Carwyn Jones defends value of £214m regeneration scheme
There are 188 projects to improve communities across Wales
First Minister Carwyn Jones has defended a flagship £214m regeneration programme in Wales accused of failing to deliver good value for money.
The public accounts committee says assembly government management of Communities First is largely to blame.
It says the scheme lacks clear leadership from the top.
But Mr Jones told AMs while there were "question marks over delivery in some parts" but there were "excellent examples" of it working across Wales.
Mr Jones spoke at First Minister's Questions about the programme, which covers nearly 200 deprived districts.
Earlier, the assembly government had welcomed the committee report and said it would consider its conclusions and recommendations.
It's right to say there have been question marks over delivery... but the scheme itself is designed to ensure that communities and individuals across Wales once again get the confidence to enter the world of work
First Minister Carwyn Jones
In response to Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams, Mr Jones said: "We had many, many communities in Wales that were in a situation where people did not even feel confident enough to seek training, and as a result there was a negative impact on their communities.
"There are some excellent examples of Communities First delivering across the whole of Wales.
"Yes, it's right to say there have been question marks over delivery in some parts of Wales, we know that, that's a matter of public record, but the scheme itself is designed to ensure that communities and individuals across Wales once again get the confidence to enter the world of work, to get training and make sure their communities have a voice again."
The committee inquiry followed a critical report into Communities First from the Wales Audit Office last year.
The Wildmill youth project has received £4,000 in Communities First grants
The latest report concludes that overall Communities First "has not delivered good value for the significant amount of public money spent on it", which it largely blames on "weaknesses in the Welsh government's construction and management of the programme".
The committee reports recognises local benefits but says "we are unconvinced about the additional impact of the programme."
"We are particularly concerned that the Welsh government provides insufficient direction to service providers and is not adequately monitoring the programme."
Reports published in 2003 and 2006 also recorded concerns about the programme.
Committee chair Jonathan Morgan said: "This is the fourth report to be highly critical of Communities First since its inception in 2001.
"The committee heard that while the programme is operated with the best of intentions to help deprived communities, there still isn't enough support and guidance from those at the top to help those at the coalface.
"We urge the Welsh government to make major changes to the way this programme is run to ensure it meets the admirable aims it was set up for."
The committee heard evidence that the assembly government was, in many cases, unable to demonstrate a direct link between Communities First and any improvement of standards in areas which had received investment.
The committee has recommended that the assembly government reassessed existing policies.
Two-thirds of the money has been spent on administration and staff, when more money should be reaching the people most in need
Jenny Randerson AM, Liberal Democrat
It also argued for better monitoring of outcomes to show whether the investment of public money was returning tangible results.
Jenny Randerson, a Liberal Democrat member of the committee, called it a "scathing indictment of the Labour-Plaid government's failure to monitor and improve what has always been an approach which focuses to heavily on geography and not enough on individuals".
She said: "Two-thirds of the money has been spent on administration and staff, when more money should be reaching the people most in need.
"This is a long-running programme and it is unforgivable that no proper analysis has been made by the government of its effectiveness."
Youth worker Debbie Bryn of the Wildmill Youth Works in Bridgend said she was convinced Communities First funding had helped about 200 young people who had used the facility in recent years.
She said: "In our own community we've definitely seen the benefits for us as workers and the young people.
"We've been able to access funding through Communities First to enable us to put on different activities.
"We've had money for camping equipment. We've had residential trips, arts and crafts projects, cultural events, music and creative events."
The report acknowledged that many Communities First partnerships had achieved "some local benefits".
It noted that "...it is important to state that we recognise that good work is being done locally by Communities First partnerships, and anecdotally we have received evidence of this.
"The focus of our inquiry has been on the Welsh government, and not on the dedicated people striving to deliver outcomes for the Communities First programme, and their communities, on the ground."
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