision to end the programme, but more importantly consider the lessons that could be learnt….for future anti-poverty programmes.”

Key Recommendations:

  • Local authorities should decide what projects can be delivered by other bodies after Communities First closes, and the Welsh Government clarifies how long “legacy funding” will be provided.
  • All anti-poverty measures should be brought together into a single anti-poverty strategy, with clear performance measures that are the same throughout Wales.
  • In future, employment support should cover all stages, including people who’ve just returned to work.
  • The Welsh Government needs to consider the impact the closure of Communities First will have on other government programmes.

Communities First – the Welsh Government’s flagship anti-poverty scheme – is being phased out after 15 years and £425million. The programme focused on the 52 poorest neighbourhoods of Wales.

Despite success varying from one place to another, it was agreed Communities First faced “an impossible task” in trying to reduce the grinding, entrenched poverty in certain communities.

There was a criticism of how the closure was announced by Communities Secretary, Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside). Staff heard the news via the media and the subsequent uncertainty over funding and individual programmes have had a negative impact on staff morale and service users. The Communities Secretary apologised.

Communities First focused on what is described as the “Three E’s”: Employability, Early Years and Empowerment. As Communities First winds down, the transition period will focus on employability and early years – finding/keeping jobs and a good childhood being seen as key to breaking the poverty cycle.

“Empowerment” has long been poorly understood by all involved. This meant bodies like local councils didn’t have an idea of what they should be doing in this regard – the goal of “empowering people out of poverty” being seen as nothing but hot air.

The “Three E’s” approach also neglects groups who were just as affected by poverty: children aged 5-16, the elderly, childless people and those who require more significant support to get them job ready.

One of the biggest weaknesses was that we have no idea how the scheme performed. There were no set goals the scheme had to hit to be considered a success, neither was there particularly good data collection. The Committee fear this will be repeated in the future as it’s a running theme and criticism that crops up in many inquiries.

Another big concern is that buildings and services developed via Communities First may be lost when the funding ends. The Bevan Foundation suggested that the most successful projects be funded directly by the Welsh Government, but it’s still unclear what would happen to the rest.

Communities First “acted as the glue” that holds together different anti-poverty schemes such as Flying Start, work programmes etc. The Committee were worried that when Communities First ends, it’ll make these related programmes less effective, so the Welsh Government needs to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Comment

Communities First was supposed to be different; a “little government’s big idea”.

This was going to be a uniquely Welsh “bottom up” approach which would break the poverty cycle by addressing issues person-by-person on their doorstep.

We don’t know whether it worked or not. Poverty is more a disease of society than something that has a quick fix. There’s statistical poverty where people don’t have enough money, but it’s also related to how the economy works, a sense of nihilism in post-industrial communities, how people are able to get around and a lack of access to basic necessities.

You eliminate poverty when a government gets all those big things right, not just the little things like childcare, IT classes and CV polishing.