We need a local approach to regeneration

It's not an easy time for anyone right now, but spare a thought for council leaders. Faced with the biggest share of cuts in the 2010 spending review, local governments can see the writing on the wall.

On the plus side, the localism agenda aims to give local government the freedom to break away from Whitehall diktats and specific grant pots. There are, however, still more tools and initiatives to get to grips with.

Last week we launched a report arguing for a new locally-driven approach to regeneration. We looked at a number of case studies of successful regeneration programmes and believe local is best when it comes to running successful projects. We also urged a nationwide expansion of community budgets to help drive this local regeneration.

The government's growth strategy for cities are being negotiated, but we also need to include counties and other areas. Community budgets are in the pilot phase, with Cheshire West and Chester, Essex, Greater Manchester and the London tri-borough all hammering out deals with civil servants. But how this newly-collaborative approach will be rolled out across the country is unclear..

In any case, there's plenty to play for, even if it's not clear how these will work out in practice.

In many parts of the country, regeneration has the greatest potential to transform. Our report found that the most consistent factor in areas that had done well was strong local leadership and clear vision. This manifested itself in a number of forms.

Making the most of opportunities to repurpose the local economy and rebrand an area, whether leading a community through a traumatic event or abandoning failed industries and taking positive steps towards a better economic future, is evident in a number of places.

Getting public and private sectors working together is another. This went beyond local authorities, to universities and central government departmental investment. Encouraging greater private sector investment will be crucial in the coming years. Indeed, a major part of the rationale behind the current government's drive towards directly-elected mayors was based on the need for local leaders who could attract and direct investment. Many local government leaders would argue that they do this already, but more will always be welcome.

Ensuring community buy-in for regeneration was also heavily dependent on the role of local leaders. Without that local, accountable element, schemes can easily be hobbled before they start, with disastrous consequences.

Given the cultural changes councils face in how they operate, combined with scope of the financial challenge, local government needs bold and innovative leadership, now more than ever. We have argued for the expansion of community budgets and new financial tools for local government, but whatever the methods used, strong local leadership remains vital.

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