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Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): I welcome what my hon. Friend has said about wardens, and we hope to have them in Croydon. The more co-operation there is between local authorities, who administer park wardens and traffic wardens, and the police, the more we can extend the eyes and ears of the police and involve the community. If we reduce rat running, we not only make the streets safer for our children, but make it more difficult for criminals to get in and out of communities. We need also to reduce pedestrian rat running, and by thinking carefully about the design of estates, we can make it more difficult for graffiti vandals to enter and then escape quickly.

Ms Keeble: My hon. Friend is right. Careful work has been done in Croydon to tackle problems of low-level street crime. That effort is essential to the development of the town as a shopping and leisure centre, and innovative work has been done to find ways to encourage good management of public areas.

Croydon has been especially successful in dealing with public transport issues. One of the big barriers to using public transport, especially buses, is fear of crime. That is why we encourage local authorities, local transport authorities and companies to improve the quality of the areas around bus stops, where people feel a particular fear of crime. The quality of the Croydon tram system is a great credit to the local authority. That sort of quality is key to making sure that people feel safe using the tram and moving around the town centre.

Many of the schemes that I have mentioned focus on residential areas, but notable successes have also been scored in town centres. Town centre management partnerships between the public and private sectors are making major urban communities safer and cleaner, and helping to regenerate local economies. In Coventry, thanks to a retail crime initiative, the introduction of a quick-clean hit squad and the greening of the city centre, there has been an increase of more than 3 per cent. in the number of visitors, together with an improved socio- demographic profile, additional spending of almost £4 million, which is a large sum, in the local economy, and private sector refits and refurbishments worth up to £3 million.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): The Minister will be aware of the initiative taken some time ago by the Labour council in Coventry to create a city centre company that is to some extent separate from the council and has the sole responsibility of concentrating on the city centre. That initiative has had a great impact on the city.

Ms Keeble: The hon. Gentleman is right. Such initiatives, which can take several different forms, have transformed many city centres. Another excellent example of regeneration work is in Newcastle, where careful work with the public and private sectors is producing a city centre that is second to none in terms of the quality of its environment. It offers high-quality paving in an attractive pedestrian mall, which is steam cleaned at night and swept

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constantly during the day; public art; high-quality lighting; excellent use of heritage building; and partnerships between police and the leisure industry to ensure that the clubbers' paradise is relatively safe.

Many of the schemes that I have mentioned are effective because they benefit from full and active community engagement. If we are to tackle public realm issues and make places cleaner and safer so that businesses want to invest and people want to live in them, we have to focus from the outset on the needs and aspirations of local people and ensure that they are involved in shaping and managing their local environment. Those ideas underpin all the Government's efforts through their agenda for local government and in regeneration and renewal.

First, we are making local government more open and accessible through our changes to council structures and our work on different methods of voting. Secondly, and in many ways more radically, we have introduced new structures that directly involve local people in decision taking, especially people in disadvantaged areas, which have been the scene of the greatest voter apathy and the lowest turnouts in more traditional elections.

Local strategic partnerships bring together local residents, public sector agencies, local government and the voluntary and business sectors. Through consultation and local consensus, they set the strategic aims for renewal in the area and ensure that they are achieved. Our new deal for communities boards, which include representatives from the local community and the voluntary sector, also take decisions on regeneration.

The success of the new deal for communities in engaging local people is reflected in the generally high turnout in elections for community representatives in those partnerships and boards, compared with turnout in local elections. In Sheffield, there was a 52 per cent. turnout for the new deal for communities partnership elections, compared with 26 per cent. in local elections; in Bristol, turnout for new deal for communities partnership elections was 54 per cent., and in Newcastle it was 41 per cent.

Getting local people to take responsibility and to identify their own priorities fosters civic pride and helps to improve their quality of life. Often, issues relating to the environment and maintenance of the public realm are high priorities for the community boards.

Lawrie Quinn: Does my hon. Friend agree that often the perpetrators of the blight on our built environment and the cause of the sense of lack of security felt by the wider population are under-25s and younger people? They are not inclined to participate in community activities or to vote—they feel disfranchised, as though they are not stakeholders in the brave new world my hon. Friend describes. At the risk of sounding cynical, may I put her on the spot and ask how we might re-engage, or engage for the first time, that core group? They are our future citizens, but they are also graffiti artists, public transport fare dodgers, and the cause of great fear among the older population.

Ms Keeble: If I had the answers to how to involve young people in politics and the democratic process, I would be well ahead of the game. In fact, many of the new structures have engaged a wider cross-section of the

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community than has been involved before. Let me cite a few striking examples. Among other things, neighbourhood and street wardens do a lot of work in schools. They have been able to involve young people—often younger than the ones my hon. Friend describes, I admit—in local activities centred on the environment. That has been important.

The employment profile of those who have become wardens is telling. A warden in Islington said that he spent a lot of time talking to young joyriders—people who were doing a lot of the things that my hon. Friend is worried about, such as stealing bikes, driving them around the area, and then dumping or setting fire to them. When I asked him how he managed to do a job that some might describe as challenging or even dangerous, he replied that he had been a steward at the local football club for about 15 years, so he knew a thing or two about talking to young people—quite difficult young people at that.

Community warden posts seem to attract people from diverse backgrounds. That helps them to engage with the general public in maintaining the public realm. We have not analysed the profile of members of local strategic partnerships and new deal for communities boards, but in view of my hon. Friend's comments, I might undertake such an analysis. Having met board members in one or two areas, it seems to me that we have been able to engage people who might not have become involved in more conventional politics or democratic structures, in part because as board members they deal directly with neighbourhood concerns about which everyone feels strongly.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I shall see whether we can carry out some sort of study of the profile of people who stand for new deal for communities boards and similar posts, to learn whether we are managing to engage with a wider than usual range of people.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay): Is not one of the reasons why many 16 to 18-year-olds are not interested in politics that they do not have the vote? Perhaps the Government should consider lowering the voting age.

Ms Keeble: That is a debate for another day. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Lawrie Quinn) was talking about 18 to 25-year-olds, but we can talk about the full age range. I shall examine the profile of those on the new deal for communities boards to ascertain whether we are managing to engage with a wider community. That would be helpful in evaluating the success of the schemes.

There is also an issue about the involvement of the business community.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe): Perhaps the reason why some young people do not participate in elections is that they are cynical about the actions of their local council and the way in which they are treated. The Lib Dems in Sheffield have recently cut the youth service budget once again, which will have an effect on the community. That is something that we should consider. At the same time, they have given £1 million to their publicity budget, presumably to help get themselves re-elected. They have also given all the senior officers on

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the council a £30,000 pay increase. Perhaps actions of that sort breed cynicism and explain some young people's approach to politics.

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