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Inner City Areas (Grants)

Volume 930: debated on Wednesday 20 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what sums were made available by Government to relieve inner city depression in 1975–76 and 1976–77; and what expenditure forecast he has for Walsall for 1977–78.

The Government provide a great deal of assistance to local authorities through rate support grant, housing subsidies, and in other ways. I cannot say how much of these grants is spent in relieving inner city conditions, since this is a matter for local authority decision. Walsall forecasts that its total expenditure for 1977–78 will be about £51·6 million.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that by his answer he has confirmed the feeling in the Black Country that the Government are neglecting the problems there? Does he realise that people there feel badly let down by this? Will the hon. Gentleman do something to remedy this defect when he publishes the White Paper?

I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman said. For example, I draw his attention to the fact that in terms of the rate support grant needs element Walsall's share of the English grant as a whole has risen from 0·57 per cent. in 1974–75 to 0·62 per cent. in 1977–78. That does not demonstrate that on the matter of the rate support grant the Government have neglected the Black Country as a whole.

I repeat that the priorities have had to be identified in terms of the major areas of dereliction and inner city problems. In the West Midlands, Birmingham has been identified in that way, but that does not mean that the Government are unaware of other needs. For example, Walsall should receive grants of £610,000 under the urban programme during 1977–78.

Walsall is indeed an area of considerable urban deprivation. Will the Minister prevail on the local Conservative-controlled council to make an application for urban aid? Does my hon. Friend realise that the previous local authority made no application in 1975 for urban aid and that it has not even spent the money allocated to it in 1974?

I hope that my hon. Friend will make that point clear to the electors of Walsall, who may have an important comment to make on that matter in the coming elections.