« Neighbourhood services in disadvantaged urban areas » - CPL (9) 6 Part II

Rapporteur : Mr. Laszlo BARTHA (Hungary, L)



(adopted by the Committee of Ministers on ...
at the ... meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)

The Committee of Ministers, by virtue of Article 15.b of the Statute of the Council of Europe;

Considering that the aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress;

Considering that a balanced and harmonious urban environment is essential to the quality of life and the socio-economic and cultural integration of the people, and to mutual relations based on respect, solidarity and civic peace;

Aware that public opinion is increasingly attentive to the factors at the origin of segregation phenomena in certain neighbourhoods and the problems this causes;

Convinced that the degradation of disadvantaged urban areas can be halted only by determined action by the public authorities over a period of time to improve living conditions in these neighbourhoods, foster integration of their residents in the wider urban fabric and enforce the law;

Considering that the public authorities and particularly local authorities play an essential role in creating or restoring harmonious living conditions in disadvantaged urban areas;

Considering that neighbourhood services have a significant contribution to make to the pursuit of this objective, insofar as they organise social solidarity by providing essential services to cater for specific public needs;

Noting the extent of the changes currently being made to public neighbourhood services in order to make them more efficient while keeping public spending under control;

Anxious to give equal rights of access and guarantees to users of public services whereas noticeable inequalities persist in this field;

Taking into account its following recommendations addressed to members states:

Having regard to the report of the Steering Committee on Local and Regional Democracy on neighbourhood services in disadvantaged urban areas and areas of low population, and to the examples of good practice it highlighted;

Having regard to the following documents of the of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe:

Recommends that the governments of the member states:

1. act in close co-operation with local authorities and other public service providers in defining, implementing and following up policies to combat urban segregation by providing neighbourhood services;

2. take the necessary steps to bring neighbourhood services in disadvantaged urban areas closer to the citizen, tailor them to their needs and make them more efficient;

3. take account of the guidelines set out in the appendix to this recommendation when formulating their policies and legislation, in order to improve the supply of public neighbourhood services in disadvantaged urban areas as a means of combating urban segregation;

4. have this recommendation and its appendix translated into their official languages and disseminated to local authorities and the public by appropriate means (e.g. a website);

5. have a dialogue with the local authorities and other public service providers in their countries with a view to implementing joint programmes to reduce urban inequalities and segregation bearing in mind the appended guidelines.


Guidelines on neighbourhood services
in disadvantaged urban areas (DUAs)

The public authorities have numerous policy tools at their disposal. The European countries1 have given varying degrees of priority to the following measures: improving infrastructure and facilities, incentives for job creation and economic development, promotion of public participation in local life and improved public services in these areas.

It is essential that these various policy tools be co-ordinated in a genuine policy for sustainable urban development in order to maximise their effectiveness. Sustainability should be central to any programme or policy for DUAs. Experience in several European countries shows that the difficulties of problem neighbourhoods cannot be solved on a sustainable basis e.g. by urban planning measures or security measures alone; on the contrary, experience proves that the simultaneous use of a variety of co-ordinated measures has greater and more sustained impact than, for example, similar measures that are not harmonised in spatial or chronological terms.

It should also not be overlooked that prevention is easier than cure. Policies applied in DUAs may be extended to other neighbourhoods to avoid the emergence of the vicious circles that cause living conditions to deteriorate and lead to segregation of the local population. Against this background, measures aimed at improving neighbourhood services enable positive results to be obtained within a relatively short time.

The up-grading of neighbourhood services may be accomplished by gearing traditional services to the specific needs of residents, by creating and special services for these neighbourhoods and by developing new forms of inter-service and inter-authority co-operation.

I. Better delimitation of the targeted areas

Public authorities’ endeavours (including financial measures) to implement their policies should be well-targeted. It is therefore essential to identify correctly both the areas in greatest difficulty and the factors that put them at a disadvantage.

Given the range of situations existing in problem urban areas, this assessment should be based on evaluations carried out by local authorities: the results should be analysed by national authorities, which would then have the technical information necessary to make well-founded political decisions and to provide a legal basis for specific measures by local authorities in these areas.

Governments should therefore intervene, in co-operation with local authorities, at several levels.

1. Preparation of sociological and econometric research

This research would serve both to determine the geographical limits of problem areas and to elucidate the influence of various factors in the emergence and growth of these areas. It would therefore serve to identify the criteria and parameters for classifying areas as problematic.

2. Assessing the expediency of having a flexible national definition of these areas, in so far as such a definition might facilitate the implementation of special measures and programmes

In such cases, a legal definition could enable intervention to be adapted to various specific situations and could prevent malpractice and waste. When the state commits itself (inter alia, financially) to minimising the negative factors in these areas, it should also ensure that the resources available are used to benefit areas in greatest need. However, this should not become an obstacle to local self-government: local authorities should maintain sufficient room for manoeuvre to be able to adapt their programmes in response to needs.

II. Reforming services so as to assume responsibility for people, not problems

Any strategy implemented in disadvantaged urban areas and areas with low population density must place people at the centre of concerns and remain responsive to end-users.

The main objective of these strategies and policies should be to improve the quality of life for residents in these areas and to eliminate any form of social exclusion. Other objectives, such as to improve the urban landscape or the education system or to reduce crime should only be considered as stages complementary to the main objective. If this main goal is to be realised, two requirements must be met:

1. Specialising administrative structures to reflect the needs of citizens rather than administrative needs

Here, the model that seems closest to the public’s needs is the “one-stop service”. Authorities should make it a priority to introduce this facility, since it increases user comfort and helps keep down the cost of these services. Where it is impossible to set up such a service, efforts should at least be made to avoid any artificial barriers between administrative services and to streamline user reception facilities, so that users can be directed speedily toward the “right” service.

2. Improving the accessibility of services

This can be done in a variety of ways:

- reduced access costs, particularly for the most disadvantaged groups;

3. Encouraging the participation of inhabitants and associate them to all projects implemented in these areas

Several measures may be taken in order to reach this goal:

III. Reforming services in a global, integrated, trans-sectoral and multi-annual approach

The fight against exclusion cannot be viewed as an issue that concerns a single authority, a single sector of activity or a single service. In practically all European states, numerous groups, both public and private, are involved in the fight against exclusion in problem neighbourhoods, particularly through the provision of neighbourhood services.

Given the complexity of the problems in all these areas, it is essential to ensure coherence among the activities undertaken, so as to improve both the impact and effectiveness of the efforts by all those involved. The steps to be taken should include:

1. Improving information exchange

Although valuable, the classic forms of consultation, meetings and information dissemination do not seem adequate. The fact is, information technology now offers enormous possibilities for collecting, sharing and particularly processing information. Databases on disadvantaged urban areas, as well as on public intervention in these areas, could be set up at a fairly reasonable financial cost.

These databases could contain:

The databases should be easily accessible and preferably at least partially open to the public on the Internet, in order to permit comparisons between neighbourhood situations, levels of public services, their cost and success rates, trends and so on.

Of course, there has to be knowledge of how to use them: specific training for this purpose should therefore be organised, and simplified schemes should be set up for integrated information collection, entering and use. They should be used by local authorities to prepare simple management charts presenting a clear, almost real-time picture of the situation in different neighbourhoods, trends and the results of different policies, to help improve the impact of their action.

2. Ensuring co-ordination and co-operation between public authorities, at both horizontal and vertical level

It is essential that real partnerships be established. This requires that each authority is prepared to act in harmony with the other authorities concerned, and even, if necessary, to determine the areas of action together. Without this will to work together, conflicts and competition between public services cannot be completely eliminated. Among other advantages, better co-ordination should prevent over-lapping and duplication in the support measures adopted. This is not only a question of “making savings” but also of removing a factor that ends up “de-motivating” beneficiaries, who might have opportunities for reinsertion but who find the status quo more advantageous.

Moreover, authorities in the same built-up area should also co-operate in setting up neighbourhood services in disadvantaged neighbourhoods; municipalities that have no disadvantaged neighbourhoods helping the others to provide services in the neighbourhoods concerned.

3. Involving and supporting the non-profit private sector

Involving NGOs and other associations in public intervention means taking advantage of the considerable leverage that can be generated by the non-profit private sector’s work, including voluntary work. Involving them in decision-making on policies and services and using their resources in managing and following-up activities can only increase the effectiveness of public intervention. Support for NGOs implies using public resources to assist their initiatives: improving the statutory framework for their work in these areas, providing access to some of the information held by the authorities, helping to finance their activities, etc.

4. Ensuring a successful partnership with the profit-making private sector

Experience shows that positive results can be obtained when the public authorities encourage businesses in or near these areas, sub-contract services, take part in projects for re-employment or returning to work, etc. Private sector representatives should become genuine partners for the public authorities in deciding and implementing such measures. In addition, where a private operator is licensed to provide a public service, it is necessary to set both clear objectives and standards of public service which the operator must meet under the terms of the licence agreement. The operator should naturally be duly compensated for meeting the standards.

5. Putting long-term programmes in place

The benefits of programmes to improve neighbourhood services are not always immediately visible. They should therefore be approached in a long-term perspective, by identifying resources in the long term and concluding contracts for periods of several years, between the authorities themselves and also between them and the other partners involved.

IV. Responding to specific needs

Disadvantaged urban areas have specific needs compared to other areas and require ear-marked responses.

Several courses of action could be considered to assist problem neighbourhoods in order to deal with their inhabitants’ specific needs and with the quality problems of certain services:

1. Setting up programmes to provide for persons in need, encouraging and participating in private initiatives in this field

The elderly, the ill, disabled people or those dependent on drugs, large families with low incomes… there are numerous problem scenarios in DUAs and they should be viewed as a priority.

2. Improving housing and living conditions

Several measures could be taken to improve the state of housing, particularly council housing:

3. Improving education and training structures

Several measures could be adopted to improve provision of this kind of service in DUAs:

4. Adapting health and other welfare services to the situation in these areas

People living in DUAs should have easy access to welfare services suited to their needs. Setting up units specialising in the health problems most frequently encountered in these areas and taking preventive action in co-operation with voluntary-sector associations are examples of such measures.

The role of social workers in DUAs should be strengthened. To this end, it would be useful to:

5. Improving the cultural, sports and entertainment infrastructure and offering adapted programmes

Inhabitants of DUAs should dispose of an infrastructure which is satisfactory both in quantitative and qualitative terms. Sports, cultural and entertainment programmes should be implemented in these neighbourhoods which are inexpensive, diversified and adapted to the ethnic, cultural and age specificity of the inhabitants.

6. Adapt police and security services to the needs of DUAs

Various measures could be taken to bring policing services closer to the people and make them more effective and more welcome in these areas:

V. Consolidating and encouraging the use of information technologies

The new information technologies offer genuine opportunities to improve the accessibility of services, their appropriateness to each user’s needs and their efficiency. The public authorities should make efforts to:

1. Put in place a genuine computerised structure

All public authorities, however small, should gradually be equipped (with hardware and software), train their staff and set up a computer strategy based on several elements:

- information management (data collection and processing and sharing of data with other authorities and services);
- provision of on-line services (information and advice, the option of carrying out certain tasks on-line, such as filling in forms, paying taxes and charges, etc);
- encouraging citizens to take part in choosing, managing and evaluating services, through highly inter-active computer resources, information campaigns, training…

Authorities at higher levels should help and encourage the efforts of small municipalities in this area by, for example, offering financial help, consultancy, training and technical skills and by permitting the municipalities to connect to existing networks.

2. Foster the development of data transmission systems

Certain national measures (particularly in the fields of tax, tariffs and competition policy) extend beyond the scope of policies implemented in disadvantaged areas. Nevertheless, it would be worth checking the relevance of direct measures to develop the digital infrastructure in the DUAs (public investment in high-speed systems, assistance for companies that invest in this infrastructure).

3. Encourage residents to connect to digital networks

Here too, various general, tax and tariff incentives could have a positive impact but extend beyond the disadvantaged areas. Information, training and consultancy programmes on digital technology would in any case be appropriate in problem neighbourhoods. Direct financial assistance measures (reimbursement of part of the cost of buying equipment, connection and training) could also be considered in these areas.

4. Establishing - or providing incentives for establishing -"computer service points"

These computer services points, such as Internet cafés, online multi-service access points or other public facilities offering training in and use of information technology in a pleasant, friendly atmosphere, could help to eliminate the “numerical gap” which is appearing in certain cities between inhabitants of disadvantaged neighbourhoods and other inhabitants.

VI. Introducing effective evaluation systems

All projects and services put into practice in disadvantaged urban areas should be subject to an effective evaluation system. Here, there are several basic requirements.

1. Seeking user feedback concerning the quality and quantity of services

The latest technology makes it possible to collect and process this information at extremely low cost. Use of traditional methods, although more expensive, is also necessary to obtain the reactions of non-IT users.

2. Sufficiently regular evaluation, so that the results can be used to review or improve the service

Flexibility of services, although important, is of little value without an evaluation system that allows decision-makers to appreciate the impact of existing changes and foresee the consequences of those that are planned. Relatively detailed evaluations should be conducted regularly. The research and information retrieval required to determine certain parameters (for example, impact indicators2) may be expensive: nevertheless, other indicators can be calculated very easily (for example, results indicators3) and these should be used to prepare genuine “score charts”, presenting the state of an activity almost in real time.

3. Quantifiable, precise and reliable criteria for evaluation

Qualitative indicators should not be used in isolation: quantitative indicators and criteria are very important. However, these indicators should fulfil certain criteria:

- they should be relevant and objective, and sufficiently precise in describing reality;
- they should remain reliable, even when the situation changes;
- they should be known in advance, without this resulting in undesirable adjustment mechanisms.

4. Inclusion in the evaluation of “overlapping” effects

The activities, projects and services introduced in these areas may have beneficial effects that extend beyond the areas in question. For example, a fall in the crime rate in neighbouring districts may indicate that the action taken has had a positive effect, even where the situation in the problem neighbourhood in question remains worrying. At the same time, there may be external influences on the target areas that should be taken into consideration during evaluation. For example, natural trends should be taken into account before using only statistical data about these areas to assess a policy’s success (on the basis of impact indicators).

5. Services should be evaluated by competent organisations that are unlikely to be influenced by the service providers

Such an approach will promote objectivity and professionalism. It is more difficult to have internal evaluation skills and to make sure that those in charge of the evaluation are independent if they belong to the administration that also offer the service.


1 These guidelines are based on good practices developed by Council of Europe member countries and which have been identified by the Steering Committee on Local and Regional Democracy in its report on “Neighbourhood services in disadvantaged urban areas and in areas of low population”.

2 Indicators describing the situation of an area/the quality of life of its users (e.g. unemployment, criminality, school failure rates …); their evolution may provide information on the effects of public authorities’ action.

3 Indicators concerning the service output (e.g. the number of services delivered, number of users, quality of services …).