Tag Archives: Sustainable communities

EU funds matched in England with £260m from the Big Lottery Fund for voluntary organisations (ESF and ERDF)

This week the Chief Executive of the Big Lottery Fund, Dawn Austwick, announced an agreement with NCVO and the Government to provide over £260 million as match funding for the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF). The ESIF is due to be approved by the European Commission soon, hopefully before the year end.

The emphasis will be on matching the ESF (European Social Fund) contribution for projects which will be tackling poverty and social exclusion, with a focus on giving disadvantaged people support to improve their skills, training and employability. The ESIF also includes ERDF – the European Regional Development Fund.

The next step is for voluntary organisations in each LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) area in England to come together over the summer and start planning to bid. £620,000 will be available to support this process.

NCVO said, “only a very small proportion of the last round of European Social Fund money was accessed by charities, with the vast bulk going to larger organisations or reaching the voluntary sector only through prime providers delivering top-down programmes. The new round of European funding represents a substantially more community-led approach.”

New readers, especially in voluntary organisations, should note the free ERDF Independent Guide book (PDF) on the downloads page above.

More details:

Federalism in the UK and how do we govern England

There is some talk in the press this week about the growing need for federalism within the government of the UK. The argument goes that, whatever the outcome of the forthcoming Scottish Referendum we will be moving towards a more federal approach of government.

The problem is that around 84 per cent of the UK population lives in England, and there is no appetite for an English Parliament. So what are the options, and what are the lessons?

Will it be Regions?

In his excellent book, Walter Menzies talks about the in-joke in Whitehall of TAFKAR – the areas formerly known as regions. In 2010, one of the first acts of the Coalition Government was to dismantle the regional bodies in England. Even the use of the word ‘region’ was abolished. Everything was now ‘local’. This policy move has been under-researched in my opinion, but my sense is that it was driven by some councillors who had a fundamental dislike of regional housing strategies and boards telling them what to do. This dislike was, I suspect, especially found in the more prosperous semi-rural council areas who resented being told what to do by the nearby urban centres. The new Localism policy tried to fill the void with some planning guidance and incentives for development, but the house building shortage is a measure of its lack of impact.

However, the previous Labour government also fumbled the ball on regions. The trend seemed to be unstoppable but then we had the no vote in the North East. At the heart of government someone got cold feet just before the vote, and overnight a promise was made to the media that the vote would be changed to ‘reduce bureaucracy’. The new question was, which would you prefer – counties or regions – but you cannot have both. OK, the people said, we’ll keep what we’ve got.

Will it be Mayors?

Another response that still has some supporters is for more elected mayors, even though some of the areas that have tried them have later voted to go back to traditional councillors. This policy has been more researched and commented on than regional governance, and for the most part is not seen now as a strong contender. For me, the idea of elected mayors tried to put personalities above structures, and confused the effectiveness of Mayors of London as individual politicians without taking account of their additional legal powers.

Will it be Cities?

The idea of city-regions, roughly based on the old metropolitan counties but with a strategic influence beyond, has been gaining ground for some time. The recent development of Combined Authorities has been led by Greater Manchester and is spreading out in subsequent years with Liverpool, Leeds and elsewhere. These are new local authorities, being additional to the existing cities and boroughs that sit within them. So far these new authorities could be called a tidying-up exercise of all the various joint boards and arrangements that had to be invented when the metropolitan counties were abolished in the 1980s. Their competences include transport, waste and economic development. However, the ambition is that they provide a ready-to-roll vehicle for any new powers and resources that might flow to the urban areas outside of London.

England within a Federal UK?

So, with 84 per cent of the population in England, let us try and imagine who sits around the table of a Federal UK meeting. The easy bit is – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and London.

And then we have – the ‘rest’, the ‘provinces’.


Curiously we are also the majority at the table, but you would not know that from the discussions so far, nor from the existing balance of powers. City-regions are now a strong contender for the other seats around the federal table, and in terms of population there is a strong democratic case. However, we need to remember another dynamic within the previous Labour government when the Countryside Alliance organised a mass march through London. Despite the fact that rural areas were more subsidised than urban areas, the government’s willingness to listen to the needs of cities chilled considerably.

This time around, as cities and urban areas we need to make sure we get our seats at the federal table. To do this effectively and to avoid being tackled to the ground we need to learn how, from the 1980s onwards, various hostile interests have got ahead of us and taken our rightful place. It is politics, so we should not be surprised. And not caught off-guard this time.

Finally, if anyone suggests that UK Federalism and fair city-region representation can be sorted by reforming the House of Lords, just think ‘long grass’.

Low-carbon economies and sustainable growth will require a new and different mix of services

How can local and national economies continue to grow in the years ahead without wrecking our planet?

A good part of the known answer is in low-carbon energy sources, and renewable energy sources will need to grow substantially. Another good part of the answer is in reducing demand for energy, especially by eliminating waste heat. And thirdly, we will need to switch over from manufacturing container loads of “stuff” to give more emphasis to services.

But which services?

The current preferred mix in the service sectors favours the expensive, costly areas of the economy such as finance and legal work. But while they are great for GVA (gross value added) figures, do they really add much to the sum total of human happiness and wellbeing? Of course, some aspects are essential, such as our child protection courts, or having loan bonds for public infrastructure. But we know there is a lot of expensive froth in the mix.

There is the apocryphal story of a married couple who, on their wedding anniversary each year as presents give each other cheques for a million pounds. A little bit of nonsense which cancels itself out. But in some economic models the GVA needles would fly off the scales.

So maybe the successful and sustainable economies of the future will be based on similar examples of low-carbon, low-resource exchange, albeit more sensible. The music singer who performs live outdoors to a small, paying crowd. The food grown locally and sold at a Saturday market. The evening class learning to speak Italian. Currently these forms of service work are seen as somewhat low in GVA, not quite the dizzying heights of international finance.

But maybe future local economies will be valued for having the best range of low-impact services. That in a sustainable city you can learn forty languages; and where you can choose between seven types of fresh celery; and as you stroll across town you can find every genre of music.

In summary, measuring the sustainable qualities of the value added as well as the quantity.

And to close, for the future I wonder if we will start to think that – by educating a good number or even most people in the arts – this shift will cause a lower carbon impact than by having as many people as now studying the sciences? Yes, medics and other scientists will always be essential, and I speak as a taught scientist myself, but the balance and privileges may alter in the years ahead.

Carbon Literacy and the Built Environment – Closing the Performance Gap

The built environment is responsible for around 47% of all UK carbon emissions, and the construction industry is well placed to influence and improve this figure. 

However, there is a growing body of evidence that many, possibly even most of our new and refurbished buildings in the UK are not performing anything like as well as they should, especially low energy buildings. The correct regulations are followed, the energy calculations are double checked, and the certificates are in place. But over time we sadly discover that the building often remains too cold or too hot, too draughty, too dark, or too damp. What can we do to change this?

Read more… Carbon Literacy and the Built Environment – Closing the Performance Gap

Published today – the RENEW Northwest Collected Works 2005 to 2008 (free PDF, 400 pages)

Embargoed to 00:01, Thursday 29 May 2014

RENEW Northwest was the region’s centre of excellence for regeneration from 2005 to 2008. It worked with thousands of professionals in design, construction, housing, economic development, neighbourhoods and more and encouraged better regeneration through multi-disciplinery working in the interests of communities, the environment, the economy and society throughout the region – urban and rural, deprived and more affluent.  Much of the RENEW Northwest learning is contained within over 400 pages of great advice and help to professionals involved in all aspects of regeneration and renewal. Free to download here (PDF), much of the advice is as relevant now as it was when it was produced. 

From Liverpool to Manchester, from Crewe to Carlisle, great work was found, supported and celebrated. The former staff have scoured their computers and attics to put all that excellent material in one place for the benefit of everyone involved in regeneration.

Phil Barton, former Director of RENEW Northwest said, “In this age of public sector austerity, it is more important than ever that professionals, agencies and local groups work effectively together across sectors, professions and geography.  RENEW Northwest pioneered new approaches and the achievement of better results by encouraging learning, good practice and professional development.  RENEW’s legacy lives on and this archive is a significant resource for the region which we are delighted to make more widely available.” 

Tony Baldwinson, former Head of Knowledge, Design and Innovation at RENEW Northwest said, “There is so much to choose from in this treasure trove. The Ladders in Regeneration group was especially important in making sure no-one was excluded, not just from the outcomes but also from the jobs within regeneration. Everyone will find something of use to their work here.” 

Notes to editors:

1. The RENEW Northwest project was funded by the Northwest Regional Development Agency from 2005 to 2008. Its Board included the Government Office North West and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), as well as the private sector, community groups and universities.

2. The book is free to download as a PDF, using the Open Government Licence administered by UK National Archives.

3. The full website address is https://tonybaldwinson.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/renew-northwest-collected-works-2005-to-2008-9780957260610-v4.pdf


Our housing crisis – is it under-supply or under-occupation?

Is the crisis in UK housing a problem of under-supply of new homes, or of under-occupation of our existing stock? Do we need to be building 240,000 more new homes a year?

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, 21 May 2014, (link below) makes a strong case for under-occupation being the market failure, and as such he challenges the British economic orthodoxy in construction over the last ten years, since the Barker Review in 2004.

His point especially about the abandonment of the brownfield-first planning policy is correct and well made. However, he is wrong to support the principle of the bedroom tax. This tax is regressive – poorest people pay the most, and often in circumstances where they have no options for a smaller house or flat.

He could have added that an emphasis on refurbishment over new-build would impact on construction employment because refurb is more labour intensive. And can have a strong impact on fuel poverty and carbon emissions.

But perhaps the key market failure he misses is the mismatch between urban living and urban employment across Britain, rather than just the South East.

In short, market failure needs a programme along the lines of:
1 – more jobs outside the South East
2 – reinstate brownfield-first planning policy
3 – refurbish social housing, including houses-to-flats conversions
4 – tackle poor quality private rented properties, and
5 – begin to address the issues of poorer, older owner-occupiers.


Public Procurement and Local Benefits, part 3

The previous two posts here have outlined the permitted ways by which public bodies can include local equality outcomes within contracts.

In a nutshell, the practicalities revolve around the importance of the “core purpose” of each procurement exercise. The general principle is the difference between (a) ‘just’ procuring a new school and (b) procuring better education, skills and economic wellbeing in community X in which a new school will be built.

The recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation is here – http://www.jrf.org.uk/media-centre/community-benefit-clauses-public-funding-and-procurement-contracts-%E2%80%98can-be-legal%E2%80%99

Also useful here, the Equality and Human Rights Commission produced a guide in 2013 to public procurement and equality benefits, called Buying Better Outcomes. A key extract is:

“Equality clauses may be introduced under these arrangements relating to the performance of the contract, but they must:

  • be compatible with EU rules (as determined by the Public Contract Regulations 2006 and any other related legislative requirements)
  • be relevant and related to the performance of the contract
  • not be a technical specification in disguise or used in the evaluation process
  • not discriminate (directly or indirectly) against any potential tenderer
  • be able to demonstrate that value for money is maintained, and that whole life costs are taken into account
  • be proportionate and quantifiable
  • be referred to in the contract notice or tender documentation, and
  • be clear and unambiguous, and understood by tenderers and contractors.”

Link: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/EqualityAct/PSED/buying_better_outcomes_final.pdf

As pointed out in the first article, it would be helpful now for Treasury Solicitors to produce guidance for public officials on the operational steps to achieve local and equality benefits using public procurement.