Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more


  • Comment
By our political correspondent, Mithran Samuel ...
By our political correspondent, Mithran Samuel

The narrative of government centralism underwent an ironic twist in last

week's report on the progress of the New Deal for Communities programme, as local government took the role of micro-managing villain.

In an ODPM-commissioned study, Sheffield Hallam University's Professor Paul Lawless found that council bureaucracy, protectionism over service areas and an unwillingness to let go had hampered a number of the 39 community projects aimed at regenerating some of the country's poorest areas.

The report comes with a warning sticker - namely that the success of the 10-year programmes, started in 1998 and 1999 at an overall cost of £2bn, requires a much longer-term perspective.

And its overall stance is cautiously optimistic. It suggests partnership building and community engagement have, to some extent, laid the foundations for delivering the government's Herculean goal - the narrowing of the gap in social outcomes between these areas and their more affluent neighbours.

However, with the funding stream to tackle such lofty ambitions being limited, the relationship between council and NDC scheme is a vital barometer of success.

Without councils on board, the schemes will fail to be mainstreamed into future public funding and provision.

On the other hand, the alienation of NDCs will call into question councils' ambitions to be seen as community leaders, as opposed to a layer of bureaucracy, at a time when government is considering alternative delivery vehicles for local services.

On the face of it, the clash between the two is unsurprising. NDCs have broad responsibilities to improve outcomes for their residents in education, housing and the environment, law and order, employability and health - all areas in which councils act as service deliverers, commissioners, partners or scrutineers.

And both can claim alternative forms of democratic legitimacy, given that 36 of the NDC boards have a majority of resident members, el ected by their peers, often on greater turnouts than council elections.

But besides tensions arising from the programmes themselves is the fact that the country's poorest areas are often those where distrust of public authorities is most deeply embedded.

According to Kamaljeet Nijjar-Deu, chief executive of Kings Norton NDC, which covers three housing estates on the outskirts of Birmingham, residents were initially deeply suspicious of the council.

She said: 'There was mistrust for the council in terms of housing provision, particularly the quality of housing repairs.'

Harold Mutata, programmes director at Burngrieve NDC in Sheffield and a former manager at Coventry's NDC scheme for Wood End, Henley Green and Manor Farm, said many had seen New Deal projects as a way of bypassing councils. 'The NDC is seen as a way of doing away with the council and getting on with things,' he said.

Mr Mutata, who has seen the conflict from both ends as he is a former Birmingham City Council regeneration officer, said that NDC boards often combine this attitude with the expectation that councils will deliver in certain areas.

He said the Coventry scheme had wanted the council's help in improving street lighting, despite the fact the council only spent £10,000 in total on the service.

In some cases, NDC schemes have been harmed by entrenched hostility towards the council.

Mr Mutata said: 'I know of at least one example when the chief executive of the NDC has not nurtured the relationship with the council and things have got worse.'

But according to Ms Nijjar-Deu, council bureaucracy has been an ever-present issue for the NDC, despite improving relationships.

She said: 'We still have some issues with its processes and its bureaucracy. That does put some obstacles in the way.'

And bureaucracy at local level has often been the direct outcome of the bureaucratic approach to NDCs adopted by central government.

Though each NDC is allocated around £50m, funding from the ODPM's neighbourhood re newal unit only comes through on a project-by-project basis, and has to be guaranteed by an accountable body, often the relevant council.

Mr Mutata said this has often led to councils paying for NDC projects up front, and therefore imposing their own bureaucracy in the pursuit of accountability.

According to Neil McInroy, director of regeneration think-tank the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, it is central government bureaucracy that stands in the way of NDCs delivering for their communities.

He said: 'Chief executives [of NDCs] I've spoken to have said that they would like to do things for their communities, but they've also got these managerial regulations from central government.'

So is this just another case of Whitehall making a scapegoat out of local government for its own centralist excesses?

For Mr Mutata, there are things councils can do to reduce the burden they place on NDCs. 'Coventry insists on evaluating all projects for which it is the accountable body. Here [in Sheffield) we do everything in house,' he said.

The key for councils, he added, was empowering middle-level managers to deal with NDCs directly without having to go through a bureaucratic mire.

According to Simon Cooke (Con), executive member for regeneration at Bradford MDC, councils can only benefit from such a culture of bureaucracy busting. 'In some ways some of the things that these partnerships can do to break down barriers is good for us all. Once they've breached the barriers we can steam in after them,' he said.

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.