New Deal investigation - What does it mean?

Comment by Ian Clifford

The past weeks and months have seen an unprecedented attack on Burngreave New Deal for Communities programme and management in the Sheffield Star and, more recently, in the Sheffield Council Chamber. These attacks resulted in a threat by the new Lib-Dem Administration to withhold further funding from Burngreave New Deal unless John Clark, the Chief Executive of Burngreave New Deal, resigns, though the new administration appears to have accepted a redundancy scenario, which the Board says has been in place since before the recent calls for resignation.

These attacks have left many in Burngreave at a complete loss as to what to make of it all. So what has gone on? It’s important that we look at the context to recent events.

First of all, do we, as Burngreave residents, trust the Sheffield Star? It was a recurrent theme in the Roadshows, right at the start of the New Deal process in 2001 that people were unhappy with the poor media and press image of the area and especially with what residents saw as sensationalist and unfair coverage in the Sheffield Star. Indeed, the Burngreave Messenger was set up to provide a more positive reflection of the area. Residents might be forgiven for thinking that the latest campaign by the Sheffield Star is just more of the same. A repeated theme in the coverage is outrage over money spent on trips and excursions. In article after article, Sheffield Star reporter Richard Marsden makes particular reference to a trip by African-Caribbean young people to the cricket ground at Headingley. One wonders why Marsden feels the ethnic background of the young people benefiting from the trip was so important to stress so repeatedly.

Secondly, it’s worth pondering what the Liberal-Democrats are up to. Clearly the recent Liberal-Democrat victory in local elections reflected deep-seated unhappiness with Labour, both locally and nationally. Clearly the people of Sheffield have spoken, and it is understood that the new administration is determined to make a difference, particularly given perceptions that the previous administration, under Peter Moore, had little impact as Council officers – paid staff – continued to run the City as business as usual.

Mind the gap?

It’s no surprise then that one of the first resolutions to the Council, proposed by Lib-Dem leader Paul Scriven, called for a rolling back of a key Labour policy. The resolution contained a call for:

“A fair deal for every area, ensuring that every area of Sheffield gets its fair share of money and attention with no “favoured areas” and priority decided on greatest need alone.”

Here, the Liberal-Democrats are referring to Labour’s “Closing the Gap” strategy. Given the undeniable huge inequalities in health, education and all other outcomes across Sheffield, Labour had a policy of prioritising areas with poorer outcomes. Of course, these were also areas that voted in Labour Councillors. The sub-text of the debate on New Deal is surely: “what can you expect with the old policies of preferential treatment of Labour areas but cronyism and dodgy practices”

Real Change

The Lib-Dems have made clear that they are keen not to undermine the efforts of local people to regenerate their area, stressing that it was under a Liberal-Democrat administration that Burngreave was chosen as the New Deal area. And it’s difficult for anyone to question that the Burngreave programme has been successful. The programme has been problematic nationally from its start and was abandoned by Government in favour of Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, a Council administered fund, having perhaps concluded that communities with the level of deprivation to attract New Deal funding were unlikely to have the capacity to manage the amounts of money involved. Given this, Burngreave New Deal has been one of the best performing New Deals nationally, certainly in the top 5 of the 39 New Deals nationally on hard measures of improving levels of crime and education. Aside from the number-crunching, Burngreave New Deal has been one of the more successful in terms of involving the community, though the attendances of hundreds at public meetings at the start, have dwindled more recently. But there’s a real feeling that Burngreave has improved in the last 5 years. People visiting the area after a period away, and even taxi-drivers, are noticing the difference.

At the same time, the allegations against New Deal have been serious. Protestations by management and Board at New Deal that there were just a few procedural irregularities are difficult to sustain.


Aside from the detail about whether tendering and appointment procedures were followed, there’s an issue of accountability here. It’s clear from the investigation report that the Chief Executive and Chair moved to appoint someone that they knew had been suspended by another New Deal Programme without informing the wider board of this. The investigation advises that the executive sub-group reports directly to the board, rather than simply posting minutes, but the truth is that the minutes of the Executive sub-group, and any decisions made there, had rarely, if ever been debated by the Board over an extended period. Indeed, over the past years, a number of opportunities for accountability have been closed down or not been used. Resident-led “theme groups” making decisions over expenditure were abolished some years ago; elections for Board reps have not been held for 4 years; public meetings and surgeries have been infrequent or non-existent. The Board meetings, deemed “business meetings held in public”, even lack an opportunity for residents to bring petitions, questions, or comments. With so few opportunities for accountability, even if the majority of the decisions made were the right ones, the danger, as we have seen, is that where decisions lack accountability, the wider community may not feel able to support them.

Local jobs for local people?

The second issue raised by the enquiry concerns the issue of regeneration best practice around “local jobs for local people”. The issue of a “preferred tender list” is not just a bureaucratic procedure, but was initially supposed to be about making sure that local people and local contractors secured New Deal contracts, in order to ensure that regeneration money, paid out for contracts, keeps circulating in the local economy as it is spent locally by local employees and local contractors. The fact that the investigation showed weaknesses in the evaluation process for inclusion on the approved suppliers list is not just an issue of procedure, but one of what scrutiny there is of highly paid contractors from other areas and whether they can deliver what is needed locally. While some who experienced Jack Davies' training as inspirational, others were much more questioning of the value of the training, with its repetitions of mantra such as

“Everything above the eyes controls everything below the eyes.”

Internal source?

It also has to be asked why people have been so prepared to “do the dirty on New Deal” and spill the beans to the Star. The Messenger can reveal that the letter which initiated the Star Campaign, which was copied into the Messenger, was signed “disillusioned project-worker”. With a number of Employment Tribunals at New Deal and with the most recent upholding a verdict that the dismissal was “by no means reasonable behaviour by a reasonable employer”, the letter to the Star could have come from a number of internal sources.

Serious mistakes?

So what of the position of John Clark, the Chief Executive of Burngreave New Deal. An article in the Guardian in October 2003 called “Caught in the Crossfire”, described the job of Chief Exec of a New Deal as “one of the toughest management jobs in the public sector”. John Clark has been Chief Executive of one of the most successful New Deals in the country for 5 years. The programme has been built on shifting sands from the start. It was reported that Richard Caborn, MP, had been going around the region at the start of New Deal saying that local residents could “set everything except their foreign policy”. But a programme which started with the aim of “putting local residents at the heart of decision-making” moved quickly to being about giving residents a more consultative role as resources were channelled to mainstream agencies to provide solutions. Is it any wonder that, in this shifting power balance between the community and state, individual power brokers have ended up with too much power? Mistakes have clearly been made, however, and Councillors from Lib-Dem, Labour and Green parties were clear in the Council chamber that these mistakes have been serious. Following the call by the Lib-Dem leader for John to resign as Chief Exec of New Deal, the programme has issued a press release announcing that the post of Chief Exec will be part of a restructure. The leader of the Council appears to have accepted the redundancy stressing that this should follow Council procedures.

Named volunteer

Given the references to the Role of the volunteer chair of the Board, Rose Ardron, it is perhaps worth asking whether the lack of opportunities to ensure that community resident representatives were accountable to residents has left community resident volunteers vulnerable and lacking support.

It is understandable that, given the questions regarding the agendas of the Star and the new Lib-Dem administration, and the achievements of the programme locally, the Board have felt protective towards their Chief Executive and Chair, and unwilling to admit to more than there having been a few weak procedures. However, there is a real danger here that residents will feel that the Board is blind to serious issues of accountability and out of touch with residents if mistakes are not acknowledged.

In order to put the programme back on track, the Board clearly need to create some clear blue water between the mistakes of the past and the future here on in, up to the end of the programme in two years time.

Working Together?

Success during those next two years will also depend on the New Deal Programme being able to work with the Council. The new Liberal-Democrat administration passed a resolution at the recent Council meeting talking of “delivering the very best for the people of Burngreave” and “the positive work carried out by Burngreave New Deal for Communities”. It remains to be seen what shift of Council resources will flow from the changing emphasis from the Labour policy of “Closing the Gap”; to the new Liberal-Democrat formula of providing “a fair deal for every area … decided on greatest need alone.”

It seems doubtful though, that allowing Burngreave to slip back into the position it was in 5 years ago is in the interests of anyone, whatever part of the city they live in.

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The content on this page was added to the website by Rohan Francis on 2008-06-11 23:43:58.
The content of the page was last modified by Lisa Swift on 2008-06-24 18:47:40.

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