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Lord Finsberg: My Lords, as regards the matter of Written Questions of course I accept the collective wisdom of the Procedure Committee, but I wonder if your Lordships in general are content to be treated as second-class citizens. Your Lordships are receiving Answers to Written Questions within two weeks, whereas in the other place it is within one week. I cannot believe that your Lordships are any less important than those Members down the corridor. Yet, when I put the case to your Lordships' committee, it decided that in its view there was no call to shorten the period to bring it into line.
I am content to leave the matter there; but if any of your Lordships feels that there is some merit in what I have said, it would certainly assist if they were to communicate their views to the Chairman of Committees.
Lord Airedale: My Lords, when we debated on 10th January the first report of the Procedure Committee, I drew attention to the paragraph in which the committee recommended that normally only the next speaker should congratulate a maiden speaker. I suggested that the custom had arisen whereby the Minister replying to a debate was just as likely to congratulate the maiden speaker as was the speaker who followed the maiden speaker. The committee was good enough to refer again to this matter in its latest meeting. I quote from the minutes of that meeting:
the pleasant habit that the Minister who replies to the debate adds his congratulations will tend to fall into disuse. That would be rather a pity and a disadvantage. I hope that at this late hour it might be avoided.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, perhaps I may interject a comment from the Front Bench on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. If one is winding up from the Front Bench, it is rather difficult not to congratulate one of your colleagues who has just made a maiden speech.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am grateful to the three noble Lords who have spoken on this matter. Let me turn first to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg. It would not be right for me to be tempted into making comparisons between your Lordships' House and another place. It is for your Lordships to take decisions concerning their own procedures and their own matters. That is in fact precisely what happened when your Lordships decided to accept the last two reports of the Procedure Committee.
Having been good enough to attend the meeting of the Procedure Committee, the noble Lord will be aware that his proposal on this matter did not find favour with any member of the committee. The committee felt that it was better to retain the present practice, which has operated for many years. However, the noble Lord secured a signal victory on the previous occasion, when his proposal to the Procedure Committee that there should be better provisionindeed provisionfor answering Questions for Written Answer during Recesses was accepted and in due course was accepted by your Lordships' House. I hope that the House will allow me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, for having brought that matter before us and for having secured that improvement in our procedures. I am sorry to have to disappoint him on the other point.
I am very grateful indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, for having notified me beforehand that he proposed to raise the matter to which he drew attention. The Procedure Committee, as indeed did your Lordships' House when it came to debate the Procedure Committee's report on 10th January, found attractive the idea of congratulations to maiden speakers by Ministers. But it is fair to say, in summarising the discussion within the Procedure Committee, that the committee felt it better to adhere to the clear practice that it should normally be the noble Lord speaking immediately after the maiden speaker who should be left to give the congratulations of the House to the maiden speaker.
I think I am right in suggesting that it certainly would not be looked at askance if a Minister decided that he would add his congratulations. But the principal point in the mind of the Procedure Committee was that it
I have partly covered the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, in what I said about ministerial replies. These are matters which, as the rule stands, breach the rule. But your Lordships tend to turn something of a blind eye to a breach of that kind, if I may say so. I hesitate to enlarge that any further, but I should be very surprised indeed if noble Lords were not to turn a blind eye should the Front Benches feel disposed on occasion to do something similar. I do not think that I can take the matter further than that. In saying that, certainly I should not dream of giving a definitive reply on behalf of the Procedure Committee itself.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I must apologise for intervening at this point. With the permission of the House, it might be useful if I raised a point now which, perhaps I may say, I thought other noble Lords might have mentioned. I should like to ask the Chairman of Committees whether he will elaborate a little on the way in which the sub-committee on the declaration and registration of Members' interests proposes to work.
A circular has already been sent round asking interested Members of this House to submit written evidence to the committee. One Member of the House has made statements that have been widely reported in the media. I gather that they were made not in a submission to the sub-committee but to the Nolan Committee. Does the sub-committee have any plans to hear oral evidence from witnesses? Does it intend to ask Members of your Lordships' House, members of the public or people who might have evidence, to give oral evidence and effectively to have hearings on the subject?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, with the leave of your Lordships, that is a matter for the sub-committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths. Your Lordships will be aware that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and his sub-committee invited submissions by 10th February. I understand that the sub-committee proposes to meet on 15th February. It may be helpful if I refer to one aspect of the remit of the sub-committee; namely, to make recommendations on the practice of the House rather than to pronounce on particular allegations of breaches of the present practice. As I said at the outset, it is a matter for the sub-committee and I would not wish to venture further.
The first problem to which I wish to refer is poverty. I possess rather more precise information about the London situation than about the country as a whole. I hope therefore that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not statistically sweep the country. Let me give a few examples.
It is estimated that there are 1 million Londoners living in povertythat is, people on income support and low pay. A third of the children in London are apparently poor enough to receive free school meals. In some boroughsTower Hamlets and Hackneyhalf the children receive them but even in so-called wealthy Westminster, a quarter of the children are on free school meals. We see signs of homelessness all around us. There are over 30,000 families in London in temporary accommodation who have been accepted as homeless by the local boroughs. Over 13 per cent. of the homes in inner London are unfit. Since 1979 there has been a massive reduction in the building of homes by local authorities throughout the countryperhaps one of the largest of all reductions in government spending over the past 16 years. And we see people sleeping in the streets on a scale which was quite unknown to us before this Government took office.
Let me turn to unemployment, although I am sure that your Lordships will be fully aware of the tragedy and the way in which it affects people throughout the country as well as those in inner city areas. For example, since 1988 over 500,000 jobs have been lost in London. In terms of crime, between 1979 and 1994 recorded crime in London increased by 58 per cent. and violent crime increased by over 15 per cent. on last year. Almost 10 per cent. of the crimes in London are classified as violent, and that is the highest figure in England. The clear-up rate for crime is 16 per cent. in London and 26 per cent. nationally.
When one talks about the health situation in London, we find that one in seven children in London now suffer from asthma an illness which has increased enormously in recent years. Noble Lords will be aware of the cuts in the National Health Service; the closure of Bart's and Guys hospitals; the crisis facing the London Ambulance Service, and the fact that from July to September last year over 3,700 patients had operations cancelled.
Let me turn to the disadvantages facing ethnic minorities, including refugees. Here I must declare an interest for I am associated with the Refugee Council and we are greatly concerned with, and I hope that we have a reasonable knowledge about, the situation affecting asylum-seekers and refugees. Above all, there is a sense of hopelessness in our inner cities, and all that
What has been done to tackle those problems? It is my assertion that the Government have attempted consistently over the past 15 or 16 years to limit spending in inner cities, especially by local authorities. I referred earlier to the virtual cessation of house-building by local authorities. We have had a series of grants, sometimes related to new structures such as urban development corporations and training and enterprise councils, though they have not had much by way of democratic accountability. Then along came the single regeneration budget. Perhaps I can express my thanks to the many people and organisations who helped me in collecting and assembling some of the material that I am using; for example, the ALA, the LGIU, the staff of the Refugee Council and many other individuals and organisations who gave me information to help in an area where hard facts are difficult to obtain.
The single regeneration budget is an assembly of 20 existing programmes or grants. I believe that five different government departments are involved in the single regeneration budget and there is now a ministerial committee on regeneration. As regards the Civil Service, 10 regional offices have been set up to steer the single regeneration budget along. The concept of partnership has been developed and much mention has been made of training and enterprise councils involving the private sector.
There are clearly some good points in all that; nobody would say that everything is bad. But it may be worth commenting that, given the number of times training and enterprise councils are mentioned, only in recent weeks South Thames Training and Enterprise Council had the receivers called in and will now be abolishedso much for the weight given by the Government to the project when the single regeneration budget was first proposed.
If one studies the proposals carefully, it seems to me, at least as regards LondonI am conscious that this debate is not merely about London but is intended to cover the whole countrythat the Government have actually been contorting themselves to devise ways to make up for the absence of local government covering London. That is why we have a government office for London and that is why some of the devices used to steer the single regeneration budget along seem to send a signal saying, "Oh dear, what a pity we abolished the GLC. We should not really have done that". That is the message I get.
The main thrust of what I want to say relates to what I see as the disadvantages, difficulties and defects of the single regeneration budget, of which I have quite a long list. The first is that it is a device for reducing the amount of money to be made available. Of course the arithmetic is complicated. What has been happening is that as the individual programmes expired on specific projects, the single regeneration budget took over. The SRB therefore will not start taking over all the 20 programmes in April, but merely the elements of those
Nevertheless, the best estimates that one can make are that over the next five years there will be a 25 per cent. cut in real terms in the money made available under the SRB compared to that available under the 20 different grants which it is replacing. That must be seen in the context of capping of local authority expenditure. That again is a source of money which has been severely limited. My understanding is that at the present time very few local authorities will be allowed to increase their expenditure by more than 0.5 per cent; so if inflation is at 2.5 per cent., it means that there will be a cut in real terms in local government spending of 2 per cent. on top of the cuts that are coming in under the SRB.
Let me say in passing that there is an uneven distribution of money by the Government, whether through local government spending or through the SRB, and sometimes it is a distribution that is difficult to justify. Let me talk about local authorities for a moment. For example, Wandsworth is a borough that I know something about. At the moment it is receiving the lion's share of the non-needs related grant. Wandswortha single London boroughis receiving 12 per cent. of the national total of the non-needs related grant. That seems to be a real distortion and suggests political favours being repaid rather than needs being met.
I am reminded of the comment made to me by a councillor from a north of England local authority who said to methis was at the time of the poll tax but the principle seems to hold good under the new arrangementsthat if his city had been given the same level of support from central government as Wandsworth and Westminster received, not only would his city not have had to levy any poll tax, but they could have declared a dividend for every poll tax payer. Such are the inequalities and distortions.
Let me turn to the main thrust of my argument. My second criticism of the SRB is that it seems to have no tangible strategy. It seems to me to be a series of bids; I agree that criteria are laid down, but there seems to be no overall strategy for saying that these are the problems that need to be tackled and how it is intended to tackle them. There is a bit of a hit and miss element about it.
My third criticism is that there seems to have been a change in the balance, and that much more weight is given to economic considerations than to social needs. I am not decrying economic considerationsthey are vitalbut in terms of the grants that have been replaced, where there was a heavy element of looking into and supporting social needs, it seems to me that this has now changed.
The result has been that places like Bolton, Leicester, Walsall and Nottingham, which have large levels of deprivation, have received nothing under the SRB whereas Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Eastbourne, for example, have received nearly £7 million. Hardly anybody would say that Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Eastbourne are particularly notable places of deprivation.
If one looks at the situation in London, one can also be rather puzzled at the criteria that have been used. For example, why was the King's Cross scheme turned down alone among major schemes submitted? Why was every scheme from Hammersmith and Fulham rejected whereas schemes in Brent were approved? There is a very odd pattern here which does not seem to make sense in terms of the needs of areas and the problems that are being faced in inner cities.
One of the characteristics of the SRB is that private cash should be injected. Of course, where that is possible it is sensible, and I welcome it. The difficulty is that it is unrealistic to expect private cash for many social projects. Projects for ethnic minorities and refugees typify the types of schemes where it is jolly difficult to persuade the private sector to put up cash. In other types of schemes it is possible, but we have an imbalance resulting from the criteria that have been applied.
My next concern is that there is no ring fencing. Let me briefly explain. Previously there was an ethnic minority grant. That was a small sum of money which was intended to deal with the needs of ethnic minorities. That has now been subsumed into the single regeneration budget and very few ethnic minority grant projects have been supported.
However, there is one exception. Section 11 funding, relating to ethnic minority grants, now comes under two different headings. Some of it still comes from the Home Office and some falls under the single regeneration budget. There is not much logic in having the same grant available under two different headings. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that.
All this highlights not only that the Government do not have an overall strategy for inner cities, but that they do not have a strategy regarding ethnic minority communities. There seems to be an absence of commitment, for example, to target funding to support language teaching, in which Section 11 plays a fairly important part. In fact boroughs have been discouraged from bidding for Section 11-type projects. I understand that several London authorities have been told that the best chance of a successful bid lies in physical regeneration projects rather than Section 11 bids.
This is likely to lead to the dismissal of teachers, to add to the already well publicised difficulties that the Government are facing with school governors because of further cuts in local government spending. The needs in London schools are clear and the language needs are well known. For example, in Kensington and Chelsea 37 per cent. of pupils in schools have English as a second language.
Let me move to my remaining points. I am concerned about accountability. We have localised Civil Service officesintegrated regional officesbut there is not much accountability except to five government departments. I am worried about the inefficiency of the whole process as there have already been 256 losing bids, or losing partnerships, all of which took a lot of time and effort to assemble.
Furthermore, there is a geographical shift in funding away from the former 57 urban priority areas, which themselves were characterised by levels of deprivation which suggested above average needs. Many refugee projects have failed, and the Refugee Council's own project failed under the ethnic minority grant heading. Finally, I am concerned that, in allocation of bids, competition has been the main criterion and not the needs of the area and the viability of the project.
We could do better. I am not arguing that the single regeneration budget cannot be made to work betterI think it canbut it will need a few changes. We must find a proper way of developing strategies for dealing with inner city problems; we need a proper and democratic way of developing local plans and strategies; there probably needs to be some form of ring fencing of the most important areas if setting priorities alone is not sufficient; and the budget needs to be concentrated on high need areas.
As I mentioned earlier, I am not saying that all is wrong with the SRB. Perhaps it is better to have one scheme rather than 20, but there are a number of major defects. There have been some bitter disappointments in inner city areas; some important schemes have failed; and needs which were met in the past are no longer being met.
With some fast movement the Government could salvage something. They could modify pretty radically the SRB, and then we would have the beginnings of a little more help for inner cities; otherwise there is gloom and doom in our inner city areas, and it is the Government's fault. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
Lord Gisborough: My Lords, the single regeneration budget was designed to bring together the 20 programmes of six agencies which previously had all been tackling the disadvantage of urban decay within the remits of their own organisation. As a result of bringing all these budgets together into the single regeneration budget, all agencies have come together to work in partnership.
Since people in disadvantaged and run-down areas frequently experience multiple problems, which do not take into account agency functions, the rationale behind all agencies working together is beyond dispute. The SRB from that point of view must be a good thing. Whether the competitive nature of the SRB is also a good thing, is more debatable. Competition may of course leadand often doesto excellence in all spheres of life. But sometimes it may be a superficial excellence of presentation, or in this particular activity of regeneration it may overlook relative needs between different areas. We now have the 1991 census results and analysis, and these ought to have an important influence on regeneration priorities.
The SRB is also welcome because it puts local government in a central role, whenever that is appropriate, while leaving the freedom for other agencies to lead where circumstances favour that. The time span of the SRB programme, up to seven years, is potentially valuable, enabling hard core problems to be tackled over whatever period is needed. However, there is still only certainty in funding for year one projects, and this needs to be reconsidered.
The geographical spread of the SRB over the whole of England is in many ways a benefit compared with the selectivity of the former Urban Programme and City Challenge. Poverty and disadvantage are not exclusive to large urban areas; they exist for many individuals in small towns and rural areas. But the more widely the jam is spread, the thinner it has to be, and the overriding weakness of the SRB in 1995 and immediately following years is the low level of resource. Although £1.5 billion is being made available for regeneration, there is only £125 million in 1995-96 of uncommitted money available nationally for new initiatives.
What this meansif we take what is for me a local example such as Middlesbroughis that the approved SRB in 1995-96 is only £440,000. Three years ago this borough, with extensive areas of disadvantage and urban dereliction, was receiving £7.5 million per annum from City Challenge and £5 million from the Urban Programme. The Urban Programme has gone, City Challenge will be gone in two years, and the funding of the Teesside Development Corporationnow at last starting to make an impact on Middlesbroughwill also be gone in two or three years. I do not see Middlesbrough's problems being solved in that time. The 16 per cent. unemployment figure will not disappear that quickly. The running down of City Challenge and the development corporations must not be taken as an excuse for reducing expenditure on regeneration. Those resources should be rechannelled into a greatly expanded SRB. By then the partnerships will have had experience of working together on regeneration, and it is to be hoped that some of the snags and irritations will have been ironed out. There are already stories of excessive bureaucratic requirements being imposed by central government through regional offices. Great wads of forms have to be completed, and expenditure has to be programmed with a precision which is ignorant of how the real world operates. Out there life is not so predictable in public and private sector alike. Flexibility is needed, not sanctions for missing targets in a given quarter.
One example and particular concern for me is the funding for the Learning from Landscape project. This has brought environmental issues to schoolchildren in 20 inner city schools in the area, and could have a dramatic effect on the outlook of youngsters in future to the environment, and indeed to matters such as crime. Funded by City Challenge, it stands to have to wind down when that funding ceases.
Given the experience of the SRB and a revised and more flexible framework from central government, can SRB achieve successful regeneration? The answer, I believe, is yes, but only partially. It has a strong
There is plenty of work out there that needs doing, especially in the environmental sphere. The importance of our town centres can be emphasised. Let us have better cleaning and maintenance and townscape in our public areas. Community forests are in the public mind. Let us have more trees and foresters more rapidly. The Home Energy Conservation Bill is with us. More surveyors would allow a greater number of house installation operatives to be employed.
Perhaps we should now be thinking about a substantial proportion of the future resources for regeneration going into putting unemployed and unemployable people directly into work and regenerating their economic independence and self-respect, and perhaps thereby reducing their temptation and tendency towards crime, rather than putting all the money into bricks and mortar. The SRB is a good programme but needs full commitment from the Government and continued funding.
Lord Tope: My Lords, in what I believe is known as the current climate I think I should start my remarks by declaring an interest, although most definitely not a pecuniary interest. As some noble Lords will know, I am the leader of an outer London borough council. Indeed, it is one of the very few outer London borough councils to be at least partially successful in its bid for the current SRB round, so what I have to say today will not be a whinge from an unsuccessful bidder. I am also aware that my council hopes to be successful in the second round too, so perhaps I need to temper my criticisms today while bearing in mind who may read the report of the debate at a later stage.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for initiating the debate. The SRB is not always the most exciting subject to the general public or perhaps to your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, as the noble Lord so rightly described, it is a subject of enormous importance to the urban areas of this country. Like the noble Lord, my experience is primarily in London and the comments I make must primarily relate to London, although I am sure that they are at least as applicable to other parts of the country.
I want to start on a positive note and say why, overall, I welcome the single regeneration budget. As previous speakers have said, it brings together some 20 previous funding packages which central government allocated to local areas. Many of those packages could be applied for only by particular areas, mostly inner urban areas, and large parts of urban Britain were ineligible even to
Where I start to differ with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is on his assumption that areas such as Eastbourne and the one I represent have by definition no needs. That is not so. In among the relatively affluent parts of boroughs like mine there are pockets of quite severe deprivationas severe as can be found in many parts of the inner cities. Quantitatively they are not as great as can be found in the inner cities, but qualitatively, for the people and families concerned, they are at least as great. Indeed, it could be argued that they are greater, simply because they are not recognised. To be in need and to be invisible is worse than just being in need.
The single regeneration budget, for which all are eligible, gives us an opportunity to start to tackle those problems. Authorities like Sutton know that within its boundaries there are areas of great need. We know that we have the ability to bring our communities together to tackle those needs and we know that we have the flair and the imagination to do so innovatively. With SRB, at least we now have an opportunity to compete for the means to do so.
On a similar positive note, I have no doubt that the existence of the SRB has been an added spur to producing real and meaningful partnerships between local authorities, the private sector and a number of other bodies. It will undoubtedly bring greater private sector funding and resources than would otherwise have been achieved. It means that local authorities and the private sector each have to learn a different way of working and a different way of working together. All of that is good. It is a great stimulus to developing a coherent local framework for regeneration. But what it does not alone do is to produce anything of a regional basis for regeneration, a regional regeneration strategy.
While I generally welcome the SRB I have some serious concerns both about the concept and the process, many of which have already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. My first concern is the Government's obsession with competition. It means that bidding for a share in the SRB is like a cross between entering a beauty contest and the National Lottery. The results seem to be as random as the lottery and the winners all too often seem to be those who know best how to appeal to the judge's eye. For instance, it is noticeable that the outer London boroughs have done very much less well than the inner London boroughs. That is partly for the reasons which the noble Lord set out. Nevertheless, I am certain that one of the reasons is that, by and large, the outer London boroughs are very much less experienced at entering these competitions and thus lose out to the experienced entrants who know how to make the best of what they havejust like a beauty contest.
My other principal criticism is the lack of any clear criteria against which to submit bids or against which the bids will be judged. Early on in the process the Government dropped the idea of regional regeneration statements, which would at least have provided a backcloth against which SRB bids could have been submitted and considered. There is still much confusion
Overbidding on this scale represents an enormous amount of wasted time, effort and resources by local authorities and others who are already under severe pressure. It also means the raising of local expectations which, in reality, are never going to be fulfilled. Some work is being done to try to estimate the cost of preparing the 124 bids in London, but an early guess that others have made is that some £2 million is required in preparing the bids to secure funding of just £35 million in total. That is a waste of time and resources. It need not have been so.
To be fair, the Government Office for London was as helpful as it could be within the limitations of the process. It is significant that 42 of the 49 eventual "winners" were among those given encouragement at the outline stage. But, even so, one still has to ask about the 18 London bids which were similarly encouraged at outline stage, but which were ultimately unsuccessful. They had been encouraged and they put real effort, time and resources into submitting their bids. Local expectations had every cause to be aroused and yet in the end they were unsuccessful. Why?
One of the obvious reasons which has already been alluded to is a lack of resources. There are nowhere near enough resources. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, it is an illusion to believe that these are new resources. In the main they are not, but existing resources channelled into a different channel and a different name. The late increase from £100 million to £125 million in the current round was certainly welcome and it undoubtedly had the effect of resulting in more successful bids. But that was not new money; it was money taken from the budgets of the urban development corporations, particularly the London Docklands Development Corporation. Indeed, one has to question, therefore, whether London really is any better off overall as a result.
The next problem to which I wish to allude has been of particular concern to my authority, and that is the timescale involved. The lack of clarity in the criteria against which bids were to be judged has been compounded by the very tight timetable for meeting the various stages. Too often the process actually ran faster than the guidance!
Even more important, though, for those who give a high priority to real and meaningful partnership with the voluntary and community sectors, the timescale made that virtually impossible. The voluntary sector generally needs a longer timescale if it is to engage properly with its volunteer members, be they its management committee or the local people with whom it is working. That was just not possible in the timescale allowed and, with the added difficulty for many of those organisations of treading in very unfamiliar territory in making SRB bids, I am sure that that is one of the main reasons why
Similarly, an effective regeneration strategy must take the local community with it. The timescale just did not permit meaningful consultation with the local communities affected. The danger then is that those communities feel that they are not part of the process; that sometimes significant changes are being imposed upon them without their consent. The effect can be to increase still further the feeling of alienation within those communities. With time and hard work that can be redressed, but it does sometimes mean that rather than starting off on a very positive note one starts by having to retrieve a situation that need not have arisen in the first place.
In conclusion, I wish to make one or two other points. As regards resources, the Government are inviting bids for the second round this spring for which, they say, £40 million will be available in 1996-97 and £200 million in 1997-98. That is not new money, as has already been said, but money which will become available from the ending of present schemes.
We need more resources, effectively directed, to be really successful, as others have said. If more resources are not to be available, as seems probable under the present Government, at least we need more clarity on the relationship between the single regeneration budget and main programme funding. We need reassurance that the Government will not be giving with one handfor example, through the SRBand taking away with the other: for instance, should SRB "winners" expect a cut in their SSAs?
I believe that the Government should revive its original proposals for regional regeneration statements. These should be "bottom up", based on local strategies produced by local authorities with their partners. That would not only give a backcloth against which properly to judge bids, but would also provide the vital local democratic input to the regional strategies.
Finally, I believe that local authorities must be given a clear role in the submission of bids for their areas. They are the only democratically elected bodies which can do so. They are best placed in their local communities to bring all the partners together; they can best ensure genuine community involvement. Above all, they can enable decisions about priorities between competing local bids to be taken locally rather than behind closed doors at the regional office. The single regeneration budget could be a great opportunity: the Government must act now to ensure that it is not a lost opportunity.
Baroness Fisher of Rednal: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Dubs on introducing the debate this afternoon. I believe it was a fortnight ago when I spoke in a similar debate and emphasised the SRB and how it affected Birmingham. I shall speak again about Birmingham, but I shall not concentrate on the bid as regards which, to a certain degree, we were successful.
Some of the points which my noble friend Lord Dubs made in opening illustrate the serious disabilities which people living in what we call "downtown areas" or "inner city areas" have to face. Not only is there poverty and deprivation, but there is also ill health. My noble friend mentioned the high figures in relation to asthma. We have the same problem with children in the City of Birmingham. That is put down to the existence of the motorway, although I am not sure that that is right because the downtown area has always had high asthma figures. This afternoon at Question Time I asked a Question about heart failure. Again, the City of Birmingham is one of the areas with the highest incidence of heart failure. There are all kinds of reasons for that, including climatic conditions and deprivation.
Today when people speak about local government they regard it as something which is by the way: it is not of great importance to the Government, but something which has to be put off, and if it were possible to privatise the whole lot, that would solve the Government's problem. Hence local authorities are having to bid, put out their services to the private sector and hope that they can retain those services. Local authorities' pride has been completely diminished by this Government. Perhaps that is one reason why people believe that local authorities are to blame for everything, when more often than not it is government programmes that are causing severe problems for the projects which local authorities would like to put into operation.
At the end of the last century Birmingham pioneered a water scheme to provide pure water for its citizens. It did so for two reasons. First, industry was expanding and needed more water. In addition, there were epidemics due to impure water. The good fathers of that day recognised quite clearly that if an epidemic started in the poorer quarters it would soon spread to the better quarters and everybody would be caught up in it. The good fathers started off with very practical ideas. Just think, at the end of the last century a local authority was ambitious enough to undertake building a scheme which would take a great many years! Fifty years later, Birmingham needed more water andagain, because of the Private Bill procedureit was able to embark on the Elan Valley scheme. That scheme ensured that the citizens of Birmingham had beautiful water, coming all the way from Wales. I know that my noble friend on the Front Bench will make quite sure that I understand where that water comes from when he replies.
But what happened to all that investment which the ratepayers of Birmingham had made over the years? All our assets and all that we had invested were suddenly taken from us. We now have Severn Trent Water Plc. There is no mention of Birmingham in its title. That water authority has made tremendous profits and pays its people a tremendous amount of money, but it did not contribute in any way to the infrastructure of that undertaking. It could be said that Birmingham's residents should be the main shareholders and that they should receive the dividend when it is distributed rather than the directors of the company.
The Government have a policy of closing mental hospitals. I do not disagree with that policy, but the health authorities do not say, "Here is all the money that we had for that hospital which we are now closing; look after the patients we are going to send you". It does not work like that. The land on which the mental hospitals used to stand is being sold and a profit is being made on it. Local authorities, including in the Birmingham area, have to provide services on a mere pittance, as well as dealing with all the problems that arise with community care and from trying to help such people. It is not that the local authorities do not want to do that; it is simply that they do not have the finances. Instead of encouraging local authorities to be enterprising, we are giving them the jobs that other people do not want to do.
As I said in our previous debate on this subject, Birmingham was fortunate in its SRB. Although it did not get all that it wanted, it got a fair share. Now, however, we are faced with capping limits and we do not have the urban aid that would enable us to go further in helping our deprived areas.
What is Birmingham trying to do? I began with our history. During the past decade, almost 60,000 jobs have been lost in the city. That decline in employment must be contrasted with the growth in the number of jobs nationally. Most of the jobs that have been lost are manufacturing jobs. The Government, through the Department of Employment and the Department for Trade and Industry, should be considering that loss of manufacturing jobs in Birmingham because, if Birmingham loses the export markets which it has built up over the years, the decline in the country as a whole will be more severe. Birmingham is known as the workshop of the country.
It is important for the Government to realise that such problems are not fully understood. As other noble Lords have said, the bidding is a sort of competition. I suppose that Birmingham presented its case and its bid successfully. I have read the bid all the way through and it is, indeed, well presented but, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said, other local authorities might not have had the skills or the workforce to enable them to do the same.
If we are to regenerate a city such as Birmingham, we must look at unemployment. Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers are extremely vulnerable. In Birmingham, they experience an unemployment rate that is twice that of white workers. The unemployment problem is deep-seated. In July last year, almost 49 per cent. of the jobless did not come from Birmingham originally. We have to be careful about such figures.
Youth unemployment is growing in the city. My mother used to say that the devil makes work for idle hands. The increase in crime is occurring because of unemployment and deprivation. What do you do to keep up with the rest of the population if you cannot earn a
The City of Birmingham was disappointed that Saltley was the only area to be helped in its regeneration. It has lost out because, under the normal procedures, it would have received urban aid grant. Although Birmingham receives help for Saltley, it has missed out on help for another area and is very disappointed. Although I am sure that everybody in this Parliament building knows about Saltley, it is important to remind your Lordships about the miners' march and the final giving way at the Saltley gasworks. While regeneration is taking place in that area, I must ask the Minister who is to take over the responsibilityand when for dismantling the gasworks in Saltley. They cover a vast area. That land is contaminated and will blight the city until some decision is made about it. Such a responsibility should not lie at the feet of the local authority. This is an important issue. I understand that gas boards all over the country are dragging their feet about the clearance of their derelict land. It is important for those in the inner cities to know about such problems and when they will be solved.
The Lord Bishop of St. Albans: My Lords, this is an important debate and I join others in welcoming the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in introducing this subject. I have been impressed by the regional expertise of those who have already spoken. From these Benches, I should like to make a much more modest contribution, beginning if I may with a personal reminiscence.
In October 1993 the Children's Society held its annual national service in St. Albans Cathedral and I was invited to preach. We were joined by a group of children from inner city Lambeth who sang a song they had written themselves as part of a church-based research project called Children in the Neighbourhood. The words went like this:
The research indicated that the children had a strong sense of what was right and wrong with their neighbourhoods. I was greatly impressed by their creativity, their deep insights and their aspirations for space and peace in the midst of the crowds in which they lived.
I am bishop of a diocese which is relatively prosperous, but it does have areas of urban deprivation in Luton and Bedford yes, Bedfordshire does have its problems. I speak also on behalf of many of my brother bishops from urban dioceses, and the point I want to
For centuries the churches have provided a focus for community activity, a focus which values local people and which encourages them to hope. A fine example of this is the PECAN project in Peckham, South London. There a group of churches has set up employment preparation courses with the unique feature of recruiting unemployed people by door-to-door visiting on the council estates. The project workers reach out to those who have become demotivated; people who feel they have no hope. The Church of England's Church Urban Fund provided some of the funding for this projectand I am pleased to say that an offshoot in neighbouring Woolwich is now receiving some funding through the Greenwich Council's successful single regeneration budget bid: a good partnership of church and state funding.
It is the duty of a bishop to listen closely to what people living in our most deprived communities have to say. We work on the assumptionnay, the convictionthat each person is made in the image of God and is therefore a person of great potential, creative talent and innate energy. It follows that therefore we need policies that will ensure that this kind of energy can be harnessed in programmes which are stable enough to encourage long-term planning.
We welcome many of the principles that underlie the single regeneration budget. We welcome the co-ordination of effort between different departments responsible for different aspects of multiple deprivation which need to be tackled together if they are to make any lasting impact. We welcome the delegation of responsibility to regions, and within regions, to local consortia responding to local initiatives. We welcome the emphasis on partnership between the public and private sectors and the local community. We commend and welcome the rehabilitation of local government as a lead agencyin many cases, the lead agencyfor delivering the programme, while keeping open opportunities for others to take the lead where this is more effective.
We welcome the consultation that goes on throughout the process, including the guidance offered in drafting bids and the on-going dialogue between partnerships and regional offices in the formulation of bids. We also welcome the extension of coverage to all areas of deprivation, both urban and rural, and the flexibility over the scale of projects whether covering small localities or wide areas.
All this is very much to be applauded; but we would want to offer some warnings as well. First, the scale of resources: this is not a plea for spending more money but just an expression of regret that the introduction of the SRB was the occasion for a substantial reduction in overall government resources going into urban regeneration, particularly as the coverage is wider. The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, is right: the jam has become thinner. In this case the whole was considerably less than the sum of the parts. I am glad that, on current balance, the total resources of the SRB are to be
Secondly, I would emphasise that the SRB, on any scale envisaged, is no replacement for the reduction in mainstream programmes affecting inner cities, and particularly those to do with training and housing.
Thirdly, the involvement of the local community must be more than lip service if projects are to have a lasting impact and if local people are not to feel let down. Recent analysis produced by Mr. Greg Clarke on behalf of the NCVO Urban Forum showed that fewer than half of the successful bids even claimed to have involved any sort of voluntary organisation. Even where the voluntary sector has been involved, the closeness of their involvement has sometimes left much to be desired both in the planning and, more importantly, in the implementation of the plan. There is inevitably here a risk of "tokenism". Moreover, one must emphasise that while the involvement of voluntary bodies is to be welcomed, it is not necessarily the same thing as involving the local community, which may be disorganised or inarticulate.
This leads me to my fourth concern, which is the absence from the SRB of any mechanism or resources for initiating, encouraging and building up the confidence and capacity of the local people themselves. If I may speak of the Church's contribution in this regard, the Church Urban Fund's trustees endeavour to respond to people's own vision for their own neighbourhoods. Each application must demonstrate that it is rooted in locally identified needs; but the fund is also aware that it must resource its intention, and so it provides special grants for feasibility studies and for management committee training. It has developed a system of application for grants which support the applicant, thus building confidence.
In the light of our limited experience in this area, I ask Her Majesty's Government whether they would note three things. First, would they please acknowledge and emphasise the importance of medium and long-term development plans and at the same time ensure that local communities are involved in their formation? Secondly, would they not underestimate the damage to hope for local people involved in failed SRB bids and endeavour to develop strategies to redress this? Thirdly, would they ensure that the SRB is seen as only one part in a much wider strategy for cities which involves adequate funding through mainstream programmes?
By the year 2000 those children from Lambeth who came to St. Albans will be reaching adulthood. What can they then expect? Will they have a place of their own; a place to dream? The Church of England and other faith communities are committed to encouraging imagination and hope in our inner cities. I suppose it could be said that we are less concerned with regional regeneration and more concerned with the regeneration
Lord Ennals: My Lords, I am very privileged to follow the right reverend Prelate. I happen to be, together with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, the patron of one of the finest inner city projects that I know of in Stepney, the Bromley-by-Bow Church Centre. My purpose in mentioning it now is that it is a church initiative in which the main objective of the church concerned, which does not happen to be the Anglican Church, is not the conversion of souls, though in fact many souls have come as a result of the fact that 500 or 600 people every week of up to 100 races and languages are involved in this activity.
I do not know much about the single regeneration budget, but it is my pleasure to support my noble friend Lord Dubs who set out his case with great clarity. I want to add some perspectives from my own experience, to one of which I have just referred. Of the other two, the first goes back into my dim and distant past as a junior Minister in the Home Office in the 1960s at the time when Section 11 grants were first initiated, and when my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale was the Permanent Under-Secretary. The second is as chairman of the UNED-UK Round Table on Health and the Environment. It has produced a report on sustainable development, commenting on a UN inquiry into governments and their performance. The clear political conclusion of the Round Table, which includes over 30 voluntary organisations, some of them active and widely representative of different disciplines in this country, is:
The Round Table believes that to do that outside the main agreement on social policy places an undue constraint on the role that the UN can play. The UK Government should reverse their decision to opt out, and should now endorse the Social Chapter. Many of us on this side of the House would argue that case. Our report is addressed to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, following the greatly faulted report to the CSD sent in by Her Majesty's Government.
Perhaps I may make a brief comment on Section 11 grants which, as I said, were introduced in 1967 when I was at the Home Office in my second junior ministerial post. It was an important initiative at that time. As my noble friend Lord Dubs said, Section 11 funding, especially in areas with substantial ethnic communities, was previously available only through the Home Office. Since 1992-93 the Home Office budget available for Section 11 has been dropping steadily. The proportion of Section 11 projects funded by the Home Office was 75 per cent. in 1992-93. That proportion was reduced steadily year by year. We now know that in 1995-96 the Government contribution to Section 11 will drop to as little as 50 per cent. of the total cost of projects: a cumulative cut of 25 per cent. in government support in two years. I hope that when he replies the Minister will
The Home Secretary announced subsequently an increase in the Home Office funding available for Section 11: an increase of £15 million nationally, made up of £5 million each from the Home Office, the Department for Education and the Department of Employment. While that increase is welcomeit is helpful that local authority lobbying has had an effectenormous concerns must remain about the adequacy of funding to meet even previous levels of demand; the absence of a government strategy for work with minority ethnic communities, and, in particular, their commitment to targeting funding to support language teaching. It is appropriate that my noble friend Lord Dubs opened the debate in view of his excellent experience as director of the Refugee Council. He has been able to watch things closely.
At the same time as the Home Office was cutting funding levels for Section 11 projects, 55 per cent. of the total Home Office Section 11 budget (about £60 million) was transferred to the SRB. The initial announcement was that only urban priority boroughs could apply for that element of Section 11 funding through the Government Office for London. That meant that 13 London authorities would not be allowed to bid for Section 11 through the SRB.
I shall move on to other subjects. I am concerned, and the Round Table which I represent is concerned, that we have no definition of poverty in Britain. We pretend that poverty does not exist when in fact poverty, not just in a comparable sense but in a real sense, is without doubt increasing at present. The European Council of Ministers has a worthy definition. It defines poverty as the condition of:
The Department of Social Security publishes a document entitled Households Below Average Incomes, and the European Commission, the Council of Europe, and major NGOs use the relative poverty line of half the national average income. Using that indicator, the 1994 version gives the following figures for a poverty level as a percentage of actual population. If we look at 1979 which, to many of us, is a significant date in political history, we see that, after housing costs were considered, 9 per cent. were below the poverty line. Even as late as 1990-91, the figure had grown to 24 per cent., and in 1991-92 it was up to 25 per cent. I am sorry that I do not know what the figures are now. In terms of people there are now 12 million people living in poverty in the UK. That is well over double the number in 1979, which was then 5 million. It is a dramatic and terrible commentary on the political achievements of the past 15 years.
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