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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 what representations he has received on the future of inner-city policy.

I have the benefit of a great deal of advice, solicited and unsolicited, on inner-city issues, some of which is reflected in the document "Action for Cities", published on 7 March, which has been very well received.

In view of the praise that has been heaped on Glasgow in recent months by the Minister, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Prime Minister regarding the GEAR project and inner-city improvement, will the Chancellor take the opportunity to pay due credit to my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan), who instituted the scheme for GEAR when he was Secretary of State, the Labour-controlled Glasgow district council and the Labour-controlled Strathclyde region? Is not the lesson of Glasgow and the improvements that have been carried out there that the Government should give the resources and the powers to locally elected Labour-controlled authorities to get on with the job?

I agree with most of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I gladly pay tribute to his right hon. Friend and to the local authorities. I trust that he will also pay tribute to the Government, the Scottish Development Agency, my right hon. and noble Friend for his major contribution, and to the private sector. The private sector has been the vehicle by which most of the investment has gone into GEAR. If we can maintain the sort of policy that has, in recent years, flourished in Glasgow we will make progress. I only wish that the hon. Gentleman would have words with some of his hon. Friends in cities such as Manchester and elsewhere who do not appear to have picked up the basic message of co-operation.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend's inner-city initiative include the ability to help finance the start-up costs of business incubators or business technology centres, which will help small businesses to establish themselves?

It certainly does. The Government have a multiplicity of ways in which they can support business start-up premises, managed workshops and technology centres of the type described by my hon. Friend. Various Departments of state have their different agencies and funds and any projects that come forward will be looked at eagerly by all my right hon. and hon. Friends.

How does the Minister expect local authorities to be business friendly in the inner cities, and how does he expect them to finance debt services, when, after the introduction of the poll tax, central Government will control 75 per cent. of what was peviously local authority funding? Is it not time that the Minister became local authority friendly?

But central Government and private business between them have always paid for the majority of local government expenditure. That is true under the present system and it will be true under the new system. Domestic rates and the community charge provide only for the minority of local government expenditure in any event.

As my right hon. and learned Friend is aware, the serious problems affecting our inner cities also affect the centres of many smaller towns. Will he assure the House that the initiatives announced in the Government's "Action for Cities" campaign will apply to those smaller communities?

The urban programme and urban priority areas can cover a wide range of communities. I agree with my hon. Friend that many of the problems affecting inner cities—lack of economic activity, high unemployment and so on—are found in other parts of the country as well. I hope that in England all those in urban priority areas are benefiting from our proposals, and I trust that my hon. Friend will find that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales tackles the problems in his constituency vigorously.

The Prime Minister has told us that there is not a single new policy for the inner cities, and the Minister has been unable to tell us whether any substantial new resources will go into the inner cities, at least to compensate for the massive reductions in rate support grant. Why does the right hon. and learned Gentleman expect the same package of measures with virtually the same resources to succeed in the future when it has failed in the past?

The hon. Gentleman is not the first to pick up a phrase used by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and use it somewhat incorrectly. As he knows, there were no fewer than 12 new announcements at the conference that we held on Monday. Although all the money came from the existing PESC provision, £250 million or thereabouts was directed to new policies in the inner cities to which it had not been directed before. The hon. Gentleman's wholly false analogy with arguments with local government over rate support grant represents another failed attempt to denigrate a very substantial policy.