Key talks about the fate of the North-West’s centre of excellence took place this week. Herpreet Kaur Grewal reports.

It could be the endgame. This week, the Government’s Academy for Sustainable Communities (ASC) held talks to discuss cutting funding to regional centre of excellence (RCE) Renew Northwest. The centre will be phased out this summer, as the core regional development agency (RDA) funding for the RCEs comes to a close.

Since April, nine regional improvement and efficiency partnerships have replaced the ten-year RCE programme that ended in March. These partnerships of councils and other local service providers aim to build on the foundations laid by the nine RCEs, which were set up in 1998 to develop skills and learning at a regional level within the regeneration sector. Good practice used by organisations also had to be based on research, evidence and fresh thinking. These are things that Renew Northwest has been successful at, according to NWDA executive director Peter White.

But the RCE “will no longer exist in its present form”, says White. While it has been good at getting programmes and projects off the ground, it has lacked the leadership to ensure skills are constantly nurtured and improved at every level of the sector, he says. It has been effective at motivating the likes of planners and regeneration officers, adds White, “but the body was not as well known at more senior levels of the sector and its impact on the private sector has been modest”.

He is confident, however, that its closure will not result in fewer training opportunities in the region. He says Renew Northwest’s successful elements will be picked up and managed by different bodies. So while the future is unclear for some of the RCE’s initiatives, its design scheme, Places Matter, run with the Royal Institute of British Architects, and the Neighbourhood Gateway project, run with the Government and Stockport Metropolitan Borough council, will continue.

Earlier this year, the South-West’s regional centre of excellence, Creating Excellence, also had its core funding cut (R&R, 8 February, p2). Now it is funded from contract to contract, with the South-West Regional Development Agency commissioning individual services from the RCE, rather than providing ongoing grant money. The RCE is also working to secure other commissions. But the loss of its core funding has been painful. “Two members of staff out of nine have gone, which has been regretful,” says chief executive Dominic Murphy. The scale of the downsizing and restructuring that RCEs face will depend on their track records, adds Murphy. “There will be big regional differences.”

Adrian Passmore, chief of Regen West Midlands, says Renew North-west had one of the bigger budgets out of the RCEs because the NWDA had more cash to spend than other RDAs. He is critical of the rapid decision to scrap the body. “It’s like throwing the baby out with the bath water,” he says, adding that the Government should have played a bigger role to protect RCEs.

Nevertheless, the ASC is hoping that something could be salvaged from this week’s talks with the NWDA. A spokesman says: “We are looking forward to working with them and coming up with an option to make sure the centre’s work continues.”