Feisty exchange between Deeside AM and Plaid Cymru Leader over closure of Communities First.
Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood has criticised the Labour Government for winding down Communities First anti-poverty programme without providing a sufficient replacement scheme.
Communities and Children Secretary Carl Sargeant, AM for Deeside in a statement delivered to the National Assembly today, confirmed that Communities First was being phased out.
While it is clear that Communities First was successful in its impact on many individuals, it has not had an impact on overall poverty levels in these communities, which remain stubbornly high.
Over £300m has been spent on Communities First since it’s launch in 2001 but, with one in four people in Wales remaining in poverty, It’s clear the scheme is fallen short of It’s aims.
The exchange between Communities and Children Secretary Carl Sargeant and Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood got a little feisty when Ms Wood accused Labour of walking away from Communities First areas.
The program came under fire from members of the Deeside community for its apparent lack of support in key areas.
The Queensferry Campus-based Communities First project was initially set out to support the Higher Shotton community.
The project was later given a wider remit to cover most of Deeside, this drew fierce criticism from residents in Higher Shotton who claimed they had been abandoned by the project.
Welsh Government set to ditch flagship Communities First program
The AM for Deeside believes new focus needs to be on employment, early years and empowerment
The Carl Sargeant said:
We are clear, as a Government, that we must now transition into a new phase in our fight against poverty in Wales. Our support for those who need it most will not end with this programme. Indeed, our aim is to intensify our efforts to give people the tools they need to have a more equal share of this nation’s prosperity. At the centre of this must be the promise of good, secure work.
A new approach is needed which deals with the root causes of poverty.
We will take forward a cross-government, all-Wales approach focused on helping people into work, giving children the best start in life, and ensuring people’s voices are heard in the design of local services.
Responding to the statement, Leanne Wood, Rhondda AM and Plaid Cymru Leader, thanked the Communities First workforce for its contribution but noted that the scale and scope of the programme was never large enough to make significant inroads into poverty.
She went on to criticise the government for allocating the Communities First money to existing schemes like community buildings and ‘Public Service Boards’, which don’t appear to add up to an anti-poverty programme of any meaningful scale.
Leanne Wood AM said Mr Sargeant had failed to come up with a genuine alternative to Communities First saying:
Labour had previously accused Plaid Cymru of planning to close Communities First down. But it’s happening under them.
The debate now needs to turn to what replaces Communities First.
We didn’t get a good enough answer on that today.
Given that we are talking about some of the most deprived communities in Europe, nothing in today’s Welsh Government statement showed the urgency with which we need to tackle poverty.
All we got in the statement was a commitment to put money into existing schemes which are quite small in financial value. Schemes like community buildings are welcome but aren’t of a big enough size to really reduce poverty.
Labour is walking away from Communities First areas without putting in place an ambitious anti-poverty programme to replace it.
Investment in Flying Start and Families First will continue, while the development of Children’s Zones and the establishment of a new Adverse Childhood Experiences hub have already been announced the Government say.
Support for the Streetgames programme which engages young people in positive activities, and for Citizen’s Advice, will continue.
Mr Sargeant continued;
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I have been encouraged by the very positive response to the development of Children’s Zones and the establishment of an ACEs Hub, to help organisations, communities and individuals across Wales tackle Adverse Childhood Experiences, which can have such a devastating impact on children’s life chances.
These initiatives, together with our continued investment in our successful Flying Start and Families First programmes, will ensure there is comprehensive support for children as they grow up.
Building resilient communities is the work of Welsh Government as a whole. We are committed to prosperity for all, a strong economy that creates sustainable, quality employment opportunities accessible to all.
Together we can build the resilient, safe, strong communities that we all want. And we will continue to engage with communities and stakeholders as we move forward.
Change is never easy. But we cannot ignore the combination of new and deep-rooted challenges we face. We must have the courage to find fresh ways to respond. That is what I and all of my government colleagues are determined to do.