The folllowing sample essay on Labour Government 1997 discusses it in detail, offering basic facts and pros and cons associated with it. To read the essay’s introduction, body and conclusion, scroll down.
The Conservative Government of 1990 under John Major aimed to move urban politics in a new direction. The removal of Margaret Thatcher from office and the re-appointment of Michael Heseltine to the Department of the Environment signalled this change in direction. The policies of the 1980s were based on privatisation with respect to the redevelopment of deprived areas.
The policies from the 1980s however received much criticism from the Audit Commission Report, as well as Conservative supporters alike.
The Audit Commission had described Urban Support Programmes as ‘a patchwork quilt of complexity and idiosyncrasy’, and the economic decline, combined with changing patterns of economic growth led to poverty. During the 1990s however, the government’s emphasis was placed on collaboration or ‘local governance’, which became more widespread. The need for a governmental change of view from the previous decade was realised in 1990 in the review of ‘Action for Cities’.
The government called for a ‘spirit of co-operation, of partnership between all of those involved in central and local government, including local businesses’. The idea of partnerships between public and private sectors was introduced in May 1991. Much of the literature on the topic of urban regeneration policies is interested in the relationship between local authorities and businesses. The main reason behind this is the urban policy agenda established by the Conservatives in the early 1990s, which was principally about the pooling of resources between local government and businesses.
The new Conservative Party’s first urban initiative, City Challenge was set up in May 1991. This policy was designed by Michael Heseltine, and the emphasis was on partnership and competition. The government invited local authorities to bid and compete with each other for regeneration funds. City Challenge placed local authorities back at the centre of urban policy. In the first round of bidding, 21 authorities were invited to bid, of which 11 were successful. In the second, all 57 urban programme authorities were invited to bid, and 20 were successful.
The City Challenge scheme had many critics who questioned the selection process. The policy had run for 18 months when the government announced in November 1992 that they planned to wind down the urban programme and City Challenge. In 1993, the Urban Programme was brought to an end in the 1993 reforms. The Urban Regeneration Agency was formed and brought about the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) and English Partnerships (EP). EP was officially launched by the government in November 1993, and it brought together English Estates, Derelict Land Grant, and City Grant.
It was designed to upgrade derelict land for redevelopment in partnership with local councils and the private sector. English Partnerships was given powers to override local authority planning restrictions, and used the funds to offer financial assistance as a means of gap funding for the areas deemed to be in greatest need. There was a lot of controversy over its role in the process of urban renewal. When the policy was launched, the government announced that there would be one senior regional director for each of the ten regional offices.
This top-down implementation placed full control of the region with one senior officer, as oppose to the individual authorities being given more control as they were with the City Challenge policy. The SRB was launched in April 1994. It consisted of 20 existing programmes, which included City Challenge, and also brought about the integration of the regional offices of Whitehall. The budget they had to operate with was £181million in 1994 and 1995, and £ 220million in 1996 and 1997.
The co-ordination of this policy was welcomed, but critics argued that instead of elected regional bodies, the government had increased central administrative powers. The SRB was considered to be the new ‘flagship’ regeneration programme and consisted of three main strands:
Rounds 1 – 3 of the SRB were conducted under the Conservative Party, however the Labour Party was elected in the middle of round 4.
The Labour Party in power (1997-2002): The Regional Development Agencies (RDA) Act was passed in 1998 and set out New Labour’s policy of delegating the task of urban regeneration to each specific region. The main purpose of the RDAs was to further economic development and the regeneration of the area in question. Other aims were to promote business efficiency, investment, competitiveness, and employment in the area, whilst also enhancing the development and application of skills relevant to employment in the area.
The RDAs were officially founded in 1999 and eight were set up in each of the regions, and a ninth for London set up in 2000. The RDAs took over from English Partnerships in terms of the responsibility of regional development. The special functions of the RDAs include formulating a regional strategy in relation to their purpose, promoting regional regeneration, taking forward government competitiveness agenda in regions, and taking the lead on regional inward investment.
Following consultation with regional partners, the RDAs presented the strategies to the government in October 1999, and in January 2000, the government responded by giving a broad welcome of the strategies. The government’s response was to significantly increase the RDAs budgetary flexibility. New funding was brought together in a single cross-departmental budget by 2002-2003 of £ 1. 7billion. Government Offices for the Regions were established in 1994, but under the Labour Government, were given an increasingly pivotal role at the heart of Government.
The Government Offices (GOs) worked together with the Regional Co-ordinator Unit (RCU), which was established as the headquarters for the GO network in 2000, as a result of the Performance and Innovation Unit Report, ‘Reaching out – the role of central government at regional and local levels’. Together, the GOs and RCU aimed to cut through bureaucracy and add value to delivery through its shared experience and best practice, bring together key stakeholders and local partners, and providing a high quality of service.
This aim was to be provided by combining skills in the GOs at the local level, with the co-ordinating role of the RCU in influencing policy design and implementation in Whitehall. Regional Chambers (RCs) or as some are known, Regional Assemblies (RAs) form a partnership working between local authorities and regional partners. Each chamber has been formally recognised by the Government as being representative of the interests of the region in relation to the work of the region’s RDA. Each RC is made up of 70% local authority members, and 30% from other sectors including industry, education, environment, NHS, and TUC.
The RCs initial focus was primarily on the RDAs regional economic strategies, and they have also sought to build up effective working relationships with the RDAs, GOs and other regional interests and stakeholders. The Deputy Prime Minister announced a new role for EP in July 2002. The new role provided a fresh mandate and a clear strategy to support sustainable development and growth in England. As part of a mergence with the Commission for the New Towns, EP will work with the private sector, the Housing Corporation, and local authorities to help increase the amount of affordable housing.
EP will aim to make best use of the nation’s supply of land by developing on brownfield land, and by using surplus land in the best way possible. EP will work closely with a range of partners in support of the RDAs’ regional strategies to try and achieve its targets. Another Labour policy to achieve urban regeneration is the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit (NRU). The NRU was set up to lead and oversee the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal, taking over this task from the Social Exclusion Unit in April 2001.
The aim is to deliver economic prosperity, safe communities, high quality schools, decent housing, and better health to the poorest parts of the country. The overall aim is to bridge the gap between the poorest areas of Britain and the rest of the country. The NRU identified the 88 most deprived local authorities in the country and devised a best value programme, by which the Government are to invest a lot of money in improving public services in these areas. This strategy is being funded by the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF), which is £300million in 2002/3 and will be £ 25million for 2004/5.
Another branch of the NRU is the New Deal for Communities (NDC). The NDC works in a similar way to the NRU, but it places local people at the heart of it. Local people, community and voluntary organisations, public agencies, local authorities and business are encouraged to work in partnership to deliver significant change by turning local people’s aspirations into action. The strategy is targeted over the next 10 years, and aims to develop a local strategy to tackle social exclusion in order to create vibrant and sustainable communities.
Comparison and contrast between Conservative and Labour policies: The main difference between the various policies on urban regeneration between Conservative and Labour Governments is the socio-economic factor. The Conservative Party continued the 1980s theme of economic development, albeit with more cohesion and co-ordination. From the outset, the emphasis was placed on partnerships between local authorities and businesses to regenerate economic development, which would in turn provide more employment and bring about social improvements.
The competitiveness encouraged local authorities to form partnerships with businesses as it gave a greater possibility of receiving a grant from the City Challenge fund. When the Labour Party first came to power, they formed the RDAs and to begin with, placed the initial emphasis on continuing the economic development. Whereas the Conservative Party only produced a transparent policy solely to increase partnership and competition, whereby local authorities only receive funding based on how well they can submit an application, the Labour Party’s policy tied in a lot more objectives.
Promoting business efficiency, investment, employment, and developing skills relevant to employment in the area is a much wider policy and the various regions will have different specific policies relevant to each region and sub-region. When the Labour Government integrated the Government Offices with the Regional Co-ordinator Unit, they highlighted the objective to cut through bureaucracy, a total contrast to the Conservative Government. It was the Conservative’s policy to increase the level of bureaucracy with the SRB.
The increase in administrative powers at the top followed by delegation of funding is a form of ‘top down’ and ‘trickle down’ implementation, the opposite approach to that of the Labour Party. It was Labour’s policy to bring together key stakeholders and local partners via the GO, and a much wider contribution was created in the form of the Regional Chambers. The RC took a ‘bottom up’ approach in its purist form. It incorporated people from all corners of industry, the market place, and services to form a mixed composition, and worked hand in hand with RDAs to bring together the needs for the whole region.
With respect to English Partnerships, the way in which the two governments implemented their policies varied significantly. While the Conservative Party focused mainly on economic growth and employment, the Labour Party dealt more specifically with the housing needs and social problems faced in Britain’s deprived areas, as they did with the NRU strategy. The Conservatives focused on the development of brownfield sites as a means of generating jobs and providing large flagship projects, as oppose to the Labour policy of providing affordable housing and building new communities.
In general the two Governments used similar methods of integration of funds and resources as a means of generating the funding for urban regeneration. The amount of money invested in regeneration by the Labour Government was far greater than that of the Conservative Party and the programmes that the funds were invested in were different to. In conclusion, the Government of 1990-1997 took an economic viewpoint whereas the 1997-2002 Government placed their regeneration policies closer to home with social based policies.