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Working Neighbourhoods Fund

Volume 507: debated on Tuesday 9 March 2010

11. What recent estimate he has made of the proportion of the working neighbourhoods fund which has been allocated to local authorities. (321007)

Since 2008, we have allocated over £1.5 billion of the working neighbourhoods fund to help local authorities with high rates of worklessness to support their communities. That has all been allocated to local authorities.

Of the £1.5 billion allocated, I thank the Secretary of State for the £27 million that has come to Stoke-on-Trent from the working neighbourhood funds. Will he join me in congratulating the jobs, enterprise and training centre in Burslem, the YMCA and the charity Groundwork on the difference they make to helping the long-term unemployed to get back to work?

I am delighted to praise the organisations that my hon. Friend mentions. The JET centres use the working neighbourhoods fund and other sources of money, and the organisations she mentions all play a very valuable role. One of the aims of the working neighbourhoods fund has been to allow local authorities to tailor what they do for workless people to the needs of local areas. In many areas, the sort of voluntary organisations she talks about are key to success.

I understand that no such funding came to Lancashire last year. Will the Secretary of State ensure that local authorities are able to implement the working neighbourhoods fund flexibly, so that they can aid projects to regenerate communities in rural areas such as the one I represent, where we have seen firms, shops and local schools close, or where there are sometimes no rural buses?

The working neighbourhoods fund has been targeted at those areas with the highest levels of worklessness and deprivation. That has been the right thing to do, but it is within the area-based grant, which gives local authorities the maximum flexibility locally in tailoring what they do to local needs. Obviously, other Government initiatives—for example, to help high streets suffering from empty shops—have gone to a wider range of local authorities, including some in rural areas.

North East Lincolnshire council was allocated more than £13 million of working neighbourhoods funding. However, to date, it has used just £1.5 million of that. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what checks are made on councils to see that they are actually using the money for the purpose for which it is intended? I fear that some of my constituents could have lost out because the council has just sat on that money.

That is a very important issue, and I understand that my hon. Friend is meeting my right hon. Friend the Minister for Regional Economic Development and Co-ordination later this week to discuss it. There really is no excuse for local authorities not to spend the money that they have been allocated to help people through the recession and to get into work. There is another crucial issue here. The Government have rightly listened to local authorities that say, “Don’t ring-fence every penny and tell us exactly how to spend it. Trust us.” When that trust breaks down, and when money is not used, there is a real problem, which I hope can be addressed very quickly.