A One Nation defence of the Church of England

David Cowan 6.01am

At the beginning of Holy Week this year, David Cameron made another foray into religious affairs. It was a rare glimpse of that elusive aspect of the Prime Minister’s character - his Christian faith.

Mr Cameron’s most significant defence of Christianity to date was during the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible (see Jack’s and Daniel’s comments). He claimed:

"Britain is a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so… the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today."

It is Christianity’s conceptualisation of the nation that is at the heart of Mr Cameron’s moral code. This is evident in his vision for a ‘Big Society’, where responsibility, duty and community are most valued. And of course the institution that upholds the Christian faith and defends these values is the Church of England.

The local church is often at the heart of our communities. It provides spiritual support as well as voluntary assistance to charities, social enterprises and, importantly, schools.

The Church of England currently educates one million children in 4,800 schools, making it the biggest single provider of education in this country. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has reaffirmed the Conservative party’s commitment to supporting faith schools by urging the Church to run more academies.

Throughout the Conservative party’s long history, the defence of the established Church has been second nature. Christian morality has been a significant guide for many One Nation Conservatives, including Harold Macmillan, who said:

"If you don’t believe in God, all you have to believe in is decency. Decency is very good. Better decent than indecent. But I don’t think it’s enough."

A Christian ‘fightback’ should be supported by One Nation Conservatives within the context of greater toleration. We live in a pluralistic society. Other cultures must be respected. Yet Christians have become somehow exempted from the toleration afforded to others and fair game for discrimination by aggressive secularists.

Wearing a cross at work, holding town hall prayers (see Jack’s comments on these pages), Norwich County Council’s banning of a local church from a community centre.

It is appalling that this victimisation of ordinary Christians is happening at the same time that Yusuf al-Qaradawi is allowed to stay in this country, be embraced by Labour’s London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone, and defend suicide bombing, wife beating and the violent persecution of Jews and homosexuals.

Discrimination against Christians has also been a defining feature of the debate about same-sex marriage, in which opponents are brazenly dismissed as homophobes. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, for instance, is opposed to gay marriage but supports civil partnerships and has certainly not expressed hatred towards homosexuals.

It also says a lot about the current state of the debate that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is forced to ban “gay cure” adverts from the capital’s red buses, while Christians offended by gay rights charity Stonewall’s campaign are denounced as bigots.

How can we possibly have a grown-up debate about an important subject such as same-sex marriage if senseless demonisation is allowed to trump rational discussion?

Whatever side you take, there is a principle at stake here. Toleration has to incorporate toleration of those people who we disagree with or believe to hold intolerant views. It is time for toleration in Britain to live up to Voltaire’s famous and apocryphal quotation: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Regrettably, Mr Cameron’s attempts to tackle aggressive secularism have been undermined by George Osborne’s recent blunders over the so-called 'charity tax' and 'heritage tax'.

The Government is launching a formal consultation on charity tax relief and will hopefully heed the advice given by Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, on BBC’s Newsnight recently.

But we have yet to see if the Government will reverse its decision to slap a VAT bill of £20 billion on the 12,500 listed church buildings. There is already an e-petition with a growing number of signatures demanding that the VAT zero rate on alterations to listed buildings be revived.

This hit to charitable giving and listed buildings threatens irreparable and unnecessary harm to churches such as Wakefield Cathedral. Many churches stand as bastions of beauty and monuments to tradition. Several have stood since Norman times. It would be a crime against our common heritage to allow these tax policies to continue.

Once upon a time it could be said, with some truth, that the Church of England was ‘the Tory party at prayer’. David Cameron and other One Nation Conservatives should have the courage of their convictions to defend and praise the established Church’s role in the spiritual life of the nation and the wellbeing of communities; to fight for full religious toleration; and to conserve our precious buildings.

Follow David on Twitter @david_cowan

The return of the Big Society is a positive sign for positive politics

Nik Darlington 11.12am

The Big Society has had its detractors, to put not too fine a point on it. Some have critiqued it intelligently; most have demonstrated laziness and inverted snobbery, led by a metropolitan elite to whom truly non-dependent communities are an alien concept.

Few champion the Big Society as strongly as those most involved in what it represents; and few individuals are so passionately weighed in behind it as the Tory MP for Penrith and the Borders, Rory Stewart.

In March last year, Rory wrote on these pages about how the ideas underpinning the Big Society - such as independence, communitarian spirit, responsibility, hard work - are transforming his patch of Cumbria, in areas such as affordable housing and super-fast broadband.

"The constant force behind all this - quite independent of government policy - is found in the communities themselves. It is they - not individuals, or businesses, or government, or even the voluntary sector (although these things are themselves important) - which constitute the Big Society. And these communities are defined by curiosity, ambition and a stubborn determination to succeed."

Yesterday, the Prime Minister launched the £600 million Big Society Capital fund, partly financed by money from dormant bank accounts, partly by Britain’s biggest banks, and aimed at boosting social enterprise. It is a theme we have covered heavily here at Egremont, particularly by Alexander Pannett here, here and, with me, here.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said:

"Big Society Capital is going to encourage charities and social enterprise to prove their business models - and then replicate them… [then] seek investment for expansion into the wider region and into the country.

This is a self-sustaining, independent market that’s going to help build the Big Society.”

As far as Mr Cameron’s pet project goes, the sun has got its hat on, and the Big Society’s got its capital letters back. It is a positive sign for positive politics.

And Rory Stewart builds on the ideas he introduced last year in an opinion piece for the Telegraph this morning, describing the “trench warfare” that has built the Big Society in Cumbria. It is a heart-warming read, and here are some choice extracts:

"The problem I found, when I became an MP in 2010, was not that communities did not work - they had always been working. It was that they were being prevented from doing much more. I found this in a dozen things, which might seem small from London, but which were key to rural lives: in communications, energy, housing, tourism (our largest earner), and broadband, which can hold the key to the success of rural health, education, and thousands of small businesses.

"We finally solved our problems when, instead of going completely independent, we made government and business work with our communities.

"None of this was easy… But we’ve succeeded - and not just in showing how the fastest broadband in Europe can go to the most remote valleys in Britain.

"The Big Society is not a fund, or a law - it’s an attitude, a way for government, firms and charities to use communities’ energy. It’s not something you can show on a PowerPoint presentation. But if you want to see how it works, come to Cumbria."

Some worthwhile news you may have missed: PM doubles funding for dementia research

Nik Darlington 10.23am

It is a tall order for proper news to rear its head at the moment, with the media barely recovering from its infantile frenzy of fiscal grannies before leaping gleefully into the arms of a lascivious donor scandal.

The Sunday Times' undercover sting of the former Tory party treasurer was a timely reminder that News International, despite dangerous dalliances with illicit technology, still does a good turn of old fashioned muckraking. In the midst of Leveson, 'how timely', the cynical (or the sensible) might say. Rupert might have missed a trick though. Would've done sales a world of good giving it to the Sun.

But while the columns and airwaves were aflutter with chatter about who shares the Prime Minister’s table, Mr Cameron yesterday announced important extra funding for dementia research, during a speech at a conference put on by the Alzheimer’s Society, who have published a report entitled Dementia 2012: A national challenge.

Mr Cameron called it a “national crisis” and “one of the greatest challenges of our time”. Dementia affects hundreds of thousands of elderly people and is thought to cost society £23 billion (rising to £27 billion by 2018), not to mention the often painful - and regularly painstaking - time and attention given to sufferers by carers and loved ones each and every day.

The Alzheimer’s Society’s research shows that barely one-fifth of of dementia sufferers believe they are “living well” with the condition, and only 7 per cent of the general public believe that sufferers have a “very good” or even a “fairly good” quality of life.

Mercifully, I was too young truly to take in the full bearing of my grandmother’s long experience of Alzheimer’s. She once took me for a short stroll around Wimbledon Common, pushing me in my pram. We were discovered a worryingly long while later a few streets away. She was asking a builder where she lived, while I happily and unassumingly blew bubbles, or did whatever babies did in the 1980s (do they now play Angry Birdies?). Needless to say, I didn’t grow up knowing her too well.

Yet by all accounts, my grandmother received loving and excellent care: from my late grandfather, my mother, many other relatives and dedicated professional carers. Not all, scarcely many, have such good fortune.

Dementia is, as Mr Cameron said yesterday, “a terrible disease”. It isn’t just geriatrics losing their marbles. It is a chronic condition that is only going to affect more and more people as our population ages. If the number of dementia sufferers does indeed double over the next four decades, we all need to become much better at caring for them.

Overall, the solutions are relatively straightforward. They just need the commensurate time, attention and resources devoted to them. The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday is a first step of what must be many.

On the surface, I am not keen on the creation of twenty “dementia-friendly communities” (they have an air of the ‘undesirables’ colony about them). But if what it means is testing efforts to raise awareness and understanding of a largely misunderstood disease, then I am easily convinced.

Because dementia is a chronic condition that people have to live with for many years, treatment of it cannot force sufferers to be isolated. Much as the world we live in has become more accommodating, physically and psychologically, of disabled people, we have to make the world more accommodating for dementia sufferers.

As the Alzheimer’s Society’s report says, this will involve “a major shift in public awareness and understanding of dementia”. The social care system must be reformed, using the Dilnot Commission’s recommendations as a starting point. Resources have to shift from inappropriate acute and residential care towards helping care for people in the community.

Perhaps most importantly, dementia sufferers must be recognised as “active citizens with the potential to live well in the community”.

This all needs research, time and effort. The Prime Minister understands this, and we hope, as we await publication of a White Paper on social care, that the Government understands this too.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

The Big Society has life in it still, but more must be done to avoid a repeat of Shaun Bailey’s My Generation

Samuel Kasumu 6.00am

The 'big society' was supposed to be the key Conservative policy that would tie the rest together. An underpinning philosophy that could rebuild communities, reshape public services and above all demonstrate that Conservatives could do compassion.

But this ‘big idea’ failed to capture the imagination of the public from the start. And the recent news that one of the first Big Society Ambassadors has has to close his charity can only pile further pain on the tarnished ‘big society’ brand.

Shaun Bailey is the talented community leader and former Conservative candidate. He represents a section of British society - black, urban, working class - that the Conservative party has struggled to engage with in the past. Having failed to win the Hammersmith constituency in 2010, Mr Bailey was signed up as one of the Prime Minister’s special advisers. Yet the excellent charity he founded, My Generation, has now closed.

My Generation’s mission was all about what the ‘big society’ stands for, and its closure is a sad loss for the communities of Hammersmith - but it may actually be the most important thing Mr Bailey does as a Big Society Ambassador. In having to close his own charity, he has demonstrated to the Government and to leaders of similar organisations that he understands and shares the same challenges faced by most voluntary groups today.

There is no doubt that funding has always been community groups’ biggest challenge. And today we are in the midst of an economic downturn, with funding ever harder to come by: there is less of it, and it is harder to access.

During the Labour party’s time in office we saw large amounts of money distributed through local and national government schemes. Grants were more readily available.

But in recent times, funding for services for the likes of children and young people has dried up because local authorities have no statutory obligation to deliver those services. Other lifelines such as the Future Jobs Fund have gone, meaning that many voluntary sector organisations no longer benefit from extra staff funded by the government.

So the voluntary sector faces many challenges and the long-term survival of many of these organisations cannot be guaranteed. Some might see this situation as tragic but I see it as more of an opportunity to create newer, better solutions. Like a game of chess, with an opponent thinking the game to be over, the ‘big society’ may yet have one more move to play.

The Government must look at new ways of reshaping the voluntary sector. I suggest setting up Big Society Academies to train community leaders and give them the skills to identify funding sources that still exist, as well as other key skills (former Labour and Lib Dem MP Paul Marsden wrote of similar things on these pages last summer).

This training could be delivered by companies on a pro bono basis (or even a form of payment by results). The passion of community leaders must be harnessed and supported by training from experts in various fields.

Some major corporations are already donating their time for free to train larger groups of voluntary sector staff and volunteers - but on a smaller scale. This must increase. There’s no doubting the CSR benefits in doing so.

There is a variety of different activities still funded by national and local government but to be able to receive any money many organisations have to be a bit more entrepreneurial. Something like the National Citizen Service offers funding of more than £1,000 for every young person that is attracted to it. This is a lot of money but currently only very big organisations such as the Prince’s Trust and vInspired seem to be winning the contracts.

So how can smaller voluntary groups participate in the delivery of such schemes? Some do, but not nearly enough to fulfil the aspirations of the ‘big society’.

Smaller voluntary groups will need to team up with bigger organisations if they are struggling to survive on their own. Some will seriously need to consider merging. The Government must play its part in revolutionising the voluntary sector, but without taking it over. Make funding available for community groups with fewer strings attached and less bureaucracy in the application stage.

The Prime Minister must also find a way to get those involved in the voluntary sector into paid employment. It should be said that Mr Bailey’s role as a Big Society Ambassador has been unpaid, and he therefore represented those many community leaders who do the work most people claim to be too busy to do, and sacrificing his own time without being fairly recompensed.

There must also be targeted funding available for communities to create solutions where there are gaps in public services.

The ‘big society’ still has the potential to empower us all to engage more with others in our own communities. But this will only happen when the Government supports the people that were involved in the ‘big society’ before it became the Conservative party’s ‘big idea’. More support is needed, more engagement is essential, and a more collective strategy is crucial if we are to avoid a repeat of Shaun Bailey’s My Generation.

Follow Samuel on Twitter @samuelkasumu

Does the future lie with social enterprises?

Alexander Pannett 10.30am

Last week, MPs voted through the Public Services (Social Value) Bill through to the House of Lords. 

If the Bill is made into law, it would change the way that public spending is carried out by councils.  Focus will shift from purely economic concerns to take into account social and environmental values as well.  By concentrating on social values, public services can become more efficient, sustainable and productive.  As the Government’s annual spend on commissioning and procurement stands at £236 billion, there can be huge opportunities for making lasting and wide-ranging improvements to the cohesion of society.

This marks a wider change where public services are being re-structured with services being allowed to spin-out from central governmant control and become accountable for their own allocation of resources.  These services are provided by enterprises driven by social value rather than shareholder value.

The potential for social enterprises is huge.  Some of the UK’s most successful companies have been structured with the social value of employee ownership in mind, such as the John Lewis Partnership and Loch Fyne Restaurants.

The UK now has a social enterprise sector worth more than £20bn a year, with strong and confident enterprises that range from Divine Chocolate and People Tree to Greenwich Leisure and HCT Group.     

Social enterprises formed as co-operatives also help to build a better world by giving their members a share of the profits and an equal say.  A generation ago, 50 per cent of the population owned 12 per cent of the wealth; today, inequality in the UK is at its highest since records began, with 50 per cent of the population owning just 1 per cent of the wealth.  Co-operatives and other social enterprises can be effective tools for reversing this trend.

However, they face many obstacles. One of the main issues for prospective spin-outs is the lack of specialist support advice.  The economic crisis created both a demand for specialist advice and also diminished public funding for the provision of such expertise.  On Tuesday, Cooperatives UK made an important step in meeting this demand for affordable specialist advice by releasing the final part of its Community Enterprise Toolkit.  The suite of resources provides provides community enterprises with free financial, legal and governance support.

Another issue for social enterprises is the lack of access to capital for enterprises that emphasise social return rather than capital return.  With banks facing challenges of their own, they have been reluctant to finance initiatives that do not bring returns in the more traditional, profit driven sense.  Government funding has also suffered due to fiscal cuts.

In response to this, the Coalition formed Big Society Capital to provide finance to social enterprises and voluntary organisations.  The BSC will receive its funding from an estimated £400 million in dormant bank accounts that has remained unclaimed for over 15 years and £200 million from the UK’s four largest high street banks. The initiative is due to be fully operational in early 2012 but it has already made its first investment in the Private Equity Foundation, an organisation whose mission it is to support disadvantaged young people into employment, education or training. 

Despite the enthusiasm for social enterprises, it is not yet clear whether they have realised some of their more ambitious visions.  The claim that social enterprises would bring a new outlook to business is difficult to qualify either in results or even in what “social return” actually means.

Do social enterprises have a unique ability to utilise volunteer labour or derelict buildings or to achieve more efficiency than profit-driven businesses?  It could be that their advantages are more about the commitment and loyalty of their workforces which are not able to be replicated on a large scale when social enterprises lose their local connections.

The absence of scale in social enterprises and a paucity of house-hold names demonstrates the difficulties for growth and consolidation.  Often the individuals who have the skills at starting such enterprises are uncomfortable with the need to move from more informal workplace cultures to the bureaucracy and accountability necessary to expand. Business models are also difficult to replicate in other communities where the social context and culture can vary dramatically.

Despite these concerns, it is clear that social enterprises and the move to prioritising social value have made the economy more diverse and dynamic. They have allowed for community needs to be catered for in a much more creative and successful way by public services. 

In the long term, social enterprises will likely prove their critics wrong. They are well established in industries that are projected to grow, such as healthcare and renewable energy. They receive support from across the political spectrum and from key individuals in business and the increased liberalisation of public services will create further opportunities. 

Whilst hurdles remain, social enterprises certainly have the innovation and flexibility to surmount them, just as any successful company manages to do.

For further information about the various social enterprise initiatives in the UK, visit the Social Enterprise UK’s website, which is the UK’s national body for social enterprise and represents a wide range of social enterprises, regional and national support networks and other related organisations.

Also see Social Enterprise London, a world-leading provider of training, research, networking and consultancy for social enterprise.

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“Out of the Ashes”: David Lammy’s Post-Riot Manifesto

Giles Marshall 9.30am

The last time there were riots in Tottenham, the local MP’s response was to crow that the “police got a bloody good hiding”.  He may have been chiming in with the views of many of his constituents, but in the aftermath of riots that encompassed the brutal murder of a police constable it was never going to be a response that scored highly on the constructive engagement scale. 

This time, the local MP, who was a boy growing up near the Broadwater Farm estate in 1985, raced back from his holiday as soon as he heard of tension in Tottenham following the shooting of Mark Duggan, spent hours and days in constructive engagement with the local community and the police, and has now published a book of his reflections on the state of urban Britain.  But then, David Lammy has always been a very different character from his predecessor. 

The former Higher Education minister hasn’t necessarily been one of New Labour’s more impressive spokesmen, but in his post-riots book “Out of the Ashes” he seems to have discovered a political voice that might just be the making of him.  No-one can doubt Lammy’s credentials in reflecting on the lessons of Tottenham in 2011.  Brought up in the area he now represents, a boy in a single parent (his mother) family from the age of 12, and a black student in a private white-dominated school for much of his secondary schooling, Lammy has personal credentials aplenty in casting his eye over the inner urban landscape that exploded so suddenly last summer.  He also understands how government works, and has a close knowledge of the mechanics of the New Labour project under both Blair and Brown. 

Yet his is no ‘angry voice’ and it is certainly not an apologia for New Labour.  It is a very personal, dignified and thought provoking reflection that offers plenty of food for thought when it comes to devising policies to regenerate a Britain whose broken state Lammy firmly recognises.  It is a virtue of his book that it does not represent some dully partisan approach but instead seeks to find practical ideas in community projects which have already been tried and tested.  Lammy may write as a Labour MP, but there is much here that One Nation Tories could readily identify with. 

Not that there isn’t anger in “Out of the Ashes”.  Go to the book’s last chapter, “Banks and Bureaucrats”, and you’ll find an eloquent and condemning account of the powerlessness of the modest citizens left homeless by the riots, and treated mercilessly by the banks.  As Lammy recounts the wretched behaviour of banks whose own irresponsibility caused them to be bailed out to the tune of billions of taxpayers’ pounds, you can almost hear the levels of indignation rising and you start to ask why every representative doesn’t regard the contemptuous treatment of his constituents with similar outrage. 

Even here, Lammy soon morphs into the would-be fixer, examining how bureaucracy might just work in his constituents’ defence.  This is his virtue.  Unlike socialists of yore, the current MP for Tottenham sees people in small community terms, to be helped and engaged with by similarly community-based ideas but backed by the power of the state.  The key is that the state comes second, not first. 

Some of Lammy’s themes will chime with even the most vigorous social conservative.  He has no truck with the liberal notion that fathers in families don’t matter.  After all, he grew up without one for a significant period of his childhood, and hasn’t put on rose-tinted spectacles to view the experience subsequently.  He wants strong male role models in deprived urban areas who are not vacuous celebrities or weapon toting gangsters.  He believes every sinew should be strained to keep fathers, especially separated ones, involved in the child rearing process. 

On criminality, he believes in punishment, but once punishment has been made he wants effective rehabilitation and offers an interesting – if rather uncosted – form of ‘social impact credits’ to pay for it.  This is where the Lammy medicine veers away from the world view of many Tories – he knows his proposals will cost money, and is happy to advocate this.  After all, he is not planning to cut the state.  Not when it has so much to do. 

Lammy’s Britain is broken because too few jobs are around to give people the necessary self-worth, and because poverty is surrounded by plenty, and because the voiceless see the influence wielded by the small community of the well connected.  He takes examples that look like the Big Society in action on a small scale, but believes that they need proper state support to become full blown solutions. 

He writes with authority and integrity because, whatever else you think of him, he knows his constituency intimately and has been there when a promising young man has been gunned down by a gang emptied of the last signs of human morality, or when a young offender has been failed by the would-be system of rehabilitation.  When a politician writes with this level of sincerity, knowledge and commitment, he deserves a hearing.  From all parties.

Renovation Zones call for penal reform to cut the re-offending that is ruining communities

Paul Marsden 8.11am

On Tuesday, Ken Clarke said that the riots make the case stronger for penal reform, with three-quarters of those aged over 18 taking part in the riots being re-offenders. In his final extract from a revolutionary set of policies, former MP Paul Marsden writes why penal reform must be part of Renovation Zones.

The transformation required in the Renovation Zones must be reflected in our prisons. Criminals serving sentences must appreciate that they are being punished for crimes that they have committed. Ahead of that, however, must be a culture of transforming lives.

Instead of languishing in a cell for up to 23 hours a day, prisoners should be learning and exercising for up to 18 hours a day. All activities should be focused on acquiring new skills and identifying future careers.

The fact is that many criminals in prison will, when released, be returning to the types of areas that are candidates for becoming Renovation Zones. These ex-convicts should become positive role models for these areas rather than sources of aggravation, competition and tension.

Re-offending rates range from 26 per cent to 74 per cent for some prisons and when surveyed, 68 per cent of prisoners said that the single most important factor on returning to a community is having a job.

In order to bring down those re-offending rates rapidly, into single figures if possible, we must strive to have work available for prisoners on their release. Rather than wait six months before becoming eligible for work placements, in a Renovation Zone ex-prisoners would be required to join work programmes on the day of their release.

Simple and dynamic change is needed in the communities worst affected by high crime, high unemployment and extreme deprivation. Renovation Zones would cover the priority areas in need of renewal.

It will call for tough ‘Street Leaders’ who are given the full support of communities and local authorities. Their focus will be  on new skills and work, work, work.

Young people need opportunities geared towards real world skills. They must be given the chance to articulate their views in their own way.

Ex-prisoners must be dovetailed into the RZ work programme to reduce rates of re-offending.

A culture of fresh ideas must dominate and failure or only partial success accepted as part of the process of renewal.

A revived local pride must be engendered and linked to a stronger national pride. Improving the environment should be inherent to RZs so that people appreciate the world in which we live.

It will be difficult, the road will be long but the days of dead-end neighbourhoods punctuated with police sirens and shattered dreams must end. Through radical renovation, we can build buzzing, vibrant, respectful and happy communities.

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Renovation Zones could do for skills and social activity what Enterprise Zones promise for economic activity

Paul Marsden 11.29am

The devil makes work for idle hands, so the saying goes. Keep people busy with productive work and activities and their is less chance of crime and general listlessness.

The term “tradecraft” is usually understood to mean a skill acquired in illegal activity. We should turn it on its head and apply it to productive activities. Unlike other community programmes, ‘Trade Craft’ would be mandatory for people who have been unemployed for six months or more. It would also be linked to benefits.

A policy called ‘Tough Learn’ would be worth 30 per cent of current benefits - a taper relief system that avoids removing benefits entirely, and similar to what the coalition government is proposing in its welfare reforms.

It is important not only to provide short-term activities but rather to design projects relevant to long-term community needs. For example, the community centre is run-down and in need of a replacement or a refurbishment, so local people would be hired to achieve these goals. Priority funding could be derived from National Lottery and local government funds and people would work under the supervision and coaching of qualified tradesmen. Training will be linked to real work that benefits the community. In the process, people could gain qualifications in short amounts of time, and then go on to complete further qualifications. Instead of a year or two years of traditional vocational training, people will be ‘upskilling’ in the space of a few months.

Another idea is to provide enthusiastic and entrepreneurial types with a box of tools to help them set up their business, such as registering it, simple guidance on business plans, basic accounting and other business activities - with no cost to that individual. Failure will be expected but we should accept this and keep encouraging people. Not everyone will become the next Richard Branson but that is not the point.

The first time a young person sells their product or service and receives payment in return will inspire them to put in more hours of hard graft and succeed. It gives them self-confidence and belief in an honest living.

Like other policies discussed in previous posts, these Renovation Zone initiatives could easily link up with the Government’s existing policy of Enterprise Zones. The latter are a good step forward for reviving economic activity. Add in the impact of Renovation Zones and you can revive social activity too.

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