Regeneration plan? The government doesn't have one

MPs find that ministers have "no adequate strategy" to tackle problems faced by England's deprived c

Ministers have no "adequate strategy" to tackle the problems faced by England's most deprived communities, and a focus on economic growth will increase the gap between rich and poor further, according to a report by MPs. Spending cuts compound the problem.

The cross-party communities and local government select committee (which has a Tory/Lib Dem majority) concluded that the government's regeneration plan "lacks strategic direction and is unclear about the nature of the problem it is trying to solve", adding:

It [the regeneration document] focuses overwhelmingly upon the achievement of economic growth, giving little emphasis to specific issues faced by deprived communities and areas of market failure.

Clive Betts, the Labour MP chairing the committee, pointed out that a billion-pound programme to renovate housing in sink estates had been cut, leaving just £30m as a "transition fund". He criticised the government's emphasis on large scale projects such as high-speed rail and the London Crossrail:

The measures identified by the government focus overwhelmingly on the pursuit of economic growth. The government's measures will not attract sufficient investment for renewal into those communities where the market has failed.

There is no sign that the private sector is filling the gap as public resources are being withdrawn... Without further investment targeted at those places most in need, ministers will store up serious social, economic and environmental problems for the future.

This echoes the conclusions of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which warned that favouring more prosperous areas of growth "risks creating a spiral of decline in certain deprived areas" and will further increase the gap between affluent and poor areas.

While this is unsurprising, it is profoundly worrying at a time when the gap between rich and poor in Britain is wider than ever before, with income inequality ahead of Ireland, Japan, Spain, Canada, Germany and France.

Indeed, ministers have made little effort to even create a strategy, with no definition of what "community-led regeneration" means, and no attempt to identify why and where it is most needed.

The problem here is the same it has always been: deprived communities tend to be disenfranchised, therefore there is little political capital to be gained from their regeneration. When times are hard, it's the obvious thing to cut -- indeed, even when times are good, as under 10 years of Labour, these projects remain on the backburner. This summer's riots showed the nihilism of young people within these communities, and the need to regenerate.

Before coming to power, David Cameron himself noted the importance of wealth inequality, citing The Spirit Level in his 2009 Hugo Young lecture. Back in 206, he said:

The right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich.

Sadly, this laudable aim does not seem to have been borne out.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.