Saturday, October 03, 2009

Why I resigned from Kensington Regeneration

Local newspapers reported yesterday upon my resignation from the board of Kensington Regeneration.

Appointed by Liverpool City Council, the "accountable body", I was one of two councillors on the board, the other being Andrew Makinson, Liberal Democrat, Picton ward. Kensington Regeneration is the organisation set up to manage the New Deal project in this part of Liverpool. £62million pounds of tax-payers money was awarded by the Labour Government to fund inner-city regeneration - I think I am right in saying it is the largest New Deal in the country. The money is paid to Liverpool City Council who then authorise its distribution to Kensington Regeneration and has to agree the annual plans etc. My role as an accountable body representative on the Board was to ensure that we had the ability to scrutinise plans and proposals, consider value for money, represent the council's interests, and of course as an elected representative, represent local residents.

I have taken the scrutiny role very seriously, asking huge numbers of questions about anything I have had uncertainties, doubts or concerns, at every meeting of the board, or the various committees and task groups that I have sat on. I have not always found it easy to get answers to those questions, but have doggedly gone on asking them, because it is what I was put there for - and because it is extremely important. Unfortunately, whereas scrutiny is very welcome at the council, with committees set up precisely for this function, where we are encouraged to interrogate policy and spending in depth, I have often felt that my questions have been seen as unhelpful by some of the leading figures of the organisation. I don't think they have understood my role or the nature of scrutiny and so have seen me as a threat, instead of someone who was (obviously) extremely keen to see this Labour Government initiative succeed in our area.

I have been concerned for some time now about proposals for the future, following the end of this 10 year project in 2010.

We met several times, including an away day, to discuss our priorities, those projects funded by the New Deal that we would like to see continue. My personal votes included the New Deal Community Police Team, the C7 wardens, the Clean Team, HEAT and the Community Learning Centre. A list of 10 was finally arrived at by adding up all the votes cast. We also met with the various service providers - like the police - to agree what they would be able to take forward on their own, continuing the good work - "mainstreaming".

The intention then was to fund, as best as we could, our priority projects, or some part thereof, using any income from any assets that Kensington Regeneration had acquired over its life.

Kensington Regeneration set up a Community Interest Company (CIC) a few years ago which we agreed might potentially form part of the solution, by spending and managing the income of the assets. Other alternatives were that the income could be spent and managed by an existing organisation - the Council, Community 7 Housing Association and Parks Options were all put forward by different people as suggestions.

In recent months the Board has moved strongly towards the CIC option. They have asked Liverpool City Council to take over the assets themselves, and lock them in, for the benefit of the local community. The assets are mainly grants which may be repaid when local people sell their homes, and some few plots of land. They may potentially generate an income of around £220,000 per annum we are told.

Kensington Regeneration then wish the council to pass this income over to the CIC to spend locally. The CIC, which is made up of several members of Kensington Regeneration Board, and local residents, and has a number of directors, have said that they would intend to spend £92,000 of this income, on paying a manager, renting an office, legals, insurances etc.

I was aghast at the thought that over 40% of the income that local people could expect to be spent on their priorities in the area, would be spent on overheads instead. I was particularly concerned that the manager's job was going to be at an advertised salary of £40,000 which I believe is considerably above what a social enterprise should or would be paying. And certainly nobody in Kensington earns that kind of money, including those running any other CICs.

I have developed an alternative strategy which I wanted to discuss with the Board. A strategy that would ensure that 100% of the £220,000 would be available for local priority projects.

Given that they are going to manage the assets anyway, and lock them in, Liverpool City Council could go a step further and also distribute the funds locally. There is an existing scheme - the Councillors' Community Initiative Fund, which is spent at ward level, awarded on a bids basis to local organisations who meet local priorities. My proposal is that we would add the £220,000, using some suitable formula, to the CCIF in the three wards contained within the Kensington Regeneration boundary, so increasing the sums available for spending locally. I further propose that we invite the resident board members of Kensington Regeneration to work with councillors in agreeing which bids to support each year.

Alternatively, I would also like to explore the possibility of using Participatory Budgeting to spend the funds locally. Liverpool City Council is currently working on plans to introduce this scheme where we encourage local people to vote on their priorities for local spending. If this were brought in, and personally I am supporter, then we could allow all Kensington, Fairfield, Edge Hill and Kensington Fields residents the opportunity to choose how the £220,000 is spent.

Neither of these options will incur overheads as they would both merely involve increasing the size of the coffers for schemes already put in place.

The proposals for the CIC plans were due to come to Liverpool City Council to agree, last week, and the report stated that I had been consulted and was supportive of them. Because this was not the case, I wrote to the council and told them that I was unhappy with the idea of spending £92,000 on overheads when alternative proposals would see all of the benefits going to local people. This will now be discussed at a Scrutiny Committee of the Council on Tuesday where I hope to make these points.

I asked at this week's Kensington Regeneration Board meeting if we could have a special meeting where I could explain my alternative proposals. This was turned down by other board members who said they were now fixed on the CIC plans. The Chair made it very clear that the decision of the Board was final and that as a board member I would be expected to support the plans for the CIC, rather than challenge them at the Scrutiny Committee. This obviously put me in an untenable position and so I reluctantly resigned from the Board, forthwith.

I have been prevented from commenting on any of this before, because it was made clear to me by the organisation that public criticisms of Kensington Regeneration were not compatible with board membership. Of course those restrictions have now been lifted.


Anonymous said...

The checks in place for CCIF are simply not sufficient for this level of funding (they are not sufficient for the levels they are funding at the moment) - and the scheme is subject to political whimsy from all sides.

The Participatory Budgeting is a brighter option but there are still real concerns over that approach too.

Funny how there appears to have been little to no consultation with residents as a whole on what they would like to see taken forward. (No doubt one of the reasons why, to the average Kensington person, the New Deal has rather passed them by.)

scouseboy said...

I think you have made a very principled stand.

Anonymous said...

Hi Louise

Whose going to ask those difficult questions now?