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Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Does my right hon. Friend accept that Burnley is a deprived area? We certainly welcome the statement, and Burnley has a record of seizing any opportunity given by a Government, although we were given few by the Tory Government during their 18 years of responsibility for the problem. Several community groups in Burnley--particularly south-west Burnley--will already be considering how to meet the challenge that the Minister has proposed for community groups to receive this funding.
May I spell out one problem for my right hon. Friend? When we involve community groups and build up their hopes, there is always a danger that those people's hopes will be dashed and that they will get depressed if sufficient money is not then available. Can we have an assurance that the money will be available, and that these people will get the go-ahead and be able to tackle the kind of problems to which my right hon. Friend has referred?
Ms Armstrong: Burnley is one of the authorities that will benefit from the neighbourhood renewal fund, to the tune of £2.5 million over the next three years. It will also be able to access the other funds that I have announced this afternoon. Given the increased investment announced by the Chancellor, as long as the authority focuses on ways of reducing crime and unemployment, of improving health, and so on--although there will never be enough money and everyone will always want more--I am confident that the increase will be able to satisfy the aspirations of people in Burnley.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I welcome, as I have on two previous occasions, the broad principle of today's statement. The Minister has acknowledged that, with the exception of the £35 million for the community empowerment scheme, there is no announcement of new money. Will she at least confirm that the targets for crime reduction, education and health that she has announced today are absolutely identical to those that the Government announced on 10 September?
Does the right hon. Lady accept that her announcement of, for example, a community chest, neighbourhood management and community empowerment schemes adds yet more bureaucratic schemes to the large number that already exists? So bureaucratic are some of those schemes that people have difficulty finding their way through them, and much of the funding announced by the Government to help those most in need of it has ended up being underspent.
On underspending, will the Minister acknowledge that, although there is to be £100 million for the neighbourhood renewal fund, the first time the Chancellor announced that, he did not announce--although the figures clearly demonstrate--that in the same financial year, £160 million was to be cut from the budget for the new deal for communities? That money was intended specifically for the same target group.
Ms Armstrong: The new money announced today--or the new allocation of money--is £50 million for the community chest over the next three years; £35 million for the community empowerment fund over the next three years; and money to support other community activities. Overall, there is £130 million.
It has not taken us so long to find out that the people living in an area are those best placed to turn it round. It is precisely because we have been working with people that the strategy is being announced today, rather than on the first day after the general election. We were working with people to develop the strategy, because we did not think that we could say, "We know best, and you'll do what we tell you."
The hon. Gentleman said that the new system would be more bureaucratic. I disagree. The local strategic partnership will allow all the other partnerships to come together in discussion and debate with others, and find the most effective way of meeting their targets. By bringing things together we can reduce bureaucracy.
Of course there has been underspend in some programmes, precisely because we were working with communities over a longer time. For example, the new deal for communities pathfinder in Birmingham needed another year to put its proposals together, so we gave it another year. That meant that it did not spend the money that would otherwise have been available. Taking the opportunity to work with people sometimes means that money is not spent at exactly the expected time.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Like many Labour Members, I welcome the statement--but I am upset that it does not extend to my constituency. The index of deprivation 2000 rates Slough as only the 107th most deprived area, but all other indices of deprivation put Slough much higher. We are among the top 20 boroughs in the country for burglary. We have very high levels of deaths from heart attacks and heart disease. One in three children entering Slough schools has English as an additional language.
Ms Armstrong: I understand my hon. Friend's concerns; she is constantly seeking to increase opportunities for people in Slough--and so she should. However, 70 per cent. of this country's ethnic minority population live in the 10 per cent. of wards that are most deprived. That is reflected in the new index, so my hon. Friend can see that it takes account of people from ethnic minorities. I assure her that we want to improve the available data all the time. Indeed, the comprehensive spending review put money into the Office for National Statistics to improve data collection and availability not only at ward level but at remuneration by district level. That is important not only for those of us who administer programmes but for local people, who should have proper access to information about what is really going on in their neighbourhoods--and that is what we seek to provide over the next three years.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Is the Minister aware of the sense of outrage in Essex when people learned that, of the £800 million announced by the Government, not a penny was to go to anywhere in Essex--apart from Dagenham--even areas where there are substantial problems, such as Basildon, Tilbury and Southend-on-Sea? Is the Minister aware that unemployment there is well above average and that there are many social problems, as seen from the concentration of bed-and-breakfasts and houses in multiple occupation? Is she also aware of the concentration of elderly people? Will she ask the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), about the situation regarding asylum seekers? In Southend, we have a nightmare of a problem, which places a big strain on public services?
Does the Minister appreciate that there is considerable anger that Southend is not getting a penny? I was told this morning that Southend's problem could be its above- average results for education--that is not a problem for us; we are delighted with it--and that we have an effective Conservative council that avoids the shambles we have seen in other areas. Is the Minister willing to look again at the criteria, because the present situation is not fair to Essex and not fair to Southend?
Ms Armstrong: We had to take difficult decisions about what were the poorest areas. We did so according to very clear criteria which we have published in "Indices of Deprivation 2000", and I invite the hon. Gentleman to look at them.
I know that Southend is seeking to tackle its problems. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I visited recently to announce a very generous transport settlement. As he also knows, Southend is doing quite well out of the local government settlement. I want to ensure that Southend is using its mainstream money effectively. This statement is not just about money but about how we work with areas
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Will my right hon. Friend accept from me--most unusually, perhaps--that this statement will be warmly welcomed by my constituents and by Thurrock borough council? The proposals that she has announced fit in very well with the borough's new structures to enable and empower neighbourhoods. I speak for Tilbury, not for Southend, and I hope that the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) will bear that in mind.
The paper refers to the co-operation of a number of agencies, particularly the police. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that she will not allow the chief constable of Essex police to be tardy and hold back on this matter? We find the least policing in our areas of greatest poverty. The local authority and local community might be lined up on this, but unless we can get the co-operation of the chief constable in recognising that deprived areas such as Tilbury need greater policing, we will be frustrated in our attempts to fulfil the radical and progressive objectives that my right hon. Friend has outlined this afternoon, particularly for my community in Thurrock and Tilbury.