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Inner Cities

Volume 113: debated on Tuesday 31 March 1987

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asked the Paymaster General what recent initiatives he has taken to promote employment in the inner cities.

We are now making very good progress in our eight inner city task force areas, with over 90 special projects and schemes already approved to encourage enterprise training and job creation for the residents of these areas. We have also concentrated more effectively the efforts and programmes of the Manpower Services Commission and other Government Departments on the same eight areas and their residents. As the various programmes are implemented, the benefits of the Government's task force approach will become steadily more apparent over the coming months to the people who live in the areas concerned.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend welcome the imaginative way in which employers and others such as the Home Office and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders are co-operating with his Department? Does that not contrast strongly with the failure of those Labour-controlled local authorities which are not co-operating with the Manpower Services Commission and the inner city task force schemes?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the contrast, and it is unfortunate. We are now doing very good work under the community programme in providing work experience to help people to protect themselves against crime in the inner cities. A number of major firms are interested in engaging in community programme projects in the inner cities, especially McAlpine, which has entered into agreements with us. There are still some Labour-controlled local authorities that are turning away training and work experience proposals from the Manpower Services Commission. In the task force areas we are trying to overcome the objections of people, like the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, who have tried to reject such proposals, so that residents may have the benefit of schemes which the Government want to finance in those areas.

While it is right to concentrate on the continuing misery of unemployment in the inner cities, does the Minister accept that there is also vast unemployment in outer areas? In my constituency most of the high unemployment is in areas in the outer city, such as Braunstone, New Parks, Mowmacre and Stocking Farm, where unemployment ranges between 30 and 60 per cent. What will the Paymaster General do that he has not done before to help people in those areas?

I agree that it is not only in Leicester, but in cities such as Liverpool and Bristol, that as much deprivation is found on large estates on the edges of the cities as in inner city areas. However, the lessons that we are learning rapidly from places such as Highfields in Leicester can be extended through the urban programme and the Manpower Services Commission to other areas. We will take action as rapidly as Leicester city council and others help us to deliver the goods on the ground in the Highfields area in particular.

Has my right hon. and learned Friend seen the leading article in The Times regarding work, welfare and workfare? Has he noted the favourable replies given to me by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee yesterday? Will he now think again about introducing the comprehensive workfare system and giving it a fair wind?

We have given a guarantee of training to everyone under the age of 18, so that no one under the age of 18 need be unemployed and drawing benefit. From tomorrow we are going national with the job training scheme and will be greatly expanding its availability. There will be 300,000 people going through the community programme. We are making a whole range of worthwhile activities available to people to reduce the need to remain idle. The rules remain that anyone who draws benefit in this country must demonstrate that he is available to work and is actively looking for it. While my hon. Friend knows that I still have considerable reservations about what is known in America as "workfare", we are providing all the opportunities that people require, and we are entitled to expect people to take advantage of them where we provide them.

Is the Minister aware that there is 46 per cent. male unemployment in the centre of Manchester in my constituency and that that figure is still rising? How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman come to the Dispatch Box with deceitful distortions of the real facts? When will we get real jobs, not cosmetics?

I know that conditions are quite serious for many people in the middle of Manchester. That is why Moss Side is one of the places where we have an inner city task force operating. I know from my contacts with the city that quite a lot is happening there. It is a strong commercial and regional centre and the economy there seems to be reviving extremely well. The Government have done a great deal to help by financing such things as the G-Mex centre and, next door, the development at Salford Quays. Now that the national economy is reviving so strongly, I think that Manchester is one of those places where we have the greatest cause to be optimistic about the future.

What would be the effects on improving employment prospects in inner cities of a 1 per cent. tax on company turnover, as proposed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)?

I am a little bewildered about where we are on the 1 per cent. levy. Recently, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) appeared to deny that he had guaranteed that a 1 per cent. tax on turnover would be charged. I had to look up the Official Report to confirm that the hon. Gentleman had, indeed, committed himself to such a levy. I am waiting to hear whether he will commit himself to it again. Perhaps urgent consultations are taking place in Dagenham about that matter.

The Paymaster General will recall that last February, when he launched this scheme, he said that the task force was a bold experiment in creating real jobs. As he has not made any claim for real jobs in his statements since, can he now tell the House how many real jobs have been created by this scheme, or how many jobs he expects to create by this scheme? Is not the real truth that this is a propaganda hoax on people in the inner city areas? The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not creating real jobs. It would be much better if he gave the £20 billion that he robbed from local authorities back to them to create real jobs.

Real jobs are being created all the time in the task force areas— in the work and training which Tarmac will provide on the Broughton road contract in Birmingham, in the training which we are providing for new jobs in the Copthorne hotel in Birmingham and in all the work which we are doing in Gloucester Grove. It is artificial to produce exact figures in response to the type of questions posed by the hon. Gentleman. I am horrified to hear that the hon. Gentleman has recommitted himself to putting money into the hands of the Left-wing local authorities. No doubt he is still committed to Southwark council's proposals for employment creation, hut, when he goes to Southwark, he will find that the council's activities do a great deal of harm to employment and training in that borough and that our task force is providing some of the few signs of hope there.