There are many words and phrases in the language of regeneration-speak that should be banned. ‘No one-size-fits-all solution’, ‘delivering’, housing ‘units’ and ‘people-centred’ (presumably to avoid confusion with all those services and strategies targeted at bunny rabbits) to name but a few.
Clearly, I’m on dodgy ground here because there’s no doubt some will have sneaked into this week’s magazine. Please don’t take that as a challenge to find them.
But top of that list should be ‘pilot’, particularly when it accompanies the announcement of a government initiative. Consider for a moment its dictionary definition: ‘something done or produced as an experiment or test before wider introduction’. We generally pilot something when it’s new, innovative and untested.
This week ministers announced a series of – you guessed it – pilot measures to tackle child poverty and increase social mobility. In a country that has spent decades tackling disadvantage, has someone seriously come up with a new solution? Of course not, the announcement boiled down to financial support for a small number of local authorities to enable them, by and large, to build on activities already taking place.
Times are hard and the government has to be frugal with public money, spending it on areas where it is likely to have the biggest impact. Everyone understands that, so why bother dressing it up as something it’s not?
It must be incredibly frustrating for anyone living, or indeed working, in a disadvantaged area to hear news of yet another pilot initiative.
In recent weeks the government has been urged to take a more direct approach instead of endless trial runs. When the Thoresen review said a money advice service should be set up, ministers agreed – but after a two-year pilot. We’ll end up with ‘pilot fatigue’, warned Help the Aged.
Yet more testing seems particularly pointless when the message from the ground remains the same. The Voices for a Change project, which used Londoners living in poverty to act as peer researchers, published its findings this week.
They were all too familiar: policymakers out of touch with the realities of poverty, local services too complicated and unapproachable, and an overly complex benefits system that offers inadequate support. People simply haven’t got time for yet another pilot.
Austin Macauley, editor, New Start Online magazine