|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
I thank the Minister for giving us an advance copy of her statement and for coming to the House to take questions. With the greatest respect to her, it is odd that the strategy announcement was made this morning at the Ocean estate, Stepney by the Prime Minister, aided and abetted by the Deputy Prime Minister, the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Social Security and assorted other senior hangers-on, while the Minister for Local Government and the Regions will do for the House.
The statement has an interesting title--"new commitment to neighbourhood renewal." It is not clear whether it is a new commitment to neighbourhood renewal after the previous one failed, or a new-found commitment that the Government want to be seen to be committed to before a general election. However, the Opposition welcome any genuine moves to raise the problems of urban regeneration up the agenda and to bring about practical solutions. We particularly welcome any moves that seek to involve and to empower the community at all levels, with a genuinely bottom-up approach.
Many of the community-based regeneration projects that I have seen in recent months--whether the Royds community association in Bradford or similar organisations in Sheffield or Brent--say that progress is best made when communities are provided with the tools and set free to get on with the job at the sharp end, with minimal interference from the Government. I am pleased, albeit suspiciously, that the Government are starting to acknowledge that the solution to urban regeneration problems is an holistic one, involving making communities safer; ensuring that they have decent schools to which parents want to send their children rather than being forced to get out to get them an education; and making them places where businesses want to invest.
Such an approach is at the heart of our "Believing in our Cities" policy document, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) launched last year. That document is all about putting in place building blocks for sustainable communities, not only depending on bricks and mortar. However, that is barely a "new approach" to public investment--as the Prime Minister put it today in his speech in Stepney. After four years of warm soundbites, unfulfilled promises and failing delivery, people will want to know exactly how the scheme will work in practice, if at all, and to ask the following questions.
Secondly, is the money new money or simply the usual recycled announcement of funds from last year's comprehensive spending review? Rather than the £131 million mentioned by the Prime Minister, and just now by the Minister, is not the amount allocated for neighbourhood management and neighbourhood managers really £45 million spread over three years? How much will that translate into for each of the communities involved? How many communities will be involved? When will they receive it?
Who will the money be paid to? Will the regional development agencies have a role as the major distributors of urban regeneration grants? Will local authorities have a hand in the determination of funds? If so, will communities genuinely be empowered--as the Prime Minister claimed--to control and shape their own destiny?
What exactly will neighbourhood managers do? How are they different from neighbourhood wardens? Will they be there simply to manage neighbourhood wardens? Who will appoint them? On the basis of what criteria will they be appointed, and to whom will they be accountable? This morning, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry did not seem to know the answers to those questions. How exactly will neighbourhood managers interface with local authorities?
Thirdly, is it not gross opportunism to announce the scheme now, just weeks before a general election? Is it not really little more than yet another gimmick that barely rectifies the record of a Government who have presided over a widening north-south divide and a widening poverty gap--the extent of which have been clarified with publication today of the third "Wealth of Nations" report showing that 60 per cent. of households in centres such as Liverpool, Bradford, Blackburn and Middlesbrough are earning less than £10,000 annually per household?
Have not the Government presided over a decrease of 35 per cent. in the amount of new social housing built, and an increase of 74 per cent. in the number of people in temporary accommodation? Moreover, against the background of 190,000 extra crimes committed last year, has not crime in inner cities increased most of all--up by 12.6 per cent. in London, and 16 per cent. in the west midlands?
Does the statement go any way to satisfying any of the remaining 91 recommendations of the Rogers report which were not dealt with in the earlier urban White Paper? Does the statement restore a single one of the
Does the statement restore a single one of the teachers who are leaving the profession in droves, demoralised by form-filling, bureaucracy and political correctness? Does it shorten by one single day the waiting times that people in inner cities must suffer to obtain urgent treatment in hospitals, if they are lucky enough to graduate from the waiting list for the waiting list?
If the answer to any of those questions is no, why are the Government again palming us off with gimmicks when they could be spending the money on more police, more teachers or more operations? Like people elsewhere, people in inner cities have paid the taxes, so when are they going to get the services?
Services in many of our deprived areas have been worsening for decades. The previous Government did nothing to arrest that process or to ensure that specific action was taken in those areas. Indeed, they engaged in rounds of cuts year after year before the last election. We are giving ourselves tough targets on all of the key services and have worked with people from communities throughout the country on identifying those services and the aspects that need to be improved; that has been an intensive activity over the past two years.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) seems yet again to want a top-down approach in which the Government decide what is right without proper consultation or discussion and without piloting proposals with local communities. On money, he seems to think that Budgets and statements by Chancellors do not matter and that we can suddenly resurrect money from an unidentifiable pot of gold. Yes, the money was announced in the public spending round last July, but it has not previously been allocated and we have been working with local communities on deciding the most effective allocation. Our piloting of neighbourhood managers will involve 30 different areas in two rounds during the next three years. Many areas that benefit from the new deal for communities are already piloting or beginning to set up new forms of neighbourhood management. The 30 additional communities that will benefit from the piloting are all in the top 10 per cent. of the country's deprived wards.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether local authorities would be involved, but he seemed schizophrenic about the nature of such involvement. Of course they will be involved, as they are responsible for several of the key services that must be delivered more effectively in the areas in question. It is therefore important for them to act as partners with the local community, business, other public sector agencies and voluntary organisations. They will be partners in the local strategic partnerships and in drawing up priorities and plans for their deprived neighbourhoods.
Of course the DTI is involved. If we do not improve enterprise in these areas, their long-term sustainability will be reduced. The actions of the DTI on the minimum wage, for example, and its work with the Small Business Service are absolutely critical.
We shall not appoint the neighbourhood managers: they will be appointed locally. The appointments will come from whatever vehicle the local strategic partnerships decide to set up. Under the new deal for communities, many areas have already set up community trusts. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham is really not interested in my answer, is he? Several areas are setting up community trusts that will appoint a neighbourhood manager. In other areas, the appointments will be carried out in a different way by people in those areas, who will decide the most effective way of acting.
Conservative Members clearly have severe problems in understanding that one cannot dictate everything centrally while expecting local people to trust that their involvement will matter. We are determined to show that that will be the key.