NRF - Peace Breaks Out
NRF stands for Neighbourhood Renewal Fund. It is a sum of money adding up to £22 Million per year that is intended to be used for projects to assist with Birmingham (and 87 other local authorities) improving their performance on "Floor Targets".
Floor Targets are objectives defined statistically to improve certain matters (eg reduce crime, get better exam results). The theory is one that by bringing the bottom 88 authorities up we make progress throughout the country.
Most local authorities merely snaffled the money for their core budgets. There are certain rules of gamesmanship that apply to getting money from UK Government and the EU. There is a form of bureaucratic dance that occurs, but with people being very practised in the art of adjusting their projects to suit the funding the money often ends up being swallowed up for nothing.
Birmingham tried something innovative. We had spent £50K in each ward on projects identified in the ward from revenue we received when a shareholding in BHX (Birmingham International Airport) was sold. This worked well as specific projects were identified that generally delivered things.
We, therefore, set up a similar scheme for handling NRF. This means a group of residents (called the Ward Advisory Board or something similar, but often referrred to as a local strategic partnership) get together with the ward councillors identify projects and then manage the process.
The level of detail this allows would not be possible within the bureaucracy as it would not be possible to get the proper accountable scrutiny into the process.
There was one problem, however, which is that noone told us that we were supposed to be using the money to achieve the floor targets.
There is a problem. That is that there are lots of different cooks involved in cooking this particular broth. There is the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit (NRU), Government Office West Midlands (GOWM), The central City Council bureaucracy, the local City Council Bureaucracy, Councillors, MPs and Local Neighbourhood Forums. With such a large structure involving many people communications problems often occur.
This ended up in some wards such as in the Erdington Constituency where some councillors really like statues that some of the money was used or statues.
Now I have some difficulty understanding how having a statue enables the reduction of teenage pregnancies, but there may be some arcane link.
Some people got a bit stressed about this and there were lots of rows and people saying this was the wrong way to do things.
It remains that some of the schemes such as gating up rear accesses did a good and identifiable job in reducing crime etc. The point about this is that it can be shown that spending the money achieved the result. The unique thing about Birmingham's approach is that we can prove what works because we have controls (ie wards in which the same thing was not done).
Rather than identify what the real problem was and fix it people started thinking up more and more complex schemes for how to control the projects - many of which would not satisfy the financial regulations.
Finally in November GOWM wrote to the Council sort of instructing it to do things a different way. We made the point that there are projects that are running out of each year's revenue and that trying to change the system so that it runs a different way would result in all of these projects (Which employ staff) shutting down for a while.
In December this argument was accepted. A note was circulated suggesting a mechanism as to the way forward and noone has opposed it. The deadline for responses was yesterday. This enabled me to write the following article for Neighbourhood News (a publication that goes to 1,300 community activists in Birmingham).
After long discussions with various arms of government, MPs, Councillors and
with members of the Strategic Partnership some form of peace has broken out
with a consensus as to how to handle the 2005/6 allocation of NRF. It is
recognised by all that whatever the merits of the arguments for different
schemes of payment we needed to get on with year 2005/6. If we had not been
able to do that continuing projects dependent upon NRF would have
The NRF allocations in 2005/6 for local spend will again be based on a Ward
allocation. The funding will be made up of a £50k Community Chest in each
Ward plus an allocation reflecting the deprivation and population to tackle
the national floor targets. In order to focus the funding on activities
which will have the biggest impact in the most deprived areas. District
Strategic Partnerships will be providing guidance on which aspects of the
national floor targets the proposed projects should be addressing and in
the mean time Wards should be developing the list of potential schemes.
This does mean that a number of people who would have lost their jobs will keep them which is good news.
The whole process does get rather bogged down in bureaucracy.
New Year's Celebrations
A minor tempest in a tea cup is going on about where the city holds its New Year's Celebrations. There is always a review after an event. I personally would prefer the event held closer to the city centre than Millenium Point as we would get higher numbers. However, no decision has been made as yet. I do generally go to the New Year's events myself and was at the one on 31st Dec 2004 - much that I have been criticised for not being there.
Plough and Harrow - Coventry Road
Another project I have been working on is getting this derelict building back into use. The good news is that yesterday there was a site visit to look at some proposals.