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Politics

Communities First had impossible task

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Carl Sargeant: Announced that the programme would be wound down in February this year

THE WELSH Government should ensure councils identify all programmes currently being delivered by Communities First that should be delivered by other public services and that they are transferred across to the relevant public service as soon as possible, according to a National Assembly Committee.

The Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee also found it has been difficult to make an overall assessment of the success of the 15-year, £432m Communities First tackling poverty programme because of insufficient performance management.

Communities First was the Welsh Government’s flagship tackling poverty programme. The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children Carl Sargeant AM announced that the programme would be wound down in February this year.

The report also highlights that uncertainty for staff caused by the way in which the announcement was made has had a detrimental impact on their work, and affected the people using the services.

The Committee also recommend that the Welsh Government outline how long legacy funding will be available for as soon as possible.

Committee Chair John Griffiths AM said: “For many people, Communities First has had a life-changing impact, and we know it has done great work in communities across Wales.

“We are concerned that the Welsh Government must learn lessons for future tackling poverty activities, ensuring progress is measurable, based on evidence of what works, and that the successful elements of Communities First, which could be delivered by other public bodies and are valued locally, are transferred to other public services to deliver.

“The need for these services hasn’t disappeared, but faced with uncertainty, we have heard that Communities First staff are already leaving for other jobs. Their expertise and relationships cannot easily be replaced.”

A key criticism in the report is that the Welsh Government had no baseline from which to assess success and without such a measure, it was impossible for Communities First’s successes – if any – to be adequately measured as delivering anything like value for the money invested in the scheme.

Evidence from Carmarthenshire County Council not only makes that criticism express, but continues: ‘Measuring the long term impact that the programme had on the individuals was not carried out in the initial years of the programme. As a result, there was limited recording of statistics and outcomes achieved during this period’.

Indeed, the committee states that its own work was hampered by lack of transparency by the Welsh Government. ‘On the day that it was announced the programme would definitely be ending (14 February 2017), all performance measurement data was removed from the Welsh Government’s website’.

The report mordantly notes that: ‘However, we were told in very stark times by a witness that having 102 performance indicators means in practice you have no performance indicators’. It goes on to warn that new indicators put in place by the Welsh Government are so broad as to be almost meaningless and recommends that the Welsh Government adopt the approach recommended by the Bevan Foundation, a social welfare think-tank.

The report notes that the Communities First programme was set the ‘near impossible task’ of reducing poverty, which could never be achieved through one single programme.

In written evidence to the Committee, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, Carl Sargeant said that “….the underlying premise of the programme that it was possible to improve area characteristics by influencing individual-level outcomes – was (and remains) untested.”

In addition to the broad aims of the programme, it remains unclear and un-evidenced as to whether interventions to improve individual circumstances lead to changes in a geographical area’s characteristics. This was accepted by the Cabinet Secretary in his written evidence.

Although it is unclear how well a place based approach works and it remains the approach for some other programmes such as Communities for Work, Flying Start, Lift, and others. The committee recommends review of these programmes ‘to ensure they are working to optimum benefit’.

The Committee expresses concern that Communities First programmes were used to deliver services that statutory bodies should have delivered, noting that Communities First schemes ‘were delivering projects and support in important areas, including health and education’.

As Herald readers in Carmarthenshire will recall, it is almost impossible to conceive that a local authority would misuse funds for a targeted project to subsidise delivery of its own services.

Other recommendations include:

• That the Welsh Government considers removing postcode barriers to families accessing Flying Start where there is an identified need and capacity to support them

• That the Welsh Government ensures that all advice and guidance to local authorities is available in written form to supplement information that is provided in person or orally

• That the Welsh Government That the Welsh Government makes it clear in guidance to local authorities that employability support should encompass all stages of the employment journey, including support to a person once they are in employment

Mark Isherwood, the Conservative spokesperson for Communities, joined in the Committee’s criticism.

“Despite repeated warnings, the Welsh Government has failed to deliver what the Communities First programme originally intended, which was to deliver community ownership and empowerment to drive positive change.

“An article by the Bevan Foundation achieved a far more perspicacious insight into why Communities First achieved such little success, by stating that community buy-in is essential and that if people feel that policies are imposed on them, then policies simply don’t work. The Cabinet Secretary should take note.

“However, it is not too late to do things differently. We can still unlock human capital in our communities and places to develop solutions to local issues, improve wellbeing, raise aspirations and create stronger communities.”

The Bevan Foundation has welcomed the recommendations of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee’s report.

In particular, it welcomes the Committee’s inclusion of the Bevan Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s proposals to reduce poverty through a whole government strategy for reducing costs and raising incomes, rather than its current focus on employability, early years and empowerment.

The Bevan Foundation also welcome’s the Committee’s adoption of other Bevan Foundation proposals including:

• The recommendation that the Welsh Government work with the Bevan Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation on a dashboard of indicators,

• The recommendation that the Welsh Government explore further the role of assets in generating income and wealth

• The comment that the Welsh Government needs to provide a robust framework for local action

Director of the Bevan Foundation, Victoria Winckler, said: “We were delighted that the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee has listened carefully to our written and oral evidence and included so many of ideas in its recommendations. The Committee’s inquiries into poverty are vitally important, and we hope that the Welsh Government heed the Committee’s recommendations. We look forward to working with the Welsh Government and the Committee in taking them forward.”

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Community

Elin Jones congratulates Ceredigion Talking Paper in National Assembly

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AM marks 50 years of service by local news service for the blind

Elin Jones AM has congratulated the Ceredigion Talking Newspaper in a statement in the National Assembly for Wales, marking 50 years of service to blind people in Ceredigion and beyond.

In her statement on Wednesday the 20th of January, Elin Jones said:

“Fifty years ago, in January 1970, an innovative charity was established in Ceredigion for blind people, offering the first service of its kind in Wales and the United Kingdom – a service that would enable the blind people of Ceredigion to hear the latest local news in the press.

“That innovative scheme was the Ceredigion Talking Newspaper.

“The talking newspaper was set up by Ronald Sturt, a lecturer at the College of Librarianship in Llanbadarn. Initially, the recordings of local voices reading articles from the local press were on tape cassettes and provided to 18 people.

“Nowadays, the recordings are on a USB, and there are over a hundred regular listeners of the talking newspaper and more than 60 volunteers contributing regularly. The recordings are published weekly and the coverage includes the Cambrian News, Golwg and Y Cymro.

“One reader, Eileen Sinnett, has volunteered continuously for fifty years. What a contribution she has made!

“I would like to congratulate the Ceredigion Talking Newspaper for breaking new ground in 1970, for 50 years of service and for bringing the news, in both Welsh and English, to those who cannot see or read it in Ceredigion and beyond.”

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Community

Ben Lake MP pledges support for local pubs in Ceredigion

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Ben Lake MP has today pledged their support for the Long Live the Local Campaign to help pubs in Ceredigion keep their doors open. Ben Lake joins the more than 240,000 people who have signed the petition so far, including 335 in Ceredigion alone.

Ben Lake MP is calling on the Government to cut beer tax at the Budget. With £1 in every £3 pounds spent in UK pubs going to the taxman, British drinkers now pay 40% of all beer tax across the EU, but drink only 12% of the beer. Seven in ten alcoholic drinks served in pubs are beer, underlining how directly a cut in beer duty will help pubs. Brewing and pubs in Ceredigion supports 1169 jobs and contributes £23.1m to the local economy.

Commenting on the campaign, Ben Lake MP said:

“Pubs are at the heart of communities across Ceredigion, but with three pubs closing their doors for good every day across the UK, we must acknowledge that these community assets are facing significant challenges as they try to stay open. For this reason I am supporting the Long Live the Local campaign and calling on the Chancellor to cut beer tax for licenced premises in this year’s Budget to support pubs in our local communities.”

Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said:

“Beer duty has increased by 60% over the last 17 years and now the UK has one of the highest rates of tax in Europe. When over two thirds of all alcoholic drinks purchased in the pub are beers, a cut in beer tax would go a long way to protecting pubs across Ceredigion. We are very grateful to Ben Lake for their support for the Long Live the Local campaign, and hope that the Government listens to MPs across Parliament and the thousands of people across the country who are calling for a cut in beer tax to protect our pubs.”

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Politics

Labour leadership election: they’re off!

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IN THE days when being leader of the Labour Party meant having the ability to command the confidence of the majority of your parliamentary colleagues, its election process would likely be almost over.
Five candidates made the next round of contest: Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Sir Keir Starmer, and Emily Thornberry. They respectively have the support of 33, 31, 23, 88, and 23 of their parliamentary colleagues.
Before 1980, Keir Starmer would be home and hosed.

A PLURAL APPROACH

Clive Lewis, who withdrew from the leadership contest, forcefully made the case for Labour to stop behaving like the Exclusive Brethren: “The litmus test of survival for Labour is pluralism – the recognition that we as one party don’t and can’t have all the answers to the complex challenges we face. We are going to have to collaborate.
“It’s not that we can’t win alone, it’s that we can’t change society alone. Since 1918, there have been 28 elections and Labour has only won eight of them, often with small majorities and a short government.
“Labour can no longer impose a future on the country, instead it must negotiate one.”

REBECCA LONG-BAILEY

Ms Long-Bailey, whose media performances during the campaign were only ‘good’ relative to the comic relief offered by current deputy leadership contender Richard Burgon, is favoured by those most closely associated with Jeremy Corbyn’s argument-winning tenure.
She has already drawn the support of party-within-a-party Momentum. Or at least its executive, as members were not allowed a vote. Momentum members have been subsequently presented with a ballot paper for the Labour leadership with only Ms Long-Bailey’s name on it. Democracy in action.
As someone who said she would give the departing Labour leader 10/10 and accepted responsibility for Labour’s last manifesto, she will also attract the votes of those who are intent on campaigning in purity instead of governing (all governments do) through compromise.
In her candidate statement, Rebecca Long-Bailey acknowledges the defeat and calls upon the Party to look inward to establish the reasons why, saying: “We had a chance to help turn back the tide, but we failed. The starting point in the leadership election is to be honest and self-critical about why and then look forward and forge our path to power.
“We have another round of elections in May [not in Wales] and the escalating crises we face mean that building a winning vision of a socialist future has never been so urgent.

LISA NANDY

Lisa Nandy received only two fewer nominations, despite – unlike Ms Long-Bailey – having had virtually no public profile in the 2019 election campaign. That low level of exposure for an effective media performer followed her walking out of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in 2016 and declining to return.
She also backed the UK Government’s Withdrawal Agreement in a key vote in October 2019 and cannot, therefore, be charged with facing two ways on the Brexit issue.
At the hustings held for candidates before the Parliamentary party, Lisa Nandy reportedly made the best impression, giving a clear indication of what Labour needed to do to recapture lost votes, look outward and not navel-gaze looking for utopia.
Making her pitch as an outsider, at her campaign launch Ms Nandy said: “The stark truth is, the path back to power for Labour will never be to build along the ‘red wall’.”
“If we do not change course we will die and we will deserve to. This is the moment when we up our game and recover our ambition.”

EMILY THORNBERRY

Emily Thornberry, who regularly humiliated Boris Johnson when she shadowed him as Foreign Secretary and took regular delight in butchering Theresa May’s stand-ins at PMQs until she was replaced by Rebecca Long-Bailey to dismal effect, is a strong and experienced parliamentarian.
She is also the MP who had to resign from Ed Milliband’s frontbench team after a hopelessly misjudged and snobbish tweet during a by-election campaign in Rochester.
Ms Thornberry has the inestimable advantage among remain-backing CLPs to have stuck to her guns on the membership’s wish to unequivocally support remaining in the EU. In the changed political landscape, however, that strength could prove an electoral millstone with the voting public.
Unless Brexit turns out to be a political and economic catastrophe, it is difficult to see how Emily Thornberry will break through to the voters Labour lost in the last election. Although, of course, that presupposes that the unions and membership want to win an election on something other than a sectarian basis.

JESS PHILLIPS

Jess Phillips is, perhaps, the most outside of outsiders. She was a constant thorn in the last Government’s side only slightly more often than she was a thorn in Jeremy Corbyn’s. She has never held a frontbench position.
Boris Johnson’s public school debating style does not impress her and clashes between the pair are always ‘direct’.
Her pitch is based upon her ability to connect with voters on a personal level and on emphasising her ‘speaking truth to power’.
In her candidate statement, Ms Phillips says: “I’ve never shied away from speaking out when I thought we were doing the wrong thing – whether that was the handling of antisemitism, waving through Tory tax cuts for the well-off or equivocating over Brexit.
“Boris Johnson fears what he can’t understand. And that includes people like me.
I can win back trust because I am actually honest. And I can beat Boris Johnson because he can’t handle people like me.”

KEIR STARMER

Sir Keir Starmer had a good term as Shadow Brexit Secretary. He tormented the hapless David Davis, made a complete laughing stock out of Davis’ Minister of State Steve Baker, dissected Dominic Raab with equal forensic skill, and – faced with Stephen Barclay – often seemed to speak more in sorrow than in anger at his out-of-depth opposite number. All of which might lead a critical observer to say Sir Keir’s best parliamentary performances have not been against the most testing opposition.
In many ways, in spite of his plummy voice and manner, Keir Starmer is a real Labour success story: his mother was a nurse, his father a toolmaker and he rose through the opportunities given to him to head to University and become a QC on merit.
Perceived as a ‘moderate’, Keir Starmer has quickly moved to push forward his ‘left’ credentials.
His leadership pitch says: “We are an anti-austerity party. We believe in common ownership. We want to build a more peaceful world through a human-rights based foreign policy. We must hardwire the Green New Deal into our every part of our politics.
“Inequalities of every type – power, education, health and wealth – are so ingrained that only a fundamental shift can address them.”

THE KEY PROBLEM

Of all five candidates, only two – Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips – talk of a need to reconnect with voters Labour has lost. The other three make their pitch on a solely internal basis, as though the answers to Labour’s electoral woes lies within not without.
That will, no doubt, work well in a leadership election for a political party in which only members can vote. Beyond the membership, though, Labour’s new leader must communicate more than a shopping list of policies and blue-sky thought.
The failure to enunciate a clear path to reach voters outside the faithful should give the membership and unions considerable cause for, as Jeremy Corbyn put it, ‘a period of reflection’.

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