Carl Sargeant, Minister for Local Government and Communities
Last November I announced my decisions regarding the future of the Communities First programme. This followed very extensive consultation across Wales during the summer of 2011. A report on the consultation and details of my decisions are available at www.wales.gov.uk/communitiesfirst together with guidance relating to the new programme arrangements.
Local discussions have been continuing across Wales in recent months and plans are now well advanced to bring new, larger Communities First Clusters into being. Applications for funding for these clusters are being finalised now and must be submitted to my officials by 29th June. Based on indications received so far I am expecting that there will be applications for just over 50 Clusters.
The changes to the existing programme are substantial and complex and I am clear that it will take time for these applications to be properly assessed and then for the new programme to take shape in each local area. I have previously approved extensions to all existing Communities First funding until the end of September 2012 to allow applications for the new programme to be prepared. I am now announcing that in the areas which are covered by applications submitted by 29th June – and only in those areas – I am willing to allow a further extension to the existing funding for four months to the end of January 31st 2013.
This further extension will be offered on the basis that the new programme arrangements must be implemented as quickly as possible after I have approved funding for them. In many cases the new arrangements will displace the existing ones and of course no double-funding will be permitted.
I am making this offer to existing Grant Recipient Bodies and Host Employers to support an orderly transition process and to provide additional reassurance to the existing Communities First workforce. I have previously made clear my commitment to the many staff and volunteers who support the programme and this commitment remains. I expect that in future the programme will support a similar number of staff as at present, although there will be changes to many of the roles and in some cases to employers and location of jobs. The Communities First budget remains sufficient to support a workforce of the present size.
There will be a small number of existing Communities First areas which will not continue as such within the new programme. This is normally because they are relatively less deprived and therefore do not meet the criteria for inclusion in one of the new clusters. These areas are able to apply for Exit Strategy funding from the programme until March 31st 2013 and this offer will also be extended to any other areas which do not submit applications by 29th June.
It is essential that all applications for Communities First funding demonstrate how the programme will help to tackle poverty in our most deprived communities, working especially with the most vulnerable individuals, families and groups. Each application will be assessed rigorously and I will only approve funding where I can be confident that Communities First will provide value for money and deliver improved outcomes in terms of Prosperous Communities, Learning Communities and Healthier Communities.