Documenting Past Failures: (1) Introduction

Over the coming months, and at irregular intervals, I’ll be posting Documenting Past Failures pieces, which will look at some of the episodes that I’ve been involved in since 2004, broadly in chronological sequence.

To start with, I’ll be looking mostly at how LBWF used Neighbourhood Renewal Fund monies. The background is as follows.

In 2001, the government launched a new National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal which aimed to reverse long-term decline in wards defined as ‘deprived’ by tackling key issues (such as poor health, worklessness, and crime), and at the same time empowering local residents, so that the impetus for change would be self-sustaining (Social Exclusion Unit, A New Commitment to Neighbourhood Renewal (Cabinet Office, 2001). In the following eight years, the associated Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF) disbursed some £2,925m. to 92 local authorities in pursuit of the stated objectives.

Between 2001 and 2008, LBWF received £15.2m. from the NRF (ibid) and devolved administration of these monies to the Local Strategic Partnership (LSP), an umbrella body bringing together the Council and ‘key partners’ (the police, the health authority, and so on), which for much of the time was chaired by Cllr. Clyde Loakes, and to some extent operated in the shadows (for example, not publishing its minutes). The programmes that followed were named first ‘NRF’ and then, from early 2006, ‘Better Neighbourhoods Initiative’ (BNI). All told, LBWF NRF and BNI together probably encompassed several hundred individual projects, often contracted to outside providers for implementation, and ranging in scale and size. The beneficiaries were supposed to be people living in places like Cann Hall, Cathall, Higham Hill, Lea Bridge, and Leyton  – wards rated high on the government’s deprivation index.

Just to round things out, I should point out that I had a ring-side view of the events that I am going to deal with, because from 2004 onwards I was (volunteer) chair of the Cann Hall Neighbourhood Forum, which received substantial NRF funding. Not unexpectedly, from the off, we were keen to make sure that our spending was bringing results, and – this being Waltham Forest – soon found that getting honest answers to reasonable questions was not straight forward at all. One of our earliest scraps caught the eye of the Waltham Forest Guardian (see reference below), though compared to what followed, as the succeeding posts will show, this was very small beer indeed…