Huw Lewis, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
I am providing this Written Statement to update Members on the new Communities First (CF) Programme in Wales.
In November 2011, it was announced that, going forward, Communities First would be a Community Focussed Tackling Poverty Programme with three strategic outcomes: Healthy Communities, Learning Communities and Prosperous Communities. The aim of the programme is to narrow the economic, health and education and skills gaps between our most deprived and more affluent citizens by working with individuals and communities in the most deprived areas across Wales.
The Programme will now be delivered through fewer, larger areas than under the previous arrangements; these new areas are known as Communities First ‘Clusters’.
Last month it was announced that the last of the 52 Clusters had been granted funding, taking the total commitment up to £75 million until March 2015, providing over 900 jobs and supporting valuable work in our most deprived communities, much of it led by local people themselves, including thousands of volunteers.
CF is now a new programme in many respects. We have responded to the consultation undertaken in 2011 and to the recommendations by the Wales Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee in their reports on CF. In particular, we have made Good Governance, Strong Community Involvement and Effective Delivery of Outcomes through partnership working essential requirements for each Cluster.
The Clusters will be subject to ongoing monitoring and required to provide evidence of delivery through the Results Based Accountability system. With a focus on outcomes and delivery, each Cluster has a Delivery Plan describing the contribution that it will make to the three strategic outcomes as well as to the overall aim of Tackling Poverty. For example, every CF Cluster will be running a Work Club or a similar ‘back to work’ initiative, offering employment advice as well as support on the issue of Welfare Reform. Many Clusters are supporting food co-ops, Credit Unions and a wide variety of other activity.
The new programme will build on the achievements of the previous CF Programme while retaining a strong focus on community involvement and engagement.
Each Cluster is governed by a Lead Delivery Body (LDB) which is not only responsible for ensuring the good governance and effective delivery of outcomes within each Cluster but is also responsible for delivering the programme locally, including safeguarding community involvement.
To this end, each Cluster not only has a Delivery Plan which details the contribution they will make to tackling poverty at a local level but also a Community Involvement Plan which outlines how the community will be involved in taking the programme forward and how hard to reach groups will be engaged.
To support the Communities First Workforce in implementing their Delivery Plans and their Community Involvement Plans, I am pleased to announce that we have been able to award National Support Contracts to WCVA who will provide Training and Advice to programme staff and volunteers, and to Community Development Cymru who will lead on the longer term development of the Communities First Workforce. The support provided by these contracts will help to ensure a smooth transition into the new programme so that the most deprived communities continue to receive a consistent and effective service.
We will also be delivering on the Welsh Government commitment to continue the Communities First Trust Fund by setting up a new a Tackling Poverty Small Grants Fund, which also includes funding for small grants in non Communities First areas which was previously provided through the Community Facilities and Activities Programme. The total pot for this Fund will be at least £3.5 million per year, 75% of which will be allocated to Communities First areas with the remaining 25% allocated to non CF areas.
Applications to this new Fund will have to demonstrate how every proposed project or initiative links to the Tackling Poverty agenda and will help to build prosperous, healthy and learning communities. In CF areas, community members will have a greater say than previously in how the grant is allocated and will be directly engaged at a local level in developing some key prospective projects.
One of the main challenges we have faced was to ensure that there are stronger links between Communities First and other service providers and Welsh Government departments. We are already making real progress through a Shared Outcomes process, with a number of further interventions being developed to support CF Clusters. These include the expansion of the Jobcentre Plus Parent Employment Advice work to now cover 12 Clusters, in each case moving a JCP Advisor to work in the community as part of the CF delivery team. We are also piloting an approach to directly link CF and Jobs Growth Wales by employing Youth Employment Mentors in 10 CF Clusters. Further work is being undertaken with a range of advice services to ensure all CF Clusters have access to high quality welfare advice.
We have been developing an integrated approach to work with successful cross departmental initiatives, for example the Pupil Deprivation Grant (PDG) where we are working closely with colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills to match fund the PDG allocation with CF funding and encourage stronger partnership working between schools and CF Clusters wit the aim of reducing the attainment gap between children in receipt of Free School Meals and their peers.
This is not by any means the end of our ambitions for such joint working, and we are continuing to develop proposals across Welsh Government and beyond, focussing on health, education, regeneration and jobs in particular. I will be making further announcements about this work in the near future.
Our Programme for Government makes it clear that we will continue to invest in our most deprived communities to develop a flexible and responsive programme which seeks to tackle the impacts of poverty as well as the longer term causes of poverty in Wales. Through continued investment in the Communities First programme and by building on cross portfolio work to date, we can come together to achieve this.