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Despite all the talk of prioritising poverty in Scotland, most regeneration investment is still going into wealthier areas

In Scotland, all the main political parties are in theory committed to alleviation on poverty, with this year’s Holyrood election likely to see Labour and the SNP competing with one another over their respective sets of anti-poverty credentials. But, as Derek Rankine argues, regeneration investment continues to ignore the poorest areas in favour of those which arguably need the money less. 

Credit: Giuseppe Milo, CC BY NC 2.0

Credit: Giuseppe Milo, CC BY NC 2.0

SURF, a network of more than 250 regeneration-related organisations in Scotland, recently undertook an 18-month consultation process to develop a community regeneration manifesto for the May 2016 Scottish Parliament elections. Our consultation findings led us to the conclusion that the majority of regeneration investment in the country is not reaching the right places.

A central concern raised is that many regeneration resources designed to tackle poverty are ending up in affluent areas and commercial centres. Citing evidence by the University of Glasgow, Ryden Property Consultancy, and the Scottish Parliament’s local government and regeneration committee, we found that current regeneration investment trends favour already successful places. In so doing, they are counter-productively increasing inequality.

A mismatch was also identified between the structural levels at which social and economic problems develop, and the local neighbourhood level in which they are addressed through regeneration plans and processes.

To help address the ‘rhetoric and resources mismatch’ identified by SURF’s consultees our manifesto, launched today, features nine bold and practical policy recommendations for the next Scottish Government.

The manifesto calls on the next Scottish Government to implement two key recommendations: investing in a new generation of 15 place-based regeneration initiatives in strategically significant geographies, and introducing a statutory duty requiring public bodies to address socio-economic disadvantage across all policy and resource decisions.

SURF’s investigation indicated that the evidence base in support of place-based regeneration programmes is mixed. While targeted regeneration investments can demonstrate improvements in some aspects, such as a place’s housing quality, there are valid questions about how effectively they deliver meaningful and sustainable change for intended beneficiaries over the longer term.

Despite these questions, a good deal has been learned about what does and doesn’t work in place-based regeneration from the Social Inclusion Partnerships and Urban Regeneration Companies experience in Scotland, as well as England’s New Deal for Communities and relevant programmes in mainland Europe. SURF argues that now is the time to put this learning into practice with a new programme in Scotland that maximises value by using existing delivery vehicles, clear and measurable targets, and transferable learning processes.

But this high-profile place-based programme needs to be accompanied by renewed efforts to place poverty and inequality impacts at the heart of public spending and decision-making. Introducing a socio-economic duty would provide a policy mechanism with the potential to put policy rhetoric around the importance of addressing poverty and inequality into practical action.

As raised in the debate around the 2010 UK Equality Act, there is a concern that such a duty may ultimately prove ineffective amid the ‘noise’ of other local government responsibilities. SURF agrees with the Poverty Alliance that, in order to be adequately effectual, the duty must contain clear targets and definitions, and robust monitoring and enforcement.

SURF contends that the implementation of both of the above proposals together is necessary in linking focused support towards physical, social and economic challenges in particularly disadvantaged places with broader policy development aimed at tackling poverty, deprivation and disadvantage across Scotland.

The approach also accepts the increasingly popular view, promoted by among others, academic experts and SURF event contributors Professor Kate Pickett (‘The Spirit Level) and Sir Tony Atkinson (Inequality – What Is To Be Done?), that high levels of inequality are causing broad damage for everyone in society, with impacts reaching far beyond the marginalised poor.

SURF’s manifesto is being launched with a view to influencing the main parties competing for seats in the 2016 Scottish elections. The content will also form the basis for a Scottish regeneration hustings event, in which guest politicians will be questioned by the SURF network in Edinburgh on Thursday 7 April 2016, one month before the election. The parties and politicians that will be campaigning on poverty and inequality can expect some demanding questions on how resources are best targeted.

Note: this post originally appeared on the New Start website and is reposted with the author’s permission. it represents the views of the author and not those of Democratic Audit – Scotland, or any organisation associated with it. Please read our comments policy before posting.

Derek-2016-140x140Derek Rankine is policy and participation manager at Surf, Scotland’s independent regeneration network.

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