Should the Public Sector Lead the Regeneration Debate?
It is interesting and refreshing that the CBI have now entered the Regeneration Debate signalled by a key note speech by John Cridland, CBI Director-General to delegates at the Made Me Design Exhibition held in Birmingham in June 2013.
In his speech John Cridland, outlined his vision of a new approach to regeneration which focuses on business growth and aims to break the cycle of dependency on the public sector.
The view of the CBI is that the Public Sector can no longer spend large sums getting regeneration projects up and running and instead should make smarter interventions to tip the balance in favour of investment. It is suggested that the public sector should now act as a facilitator and underwriter rather than as the principal financier.
To support this proposal the CBI have published a report entitled “Locally grown – Unlocking business potential through regeneration” the report also provides some UK regeneration examples. http://www.cbi.org.uk/media/2096572/Locally%20grown%20unlocking%20business%20potential%20through%20regeneraiton.pdf
Among the success stories are i54 South Staffordshire and Media City in Salford, which have successfully reinforced regional sector strengths in automotive and creative industries respectively. In Leeds a £4.3bn investment in office space is highlighted as boosting employment in professional services, and the city’s earnings growth has apparently outstripped the UK average over the past decade.
In his speech, Mr. Cridland outlined four key policy areas that must be tackled to ensure successful UK-wide regeneration as follows:
• The Government is strengthening LEPs with more powers and funding, but businesses still need to be convinced of their capacity to deliver growth. Local Enterprise Partnerships must rise to the challenge.
• Political parties must commit to the existing structures for local growth as Businesses don’t want another overhaul of local governance structures.
• The Government must deliver long-awaited infrastructure upgrades as Businesses need to see a delivery plan complete with timescales, sequencing, transparency and accountability, so they can decide where to invest.
• Planning policy and property taxation must support the private sector’s development ambition and Local authorities must set out clear plans in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework. Urgent action is needed to curb the unacceptable burden of business rates for firms across the UK, especially for hard-pressed retailers
It is not a surprise that there is a predominately construction bias to the CBI’s proposals as this is seen as the quickest way to get the UK’s economy moving again. To back up this message the CBI claim that every pound spent on construction generates a wider economic return of £2.84 through the local supply chain.
Reflecting on the CBI report I agree that from my experience it is not the public sector but people, communities or companies who often create the spark and light the fire of regeneration.
Having done this I believe it should then be the role of the public sector to support and encourage rather than lead. In my home country of Wales there are plenty of practical examples of this at both at the macro and micro level such as the Coed Darcy Urban Village, The Mold Cittaslow Initiative, Abergavenny Food Fair, Blue Stone National Park Resort, The Celtic Manor Resort, Glyncoch Community Regeneration, The Cwmni Tref Initiative, Caernarfon and Hay on Wye Book Town and Festival.
From my review of the evidence base which was used to support the recent Wales Government, Vibrant and Viable Places, New Regeneration Framework it is clear that in the past Welsh Regeneration has adopted a “Top Down” rather than a “Bottom Up” approach. Could it be this failure to engage or excite people and communities at a local level which has contributed to Wales remaining at the bottom of the UK, GVA, Health and Education league tables and eagerly awaiting yet another round of European Structural Funding?
So yes I think it is correct that the CBI does challenge the current and somewhat cosy status that the public sector should lead regeneration. To support this view if the principles of Results Based Accountability are actually applied in Wales the inevitable conclusion to be drawn is that no matter how well intentioned regeneration activities have been over the last 30 years they have largely failed to improve national economic well being and increase personal prosperity.
Building on the CBI report perhaps what is actually required is for the public sector to direct their efforts at supporting innovative regeneration proposals by challenging companies, communities and people to become more “hands on” and directly involved. This form of “X” Factor Regeneration whilst creating some winners and losers could create a real buzz across the UK similar to what the Mary Portas Initiative initially did. Whilst Portas has her critics she at least got whole Town communities talking to one another about their future thereby moving the impetus for regeneration to a much broader base.
However, in Wales publication of the Funding Guidelines for the new Vibrant and Viable Places, Regeneration Framework can only perpetuate and confirm the view that Regeneration is to remain the domain of the public sector. http://wales.gov.uk/topics/businessandeconomy/regeneration/vvpframework/?lang=en
In order access the new Welsh Government targeted regeneration investment a maximum of one application has been invited from each Local Authority and the application must be submitted by the Local Authority as lead partner and grant recipient.
Whilst to be fair the funding guidance stresses the need for the involvement of the private and third sector thereby forming a partnership bid, an application timescale of only 9 weeks suggests the ability to consider a range of differing regeneration options and potential partnerships will not actually assist the stated and desired aims.
So In Wales for the time being the Public Sector will remain firmly in the driving seat and lead Regeneration which contrasts starkly with the views put forward by the CBI in their recent publication – Locally Grown: Unlocking business potential through regeneration