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Action For Cities Campaign

Volume 129: debated on Wednesday 9 March 1988

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To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what response there has been from the private sector to the Government's action for cities campaign.

The Government have been working very closely with many private companies and private sector and voluntary organisations for many years. There has been an encouraging response from the private sector to the action for cities campaign launched on 7 March. Business organisations, including the CBI, Business in the Community, the Industrial Society and Investors in Industry as well as individual companies and business leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to work with the Government to make inner cities prosperous. With ministerial colleagues I will be taking our proposals further with business leaders in a series of regional meetings, starting on 13 April in Newcastle upon Tyne.

To get the wheels of commerce turning, will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that firms that are willing to invest in those areas, in the way that he has just described, have access to information about the extent and ownership of derelict land? If it is found that public bodies or Government Departments own any derelict land, will he ensure that it is auctioned off at an early date?

It is certainly true that we still have far too much derelict land in our inner-city areas which, on examination, turns out to be in the ownership of some public body or other. It is for that reason that we started the register of land and, as I announced a few days ago, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is taking steps to make sure that more public use is made of the information contained in the register and to ensure that the land is shaken out into development.

Does the Minister recognise that it was the private sector and private entrepreneurs in the past that failed, especially in the north-west and in other manufacturing areas? People are not fools, and they will not fall for glossy packaging and the Prime Minister's own brand of clap-trap, because they know full well that that will not provide jobs, homes or the medical needs of the inner-city areas.

The industrial prosperity of Manchester was based on the success of its entrepreneurs, industrial leaders and private sector industry. It is true that Manchester's economy has undergone considerable change and that it has gone through great difficulty in the upheavals of recent years, but, in my opinion, Manchester is now coming back strongly. It must be in the interests of the people of Manchester to attract leaders of industry, investors in new business and private sector activity back into the city. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not react in the same way as his city council does from time to time, by being positively hostile to private sector investment in that city.

While the Government's initiatives on the inner cities are welcome, will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that certain local authorities obstruct the private sector through their use of planning powers? Will he take to himself powers to ensure that that obstructionism does not succeed?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We are often pressed on the contribution that local government should make. Indeed, it needs to make a contribution, and the best contribution that it could make would be to be business friendly and to seek to attract to the cities the private sector investment that is needed by the residents if they are to have the hope of new jobs. I deplore any obstruction—through the planning process or in any other way—on the part of just a few councils to the idea of fresh private investment corning to their areas.

Is the Minister aware that after the hype of the launch on the inner-city initiatives and all the gloss that went out, two sobering statements were made, by the Confederation of British Industry and by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce? The CBI stated:

"Firms will have to be able to justify their contribution to shareholders."
It was stated of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, which represents 65,000 companies:
"The association was scathing about the lack of recognition of the chamber's key role in a range of business and social issues."
The Minister is asking local authorities to be business friendly but, quite honestly, when one considers the declaration of UDC status such as took place in Sheffield, when even the chamber of commerce was not invited to the launch, which it had to gatecrash, that type of co-operation does not appear to have been taken on board by the Government.

I do not know what the opposite of hype is, but the Labour party has certainly been guilty of it in recent years with regard to just about every new idea for inner cities that has come forward.

They whinge.

I agree with my hon. Friend that the Opposition whinge about absolutely every measure that anyone proposes and they take the general view that it is all a waste of time.

Our major aim over the summer is to try to attract private companies to take part in inner-city activity. I agree that we have to get the message across to those companies that it is in their commercial interest to do so. It is sensible, commercial practice for a large company that wants, at the same time, to be a responsible corporate citizen, to take part in such activity. That is the American experience, and we and the CBI agree. That is the message that we shall be giving.

I am sorry if we did not acknowledge the valuable work of many chambers of commerce. I have worked extremely closely with chambers of commerce and their members in many parts of the country, and they have been actively involved in our work.

I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the announcement of an urban development corporation for the Don Valley is one of the best bits of news that Sheffield has had in recent years. It will bring that derelict land back into use because the decision-making processes of UDCs have proved, in practice, to be extremely quick and effective. There is, of course, a substantial commitment of Government money behind the UDCs.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to praise the work of the private sector, especially in Nottingham, and in particular the work of David White and his colleagues on the Nottingham development enterprise hoard? That board has done much to ensure that the private sector responds to the need to renew those areas of Nottingham that require such renewal.

I agree with my hon. Friend. David White chairs the Nottingham development enterprise board. He has got together a group of the leading business men of the city, who are financing their own secretariat, commissioning reports, as well as setting out a policy on how different parts of the city will be revived. They have the active co-operation of the Conservative-controlled city council and the Labour-controlled county council. I am glad to say that the completely negative attitude of the Opposition Front Bench has made no impact in the inner-city area of Nottingham.