Local Government (Finance) Special Grant Report (No. 93) (HC 654) on the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund 2002-03

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Mr. Moss: The Minister said that the scheme was not based on short-termism, but that it was for the medium and longer term. However, the renewal fund is there only for next year, after which time it will stop. Is she saying that it will be renewed beyond that date or replaced?

Ms Keeble: As I clearly said, we are talking about pump-priming money to start the process. The neighbourhood renewal strategy and the new deal for communities are long-term schemes; we recognise that long-term, deep-seated structural problems require long-term solutions.

The hon. Member for Mole Valley criticised us for micro-managing local government. That is pretty rich coming from a member of the party that produced rate capping and compulsory competitive tendering, and which used to tell local government how it must package its contract for refuse collection, for example. The Conservative Government did not even trust local government to make such decisions itself. The hon. Gentleman was part of those decisions. It is completely wrong to accuse this Government of trying to micro-manage because the complete opposite is the case. However, we have examined outputs, rather than inputs such as how people decide to let contracts for refuse collection and whatever. We have examined life chances for people in disadvantaged areas. We have said clearly that local authorities and local strategic partnerships must make decisions on how to achieve their ends. People must not be disadvantaged by where they live, and schools, the police and other services must deliver to a minimum level. I explained that the individual service departments are responsible for identifying those ends.

I welcomed the support of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Brian Cotter) on that point. He is right to identify the importance of the involvement of the local community. The Government identified that at an early stage and we have examined how to ensure that the local community may get involved. That is a factor in several disadvantaged areas, and a defining feature of disadvantage is that there may be several reasons why it is difficult for local people to participate in decision making. We have introduced funding, such as the community empowerment fund, to ensure that that can happen.

Although the hon. Member for Mole Valley said that that meant that councillors could no longer be councillors and that local accountability would be diluted, the involvement of local people in the election of representatives of new bodies has been remarkable. Turnouts have been 60 and 70 per cent., which is well above turnouts for general elections. In several cases, the turnout was double that of local government

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elections. Clearly, people have welcomed the opportunity to participate in making decisions about their areas.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare was also right to identify the need to tackle pockets of disadvantage in otherwise affluent areas. It is important that all areas consider having local strategic partnerships that may focus on such disadvantage and make decisions about it.

The hon. Member for Mole Valley asked what hoops local authorities must go through to get the money. He proceeded to describe them, which related to the accreditation of the local strategic partnership. He is correct that there is guidance on that accreditation. I freely admit to having difficulty with some of the jargon in the guidance, which is not very prescriptive. It tends to enable local authorities to decide the structures that suit their local areas. Different arrangements for local strategic partnerships exist in different areas.

The hon. Gentleman made great play about Camden. I believe that the local authority in Camden had some disquiet about its LSP and I said that I would write to the hon. Gentleman about that. However, Camden has an accredited LSP, and I wonder whether the local authorities in his constituency do, and whether he has been involved with LSPs and has seen the work that they do and the structures that they have. I am sure that there are parts of even his constituency that are more difficult and require extra services.

The hon. Gentleman's difficulty with the concept of the scheme forms part of his difficulty with the way in which decision making and local government have changed. That did not happen to dilute accountability. However, if local authorities are to deliver and provide changes that are needed locally, it is insufficient for them to sit in town halls and make decisions. They must engage with other agencies, which is how they can best deliver. That is, fortunately, a different climate from the way of working that occurred under the Conservative Government.

I also welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole. She was right to talk about the importance of long-term funding, because city challenge—for example—had some good points,

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but it was short term. The single regeneration budget has also had some good qualities, but it is a bolt-on measure.

The hon. Lady asked about a multi-disciplinary approach and a multi-disciplinary fund. Rather than have a bolt-on, multi-disciplinary fund, the idea of this way of working is to get the different agencies together so that they can identify the problems in their area, and work out how to develop the services to tackle them. That means that, instead of diffusing decision making or having different streams of money, one deals with the main streams of money and the mainstream programmes, and one ensures that they tackle disadvantage. That is not rocket science. It should have been happening all along, but that has not been the case. This strategy will deliver that and the point of the grant is that it will pump prime that.

The debate has been helpful and it has provided a chance to set out some of the issues that are facing the country at present—and, in particular, some of the things that we must do to tackle disadvantage. The neighbourhood renewal fund—the report we have been considering—is a substantial addition to mainstream funding. It is targeted on the renewal of our most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. It is a short-term fund, but it will have long-term consequences, because it will kick start, and act as a catalyst for, the redirecting of mainstream funding, to ensure that it equalises the disadvantaged and more advantaged areas, and that the people who live in deprived communities have the same life chances as people in the more affluent areas.

We are at an early stage of what I have repeatedly said will be a long-term strategy, but we believe that it is the right strategy. These funds will be extremely important to the local authorities to which they are destined, because they will play a crucial part in advancing the strategy, and in ensuring that we overcome the divisions that I believe are a real blight on this country. Therefore, I recommend it to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered Local Government (Finance) Special Grant Report (No. 93) (HC 654) on the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund 2002-03.

        Committee rose at seven minutes to Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:

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Joe Benton, Mr. (Chairman)
Beresford, Sir Paul
Brazier, Mr.
Brooke, Annette
Clark, Paul
Clelland, Mr.
Cotter, Brian
Dowd, Jim
Etherington, Mr.

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Keeble, Ms
Mactaggart, Fiona
Moss, Mr.
Robertson, John
Rosindell, Mr.
Ruane, Chris
Winnick, David
Woolas, Mr.

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