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Communities First had impossible task

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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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CADNO: Llanelli’s election outlook

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LET’S say this is a straightforward call.

If Nia Griffith doesn’t hold this seat by a health and hefty margin, Labour will be on course for the sort of national drubbing not suffered by the Party since the 1930s.

And, bearing in mind Llanelli was unflinchingly loyal to Labour even in those disastrous times, Cadno is confident in his prediction of a Labour hold.But that doesn’t mean this is a boring election.A return to Parliament for Nia Griffith is on the cards and the only fight worth talking about is who finishes several thousand votes behind in second.  
Llanelli’s rugby supporters – a byword for impartiality and their ability to see both sides of a referee’s decision – are a metaphor for Llanelli’s Brexit-supporting voters.

Those far-sighted electors see beyond the untold damage even the PROSPECT of Brexit has done to their constituency and the livelihoods of hundreds and still support trashing the local economy.This produces an interesting position. The Brexit Party, Limited, is fielding a candidate in Llanelli. Susan Boucher.

Cadno doubts you’ll have heard her name – even if you live in Llanelli. Ms Boucher is standing up for the values of Nigel Farage. So, readers, she stands for nothing at all.Having decanted Llanelli boy Rob Buckland to Swindon to sit as Conservative MP there, the Conservatives have returned the favour by parachuting-in Tamara Reay to build on the party’s distant second place in the 2017 election.Ms Reay wants to ‘Get Brexit Done’. As meaningless and fatuous a collection of syllables as Cadno has ever heard. You can’t imagine the voters of Llanelli backing Boris for PM, even by proxy. And while they might want to ‘Get Brexit Done’, Cadno cannot believe that even the most masochistic of voters will take one look at Llanelli, what a decade of austerity has done to it, and think: “We need more of this.” Not even Giles Morgan is that daft. Maybe.

At least in Llanelli, Brexit supporters’ votes will be split between a Limited company whose director is a coward and a charlatan and a party whose leader is a charlatan and a coward. It’s a tough choice for the true believers, but Cadno bets the Brexit Party finish a very poor fourth. They’re a busted flush.In the 2017 election, Plaid Cymru’s vote was squeezed – as were the votes of other small parties – by the big two.

Cadno does not quite see that happening to the same extent this time around; the Greens and Lib Dems have helped them with handing over their handful of votes to make sure that doesn’t happen. Before the last election, Mari Arthur was dropped on the local constituency party with all the effect of a stink bomb in an enclosed space. Long-standing members fled, retching. There is hope that Plaid Cymru can inch its way up to second place in the constituency. However, Cadno thinks getting too close will be self-defeating. 

Plaid once regarded Llanelli as a viable target for a Westminster seat. It isn’t. The best thing for Plaid would be to finish a distant and dismal second so that it can dedicate its (very) scarce resources to more winnable or sustainable Westminster territory and abandon the fantasy of winning UK Parliamentary seats in the former industrial areas of South Wales.

Plaid’s best hope is – and always will be Assembly elections – following which it can exert real influence over the executive decisions of the Welsh Government (maybe, one day, even form one). 

Plaid should leave the fantasy and gesture-driven politics to Labour and the Conservatives. Plaid needs to be realistic about the scope – and limits – of its ambition.

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First Minister agrees to investigate hold-up in new school

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THE FIRST MINISTER of Wales has agreed to make inquiries about a delay in the building of a new school in Llanelli. The Welsh Government called in the Ysgol Dewi Sant project earlier this year.

Mid and West AM Helen Mary Jones said:“I’d like to draw attention to the situation faced by pupils and staff at Ysgol Gymraeg Dewi Sant in Llanelli, which as the First Minister will know is Wales’s oldest Welsh-medium school, where publicly funded Welsh-medium education began. He may also recall that the situation faced by pupils and staff in the school is serious. Whole classes are being taught in corridors and the physical state of the building is extremely poor. Staff and pupils and parents were very grateful to receive funding through the twenty-first century schools programme, but the scheme has been called in by another part of Welsh Government due to issues in relation to the planning system and some concerns about flooding potential.

“I would not suggest for a moment, Llywydd, that I’d ask the First Minister to interfere in any way in the due process that needs to be gone through around the planning issue, but it is my understanding that the initial deadline for that decision to be made has passed, and I would like to ask the First Minister today to speak to the relevant Ministers—the Minister for Education, the Minister with responsibility for planning—so that the pupils and families and teachers in that school can be told when this process will be over, and with a view to ensuring that the Welsh Government’s proposed investment is not lost because of the delay in the planning system.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford, during questions in the Senedd said: “I thank Helen Mary Jones for that supplementary question and for drawing attention to the history of Dewi Sant school and the place it holds in the history of Welsh-medium education here in Wales. I’ll certainly make inquiries, as the Member says, not to interfere in any way in the process, but to make sure that information about it is properly known to those who have a direct interest in it.”

Speaking after the exchange in the Senedd chamber Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Helen Mary Jones added: “I’m glad I had the opportunity to raise concerns in the Senedd. I’m pleased that the First Minister appreciates the frustrations around this issue and has agreed to speak to the relevant Ministers to ensure there is no unnecessary delay.”

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Snap election builds in unfairness

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A SNAP General Election is unlikely to break the break deadlock, the Electoral Reform Society has warned
The ERS says results are likely to be ‘clear as mud’ when it comes to translating voters’ preferences, with ‘vote-splitting, wasted votes and unfair results on an industrial scale’.
One in four (24%) voters are planning on voting ‘tactically’ – rather than for their first choice – increasing the likelihood of random results under Westminster’s winner-takes-all voting system, according to BMG polling for the Society.
When the same question was asked before the 2017 general election, 20% of people said they’d opt for someone who was not their first choice.
Westminster’s voting system rests on a handful of marginals changing hands: “Eleven seats were won by less than 100 votes in 2017. North East Fife was held by the SNP by just two votes. Such are the vagaries of the system that the Conservatives could have won an absolute majority based on just 533 extra votes in the nine most marginal constituencies.
“A working majority could have been achieved on just 75 additional votes in the right places. Two very different outcomes based on less than 0.0017 per cent of voters choosing differently,” the Society’s 2017 election report noted.
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Few believe a third General Election in the space of four years will ‘fix’ the current impasse: the only agreement seems to be that there is yet more volatility coming our way, with parties hoping to gain from the chaos.
“It’s amusing to remember that Westminster’s voting system is supposed to deliver ‘strong and stable’ government. It has totally failed to do what it says on the tin, and no wonder – people are rightly shopping around, but this two-party system is totally unable to cope.
“This election is likely to see ‘tactical’ voting on a scale never seen before, alongside widespread ‘vote-splitting’ and candidates getting in on fractions of the vote.
“First Past the Post voting is now an engine of volatility, which could make the current problems even worse. We could see a ‘wrong winner’ election – where the biggest party did not win the most votes – another hung parliament, and wasted votes in the millions. It’s time to join other advanced democracies in backing a fair voting system where seats match votes.
“This must be the last election conducted using Westminster’s scandalously unfair electoral system. It’s time for Westminster catch up with the rest of the world, with proportional representation and an end to the disaster of winner-takes-all voting.
“Whatever the case, this election will be a ‘hold your nose’ ballot, with one in four feeling forced to vote tactically for their second or third choice.
“A snap election guarantees nothing but an unfair lottery for voters. Let’s build a democracy fit for the 21st century, with an electoral system that encourages cooperation, not gridlock.”
ERS analysis of the 2017 election found that millions of people’s votes were thrown on the electoral scrapheap. 68% of votes had no impact on the result – representing 22 million votes going to waste.
Professor Sir John Curtice told LBC today that this election is likely to see a very high number of votes for parties other than the traditional ‘big two’.
In June, he told the ERS: “There is little doubt that Britain’s traditional two-party system is facing its biggest challenge yet in the wake of the Brexit impasse. If that challenge persists it would seem inevitable that there will renewed debate about the merits of the first-past-the-post electoral system.”
The latest YouGov poll puts Labour and the Conservatives on joint support of 59% – far below their 82% reached in 2017.
The ERS is calling for a proportional voting system for Westminster, the Single Transferable Vote system used for Scotland’s local elections and elections in Ireland.
The warped nature of the system is reflected by the fact that in 2017 it took 43,000 votes to elect a Conservative MP, 49,000 for Labour, nearly 200,000 per Lib Dem and over 500,000 votes for the Greens’ single MP. It took just 28,000 votes per SNP MP and 29,000 per DUP MP. The SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrats support PR.

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