Speech on Regeneration 3rd. March 2010

The minister's motion is straightforward. Indeed, despite my best endeavours, I could not find anything in it with which to disagree. We will therefore support it and the other amendments. In the interests of consensus, I am keen that we have a substantial debate about regeneration issues rather than a more aerated discussion—I am sometimes involved in such discussions.

The minister must accept that the budget that he has to spend this year has grown. I do not think that the Scottish National Party's position is that the UK Government ought not to have bailed out the Scottish banks. It is recognised that the consequences for the public finances of doing so must be dealt with across the United Kingdom.

There is concern that there may be a gulf between what is said about regeneration and what is happening at the local level. I want to raise several issues that I hope the minister will address.

As the minister has said, we must recognise the connections between economic, physical and social regeneration. In focusing on economic development, we must understand the need for the physical and social development of communities. That means that we must take a strategic, Scotland-wide approach. We must look across Scottish Government departments' budgets and resources, and not simply talk about regenerating a community from one budget; we must recognise that that has implications for justice department spending and health budgets, for example. We must also recognise that there are links and that things are interdependent.

There has been concern in that regard. When the Scottish National Party came into office, set up its directorates and separated community planning, which was under the minister with responsibility for local government, from community regeneration, which was under the communities minister, I remember discussing the dangers inherent in such an approach and the likely disjunction that would emerge.

There is a genuine fear that we are now beginning to see the result of that mistaken decision, which is that community planning is regarded not as a catalyst for community regeneration and as a vehicle to revitalise communities, but as a mechanism for the distribution of resources. The minister must address that.

Physical regeneration is important, which is why time and again members raise concerns about what is happening in the construction industry. Public building through the construction industry is an important part of challenging the recession but, from where we sit, it looks as though there is paralysis in Government policy in that regard, with the consequence of lost opportunities for jobs and apprenticeships and for people to retain their skills.

Alex Neil: Does the member accept that figures that were published last week demonstrated a record build of 7,700 new social houses in Scotland—something that was never achieved in the first 10 years of the Scottish Parliament?

Johann Lamont: I recognise that moneys were brought forward and that there was two years' spend in one year, but only 40 per cent of that spend went on new build. There is a concern that a significant amount of money was spent on off-the-shelf housing that was languishing on the market.

A broader issue is that not one hospital or school has been built through the Scottish Futures Trust. That is a lost opportunity in our local communities. We talk about the importance of economic activity, but it is critical to link that to local opportunity. There is concern about the fact that the Scottish Government does not have an employability strategy and that its skills strategy is entirely blind to the barriers and discrimination in the employment market. We must recognise that it is the Scottish Government's job to address economic, social and personal barriers. I am all in favour of the go local message, but we still need national support. The levers at the Scottish level must be used to support that local activity.

If there was ever an example that captured the lack of understanding of how all those aspects come together, it is found in those who criticised the Glasgow airport rail link for being simply a train line. The frustration at the loss of GARL was that it was an opportunity to create jobs and to provide community development and regeneration in a deprived community. The scheme would have created 1,300 jobs for local people, which would have made a huge difference. That regeneration issue must be addressed.

The same issue arises in relation to the role of Scottish Enterprise. The minister said that Scottish Enterprise never had responsibility for a social remit under the legislation, but the fact is that, in the past, when there was physical regeneration in the constituency that I represent, Scottish Enterprise was at the table talking about how to link the training and employment opportunities to the people in the community. Scottish Enterprise has told me that it no longer has that role. It does not have responsibility for training or for directing economic activity to deprived communities, which is a huge problem. Deprivation has a geographical dimension, so an agency that is so well funded ought to have that geographical responsibility. Scottish Enterprise should not be led simply by demand from companies; it should actively support local economic activity. I make the same point about community development in Scotland. There are huge opportunities, but I am not convinced that those are recognised in Scottish Enterprise.

I want to flag up issues about the planning system, because regeneration at all levels must be supported by a strong planning system. However, people in the planning system who are committed to working in communities tell me that local authorities are deciding to make planners redundant and to reduce their planning departments. I am told that community engagement with the planning process is not as rigorous as it should be. In the current times, planning is a critical job. To an extent, we will plan our way out of recession, so we must have strong planning departments to do that.

As someone who supported community planning, I have a great fear that it is being honoured in the breach. There is an issue about the role of the voluntary sector in community planning partnerships. They are not at the table. I ask the minister whether that will be sorted and whether voluntary sector representatives will, as of right, sit at the table in every community planning partnership.

One of the big issues in the old social inclusion partnership process was the extent to which we were able to bend the spend sufficiently. I recognise that we did not do that; mainstream budgets were not directed sufficiently into communities. However, it seems that the process now is even worse.

We need real community engagement, but the feeling is that less community engagement is happening now. Community engagement is critical in relation to prioritising budgets, understanding need and knowing where the real challenges are. To be fair to the minister, he referred to that in his opening speech. However, he will know that the study of the fairer Scotland fund by the Scottish centre for regeneration, which was based on case studies in a number of local authorities, concluded that many respondents felt that, in comparison with the more local, geographic and project-focused approaches of previous programmes, it has become more difficult to engage communities in the more thematic community planning partnership-wide approaches that are becoming more common. I am sure that we would all be interested to know how that problem is being addressed.

The minister said, quite rightly, that local government is a critical partner, but it is facing severe financial pressures now—not in the future—despite a growing budget. There will be a time when we will have to ask whether a centrally imposed council tax freeze on local authorities is the best approach when we need to sustain communities and the groups that Robert Brown rightly identified.

There is a particular issue around single outcome agreements and the extent to which they are delivering on the local priorities that would support regeneration. A report by Audit Scotland states:

"The audits showed many CPPs to be overly bureaucratic and not focused ... on outcomes for local people."

It has also been said that

"There is a need for Community Planning Partnerships to make clearer the impacts that their SOA (and specifically the FSF related elements) will have on equalities groups in their areas."

There is a disjunction between what the Government has said it wants to do with regeneration and the vehicle through which that is being delivered.

Single outcome agreements are still not equality impact assessed. In those circumstances, I am not confident that there is a rounded view of community regeneration.

Robert Brown mentioned the impact on voluntary organisations locally. Will the minister confirm his willingness and that of John Swinney to intervene where they feel that voluntary organisations are disproportionately feeling the impact of the financial squeeze locally? That in itself seems counterproductive when we are talking about regeneration.

Regeneration should be part of an anti-poverty framework. It is unfortunate that single outcome agreements emerged ahead of the achieving our potential framework, the equally well framework and the guidance on equalities. As a consequence, spending on regeneration locally has not been shaped by anything other than the warm words of the frameworks. We are not seeing any delivery at the local level that is influenced by the frameworks at the Scottish level.

An example of that is the supported employment framework, which is important in relation to regeneration. The framework has come out, but there is no role for Scottish Enterprise, no money and no evidence that, where the Scottish Government has let big contracts, work to support those who are further away from employment is being recognised.

I would welcome the minister's comments on how he sees the Southern general hospital contract providing community benefit and employment opportunities. Is there an opportunity to use article 19 of the European Union public procurement directive to support sheltered workplaces? Those are examples of how thinking at a local level can support a regeneration strategy.

I recognise the minister's important comments on how regeneration works and the fact that it should be central. However, he will understand, as we all do, that saying that does not make it happen. The levers have to be used more extensively to ensure that we do not have just warm words, that there is a Scottish strategy that recognises the geographical nature of deprivation and the challenge facing some of our communities, and that, therefore, genuine local partnerships can be fostered, alongside the work of the Scottish Government, to ensure the regeneration of employment and the economic, social and physical regeneration that the minister talked about and which we in the Labour Party supported.

I move amendment S3M-5852.1, to insert after second "regeneration":

"; notes in particular the importance of an effective planning system and the necessity of genuine community engagement to secure real change".