Localism and its neoliberal application: a case study of West Gate New Deal for Communities in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

Author:McCulloch, Andrew
Position::Behind The News

'Local residents will control all aspects of the New Deal programme including planning, delivery and finance. Any subsequent statements, clauses, or implications which contradict this protocol in fact or in spirit will be deemed to be invalid.' (Protocol for West Gate New Deal for Communities, May 1999) 'Community involvement was window dressing to get the money.' Councillor John O'Shea, 23 March, 2000 (Wilson, 2000: 55) Introduction: 'The West Gate: Open for people, Open for Business' (1)

From the spring of 1999 until the end of 2000, a group known as the 'West Gate Interim Steering Group of New Deal for Communities' (hereafter ISG) met in Newcastle upon Tyne about every two weeks. In January 2001, this steering group was replaced by the formally constituted Newcastle West Gate Shadow Board for New Deal for Communities. The first of these organisations is the optic through which, in this paper, (2) an early attempt at realising the New Labour Government's New Deal for Communities is viewed. The focus is on the relationships between the 'community', its representatives, and the professionals who participated in the project in its initial phase.

Many writers on urban political economy in Britain have commented on the development of an increasing interest in the local on the part of the central state. They have rarely done so as sharply as Brenner and Theodore, who write:

Paradoxically, much of the contemporary political appeal to the 'local' actually rests upon arguments regarding allegedly uncontrollable supralocal transformations, such as globalization, the financialization of capital, the erosion of the national state, and the intensification of interspatial competition. Under these conditions, in the absence of a sustainable regulatory fix at global, supranational, or national scales, localities are increasingly being viewed as the only remaining institutional arenas in which a negotiated form of capitalist regulation might be forged. (Brenner & Theodore, 2002: 341) One form of this localism is the emergence of the so-called 'entrepreneurial city' (Hall & Hubbard, 1998). This form of city is so called because an entrepreneur is a contractor who mediates between capital and labour. The modern entrepreneurial city, on the other hand, is one that frantically grooms itself in order to be competitively attractive to external investment capital. Thus,

A variety of policy experiments have subsequently been advocated in order to unleash the latent innovative capacities of local economies, to foster a local entrepreneurial culture and to enhance the flexibility of local governance systems. In short, the new localism has become a forceful call to arms through which local (and in some cases, national) political-economic elites are aggressively attempting to promote economic rejuvenation from below. (Brenner & Theodore, 2002:342) Much of New Labour's urban policy derives its inspiration and legitimation from neoliberalism (Antipode, 2002). The essence of neoliberalism is a positive endorsement and enhancement of the market mechanism, and an obeisance to capitalist business as a form of organisation that is inherently superior to the forms developed by the local and national state: 'What runs through [...] different areas of program redesign is the concern with introducing some notion of "the market" into the state system, both through the formal resource allocation model [...] and through the co-opting of business leaders' (Jones & Ward, 2002: 485).

However, Jones and Ward argue that recently, 'the state has invoked notions of "neighbourhood" and "community"' (op. cit.: 489). These invocations are an attempted governmental rejoinder to the widening of the span of economic inequality that is the inevitable result of the application of neoliberalist policies. As a result, as these collective terms are insinuated into social policy pronouncements, there is the 'recent individualization or atomization of policies, marking a return to the "social pathology" approach that dominated British urban policy in the late 1960s'(ibid.). An authoritative overview of urban neoliberalism is to be found in Gough (2002). This article offers some evidence for his contentions.


The data in this study have been gathered through my immersion in the area over a long period of time. This is because I first moved to Newcastle as a student in 1964, and have been familiar with the inner West End of Newcastle since then. I have lived on the edge of the area now designated as West Gate New Deal since 1980, and I have been researching in and writing on the West End of Newcastle since 1989. Thus I have known some of the people who feature in these events since the mid-1980s. My relationships with them have included those of neighbour, teacher, colleague, fellow activist, member of the Labour Party (but not for nearly twenty years), and family friend, besides that of research subject. Some of the younger people went to the same school as my two youngest children. My method is very close to the much earlier work of Norman Dennis (1970, 1971) and Jon Davies (1972): a method that Nayak has also recently vigorously defended (2003: 11-12). I have attended almost every meeting of the ISG, and the Board that succeeded it, as well as many public events and some of the other committees associated with West Gate New Deal. In particular, I attended the meetings of the group known as 'Our Community'. As a result of this diligence, I have received commendation and commiseration in equal measure from both the paid and the voluntary participants. I took extensive notes at the meetings. Most meetings were also officially taped, sometimes videotaped, and minuted. The minutes, however, were often sanitised, particularly in the early phases. As well as minutes of meetings, this community regeneration project also produced vast and intimidating amounts of documents. For the purposes of this paper a small questionnaire was sent to members of the ISG, but no formal interviews were conducted as part of this largely ethnographic study. There were, however, many encounters with participants at meetings and in the street, which were recorded in notes immediately afterwards.

What is the New Deal for Communities?

The New Deal for Communities is a New Labour central government initiative. It was an important element in the first major report from the Social Exclusion Unit, 'Bringing Britain together: A national strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal' (Cm 4045, 1998). The Social Exclusion Unit is attached to the British government's Cabinet. Newcastle upon Tyne is one of seventeen 'pathfinder' authorities that were invited to submit 'New Deal' bids in late 1998. The basis for the invitations was the degree of deprivation in a particular area, as measured by the 1998 Index of Local Deprivation. However, a 'regional quota system' was applied so that it was possible to 'test different approaches to tackling deprivation across as wide a range of deprived areas as possible' (DETR, 1998: 21).

Central government allocated 800 million [pounds sterling] over the first 3 years to fund this 'intensive regeneration of small neighbourhoods'; by mid-2002, there were thirty-nine New Deal Partnerships. The Government expected that many of these neighbourhoods would be 'in areas with high ethnic minority populations.' The newly instituted 'partnerships' were required, if their bids were successful, to produce plans costing between 20 million [pounds sterling] and 50 million [pounds sterling] over a ten-year period. The successful plans had to bring together 'local people, community and voluntary organisations, public agencies, local authorities and business in an intensive local focus.'

The Government hopes that many of the pathfinders will be run by bodies who have not traditionally led regeneration programmes. It will provide support and longer timetables to encourage this. And all bids will need to involve and engage the local community--they won't work if they don't. Longer term funding to carry out the plan will depend on making real improvements to local communities to agreed timetables. It will be crucial that in each area there is strong leadership to ensure that lasting improvements really are achieved. (Social Exclusion Unit, 1998: 54-5) The problems specifically highlighted by the Social Exclusion Unit were 'poor job prospects,' 'high levels of crime', 'a run down environment' and 'no one in charge of managing the neighbourhood and co-ordinating the public services that affect it.' The last of these strongly implied that local authorities were frequently failing in their duties (a relatively common theme of New Labour policy, cf. DTLR, 2002), as well as indicating that here was a political void to fill. Despite this disdain for local authorities, at the insistence of the Government Office--North East (henceforth GO-NE), Newcastle City Council was made the accountable body for the New Deal.

The New Deal Area

The New Deal Area in the inner west of Newcastle upon Tyne covers parts of four different electoral wards. These parts are large sections of Elswick; West City; and fractional sections of Moorside and Wingrove wards. To the north is the famous open space known as the Town Moor, and to the south is the river Tyne. Through the upper third of the area, the West Road runs along the line of the Roman Wall. In 1998, only the last of these wards, Wingrove, fell just outside the 10 per cent most deprived wards in England. Elswick was thirty-sixth and West City fortieth among the English wards, ranked in terms of deprivation. For example, in the largely white ward of West City, where the majority of the New Deal area falls, male unemployment was at around 40 per cent and female unemployment at 30 per cent. At the time the New Deal began, 40 per cent of females were in semi- or unskilled work. Around 30 per cent of all those in work were in the poorly-paid sectors of distribution...

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