Ambitious programme to tackle poverty remains key to improving life for communities

Civic leaders believe statistics labelling part of Paisley as Scotland’s most deprived neighbourhood do not tell the full story – and say a long-term plan to change the area’s fortunes is already under way.

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Figures published today by the Scottish Government show part of Paisley’s Ferguslie Park area sits at the top of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation table.

But council bosses and poverty campaigners believe a pioneering anti-poverty programme started last year is already making a difference – while major regeneration programmes including Paisley’s bid for UK City of Culture 2021 will transform the life chances of residents over the long term.

Renfrewshire Council leader Mark Macmillan said: “The council has adopted an innovative approach to tackling poverty, recognised as leading the way in Scotland – and the SIMD stats are based on data from last year which does not fully capture the impact of that.

“The figures show the overall picture for Renfrewshire has improved and we believe we are making a difference on the ground.

“Last year our Tackling Poverty Commission provided a detailed study of the root causes of deprivation and was the first of its kind in Scotland to look at child poverty on a local level.

“We backed that up with a two-year £6m Tackling Poverty programme – with 50 projects covering education, health, digital and cultural participation, employability and income advice.

“That included an extension of our pioneering early-years programme Families First, described by independent research as ‘having a profound impact’ on the lives of families in Ferguslie and Linwood.

“We made that investment a key priority for the council despite the challenging financial situation councils have been placed in by the Scottish Government.

“In the four years since the last SIMD figures were released, Renfrewshire has seen a 10% real-terms drop in the cash coming our way from Holyrood.

“It’s also worth saying Ferguslie itself has a strong sense of community – a recent survey showed 47% of people rated it as a very good place to live.

“The deprivation issues affecting Ferguslie and similar areas are long-term and deep-rooted – there are no easy solutions but through our unique approach, we believe we are on the right track.”

The SIMD figures rank almost 7,000 data zones in Scotland according to a series of statistical measures.

Overall, they show the picture across Renfrewshire has improved – the area has a lower share of local datazones ranked within Scotland’s most deprived 20% than in 2012.

And the wider regeneration of Renfrewshire includes a number of massive projects intended to bring about far-reaching economic, cultural and social change.

The town last year launched an ambitious bid to be UK City of Culture 2021, based on Paisley’s unique place as the one-time home of the world’s textile industry and thriving contemporary cultural scene.

Councillor Mark Macmillan added “We are bidding for UK City of Culture because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform Paisley and Renfrewshire’s fortunes.

“There is a clear link between culture and wellbeing – we want to harness the power of culture to change people’s lives for the better.

“The UK Government tends not to award the title to a city with everything in its favour, it goes to one which can demonstrate need and knows how it wants to use the title to change that.

“At the same time we will also have massive infrastructure projects as part of the Glasgow City Region City Deal, which are worth £274m to Renfrewshire and will create thousands of jobs – and the work to make sure local people have the skills to fill those jobs is under way.

“And Ferguslie itself could become the site of a planned regional sports village which is currently being consulted over, potentially to be built on land adjacent to St Mirren’s Paisley 2021 stadium.”

And poverty campaigners have backed up the assertion that the SIMD statistics don’t tell the full story.

Dr Jim McCormick, Associate Director Scotland to the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation, was one of Renfrewshire’s Tackling Poverty Commissioners.

He added: “Ferguslie Park is not unique – there are neighbourhoods like it in other parts of Scotland.

“Renfrewshire’s approach to tackling child poverty is comprehensive and the council was the first in Scotland to do it in that way.

“But it will take some time for impact to be felt and the SIMD is a snapshot based on last year’s data which does not show that yet.

“The SIMD stats are useful but don’t show everything. The geography of deprivation has shifted in the last generation – struggling and better-off families can be living a street away from each other.”