Doesn’t a promise from the chief exec of a one-star council count for anything these days?

by Keren Suchecki

Neighbourhood Renewal is over and Bristol won’t be receiving Working Neighbourhoods funding. There’s just a couple of million transition funding to cushion the fall for those being flung off the funding cliff.

Luckily, the city has planned in advance to cope with this news. Back in November, the council’s Neighbourhood Renewal Unit asked neighbourhoods to decide on their priorities and then brought them together with service providers, evaluators and other stakeholders in a day-long citywide joint planning session to agree priorities together.

And very well it went too. The chief exec of the council opened the day by proclaiming this the opportunity to really influence Bristol’s regeneration work by making informed and joined-up decisions. It ended with an agreed framework of priorities for funding that all approved of. We were well prepared.

So it felt like swallowing something hard and jagged when we saw the funding proposals from the council’s Cabinet last week. They bear no relation to the list agreed in what the chief exec plainly told us was the decision-making process. Apparently a more important bit of the hierarchy ran a separate, non-consultative process, with no reference to the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, and ejected the agreed framework with the efficiency of a dose of Norovirus.

And a stunningly ill-informed bunch of proposals they are, for example: they’ve removed education initiatives from all white working-class areas as Bristol has again been declared bottom of the league tables; stripped money from drug services when Bristol receives less than half the funding per user than other cities; distorted the funding so that south Bristol (highest population and deepest deprivation) is proposed to get a third of what north Bristol will receive.

For that brief moment in November it looked like Bristol City Council had got the hang of informed decision making. Doesn’t a promise from the chief exec of a one-star council count for anything these days?

This article first appeared in ‘New Start’ magazine. Keren Suchecki is a regeneration worker in South Bristol.

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11 Responses to Doesn’t a promise from the chief exec of a one-star council count for anything these days?

  1. James Barlow says:

    For a lay audience, this article is not easy to follow as it contains quite a lot of jargon.

    In your first paragraph, am I correct that you are reporting that your project will no longer receive money from the Neighbourhood Fund nor will it be getting money from the Working Neighbourhoods Fund?

    The cuts in Adult Education are troubling, but I’m not convinced that Bristol gets a great deal of benefit from the drugs services or regeneration agenda that wouldn’t be better realised by stopping government from taking money out of peoples’ pockets in the first place. Tell me if I’m wrong.

  2. James, you are wrong. You wont get much, if any, sympathy from people in South Bristol for your view either.

    I dont think South Bristol has been that well funded or properly consulted, involved and empowered up to this point. However, the govt and council have just made things even worse.

    There’s no justice in treating the city as if it is of the same wealth level throughout. There are large differences between different parts of Bristol, especially north vs south of the river.

  3. ovidius naso says:

    Not sure how drug addicts are more likely to kick their habit by taxing them less to be honest. Personally i’m happy to pay taxes to see my fellow citizens not be begging for money in the rain for smack anymore. Hard to see how you could object to that really, especially if you see the reality of it on the streets.

    Interesting to see this news though, as Nick Gurney restructured the regeneration department into the cabinet office of the council when he started. So now he’s leaving, the cabinet are ignoring his plans?

  4. Archie says:

    Bristol has always been a tale of two cities, North verse South. BCC is a beast with pure arrogance that is blind to the real issues of the city and deaf to the voices and screams of the problems.

    A sad state of affairs is Bristol, it will be a generation before all the problems go and these “Avon County Council” pups become too long in the tooth and retire, or do they not plan on retiring which was the SED party plan in East Germany?

  5. thebristolblogger says:


    The article originally appeared in New Start, a specialist regeneration magazine where the audience would easily understand the jargon. I did toy with the idea of changing it but partly because I’m lazy and partly because I didn’t want to muck about with someone else’s work I didn’t.

    As for the rest of your post, as usual you’re half right. Firstly, I don’t think it’s very useful to lump drug services in with area-based regeneration initiatives. They’re very different.

    Drug services should save the taxpayer money. I forget the figure but I think for something like every £1 spent on drugs services you will save something like £5 costs in policing, the criminal justice system and the prison service.

    Of course if you want to scrap drug services to throw more money at incompetent coppers, greedy lawyers and failing prisons you can but don’t pretend you’re shrinking the state or saving us money. You’re not. You’re satisfying that old Tory urge for pain and punishment.

    The debate that should instead be had around drug services is whether or not they are best delivered at a community level in organisations run by concerned, although inexpert locals. A city-wide service led by health professionals and experts seems more logical to me, both in terms of achieving economies of scale and in delivering results.

    You are utterly correct, however, in saying that area-based regeneration delivers few if any benefits in terms of tackling poverty or reducing inequality. You are also correct to identify redistibution as the best method to actually achieve this.

    But redistributing through the tax system will have little effect because most of the people you need to help are on benefits.

    The millions of pounds spent on regerneration might therefore be better spent on public services. For instance, over the twenty years that Bristol’s received regeneration funds its education system has spiralled downards. Who’s to say the millions wouldn’t have been better spent on core services like our schools? Or our health service? Or maybe in delivering a cheap and efficient public transport system?

    If it cost £10 a week rather than £30 a week to get to work in Bristol, far more people are likely to choose to go to work because of this than will ever choose to do so because a state-funded workshop encouraged them too.

    However if you really want to deliver tax cuts and tackle inequality then the way to do it isn’t to spend more money at all. What you should do is scrap all the state subsidies to businesses and employers in the form of work-based benefits (tax credits, child support etc) and raise the minimum wage to reflect this.

    There you go. Billions saved, taxes down and poverty and inequality tackled. Everyone happy (except possibly businesses and employers having to pay the real costs of employment).

  6. Woodsy says:

    The comments about the north-south divisions and deprivation are a bit too simplistic: there are also areas of deprivation north of the river too, just as there are posh bits south of it. The way this matter is handled locally is that the large estates in the south of the city such as Hartcliffe and Withywood get played off against inner city areas such as Easton and St Pauls with both sets of communities thinking they’re being hard done by in relation to the other.

    I’ve lived in Easton for 30 years now and would tend to agree with you Mr Blogger as regards the value obtained regeneration money – the area has gone backwards in some respects, not forwards.

  7. Keren says:

    Unlike Easton and the inner city, Hartcliffe and Withywood received no regeneration funding until 1999. And unlike Easton and the inner city (in the opinion of Woodsy) the money has made a huge difference to the area.

    However, expecting 8 years of small amounts of regeneration funding (around £2 million a year) to tackle issues like poor education and unemployment is unrealistic. Mainstream services spend around £50 million a year in the area and they can’t solve these problems either.

    What regeneration funding has allowed is the creation of tailored services for specific problems that the mainstream just ignores: domestic abuse work, locally provided drug services, credit unions rather than loan sharks, working with employers to train their workforce and to employ more local residents, improved parks and safer open spaces, piloting PCSOs in Bristol, enhanced youth work, affordable childcare, a new community building and library, a new youth centre, adaptations to elderly people’s home to improve heating and accessibility, and on and on blah, blah, blah. I could bore you for hours with it.

    What’s happening now means that these small steps in improving people’s quality of life are being cut off without a second thought.

    James, you don’t need to understand the regen jargon (as BB points out this wasn’t written for a general audience), just understand that BCC is cocking up as usual.

  8. Keren says:

    BB that figure you were trying to remember is £1 spent on treatment saves £9 in criminal justice costs. This comes from Home Office research.

  9. thebristolblogger says:

    Keren, I don’t think that BCC is cocking up. It’s altogether more cynical than that. The majority of the money under their proposals is going into marginal Labour wards in the city.
    “The Northern Arc” is in the now marginal, due to boundary changes, Bristol North West Constituency while Easton and Lawrence Hill, due to boundary changes, is in Bristol West, a key Lib Dem/Labour marginal at the next election.
    Nice touch that. Buying votes dressed up as social justice.

  10. Jozer says:

    So basically, South Bristol’s habbit of blindly voting Labour means that Bristol Labour Party can happily ingore them, knowing their votes are in the bag anyway. There’s a lesson in this. I have been a natural Labour supporter all my life, but if they treated me with this contempt, I would vote tactically elsewhere.

  11. Marge "Suchecki" Leibforth says:

    Hi Keren,
    Working on a “Suchecki” family tree and ran across your name — if interested in adding to it, contact me.

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