asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the future of the inner city programme authorities.
My statement on inner city policy in September last year said that we proposed to continue the partnership and programme authority arrangements in simplified form but that we should be keeping under review the basis of selection of authorities and other aspects of the programme.
Does the Minister accept that the continuation of the schemes is vital to programme and partnership areas? It is certainly vital to my constituency. Will he consider extending the principle and, where possible, increasing the amount of money available for existing partnership areas?
:I am looking carefully into the question of the benefit that we are getting from the particular mix of schemes which has resulted from the present urban programme. Certainly, I assure the hon. Gentleman, as I have assured the House before, of my commitment to the concept of an urban programme. However, I must be sure that local people and the taxpayers who fund a substantial part of the programme are getting real value for money.
Before my right hon. Friend commits more money to the inner city partnerships will he call for an audit of the empty properties in the London boroughs that are involved in the inner city partnerships?
I cannot say that I believe that the performance of every inner London borough is of the standard that we should like. However, it is a matter for the local authorities to deal with. They are independent authorities and if there are empty houses in their areas it should be a matter for the local ratepayers, tenants and media to draw to everybody's attention.
:Does the Minister realise how important the scheme has been, particularly in my constituency of Blackburn, at a time when other Government aid has been reduced? Is the right hon. Gentleman willing to discuss with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry the extension of the programmes to the provision of industrial units, given the cutback in the provision of advance factories that has been made by his right hon. Friend?
:The inner city urban programme is capable of being used as a contributor towards advance factory development, in terms of the derelict land clearance schemes and various other aids. It would be wrong for me to indicate that we have increases in public expenditure in mind. The priorities must be reviewed to ensure that money is being used as effectively as possible within the programmes.
Will the Secretary of State say what liaison will take place between his Department, the inner city partnership schemes and the proposed development corporations. Is he aware that I strongly support the case made by my hen. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) that more money should be spent in areas such as Liverpool, particularly in my constituency?
:The hon. Gentleman would have to reconcile that suggestion with the additional taxes or interest charges that would follow. They would do much more harm to the economy of Merseyside than any benefit that would flow from the public money that he is seeking. I ask the hon. Gentleman to understand that the Government have to strike a balance. As to the relationship between my Department, the present partnership arrangements, the urban development corporation and other Government Departments, all matters that affect the policy are considered within the Government and collective decisions are taken. Therefore, a real degree of co-ordination is ensured. In addition, Ministers from other Departments attend many of the partnership committee meetings.
While I recognise the problems of the inner cities, may I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind that it is not simply a question of providing money for them? Is he aware that in some instances there is considerable evidence that the money is not wisely spent? Before commiting more funds to the schemes will he look into the matter carefully?
I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend's point of view. Indeed, I have suggested to local authorities with which we are engaged in the partnership process that we should set up a review team in the partnership programmes. That team could consist not only of people from local authorities but from a wider base, particularly an industrial base.
On the subject of vacant properties within partnership areas, about which the Secretary of State has been critical, will he comment on the practice of the Birmingham council of holding properties vacant so that it may sell them in the future?
Local authorities are free to make decisions, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) often reminds us. I am sure that he would not wish to erode local government freedom, in contradiction to all the policy statements he makes.