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Tameside Urban Aid

Volume 113: debated on Monday 30 March 1987

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Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Maude.]

11.36 pm

On 4 March, following a most disappointing reply from the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction, when I asked whether his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would meet a deputation from Tameside council to discuss the authority's claim for inclusion in the urban programme, I stated on a point of order that I intended to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity. That I now do. I am pleased to have been lucky in Mr. Speaker's ballot as, with the assistance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), I intend to spell out the reasons why the Government should think again about giving urban aid to Tameside.

I note that the Minister who is to reply was an old sparring partner of mine when he was Minister with responsibility for Sport. I hope that he will give Tameside a sporting chance of inclusion in the urban programme and will not close his mind to the arguments. I suggest that he begins by scrapping his ministerial brief as it will almost certainly he irrelevant. The first thing to determine is whether the Department and its Ministers know where Tameside is. On 4 March the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction told my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish that he knew exactly where it was, but he must have been mistaken as just 16 days later his Department sent the official notice about rate capping to—wait for it—Thamesdown district council.

I wish to address the problems of Tameside in greater Manchester and I hope that the Minister—perhaps not today, as the brief before him doubtless relates to a different authority—will also address himself to the real problems of the area that I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne represent. It is no leafy glen south of the Thames. The most recent analysis by the Department of the Environment of social stress in local authority areas highlighted three basic facts. First, Tameside has the highest deprivation score of all the metropolitan districts outside London which do not have inner city status. Secondly, I do not wish to underestimate the legitimate claims of other areas, but within the northwest the deprivation in Tameside is greater than in Oldham, Bolton, St. Helens, Wirral, Sefton, Wigan and Trafford, all of which have been included in the urban programme, Thirdly, of the authorities promoted to urban programme status only Preston outside the capital has a higher deprivation score than Tameside. Those are the Department's figures, yet it excludes Tameside from the programme. One must ask why.

In addition to social stress, the unemployment figures for Tameside surely qualify it for inclusion in the urban programme. Since 1979 unemployment in the north-west has increased by 210·1 per cent. whereas in Tameside it has increased by 310·1 per cent.—almost 50 per cent. higher than the regional average. The unemployment level is higher than neighbouring Oldham which benefits from inner-area status.

Even within Tameside, where problems exist across the whole borough, there is a well-defined area which shows clearly all the symptoms of inner city stress and economic and environmental decay. Within that 20 per cent. of the borough lies almost 50 per cent. of the employment arid it has suffered disproportionately from job losses. Half of the industrial floor space dates from before the first world war. Fifteen per cent. of the land is underused, abandoned or derelict. Almost one in four people are out of work and in some parts almost 40 per cent. of those under 19 are unemployed. Those unfortunate unemployment statistics make the case for Tameside strong.

The basis for the 1986 urban programme review was unemployment. To qualify, authorities had to have at least 10,000 unemployed and an overall percentage rate of over 12 per cent. Tameside has 13,500 unemployed and a rate of over 13 per cent. Clearly, it qualifies on both sets of criteria. The Government have made it known that other factors were also taken into account. What were they? Both Preston and Kensington and Chelsea were included with unemployment levels below 10,000.

Unemployment will get worse with the recent announcement of 400 redundancies at the Weston-Hyde factory, further redundancies at Walls meat factory and others in and around my constituency. The figures I gave show that Tameside borough suffers above the bald unemployment figures. Eight other boroughs in the northwest, excluding Merseyside, have qualified for allocations ranging from £23·8 million to £1·5 million and averaging £5·4 million, yet Tameside has received nothing. I hope that the House realises that something has gone badly wrong.

The achievement of programme area status would have given a much-needed boost to Tameside's efforts to tackle the social, economic and environmental problems of the area, yet the Government have consistently refused to recognise its claims. I hope I have demonstrated that those claims are stronger than those of many other boroughs already benefiting from the status.

I remind the Minister that we are talking, not about a mindless council but one which is respected across the community. The recent rate demand demonstrated that point; it was an increase of 2·3 per cent. on the rate. That is below the rate of inflation and helps industry and householders. The authority prides itself on good financial management, careful spending and savings.

The case before the Minister is formidable. It is backed wholeheartedly by the Tories on the council and their leader, Councillor Bell, has written to the Secretary of State urging him to reconsider this question. The Minister has kindly agreed that my hon. Friends may share this debate. I know that they will reinforce my points. I hope that the Minister will reply point by point to the issues raised and that he will recognise that the Government were mistaken to take this action against the authority we represent.

11.44 pm

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) for allowing the opportunity of showing how strongly all three hon. Members with constituencies in the Tameside area feel about the matter. Paragraph 10 of the recommendations of the Tenth Report of the Public Accounts Committee, Session 1985–86, states:

"It is clearly right, particularly as judgments are involved in the process, that the classifications of local authorities, and thus their shares of UP funds, should not become permanent."

It was with that statement in mind that I sought to raise the matter afresh, once the initial decision had been made. On 25 November 1985, I was fortified by a reply from the permanent secretary to the Department of the Environment, Mr. Heiser, to me as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Speaking about the urban programme, he said that the statistical analysis provides
"a background, a qualitative judgment on other factors which Ministers think relevant."

There was a qualitative judgment. I sought to influence that qualitative judgment when I took the matter up, first, with the Secretary of State for the Environment in the discussion that I had with him, secondly, with the Minister of State in a brief discussion, and, thirdly, with the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, to whom I mentioned it briefly. I expected that we would have had the opportunity to make further representations in the light of the so-called qualitative judgment, which I felt had not been fully discussed with hon. Members concerned with the borough of Tameside.

As my hon. Friend rightly said, Tameside is an excellent council. It is responsible. It has good officers and advisers with a high level of ability. We have a strong case. So far, we have not been able to put it properly to the Minister, so we shall seek to do so in the Adjournment debate. As my hon. Friend pointed out, Tameside has a rate of increase in unemployment that is much greater than in almost any other area. Ten years ago, it was a prosperous area. It has declined savagely. Manufacturing industry has deteriorated alarmingly. In my constituency, more than one third of firms have closed their doors, and more than one third of manufacturing jobs have gone. We have a decaying infrastructure.

Only last weekend, with a representative from the Manchester Evening News, I want to Mossley, Droylsden and Ashton-under-Lyne to point out the kind of dereliction that we have. There has been an increase not only in unemployment but in social stress. The Department of the Environment figures show that there is a higher deprivation score in Tameside than in many other local authority areas. I pointed out to the journalist who accompanied me that this followed a request that I made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to visit the area and see for himself the difference between the north and the south. I showed the Portland basin, where the Government are spending far less than they are spending in London on St. Catherine's dock. We are achieving great success in improving the area. We need a recognition and understanding of what we are doing in the area and of what our problems are.

Nearly £76 million is being spent in the north-west under the urban programme. Tameside is getting zero. We maintain that the case for Tameside is overwhelming. I ask the Minister to see the area for himself. If a qualitative judgment is to be made, it can only be made on the basis of personal observation. I look for an assurance that the Minister is now beginning to understand the real problems facing Tameside.

11.48 pm

I am delighted that my hon. Friend for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) was successful in securing this debate, but I am bitter that it is necessary for us to press this matter in the House. Neither the Minister nor his civil servants know or care where Tameside is. If they had looked at Tameside and seen its problems, I am certain that they would have included it in the list for urban aid.

I challenge the Minister to name the nine districts that make up Tameside and to tell us of any one of those districts that in his view does not have a case for urban aid. Of the local authorities that have qualified for urban aid many are a mixture of affluent areas and extremely depressed areas. All nine districts in Tameside have an urgent need for urban aid.

In the Denton part of my constituency and in other constituencies one can see one closed factory after another. Yesterday I had another phone call telling me that Lancaster Carpets is about to close and that 140 jobs are to go. The very heart of our constituencies their industrial bases, are being torn out and are disappearing week after week.

In the short time that is available to me I want to concentrate on one appalling figure because it is the one thing that ought to change the Minister's mind. In Tameside, sadly, there has been a failure to attract youngsters to stay in education. The number staying on after the age of 16 is about 37 per cent. It is about the eleventh worst stopping-on rate in the whole of England. If we look at the stopping-on rate of those who get good GCE results, five or more O-levels, we see that 25 per cent. of such youngsters do not remain in education in Tameside. That is the worst figure in the whole of England.

That is not a reflection on the quality of schools and colleges in Tameside, nor is it a criticism of Tameside's young people or their families; it is a mark of the social deprivation in Tameside—the fact that so many families feel that they cannot afford to let their youngsters, able youngsters, the ones who succeeded at school, benefit from further education in the area. Ten years' ago it might not have mattered too much because many of those youngsters would have left and got first-class apprenticeships and, through that, high-quality education. However, the factories have gone and the apprenticeships are not available, and those youngsters who do not stay at school are a great waste of resources. That figure, 25 per cent. of the most able youngsters in Tameside leaving school because of family poverty and problems within the area, is a telling one.

The Government are denying my constituents jobs. They are denying our young people the chance to stay on at school, and they are denying us urban aid and even hope. My constituents want to hear the Minister say that he will rescind this decision and restore urban aid to Tameside, but in their hearts they want this Government out, and out quickly.

11.53 pm

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on drawing this Adjournment debate and on bringing to the Floor of the House this important matter for him and for his constituents.

The debate provided an excellent opportunity for the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) to express their views. I was pleased to give them some of the time that I might otherwise have used, because it enabled them to put their case. I can assure them that I certainly listened to their case and that the Government constantly listen to the cases put by many of the local authorities that were previously in receipt of urban programme grant before the beginning of this year.

It may help the House if I outline the background to the proposals that we first announced last August in the process of restructuring the urban programme. We certainly received well over 100—if I remember rightly we received almost 200 — representations from local authorities. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have had a good opportunity to study the proposals that were put to us. They will also know that on 9 December we had a constructive meeting with a delegation representing several of the local authorities. It was attended by the leader of Tameside, Councillor Oldham, and the leader of the Conservative group, Councillor Bell. It was a useful and congenial meeting. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction and I have seen the submission from the chief executive of Tameside which was sent by the right hon. Member for Aston-under-Lyne on 28 January. It contains a useful summary of Tameside's position in terms of social and economic needs. I recognise the points made on the submission tonight. It may help the House if I state our views on the arguments in the submission.

The submission makes use of an economic Z score—a composite index of deprivation with added weighting for unemployment, derived from the 1981 census. It uses this to show that Tameside is worse off than a number of authorities invited to submit inner area programmes. I do not dispute that the borough has used this score in what seems to be a very valid way. But the economic Z score is made up of four parts unemployment to one part representing all other, largely social, indicators. As the House knows, there have been significant changes in the pattern of unemployment since 1981. Unemployment is one of the key indicators on which we have the benefit of up-to-date information. We would not, therefore, consider the economic Z score to be the only totally useful indicator.

In reaching our assessment of needs, we took into account the latest available information about unemployment rates and numbers both at district level and within districts. We did not use the travel-to-work area rates because they are not directly relevant to a fine-grained programme such as the urban programme. London, for example, is divided into just two travel-to-work areas. But they are obviously more relevant for regionally based programmes such as those operated by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Manpower Services Commission.

We took into account the latest unemployment data, not simply those for October 1985, as the submission appears to show. We looked at changes in unemployment between first announcing our proposals for restructuring the urban programme last August and confirming them at the end of January. That was a factor in the addition of three authorities—Plymouth, Kirklees and The Wrekin—to the list of the 54 originally proposed at the end of 1986. We paid particular attention to the numbers of unemployed in areas within districts with high overall rates.

The submission records the point made by the delegation I met on 9 December that social and economic deprivation does not end at local authority boundaries. I accept this: life is not that simple. For that reason, in assessing deprivation we take individual enumeration districts, which cover about 150 households, to build up a picture of needs within districts and to identify deprivation black spots.

Our proposals, which were confirmed at the end of January by my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction, when he announced an overall increase in urban programme resources for 1987–88, do away with the cumbersome and confusing four-tier structure of partnerships, programme authorities, other designated districts and the traditional urban programme. Under the new arrangements, all urban programme authorities will draw up strategic inner area programmes containing a package of initiatives intended to meet clearly defined aims and objectives.

That restructuring of the urban programme will consolidate its success and sharpen its impact. It marks a move away from the "confetti" approach to the distribution of resources in favour of one that is tightly targeted on specific areas of need. That is the theme running through all our urban initiatives, including the urban development grant and the new urban regeneration grant, details of which will be announced shortly. Our aim is to ensure that all the various grant regimes are pulled together to form part of area-based strategies.

The Government's task is to create the right conditions for growth by tackling dereliction and preparing sites for development, encouraging private investment, reducing controls and improving housing choice. That is the only effective means of keeping and attracting business and residents in urban areas. That approach is reflected in the range of urban initiatives, riot just in the spectacular examples such as London clocklands. In hundreds of urban programme and urban development grant projects in our major cities, substantial private investment is generated. Since 1979 we have allocated over £3,500 million to the urban programme, urban development grant, urban development corporations and derelict land grant. This £3,500 million should lever in over £2,000 million in investment by industry and commerce which translates directly into jobs.

Will the Minister deal just with the problems of Tameside? I understand what he is doing in a general way, but the problems of Tameside concern us. We have made our case and we should like to hear what he thinks about it. We hope that he will support it in the coming year.

I explained to the right hon. Gentleman and the House how we had assessed, in particular, the points made in the submission and Tameside's case compared with that of other authorities. We decided that there were 54 authorities—we added three others later—with a better case than Tameside. Our judgment was based on the factors that I have spelt out.

I am describing to the House the further reasons why we took that policy decision. Before we made our proposals it was becoming increasingly clear that the traditional urban programme did not fit with our policy of targeting resources and building business confidence. Too many areas were chasing necessarily limited urban programme resources. I say limited resources, but it is worth pointing out that they have grown by over 70 per cent. in real terms since 1979. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the Public Accounts Committee, but the Select Committee on the Environment, among others, made the point that excessive time and effort were being expended by local authorities and the Department of the Environment's officials in preparing and appraising bids that had little chance of success.

We decided to move to a system of inviting bids from specified authorities whose needs were greatest. Tameside did not rate among them. This is, of course, easier said than done. There is no single, definitive index by which authorities can be ranked in terms of deprivation. That has been borne out by independent research commissioned by, among others, the Association of District Councils.

Our approach was to use a combination of 1981 census data and other information—notably about unemployment—to reach a judgment about relative needs and the most effective distribution of resources.

We are well aware that Tameside, like many other areas, faces socio-economic problems; we also acknowledge the way in which the borough has made use of its urban programme resources in the past. Our decision to concentrate the resources is no reflection on Tameside's performance, and I hope that the borough will find it possible to accommodate its former projects within its main programmes.

It may be helpful to point out that, although Tameside will not be invited to submit an inner area programme for 1987–88, its eligibility for support through our other programmes will not be affected. As I mentioned to representatives of the council on 9 December, that applies particularly to derelict land grant, which is a further means by which the council can expect helpful support from the Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes past Twelve o'clock.