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Who killed Kenny?

Kensington in Liverpool received the largest chunk of funding allocated under the New Deal for Communities programme in 2000. So why is the neighbourhood now in dire straits? John P. Houghton finds out.

Streets running with human excrement. Anything not nailed down being stolen. Stabbings and robberies a regular occurrence. The Liverpool Echo’s recent reports into the state of the city’s Kensington neighbourhood paint an alarming picture.

Yet the most shocking fact, unreported by the Echo, is that the same ‘Kenny’ neighbourhood was the recipient of £62m through the New Deal for Communities programme (NDC).

The NDC programme, as some of you will recall, was one of the last Labour government’s most significant neighbourhood renewal spending commitments. In total, 39 small neighbourhoods across England were awarded £2bn.

Kensington’s allocation was the largest of them all. The body responsible for spending this money on a long term and supposedly sustainable programme of urban turnaround only wrapped up in 2010.

A lot has happened since then, to put it mildly, in terms of politics and public finance. But very few neighbourhoods have declined as significantly and as rapidly as Kensington seems to have done.

The other NDC areas, chosen because they exhibited similar levels of multiple deprivation (i.e. they suffered in terms of poor health, a weak economy, unfit housing, and poor schools results) have not fallen back so hard.

What has happened in and to Kensington to trigger such a decline?

The local residents cited in the Echo point to one primary reason: housing. Specifically, the growth of privately rented and largely unmanaged houses in multiple occupation. Thus Kensington has fallen victim to the same cycle of housing market and social dysfunction as many seaside towns: a boom in low income, often troubled single person households, leading to unstable social conditions and further abandonment as other householders flee.

One can also point to local government cuts. Liverpool has had to make significant reductions, but, again, one comes to a similar point that many other authorities have had to dig deep to deliver efficiencies without excrement running down their streets.

I can’t get away from the fact the NDC programme was given £62m, as well advice and support from civil servants and consultants, over ten years to put the neighbourhood on a stable, prosperous footing for the long term.

The evaluation of the NDC is largely very positive about the achievements over the preceding decade. Tellingly, however, it highlights the ‘semi-detached’ relationship between Liverpool Council and the partnership. The former operated as if Kensington were suddenly ‘self-sufficient’ because it had so much additional funding; the latter, perhaps making the mistake, failed to build relationships with council staff and tended toward ‘insular’ behaviour.

In the polite parlance of the researchers, this lack of alignment and joint effort ‘was to the detriment of both sides in terms of achieving the outcomes both were wanting’.

The situation deteriorated further from this stand-off. The evaluation critiqued the amount of time spent by the partnership on the form and structure of the post-2010 succession vehicle, to the detriment of thinking about its actual function and purpose. Getting succession plans right is absolutely vital to making a lasting difference beyond the lifespan of short-term additional money.

The successor organisation which was eventually created, Kensington Regeneration Community Interest Company, was reported to be ‘on the verge of insolvency’ as early as 2011. In the following years, the CIC was disbanded, and its remaining assets sold off.

You can all have the extra money you could wish for. But if you spend it without an eye on the future or the input of people who will be there for the long haul, you might it as well throw it into the already overflowing gutter.

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