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Three suggestions for the Coastal Regeneration Fund

September 15th, 2011

There’s a renewed interest in Coastal Regeneration. The Government recently announced that half of the Crown Estate’s income from its marine activities will be recycled into the Big Lottery Fund administered Coastal Regeneration Fund to “support regeneration and economic development”.   Coastal communities will bid for cash from the fund, which has in the region of £24m per year. Although not on the same scale as schemes such as the Regional Growth Fund (or older programmes such as the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund and New Deal for Communities), it is still some good news for coastal areas that have seen large increases in deprivation in recent years.

In this blog, we flag-up three suggestions for the Big Lottery Fund to help ensure maximum impact for the fund, using lessons from previous programmes.

Context – growth and localism

The underlying context for the Coastal Regeneration Fund is the ongoing “coastal debate” which has rumbled on in various forms since the 2007 House of Commons DCLG Select Committee report. The last Government got a bloody nose from the original (somewhat glib) suggestion that coastal areas were pretty much like everywhere else. The Committee respectfully replied that a) this wasn’t really true, and b) that the Government really needed better information on coastal areas.

A new Secretary of State tried to defuse the row by reissuing the Government’s response in a more conciliatory tone, and the announcement of coastal regeneration funding could be seen as the long-delayed victory for the pro-coastal side of that particular argument. But the central questions remain unanswered: is there a ‘coastal factor’ that distinguishes coastal areas from those inland? And if so, what should we do different ?

These questions are particularly pressing in the context of the Coalition’s Growth Agenda. The Government wants private sector employment to grow in areas with a high proportion of public sector employment. That’s a big issue for coastal areas, because work shows that of the top ten cities likely to be worst affected by public sector job cuts, nine are coastal. Inland places fare dramatically better: of the ten least affected cities, only one is coastal (assuming that we do not consider London to be a coastal city).

The new Coastal Regeneration Fund will have to thread a way through these issues if we are going to get really effective spending that helps make a difference in coastal areas. In this blog, we have pulled out three lessons from past experience that might act as a guide.

1)    Set clear objectives

Set out early and clearly what the fund is, and isn’t, for. Keep the goalposts fixed – don’t change what the programme is all about half way through.

Lessons learnt from community-level regeneration programmes run by Regional Development Agencies such as the East of England Investing in Communities showed it was important to establish core principles early, and stick to them.  The Coastal Regeneration Fund will need to understand whether it intends to maximise potential economic growth, ameliorate conditions where deprivation is most concentrated, or spend money in places with the greatest absolute number of deprived people.   This isn’t just splitting hairs: as we have found in developing funding frameworks, decisions here can lead in very different directions, particularly around the spending split between rural and urban areas.

The good news is that there’s a lot of help for those strategic decisions.  On the “what to do?” questions, the Coastal Communities Alliance handbook manages to pull off the trick of being both informative and beautifully written.  Research by Sheffield Hallam very neatly pulls out the key problems in coastal areas.  And new work for the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) by us (Roger Tym & Partners RTP and OCSI) provides a conceptual framework on why coastal areas really might be different from those inland, how to best respond, and how funders can “back success” by building on what could be a renaissance in the prospects for coastal economies.

On the “where to spend?” questions, the Index of Multiple Deprivation can be partnered up with our work for the MMO, which pulls together a typology of coastal areas.  This gives a powerful headline view not just of deprivation, but of coastal environments and populations. The work also plugs the gap in the availability of coastal specific data, by breaking out specifically coastal performance in key data areas.

2.  Really devolve responsibility for delivery

Put local areas in absolute charge of the practical delivery.

Management gurus talk about the importance of a “tight/loose” management style.  That means knowing when to exercise tight control, and when to adopt a “looser” approach that allows for decentralised decision making.   We’ve suggested above that RDAs were frequently quite unfocused (“loose”) on setting out the overarching objectives.  But the flipside was that they were often too controlling (“tight”) on local delivery processes.  We suggest that programme managers for the Coastal Regeneration Fund might want to turn that particular “tight/loose” management approach on its head.

The Big Lottery Fund needs to be clear about the Coastal Regeneration Fund’s objectives, but also match the localism agenda by putting local areas in charge of practical delivery.  This allows local areas to pick up the local context of what it is that they need to do and maximise impact on the ground.

3)    Provide the right central support to reduce overheads

Reduce management costs by cutting out duplicated work.

Whilst local delivery needs to be the order of the day, there are still some “overhead” functions that it is most efficient to provide centrally.  For example, if local areas are going to bid for funding, this there is potential for a lot of duplication and wasted effort around collecting, analysing and mapping contextual and performance data.

To avert this, Fund managers should start discussions with data publishers (such as Nomis and Neighbourhood Statistics) and providers, e.g. to centrally provide datasets and information on local coastal communities that bidders can use to evidence their applications. That way, local communities bidding will waste as little time as possible when applying to the fund and managing local delivery.

The bottom line

So, we have three suggestions for the Coastal Regeneration Fund:

  1. Set clear objectives: Set out early and clearly what the fund is, and isn’t, for.  Use the work that’s already there to help you.
  2. Really devolve responsibility for delivery: Put local areas in absolute charge of the practical delivery.
  3. Provide central support: cut duplication and wasted effort by providing the right information centrally.

It’s going to be a tall order, but if the Coastal Regeneration Fund can use these lessons to deliver against the Localism and Growth Agendas, then it could be a really useful tool.  There are good reasons to think that some coastal areas might be in for an economic renaissance, and the Coastal Regeneration Fund could be very much part of that success.

Andy Clarke (RTP) and Tom Smith (OCSI)