Communities First anti-poverty scheme to be dropped

media captionCarl Sargeant says the world has changed since Communities First was launched in 2001

Communities First, the flagship policy aimed at boosting deprived communities across Wales, is set to be dropped.

Communities Secretary Carl Sargeant said he was not convinced "continuing to focus on 52 small areas is the most effective way to deliver for Wales".

Mr Sargeant told AMs a new Wales-wide approach would focus on employment, early years and "empowerment".

First Minister Carwyn Jones had already warned that some government schemes would be cut to pay for new priorities.

More free childcare, apprenticeships and a fund to boost school standards have been highlighted as Welsh Labour's key pledges ahead of next week's budget.

"I am minded to phase out the Communities First programme while establishing a new approach to meet the challenges of the future," Mr Sargeant said.

"Over the coming months, we will look afresh at how the Welsh Government can support resilient communities.

"This means communities that are empowered and engaged; communities that are ready and able to work; communities that can offer children the best start in life."

image copyrightChristopher Furlong/Getty Images
image captionPort Talbot is one of the areas where Communities First money has been spent

Communities First spends about £30m each year, with more than £300m spent since it was launched in 2001.

At one point it was supporting about 200 projects, before the number was reduced amid concern about its effectiveness.

In 2011, the head of a Communities First project in Wrexham was jailed for fraud after she diverted funds from the charity to herself and her family.

More recently, in 2015, it emerged that one project in Merthyr Tydfil spent most of its £1.5m budget over three years on salaries.

Plaid Cymru's Shadow Communities Secretary Bethan Jenkins said Communities First had done good work, but added: "If the goal here is the eradication of poverty, then the government needs to bring forward fresh ideas."

Welsh Conservative spokesman Mark Isherwood welcomed the rethink, saying: "With one in four people in Wales still living in poverty, it is clear the programme is not fit for purpose."

Bob Wellington, leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, said regional development efforts "have the potential to deliver better results than the targeted, area-based interventions that characterised Communities First".

Victoria Winckler, director of the Bevan Foundation think tank, told BBC Wales: "The time to end the Communities First programme has come.

"However, there are many excellent schemes run by Communities First, some of which have taken years to develop.

"Closing them down would be a further blow to communities that are already reeling from cuts to public services. The Welsh Government should transfer some of them to community ownership - a sort of social asset transfer - providing three year funding".

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