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Urban Programme Project

Volume 78: debated on Wednesday 8 May 1985

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1.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what are Her Majesty's Government's intentions in respect of funds which will be made available for urban programme projects.

Details of planned expenditure and priorities for the urban programme are given in "The Government's Expenditure Plans 1985–86 to 1987–88" (Cmnd. 9428-II pages 118–121). This year £338 million has been allocated to help foster enterprise, improve the environment and tackle social problems. These resources are used in accordance with ministerial guidelines, a restatement of which, together with details of my Department's initiative to strengthen the management of the urban programme, has been placed in the Library of the House.

The Minister is aware that many valuable urban programme projects and children's holiday and play schemes in my constituency, Leyton, have been rejected by his Department. Are not many self-help community groups suffering because the Government are not providing sufficient funds for the urban programme? In view of the effect upon voluntary organisations of the proposed abolition of the Greater London council, should not the Minister be entering into a positive commitment to a major expansion of the urban programme?

The urban programme is a popular programme which is always over-subscribed. Before the hon. Gentleman takes this Government to task for their attitude towards Waltham Forest, he may care to reflect that in 1984–85 we shall be making roughly £183,500 available under the traditional urban programme, compared with about £76,000 in 1979. There has, therefore, been a real increase in the resources that this Government have made available to Waltham Forest under the urban programme. As for abolition, the Government have made it quite clear that there is no reason why worthwhile projects should suffer after the abolition. of the GLC.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that perhaps the most valuable urban aid that is provided is for the clean-up programmes in areas of decline? Does he not agree that the programme that has been financed by the Government in my constituency, Leicestershire, North-West, is valuable and should be extended for another two years?

We are always pleased to learn that money spent under the urban programme has been gratefully received by the local hon. Member. Environmental improvement is one of the objectives of the urban programme and we hope to maintain the initiative that has recently been launched in Leicester.

Is the Minister aware that many local authorities would not have had impossible targets to meet or would not have had to be rate capped if they had not had to incorporate under their own expenditure headings time-expired schemes which were originally funded by the urban programme? Was that not the case last year with Liverpool, and is it not the case this year with many rate-capped authorities? Will the Minister refund many of these programmes?

The hon. Gentleman may unwittingly have led people to believe that Liverpool city council is rate-capped. It is not. It has always been a feature of the urban programme that it pump primes worthwhile projects on the basis that local authorities will take them over at the end of four or five yars. That has always been the basis upon which the urban programme has been planned.

My hon. Friend will agree that the previous Labour Government and this Government have reduced the rate support grant, but is it not also true that specific grants in the urban programme have given many cities more rather than less money than used to be the case under the old purely rate support grant system?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the worthwhile increase in the value of the urban programme. In 1978–79 the urban programme spent £93 million and in the current year, £338 million. That is a worthwhile increase in resources to our inner cities.

What is the skeleton in the Government's cupboard that leads them to command an internal report on the future of the urban programme and then not publish it? What does that report say? Does it say that there will be a further cut in the urban programme, or does it say, as it should, that there should be a substantial extension and improvement? Can it be made public? That is really the question.

That was an internal review of the urban programme. It has been reviewed more often than almost any other item of Government expenditure, and it has always emerged from such reviews with credit. We plan to spend in cash terms this year roughly the same as the cash outturn for last year. The fact that we have managed to safeguard the urban programme over the past six years at a time when, for good reasons, reductions have been made in public expenditure, is a reflection of the priority that we attach to dealing with the problems of the inner cities.

In allocating funds to specific projects, to what degree has the Minister followed the order of priorities set by the local authority which put those projects before him?

Ministers usually honour the priorities that are set by local authorities. We recognise that they are in touch with the position to an extent that Ministers cannot be. Having said that, we have made our overall priorities for the urban programme clear in terms of the balance between economic, social and environmental projects, and in order to secure that national balance we occasionally have to re-order the priorities of individual local authorities.

When will my hon. Friend review the urban programme to embrace those void areas which are currently covered by the urban programme, not by the rural programme? Towns such as Lofthouse and Skelton in my constituency are in grave need of some urban or rural renewal, or renewal of whatever type my hon. Friend would like to give them, in order to improve the environment, yet they are excluded. When will the Government take action on that?

I understand my hon. Friend's concern that his constituency should have access to as much money as possible. In due course we shall be reviewing the designation of districts under the urban programme, and I have noted my hon. Friend's bid.

Will the Minister recognise the contradiction that out of nine partnership authorities last year, six were penalised, and in two authorities, for about every £2 paid in inner city partnership grants £3 was taken away in penalties? Will the Minister accede to the request of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and disregard for penalty purposes the contribution that local authorities make towards inner city partnership programmes?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have to consider any application for disregard that is made by local authorities. If such an application is made, it will be considered, but there is no reason to exempt local authorities in the inner city areas from the search for economy and efficiency which the Government expect all local authorities to try to make.