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< Regeneration, < New Start editorial index page

Followers of hospital soaps will recognise the scene: the ambulance doors spring open, the trolley careers through the waiting rooms into the operating theatre, medical staff run, white coats flapping, knowing seconds make all the difference.

If the operation’s successful, there are the usual tears of gratitude, brief sighs of relief and terse congratulations, and it’s on to the next one.

And then what? TV doesn’t bother with recovery and recuperation, because it isn’t dramatic.

That’s excusable in soaps, but you’d never think of dumping the patient like that in real life.

Government, sadly, is always a sucker for drama. The comprehensive spending review is good theatre: big figures, sweeping gestures, new solutions, lots of shouting.

The opposition join in: the treatment isn’t working, they cry; we need change, and we need it now.

Politicians may demand change more often than a London beggar, but their greater eloquence makes them no more deserving. It’s the hospital soap mentality again: lots of action, superdoc to the rescue, pan to the next scene.

Places and communities, on the other hand, change over generations. Sometimes that change is swift, usually when it’s for the worse.

But recreating a local economy where a town was dependent on a single employer, generating aspiration where prospects have been poor for decades, or learning to overcome suspicion and distrust of newcomers, is long-term stuff.

That’s normally recognised in the health service: you don’t dump the patient the moment the operation is completed.

You need doctors, nurses and therapists to assist the convalescence. In community and economic development, however, we treat such continuing support is dispensable, and yet wonder why things haven’t worked as we assumed they would.

To call for change, as Brown, Cameron and the lamented Sir Menzies Campbell have done recently, is facile: the real challenge is to end the accident and emergency mindset – to understand the span and scope of the work we’re involved in, and support the policymakers and practitioners accordingly.

Sir John Egan recognised this in his analysis of the skills needed to create sustainable communities.

Yet in government terms he has become yesterday’s news, and the Academy for Sustainable Communities risks being reduced to a cameo player.

Let’s hope its final line isn’t ‘We told you so’.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine

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