The programme was launched in 2001 to involve local people in the work of regenerating the most deprived communities in Wales.
The programme will keep its community focus, but from next April there will be a much stronger emphasis on tackling poverty and contributing to the Welsh Government’s wider anti-poverty agenda.
The programme will still be based in the most deprived areas in Wales but it will be more flexible and there will be more attention to ensuring that Communities First supports the most disadvantaged individuals and groups, as opposed to having rigid geographic boundaries. The exact boundaries will be agreed between the Welsh Government and local partners, during, and after, the consultation process.
Under the new arrangements there will also be fewer Communities First areas but most will be considerably larger than at present, with many including several Communities First areas. The new areas will be known as “clusters”.
The Minister said:
“There are currently over 150 Communities First partnerships covering areas of different sizes. In the past it has sometimes proved difficult for key partners such as health providers and local authorities to work together to prioritise their programmes on Communities First areas due to the programme being restricted to fixed geographical boundaries.
“The Welsh Government will be discussing with key partners in each local authority area, including the existing Communities First partnerships how the future of the programme should be targeted in their locality.”
There will also be a clear-cut assessment of how the programme is tackling deprivation and improving living conditions for those in poverty. Local Communities First partnerships will focus on actions that have the greatest impact on individuals’ education and skills, economic and health prospects.
To measure how well the programme is meeting the needs of the people in greatest need of support, the Welsh Government plans to introduce a set of key indicators under each theme to ensure that the impact and contribution of the programme can be assessed more consistently.
The Minister said that the new structures for the management of the programme both locally, regionally and nationally would provide more consistency in how the programme is run right across Wales and in terms of the programme’s financial accountability.
“As the Minister responsible for this programme, it is my job to learn from what has worked well and what has been less successful in order to ensure that every pound of public money is spent for the benefit of our disadvantaged communities and supports the delivery of improved outcomes we want to see for the people of Wales.
“We want to be as consistent as possible in the staffing and delivery structures and in the funding that is offered to local areas, while continuing to take account of the variety of local circumstances. Existing Communities First workers and volunteers are vital assets going forward, but we need to ensure that their effort is well-directed towards delivering the aims of the programme and helping local people to be fully involved in this work.
“The new phase of the programme will begin on April 1 2012, but to ensure an orderly transition, I will be allowing existing arrangements to continue for a further six months where necessary.
“In moving forward, our shared ambition will be to ensure that the Communities First programme can deliver agreed priorities – both locally and nationally. The programme must be able to tackle the root cause of poverty and deal with its effects, whilst still retaining what Communities First is all about – community solutions to community problems.”