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May 25, 2007

Regeneration upheaval in SNP Scotland

After moving into the top spot in Holyrood, new first minister Alex Salmond plans to trim departments and scrap Scotland’s regeneration agency. Such renovations could have a major impact on the country’s renewal, says Jamie Carpenter.

Regeneration & Renewal magazine

Regeneration upheaval in SNP Scotland 

Regeneration & Renewal magazine

After moving into the top spot in Holyrood, new first minister Alex Salmond plans to trim departments and scrap Scotland’s regeneration agency. Such renovations could have a major impact on the country’s renewal, says Jamie Carpenter.

Last week, Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond was elected first minister of Scotland and formed a minority government. New cabinet appointments and an overhaul of the Scottish Executive’s structure announced hours after Salmond was elected, together with policies in the SNP’s election manifesto, are likely to have far-reaching implications for regeneration in Scotland.

The headline news for Scottish regeneration practitioners following the SNP’s narrow election victory is that Communities Scotland, the executive agency of the Scottish Executive responsible for housing, regeneration and social enterprise, now faces the axe. John Swinney, the Executive’s new cabinet secretary for finance and sustainable growth, said last week that abolishing Communities Scotland – which has an annual budget of more than £900 million a year and employs 450 staff – would be an “early priority” for the new leadership. The Scottish Executive confirmed this week that changing or dissolving the agency wouldd not require new legislation. “It’s for ministers to take these decisions,” said a spokeswoman.

There are few details on the new administration’s plans to scrap the agency – the Executive and SNP both say it is too early to say more on the proposal – but the SNP’s manifesto gives some clues as to what might happen if the plans go ahead. It says that the functions of the agency that can be delivered locally will be transferred to local authorities and that a national regulatory framework will be retained for housing associations.

Denis Donoghue, a director of regeneration consultancy Hall Aitken, whose clients have included Communities Scotland, says that any move to abolish the agency could prove positive, but that it would lead to a period of uncertainty and upheaval for practitioners. He says it would be better to have a review. “There would be nothing worse than an ill-thought through bonfire of the quangos,” he warns.

Nick Fletcher, policy officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland, also urges the new government to review rather than scrap the agency. He argues that Communities Scotland has been effective in a number of areas, including the introduction of an inspection regime for housing associations and council-run homeless services.

The SNP’s plans to hand local authorities functions from Communities Scotland have been met with caution by Scotland’s social enterprise sector. Swinney outlined the plans at a hustings meeting in the run-up to the elections organised by the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition (SSEC). Social Entrepreneurs Network Scotland director and former Regeneration & Renewal columnist Laurence Demarco reveals that this was “not well received” by the audience. “Some people were supportive of it, others were cautious,” adds SSEC policy officer Jon Molyneux.

Scotland’s main economic development agency Scottish Enterprise could also face an overhaul. The SNP’s manifesto indicates that the agency will stay, but will be streamlined. “Our aim is to reinvigorate the enterprise network by directing attention on key tasks through a trimmer Scottish Enterprise that provides strategic direction, while delivery is devolved to more focused agencies,” it says.

Changes to the structure of the Scottish Executive itself are also likely to impact upon renewal north of the border (see box). There are now six departments, rather than the nine under the previous arrangements. Two departments in the last Executive with key regeneration responsibilities have been dissolved, with their responsibilities reallocated.

The majority of the responsibilities held by the now defunct Development Department, which was in charge of regeneration, housing and social justice, have been transferred to the new Health and Wellbeing Department. The Development Department’s social enterprise and voluntary sector brief has passed to a new Finance and Sustainable Growth (FSG) super-department, a move that has been welcomed by the social enterprise and voluntary sectors. “Social enterprise is clearly going to be much more central to government thinking,” says the SSEC’s Molyneux.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Department has also been scrapped, with its business, industry and transport responsibilities hived off to the FSG, and its training and skills responsibilities passed to a new Education and Lifelong Learning Department.

Nearly a month after the SNP’s victory, it is still too early to judge the implications for renewal. But Salmond and his new cabinet must work to ensure that disruption to regeneration caused by the changes is minimised.


Office of the First Minister

Responsible for: development and implementation of policy.

Finance and Sustainable Growth Department

Responsible for: city and community planning, business and industry, the voluntary sector and social economy, transport policy.

Education and Lifelong Learning Department

Responsible for: education, science and lifelong learning, training and skills.

Health and Wellbeing Department

Responsible for: social inclusion, anti-poverty policy, housing and regeneration.

Justice Department

Responsible for: anti-social behaviour policy, youth justice, charity law, religious and faith organisations.

Rural Affairs and the Environment Department

Responsible for: environment, land reform, sustainable development.