Welsh Conservative Shadow Secretary for Communities, Mark Isherwood AM, has expressed concern that a Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children on ‘Resilient Communities – Next Steps’ ignores key report findings that programmes should not be directed top down.
Mr Isherwood is also concerned that the Statement by the Secretary, Carl Sargeant AM, fails to acknowledge past failings and the need to stop imposing top-down programmes on communities.
Responding to the Statement in the Assembly Chamber he said:
“Although the annual report on income inequality from the Office for National Statistics released last month said that there’s been a gradual decline in UK income inequality over the last decade, and although the Communities First programme has had nearly £0.5 billion invested in it between 2001 and the end of last year, it is regrettable that the number of working age people not in employment in Wales has gone back up to 524,000 people, with Wales ranking tenth out of 12 UK nations and regions for poverty, and with the eleventh lowest weekly earnings.
“In drafting this Statement, what consideration have you given to the Welsh Government grant-funded ‘Valuing Place’ report by the Young Foundation based upon research with people from Aberystwyth, Connah’s Quay and Port Talbot? It said that “establishing a local network to help encourage, train, mentor, coach and connect people together who want to take local action, whatever their skill set or resource, should be a priority. We need to allow for positive development of place that is inclusive and participatory”.
“As I say, that included the great population of Connah’s Quay, and is a very valued report that doesn’t appear to have been considered in the statement you made today.”
He added: “You refer to the Bevan Foundation statement that performance has been mixed, and poverty remains a stubborn and persistent challenge. Well, their submission, the ‘Communities First—Next Steps’ document, which I believe was drafted by the respected Victoria Winckler, says that ‘Communities First’ did not reduce the headline rates of poverty in the vast majority of communities, still less Wales as a whole. So, how do you respond, as you appear not to have done in your Statement, to her statement that a new programme should be co-produced by communities and professionals, and not be directed top down, i.e. by local authorities, that it should be based on a clear theory of change, building on people’s and communities’ assets, not deficits, and that local action should be led by established community-based organisations with a strong track record of delivery, which have significant community engagement - again, not by the public sector directly? Although, clearly, corporate governance arrangements would have to be firmly embedded in that.”
Mr Isherwood added: “It seems mind boggling that his Statement and apparent direction of travel ignores the recommendations and findings of these key reports, including Welsh Government funded research conducted in his own constituency. There has been no recognition of his own mistakes, of the Welsh Government’s costly failure to deliver, or of the need to stop imposing top-down programmes on communities.”