Social Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 26th September 2011.
I thank the Member for his question. The neighbourhood renewal programme has been successful on a number of levels. It has brought communities and government together to develop and deliver agreed action plans that seek to tackle the causes of deprivation in 36 of our most disadvantaged areas. Since the 10-year strategy was launched in 2003, it has delivered significant additional services and facilities in those most deprived areas, thereby enhancing the quality of life of those living there. One notable success of the programme is, I suggest, that it has gained support across all political parties, as was the case in the Chamber last November.
The recent review of neighbourhood renewal detailed improvements in the 36 areas since the beginning of the programme. However, it also highlighted weaknesses and indicated that much still needed to be done, particularly in response to the current economic downturn. A particular area of concern has been that efforts by a number of statutory bodies to address various aspects of deprivation have not been as well integrated as they could and should be. Therefore, there has not been sufficient focus on changing the economic prospects of those areas. There have also been recurrent difficulties with some statutory organisations genuinely engaging in delivering change through neighbourhood renewal. I will ensure that at least all parts of the Department for Social Development (DSD) family, including the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, work together to ensure integrated delivery, and I will raise the wider issue with Executive colleagues. The next round of funding of projects under neighbourhood renewal will focus on delivering effective services in the most efficient way possible. DSD will also reflect on the key lessons from neighbourhood renewal as we restart work on a new urban regeneration and community development framework destined for implementation in 2014.
Since the 2003 launch of the programme, 36 partnerships have been formed, neighbourhood plans agreed and actions implemented. The mid-term review detailed a narrowing of the gap between neighbourhood renewal areas and the rest of Northern Ireland. During a debate on 30 November, neighbourhood renewal also received support from all political parties, and the programme was allocated £20 million revenue per annum under the current comprehensive spending review period. Projects that receive funding for DSD must demonstrate that they address a need in an efficacious manner. The recurrent problems that some statutory bodies in some areas have engaging with neighbourhood partnerships and supporting integrated delivery will be addressed.
Will the Minister outline what difficulties he sees with the neighbourhood renewal programme? It would be remiss of me not to mention the Kilcooley estate in Bangor.
I would be deeply disappointed — traumatised, even — if the Member did not mention the Kilcooley estate in Bangor. Although neighbourhood renewal has achieved much and there are examples of excellent practice, there are weaknesses that I wish to see addressed in the current programme so we can build the results into successor programmes.
The weaknesses include too much money being expended in supporting the core costs of organisations rather than on their delivery, and not enough emphasis on changing the economic fundamentals of the area, as one of the keys to addressing deprivation is to encourage and support people into employment. There are weaknesses in relation to the ability and willingness of some neighbourhood renewal partnerships to create radical and deliverable plans, and there is quite a variation across the neighbourhood renewal areas in the quality and content of the plans.
Other weaknesses include patchy participation of some key statutory agencies in some local areas; the need to improve alignment in some areas with other initiatives that impact on poor health, educational attainment, worklessness and economic vitality; and a lack of broad, local political engagement. That happens in some areas and not in others, and I want to look at that as we move forward with neighbourhood renewal.
I believe that the more involvement there is with the whole community — the community sector, statutory agencies, the business and political communities — the more successful programmes such as this will be. I know the Member has particularly concerns about the Kilcooley estate. He has raised issues with me about Kilcooley Women’s Centre, and I will write to him on those points.
I thank the Minister for pointing out that this 10-year scheme is drawing to a close with weaknesses that might be summarised as an emphasis on process over outcomes. What is the Minister doing to effect the cultural change in the statutory bodies that will put the focus back on outcomes?
I point out to the Member that the difficulties are not simply with the statutory agencies. If he listened carefully, he would have heard me be very specific about that. There are weaknesses with regard to statutory agencies, but there are weaknesses in other areas of the programme. The issue, for example, of having a coherent, holistic and imaginative plan for each area is the kind of thing that I am talking about.
I visited areas in different constituencies to talk to neighbourhood renewal partnerships and saw quite a variation. For example, in some areas, delivery of projects for young people is quite strong and in other areas it is quite weak. In some areas the programmes are extensive, really imaginative and exciting, and in other areas they are quite conservative. There is a need to work with statutory agencies, but there is also a need to work with and support local communities. That is why we carried out a mid-term review and that is why we are looking at the shaping of neighbourhood renewal in the future. An announcement will be made about that in due course.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I remind the Minister that the Committee for Social Development carried out an inquiry into neighbourhood renewal and made quite a number of suggestions, none of which was taken up by the Department. Does he agree that the biggest single failure on the development of neighbourhood renewal —
The failure of the development of neighbourhood renewal lay with Departments not playing their part. In fact, there was a lack of leadership in his Department in the past, and from a departmental point of view —
I am sure that many people will have comments on how this programme has been delivered under previous Ministers. I do not want to dwell on the past; we want to look forward on this, as I am sure the Member does. The mid-term review that I spoke about sits alongside the Committee for Social Development’s report. We are looking at both; it is not as if the Committee’s report has been cast aside. Others may not have paid the same attention, but I am determined to do so.
The reports will be considered together and we have a number of recommendations that will form a comprehensive programme for improving neighbourhood renewal. Those recommendations include: developing better links with agencies and with other policies operating on a broader spatial scale, particularly in regard to economic development; stronger emphasis on reducing worklessness; and developing new models of delivery that bring together regeneration resources and mainstream spending in a more complementary way. Projects that do not display the ability to contribute to agreed outcomes should not continue to be supported.
More effective methods of achieving outcomes should be found, and the focus must be on delivery for the local community. Finally, the success of regeneration should be measured by the outcomes that it delivers, not the activities that are carried out, with a primary focus on improving economic outcomes.
Will the Minister give an assessment of how other Departments have participated in neighbourhood renewal?
One of the real tests in such things is putting your money on the table. Bear in mind that neighbourhood renewal was initially an Executive initiative. It is led by DSD, but it is a cross-departmental initiative. We need to see other Departments looking at how they can skew resources and put in additional support in a complementary, coherent way right across the Departments.
I do not want to pick out particular Departments and say that A has done really well and B has done badly. I will not go down that road, but I will simply say that all Departments should be looking at neighbourhood renewal as something in which they have a role to play, whether it is in the areas of education, further education, health, or whatever it is. What can we do right across all the Departments, including the Department for Regional Development and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and so on? All the Departments have something that they can contribute.