Headlines: August 15th, 1997

Modern urban economies generate substantial numbers of people who are excluded from the economic mainstream. Peter Mandalson described this social exclusion as the “greatest social curse of our times.” In a lecture to the Fabian Society he outlined the creation of a Cabinet Unit to co-ordinate policy development and existing programmes. Robin Young, Head of Economic and Domestic Affairs Secretariat at the Cabinet Office and former Director of the Government Office for London, will be in charge of the day to day running. It is expected that Tony Blair will chair meetings.Bringing coherence to current policies and their implementation is a key task for the Unit. Substantial budgets and a great deal of energy and enthusiasm are already focused on the problem. However, it is recognised that rowing harder in the same direction will not significantly reduce the scourge and waste of social exclusion. What is required is better steering to create a strategic framework within which regeneration agencies, programmes and initiatives can be fully integrated.

The organisations involved include TECs, UDCs, HATs, City Challenges, Regional Challenge Partnerships, Enterprise Zones, Business Links and Housing Associations. They operate alongside many other institutions who have responsibility for regeneration: local authorities, Government Regional Offices, European funded initiatives, private sector groupings, institutions of higher and further education, English Partnerships and health and transport authorities. All these organisations have different missions, budgets, political masters, boundaries and time frames. The Audit Commission described the situation as ‘a patchwork quilt of initiatives.’

A key issue to be addressed by the Unit is how bring coherence to all this effort and so get better value for money. The plans announced so far indicate that there is now an opportunity to create a framework within which the strategies of the many and varied organisations can be integrated.

The Unit will be able to draw on the work that has already been done by different bodies who have sought to bring coherence to the task of addressing social exclusion.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is playing a prominent role in this area. One of the themes of their Area Regeneration Programme, launched last year, is concerned with the governance of responses to urban economic change. Theresa McDonagh said: “Our Research and Development Programmes harmonise well with the Government’s announcement. We are approaching the issue of exclusion on a neighbourhood and community basis. Our earlier report ‘Unleashing The Potential’ shows how it is possible to produce results by working with the energies of people. We will be very pleased to contribute to the work of the Unit.”