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Urban And Rural Areas

Volume 131: debated on Wednesday 13 April 1988

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To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what assessment he has made as to what lessons derived from inner-city initiatives can be applied in other distressed urban and rural areas.

There are three clear lessons. First, the private sector has to he involved in regeneration measures. Public money should be used to bring in private investment. Secondly, efforts to encourage business, improve the environment and motivate local people are more effective when combined. This is why we have established city action teams and task forces to pull together Government effort in inner cities. Thirdly, action has to reflect local circumstances. We have therefore developed a range of measures—from urban development corporations to compacts between schools and industry—to respond to local needs.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that many of the economic and social problems of the inner cities are found on a smaller scale in many rural towns and rural areas across the United Kingdom? Will he therefore draw to the attention of local authorities in those areas some of the exciting solutions that he is finding in the inner cities?

I know that my hon. Friend's constituency suffers from a high level of unemployment. There are many similarities between the problems in Pembrokeshire and those in the depressed towns in the north and in the inner cities in parts of the midlands and the south. Therefore, I accept my hon. Friend's argument that many of the lessons we have learnt about how to stimulate new investment, new business and new employment could, with advantage, be applied to places such as Pembrokeshire.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that one of the lessons to be drawn from the Leicester experience is the Government's inability to co-operate with and consult the local authority? That is why the inner city initiative in Leicester has been such a disaster.

I think that the inner city initiative in Leicester has been a considerable success, and that it is getting better, because we appear to be achieving a slightly higher level of co-operation with the local authority. It has something to do with the so-called new realism which is said to have been affecting the Labour party since the last general election. In so far as there has been unnecessary political dispute in Leicester, plainly I must assert and remind the House that it was wholly caused by the immediate hostility of Leicester city council the moment that we announced our initiative and before the Government agents had arrived.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the inner city areas that he is working so hard and with a degree of success to try to bring round have a great deal to learn from other areas in the country that have also been through depressed times? Will he take on board what has happened in my constituency and ensure that the lessons of Corby are applied in all areas that face high unemployment?

The amount of new investment and the collapse in the level of unemployment in Corby are quite spectacular. They are almost matched by the new investment in Scunthorpe and by the new investment in jobs in Consett, both towns having been affected by changes in the steel industry in the past. I agree with my hon. Friend that the success in Corby shows what can be achieved by towns elsewhere that face a severe economic crisis. We shall apply the lessons of Corby throughout the country.

What lessons has the Minister learnt from Scottish and Newcastle's approach to inner city initiatives, which was to take jobs out of a profitable brewery in Workington—a brewery that received Government grants over the years—and put them into Newcastle? Does he not understand that that constitutes the rape of Workington? It is a criminal act in a moral sense. That company has no right at all to act as a job thief and take jobs away from a profitable brewery in try constituency. Will he now intervene, whereas previously he refused to do so?

The hon. Gentleman must take up with the management his grievances about the decisions of Scottish and Newcastle Breweries. In my experience of the inner city policy, Scottish and Newcastle Breweries has been a very responsible company. It has worked closely with the Government at its Moss Side brewery in the middle of Manchester, where it received a large urban development grant and recruited and trained a large number of unemployed people from the deprived area around the brewery. It has been equally responsible in the north-east of England. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that as a Minister I have no responsibility for the dispute in Workington to which he referred.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that Skelmersdale has very similar problems to Pembroke? In the last 12 months the level of unemployment in the new town has been reduced by nearly 1,500 and major steps have been taken to build new factories in the town. When the task forces in the inner city areas have done their job, will he bear in mind that they could do a great deal of good in places such as Skelmersdale and Pembroke and in other rural and urban areas that are not included in the inner city initiatives?

I share my hon. Friend's pleasure at the fall in unemployment in Skelmersdale and in the north-west generally. I agree that we have to look at the problems faced by all communities such as his in the north-west. We always envisaged that the task forces would be temporary in the cities, where they were established, and that they would aim to work themselves out of a job so that they could move to other parts of the country when they had carried out the necessary pump-priming in the inner city districts.

When the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster considers expanding these schemes, will he take into account the role of local authorities? Many people are worried by independent reports about the urban development corporations and the task forces showing that, because of Government dogma, the best results are not being achieved. A major report, funded by the Government and local authorities, showed clearly that in the Sheffield scheme it would have been far better to have a partnership than to impose an urban development corporation. Some now say that the UDC could impede progress. Will the Chancellor and his Department have a word with the Secretary of State for the Environment to make sure that there is no imposition and that instead a genuine partnership is developed that involves the local authorities?

We achieve excellent relationships with local authorities of all political complexions in some parts of the country. I share the underlying assumption of the hon. Gentleman's question that it is desirable for the Government, local authorities and the private sector to work together.

Although there is a difference in the conclusions arrived at for the redevelopment of the Don Valley, I do not believe there is any difference between the aims of the Government, the hon. Gentleman and the local authority. I believe that, in time, it will be realised that the Don Valley urban development corporation is of considerable benefit to Sheffield and south Yorkshire, and that it will prove of considerable advantage in redeveloping the land more quickly than the alternative proposals would have done.