Monthly Archives: June 2014

EU funds matched in England with £260m from the Big Lottery Fund for voluntary organisations (ESF and ERDF)

This week the Chief Executive of the Big Lottery Fund, Dawn Austwick, announced an agreement with NCVO and the Government to provide over £260 million as match funding for the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF). The ESIF is due to be approved by the European Commission soon, hopefully before the year end.

The emphasis will be on matching the ESF (European Social Fund) contribution for projects which will be tackling poverty and social exclusion, with a focus on giving disadvantaged people support to improve their skills, training and employability. The ESIF also includes ERDF – the European Regional Development Fund.

The next step is for voluntary organisations in each LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) area in England to come together over the summer and start planning to bid. £620,000 will be available to support this process.

NCVO said, “only a very small proportion of the last round of European Social Fund money was accessed by charities, with the vast bulk going to larger organisations or reaching the voluntary sector only through prime providers delivering top-down programmes. The new round of European funding represents a substantially more community-led approach.”

New readers, especially in voluntary organisations, should note the free ERDF Independent Guide book (PDF) on the downloads page above.

More details:
http://www.ncvo.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/672-lottery-match-set-to-open-up-major-european-funding-opportunities-for-voluntary-sector

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Federalism in the UK and how do we govern England

There is some talk in the press this week about the growing need for federalism within the government of the UK. The argument goes that, whatever the outcome of the forthcoming Scottish Referendum we will be moving towards a more federal approach of government.

The problem is that around 84 per cent of the UK population lives in England, and there is no appetite for an English Parliament. So what are the options, and what are the lessons?

Will it be Regions?

In his excellent book, Walter Menzies talks about the in-joke in Whitehall of TAFKAR – the areas formerly known as regions. In 2010, one of the first acts of the Coalition Government was to dismantle the regional bodies in England. Even the use of the word ‘region’ was abolished. Everything was now ‘local’. This policy move has been under-researched in my opinion, but my sense is that it was driven by some councillors who had a fundamental dislike of regional housing strategies and boards telling them what to do. This dislike was, I suspect, especially found in the more prosperous semi-rural council areas who resented being told what to do by the nearby urban centres. The new Localism policy tried to fill the void with some planning guidance and incentives for development, but the house building shortage is a measure of its lack of impact.

However, the previous Labour government also fumbled the ball on regions. The trend seemed to be unstoppable but then we had the no vote in the North East. At the heart of government someone got cold feet just before the vote, and overnight a promise was made to the media that the vote would be changed to ‘reduce bureaucracy’. The new question was, which would you prefer – counties or regions – but you cannot have both. OK, the people said, we’ll keep what we’ve got.

Will it be Mayors?

Another response that still has some supporters is for more elected mayors, even though some of the areas that have tried them have later voted to go back to traditional councillors. This policy has been more researched and commented on than regional governance, and for the most part is not seen now as a strong contender. For me, the idea of elected mayors tried to put personalities above structures, and confused the effectiveness of Mayors of London as individual politicians without taking account of their additional legal powers.

Will it be Cities?

The idea of city-regions, roughly based on the old metropolitan counties but with a strategic influence beyond, has been gaining ground for some time. The recent development of Combined Authorities has been led by Greater Manchester and is spreading out in subsequent years with Liverpool, Leeds and elsewhere. These are new local authorities, being additional to the existing cities and boroughs that sit within them. So far these new authorities could be called a tidying-up exercise of all the various joint boards and arrangements that had to be invented when the metropolitan counties were abolished in the 1980s. Their competences include transport, waste and economic development. However, the ambition is that they provide a ready-to-roll vehicle for any new powers and resources that might flow to the urban areas outside of London.

England within a Federal UK?

So, with 84 per cent of the population in England, let us try and imagine who sits around the table of a Federal UK meeting. The easy bit is – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and London.

And then we have – the ‘rest’, the ‘provinces’.

Us.

Curiously we are also the majority at the table, but you would not know that from the discussions so far, nor from the existing balance of powers. City-regions are now a strong contender for the other seats around the federal table, and in terms of population there is a strong democratic case. However, we need to remember another dynamic within the previous Labour government when the Countryside Alliance organised a mass march through London. Despite the fact that rural areas were more subsidised than urban areas, the government’s willingness to listen to the needs of cities chilled considerably.

This time around, as cities and urban areas we need to make sure we get our seats at the federal table. To do this effectively and to avoid being tackled to the ground we need to learn how, from the 1980s onwards, various hostile interests have got ahead of us and taken our rightful place. It is politics, so we should not be surprised. And not caught off-guard this time.

Finally, if anyone suggests that UK Federalism and fair city-region representation can be sorted by reforming the House of Lords, just think ‘long grass’.

Low-carbon economies and sustainable growth will require a new and different mix of services

How can local and national economies continue to grow in the years ahead without wrecking our planet?

A good part of the known answer is in low-carbon energy sources, and renewable energy sources will need to grow substantially. Another good part of the answer is in reducing demand for energy, especially by eliminating waste heat. And thirdly, we will need to switch over from manufacturing container loads of “stuff” to give more emphasis to services.

But which services?

The current preferred mix in the service sectors favours the expensive, costly areas of the economy such as finance and legal work. But while they are great for GVA (gross value added) figures, do they really add much to the sum total of human happiness and wellbeing? Of course, some aspects are essential, such as our child protection courts, or having loan bonds for public infrastructure. But we know there is a lot of expensive froth in the mix.

There is the apocryphal story of a married couple who, on their wedding anniversary each year as presents give each other cheques for a million pounds. A little bit of nonsense which cancels itself out. But in some economic models the GVA needles would fly off the scales.

So maybe the successful and sustainable economies of the future will be based on similar examples of low-carbon, low-resource exchange, albeit more sensible. The music singer who performs live outdoors to a small, paying crowd. The food grown locally and sold at a Saturday market. The evening class learning to speak Italian. Currently these forms of service work are seen as somewhat low in GVA, not quite the dizzying heights of international finance.

But maybe future local economies will be valued for having the best range of low-impact services. That in a sustainable city you can learn forty languages; and where you can choose between seven types of fresh celery; and as you stroll across town you can find every genre of music.

In summary, measuring the sustainable qualities of the value added as well as the quantity.

And to close, for the future I wonder if we will start to think that – by educating a good number or even most people in the arts – this shift will cause a lower carbon impact than by having as many people as now studying the sciences? Yes, medics and other scientists will always be essential, and I speak as a taught scientist myself, but the balance and privileges may alter in the years ahead.

Carbon Literacy and the Built Environment – Closing the Performance Gap

The built environment is responsible for around 47% of all UK carbon emissions, and the construction industry is well placed to influence and improve this figure. 

However, there is a growing body of evidence that many, possibly even most of our new and refurbished buildings in the UK are not performing anything like as well as they should, especially low energy buildings. The correct regulations are followed, the energy calculations are double checked, and the certificates are in place. But over time we sadly discover that the building often remains too cold or too hot, too draughty, too dark, or too damp. What can we do to change this?

Read more… Carbon Literacy and the Built Environment – Closing the Performance Gap

Railpolitik, by Paul Salveson (book review)

If I was the next Minister of Transport, Paul Salveson would be one of the first people I would have in to Whitehall for a tea and a chat. And I guess he might respond by inviting me instead to have that same tea in the cafe on Bolton station, followed probably by a trip on a creaking Pacer train to Blackburn along the single-track speed-restricted route. And he’d probably ask me to bring a carriage of transport civil servants up from London to boot.

The sub-title of this book is ‘bringing railways back to the community’, and from Community Rail Partnerships through to devolved regional development, this book sets out a well thought through path for future improvements. It is not a naive ‘bring back British Rail’ manifesto, he knows too much from the inside to think they were the golden days. Rather, the vision is of a balance of many existing and new local partnership branches attached to a national, inter-city trunk.

The book itself is a tour-de-force. It starts with a political history of rail in Britain, much needed because so many romantic but deluded myths still fill the air, and the airwaves. The Victorians made a right hash of it, basically. Then British Rail carried on, dysfunctional at its core with engineering unable to speak a civil word to operations and vice versa. All run from London on some grand plan. Then privatisation, another hash up.

And now, regrettably so often any political debate on the railways in Britain becomes boiled down to just one item— HS2.

Paul rightly points out that HS2 is designed to feed into the city centres such as Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, and he worries that the benefits will not flow fully into the surrounding valleys, suburbs and regions. For me, this is a reminder that if HS2 is delivered without a properly functioning total rail network then it would be papering over the cracks. To be fair, HS2 supporters are becoming clearer in speaking about the wider network benefits of increased capacity. But I agree that the integration with regional and local branches still needs a more thoughtful approach, and more practical working out.

For example, if a high-speed train could not run on through Manchester to Blackburn, what else is possible? And don’t just say ‘combined tickets’. That is nowhere near good enough. We seem to have lost the ability to think about networks, and all we have left is marketing.

More people would be won over to the HS2 cause if there was a firmer commitment to securing it within a functional rail system which served the passenger first. Bread and butter as well as jam. And it is this bread and butter that Paul Salveson knows well and he articulates a thoughtful path for its rescue and development. In any other industry you would say, this is a roadmap out of the mess we are in.

Railpolitik, Paul Salveson (2013) 249pp Lawrence & Wishart, London
ISBN 9781907103810

Full disclosure: I worked with Paul in the 1980s at Greater Manchester Council for Voluntary Service and assisted slightly on the production side of his rail book then.
British Rail: the radical alternative to privatisation, Paul Salveson (1989) 158pp
CLES, Manchester
ISBN 1870053184