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Inner Cities

Volume 129: debated on Wednesday 9 March 1988

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To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make it his policy to ensure that the inner cities are given priority in departmental decentralisation plans.

Yes, Sir. The Government's policy is that Civil Service work should be located where there is best value for money and best service to the public. However, when such locations are in areas which are the focus of the Government's urban and regional policies, they will be considered particularly seriously.

While it is widely recognised that civil servants will do everything possible to resist moving out of cushy London, will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that the decentralisation plans will move forward apace? As he and his right hon. and noble Friend, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, are making it clear that the private sector must play a major part in this rejuvenation, surely we must also play our part by moving as much as possible of the Department to inner cities in the regions?

I do not think that the reluctance of civil servants is quite as bad as my hon. Friend says it is. One way or another, about 5,500 jobs have been transferred out of London since the Government came to power in 1979. The DTI recently announced the transfer of most of the Patent Office to Newport and part of the insolvency service to Birmingham. I am carrying out a review to look for further candidates for cost saving, while maintaining the quality of service in my Department.

May we assume from the Minister's reply that Bradford will be carefully considered for the relocation of any Government Departments? Can the Minister say in specific terms what benefits will flow to Bradford from the city action team being located in Leeds?

As I said in my previous answer, whenever we look for alternative locations for Government offices we pay particular attention to places that are the target of the Government's urban and regional policies. I think that great benefits will flow to Bradford from the work of the city action team. Its headquarters are in neighbouring Leeds, but its activities are particularly directed to the urban problems of Leeds and Bradford. It has all the resources and competence to tackle the problems of both.

The Government will be successful with their macro-economic policy of inner-city regeneration, but will my right hon. and learned Friend say something about the neighbourhood regeneration, on which he has been concentrating? Surely the success of the strategy lies in encouraging local people to be involved in the regeneration of their neighbourhoods and streets.

Civil servants have been posted to task force offices in 16 deprived neighbourhoods up and down the country. That approach has been particularly successful, not least because it has enabled those civil servants to get into close contact with local residents, and because it has targeted the Government's national programmes and additional money on projects where they are most needed in those districts.

I am intrigued by the decentralised free breakfasts that the Minister will be offering as part of his inner-city initiative. How many breakfasts will there be, which Ministers will be involved, and how much will the free breakfasts cost the taxpayer? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is looking around for a menu, in view of the damage that the Government's policies have done to the inner cities, may I suggest thin gruel, hard cheese, and poached bullshit?

Order. That is a very unparliamentary word. Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw it and use another?

Breakfast is my least favourite meal; normally I do not eat it. The only reason why we are having these meetings at breakfast time is that that is the one time when all the leading citizens of a city tend to have their diaries clear, until they receive our invitation. We found that with "Action For Jobs" presentations—one gets a much better attendance if one turns up at breakfast time.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the menu is quite immaterial and entirely undistinguished on these occasions. What matters is the serious discussion that takes place, which I hope will lead in this case to follow-up action after the breakfasts bringing together leading industrial citizens of each city to help to steer the private sector contribution towards the Government's and the country's efforts.