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Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): A good example of that is Canary Wharf, which towers above one of the most disadvantaged areas in the country. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the skills match programme, a brokerage agency set up between Canary Wharf and the local council, which has brought 1,500 local people into employment? Does she agree that we need to do more, perhaps through planning gain to ensure that local people benefit more directly from very large regeneration projects?

Ms Keeble: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I congratulate the skills match programme. It is extremely important that the business community and local authorities work together, not just to provide opportunities, but to provide a range of opportunities so that people who may be trapped in particular employment sectors have a chance to access the same job choices as the rest of society. My hon. Friend is also right to say that more needs to be done. It is a key part of the Government's strategy to make sure that the good practice in her constituency extends elsewhere.

We know that the neglect of decades cannot be swept away and that there is still much to do. That is why our national strategy has a long-term horizon over the next 10 to 20 years, but we are beginning to see some practical improvements in our poorest neighbourhoods after a very short time.

In our coalfield communities—this will interest my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire—we are on track to deliver the £385 million national coalfields programme, with work under way or completed on almost half the sites. For example, at Sherwood energy village in Nottinghamshire we have reclaimed 37 hectares for industry, housing, education, recreation and leisure development, using renewable energy sources for heat and power; and at Shirebrook in Derbyshire, a burning slag heap is being transformed into a business park thanks to £24 million of investment.

There are also encouraging signs in the vital issue of combating crime. A community-driven package of crime-fighting measures in east Manchester has led to a 25 per cent. drop in crime in the area, including a 34 per cent. drop in burglaries, which amounts to 1,128 fewer crimes—or, to put it another way, at least 1,128 fewer victims.

A 43 per cent. reduction in domestic burglary is attributed to a partnership between wardens in Merthyr Tydfil and Homesafe, a burglary reduction project. Wardens in Sheffield have helped to reduce removal time for abandoned vehicles—a major source of crime—from 30 days to between a week and 10 days.

Those are examples of some of the many ways in which people's quality of life is being transformed. As a resident from east Manchester put it:

We are placing our confidence in local people to help themselves. We have underpinned the local strategic partnerships with a national framework for neighbourhood renewal, built on the platform of a stable economy and a remorseless drive against poverty, and against child poverty in particular.

The national strategy for neighbourhood renewal will deliver the lasting change that our disadvantaged communities need, but we still have a huge amount of

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work to do. However, we can and will overcome the waste of people's talents and the waste of land and resources, which have blighted too many of our communities for far too long.

We want to ensure that in future no one is disadvantaged by where they live and everyone has a chance to make choices in their lives in safe, secure and sustainable communities.

9.52 am

Mr. Paul Daisley (Brent, East): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my initial contribution in this Chamber. I thank the people of Brent, East for returning me to serve as their Member of Parliament. It is a genuine honour.

I have campaigned over many years for regeneration and the role of local government in achieving it. However, I have recently found myself engaged in a different kind of regeneration, courtesy of the national health service, spending seven months in hospital and the rest of last year convalescing. My recovery continues, which explains the length of time before making my maiden speech. That experience has taught me a lot about the unrecognised roles of carers in our society and given me a fresh outlook—values that I hope will never dim during my time in this House.

I would like to thank Mr. Speaker and the House of Commons staff for their understanding and assistance during a difficult time. They could not have been more helpful. I would also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) for making space available in her office. My time in a wheelchair gave me a new insight into and greater admiration of her achievements.

I would like to pay an especial tribute to the dedicated staff of the national health service who helped me during my illness, especially at St. Mary's, Paddington; Charing Cross, Hammersmith; and more recently at Willesden community hospital. I also want to place on record sincere thanks to my wife Lesley and my family and close friends on whom I have leant so heavily for support.

I had also thought about thanking both my physio and the Whips, but I did not think that anybody would believe me. In fact, as my regeneration continues, I am not sure which of the two is likely to cause me the most pain.

I pay tribute to my predecessor, Ken Livingstone, with whom I worked closely, especially during my five years as leader of Brent council. Ken worked hard for the people of Brent, East and was a valuable support in our efforts to stamp out council corruption. I do not want to forget, either, the contribution of Ken's predecessor, the right hon. Reg Freeson. Reg is still respected throughout the constituency, and won admiration among many hon. Friends in the House for his work on housing policy, as a Minister and as a Member for more than 20 years. I know that he has much more to contribute in the years to come.

The constituency of Brent, East is often called diverse and cosmopolitan and has a large ethnic minority population, yet the diversity defies any simple classification in a few sentences. Suffice it to say that 130 first languages are spoken or understood in Brent schools. Areas such as Kilburn, Willesden, Neasden and Cricklewood are testimony to enduring values of tolerance and acceptance across an extraordinary range of cultures. Perhaps our tolerance and appreciation of diversity are some of Brent, East's most valuable qualities.

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Local religious leaders have none the less expressed concern since 11 September about the rather patchy understanding between different cultures in the area, but our schools are helping to build that understanding, and I am proud that the council has sought to affirm diversity through celebrating festivals such as Eid, Diwali, Chanukah, Christmas and of course St. Patrick's day. Some of these Brent events are among the largest of their kind in Europe.

In fact, in the interests of community cohesion, we have grown quite accustomed to celebrating festivals in Brent, all of which have their own variations of consuming food and drink. My physio is helping me to prepare for the challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead.

I first became actively interested in Brent council in the 1980s. It was then infamous for being unstable, incompetent and inward-looking. It takes only moments to lose a reputation, but years to regain it. As leader of the council from 1996 until last year, I hope that we at least made some progress in that. That achievement is not only part of my personal political history: the role of local government is also critical in delivering effective and sustained regeneration. I would therefore like to take a moment to outline one or two of the council's achievements.

The council has modernised. The chief executive has referred to a "quiet revolution" in the council, with recent years of stability standing in stark contrast to the 10 years that preceded them. My successor as leader, Councillor Ann John, is continuing the transformation.

Achievements have included 11 charter marks; seven beacon schools; shortlisting in three categories for beacon status; 99 per cent. customer satisfaction with the one-stop shops; and numerous quality assurance awards, including ISO 9000 and Investors in People. The Audit Commission awarded the street cleansing and refuse collection service the highest best value rating in England and Wales. A private finance initiative project has dramatically speeded up the improvements in street lighting, reducing the previous estimated wait of 120 years to four years.

Brent's successes have been achieved via effective partnership and encouraging local people to have more of a say in decision making, including initiatives such as the citizen's panel, area forums and our award-winning websites.

Education has gone from strength to strength. School standards are rising. Staying-on rates are high and exclusions have dropped by a third.

Partnership with the police and the community over safety issues has been a council priority. Joint action against gun crime has been effective.

Brent's equalities work is acknowledged as an example of best practice identified in the recent Cantle report on community cohesion.

Brent has delivered services while maintaining the council tax below the London average. That has been achieved through careful financial management, setting tough targets and investing selectively in key services. Brent council tax payers have certainly got value for money.

A comprehensive regeneration strategy is now in place in Brent for tackling poverty and social exclusion.

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The council has certainly played a constructive role in seeking to bring the national stadium to Wembley, which is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) and just outside my constituency, but which will open up opportunities right across north-west London.

I hope that by now I have at least convinced hon. Members that Brent is not quite the shambles that it was a few years ago, even if they are not yet all persuaded that it is the best council in London—which some of us think it is.

I have talked at length about the council's achievements, because an effective council delivering quality services is vital to regeneration. Strong working partnerships are needed between central and local government, residents, business and other stakeholders. That will be central if we are to move beyond a narrow housing-based focus and develop a more integrated regeneration strategy.

That spirit of partnership will be crucial in overcoming the difficulties facing the South Kilburn new deal for communities project in Carlton ward, which is in the top 3 per cent. of most disadvantaged wards in the country. The effective use of NDC funds has enormous potential to succeed in reconnecting this vibrant yet struggling community with the surrounding regions of north London.

The role played by the council will be critical, as will be the need to explore appropriate models of neighbourhood management. Our experience shows that local involvement is a vital component in the partnership needed for success even if it is sometimes difficult to achieve. Involving the community takes time. Training and skills development is very dependent upon effective involvement by a range of agencies.

I am sure that local authorities of all political persuasions will welcome plans in the recent White Paper to lift constraints on borrowing and give greater flexibility. It is providing a valuable and flexible framework for authorities. With another spending review on the horizon, more investment as well as more modernisation of local government will be needed. Improvements in the quality of local government service delivery in areas such as Brent are vital to regeneration. Partnerships with stakeholders, realistic time frames, sustained investment and modernisation are all important.

As the Government continue to focus on those elements, they are making a growing and lasting contribution to regeneration in disadvantaged communities. Through the effective collaboration of national policy, local council leadership, local agencies and community involvement, the quality of life and the life chances of local people can be transformed.

I firmly believe that national Government working together with local government can achieve lasting improvements for our communities.

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