I thank the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), the Minister and the Opposition spokesman for being here. As they have turned up early, we can start slightly earlier.
It is a pleasure to take part in my first Westminster Hall debate under your stewardship, Mr Bone. I proposed the debate quite simply because no other issue is as important to me or the more than 75,000 people I represent. When the pits were closed, Wigan was devastated by not only the job losses, but the unprecedented collapse of a way of life, which pulled the borough’s economic base from under it. The scars of that legacy remain to this day.
As a new Member, I am acutely aware that many colleagues have fought for many years to provide hope for communities such as mine across the country. I pay particular tribute to the work of my hon. Friends the Members for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) and for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and, of course, the former Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone. It is perhaps a tribute to the strength of feeling in the House that so many hon. Members are here today. When I was granted this debate, my office was flooded with e-mails from colleagues across the House, who said, “I’ve no idea who you are, but I’m glad you’re taking an interest in this.” On a serious note, that shows how many of us care passionately about this issue.
I hope that the Minister will take note of the concern not only in this place, but among councils, businesses and community groups, which will be watching developments closely and waiting for his response to the Clapham report. In light of the strength of feeling, I would be grateful for a commitment from him that hon. Members will be the first to hear the Government’s response to the report. I would also be grateful for a commitment today that he will make an oral statement to the House when a decision is reached.
We are of one mind that the coal fields remain unique in terms of the deliberate destruction of the industry that underpinned them, the scale of job losses and the associated economic devastation. They were also unique in their reliance on a single industry to provide not only jobs, but housing and the social life that underpinned communities.
At its height, my town of Wigan had more than 1,000 pit shafts within five miles of the town centre. Although I am proud of that legacy, the health legacies remain in Wigan to this day. People in my constituency get sick earlier and die younger. There are great disparities in life expectancy between different communities in my constituency. Too many people are still in low-paid work and are therefore extremely vulnerable at this difficult economic time.
Thanks to the work of my local council, we have not suffered the high levels of youth unemployment that many of my colleagues have experienced in their areas, but too many remarkable young people have expectations of life and of what they can achieve that are far too low given their talent and ability. With the package of measures announced in the Budget and the spending review, such as the abolition of the future jobs fund, I am concerned that those young people will be more vulnerable than ever. At a time such as this, it is more important than ever that we continue the work that we started in late ’90s to support communities such as mine; otherwise, we will condemn another generation to the waste of the ’80s and ’90s.
The Coalfields Regeneration Trust and the coalfields regeneration programme were more than just an initiative; they were a covenant between a Government and a series of communities that had been left to suffer so much. In making that offer, the Government were telling people, “We will support you because you deserve our support.” The trust and the programme have played a really important role in the progress made in Wigan and elsewhere. The gap between Wigan and elsewhere has narrowed over the past decade, and the same is true in other areas. Lives and communities have literally been transformed.
The trust understands the unique challenges and the social character of ex-coal field communities. As a result, I have seen for myself how it does things that other public agencies simply cannot do. In Wigan, for example, I have seen how it has boosted skills and confidence, enabling people to have the basic confidence they need to reintegrate into society and find employment.
Thanks to a relatively small level of investment, more people in my constituency can use the internet; more people have been helped to set up small businesses—something that they never would have conceived they could do several years ago; and more people are running self-sustaining sports and swimming clubs, which bring huge value to the community. It gives me great pleasure to remind hon. Members how much better at sport Wiganers are than most others. However, I am also delighted that the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and Wigan council have recognised how important sport is to our community, and that programmes that have helped to rebuild confidence and combat social isolation have been built around the sport that acts like a social glue in the community.
My constituency is similar to those of other hon. Members present for the debate, in that we have the twin challenges of inner-city deprivation and rural isolation. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust is uniquely placed to understand how to tackle those two factors. I am delighted that the Government have placed on record, in their initial response to the Clapham report, their understanding of the importance of a localised approach, and of local authorities in delivering the programme. Mick Clapham is clear in his view that there is still significant work to do and that there have been some limitations to the approach that has been taken thus far. It is important to recognise that and to look closely at his recommendations.
In discussing the issue with my hon. Friends in the past months I have found a strong recognition of the fact that at the outset, the previous Government were not fully aware of how long it takes to restore a community, socially, economically and physically, when it has suffered such unprecedented devastation. However, the review makes it clear that the unique character of the coalfields remains and that there is an important continuing role for the trust and the programme. I know that the Minister understands that, because he said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne on 19 July that there were
“no plans to dismantle the programme.”—[Official Report, 19 July 2010; Vol. 514, c. 151.]
I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed that that is still his view. I would also be grateful if he told us when he will make a decision regarding both the programme and the trust, and when an official response will be made to the Clapham report. He will be aware that local authorities such as mine are having to make difficult decisions about their budgets in the light of the spending review, which has cut funding to local authorities by up to a third. Certainty about the programme is obviously of the utmost urgency to those authorities, so I should be grateful if the Minister shed some light on the matter.
I know how many colleagues want to speak this morning, and I want to end on this note: the Budget and the spending review have hit my constituency disproportionately hard. I have been flooded with letters from young people who are desperately concerned about their future, because of the demise of the future jobs fund, restrictions on the education maintenance allowance and proposals to raise tuition fees. I have been contacted by older people who lost their jobs and homes the last time the Conservatives were in government, and who do not think they can survive it again. I have also been contacted by many people who work for or run small businesses, who are desperately concerned about who will lend to them and support them now the regional development agencies have been abolished. Continuing to provide support to communities such as mine is both a duty and a lifeline. I know that the Minister is a reasonable man and I hope that today he will give the people I represent hope for the future.
Several hon. Members
Order. It is great to see that so many hon. Members are here, but the winding-up speeches will start at about 10 past 12. Perhaps hon. Members could keep their speeches to an appropriate length.
Welcome to the Chair, Mr Bone. I am sure that you will keep us all in order and make sure that there will be an opportunity to press the case for every single coalfield community that is represented here, and that the Minister will have ample time to reply; then perhaps we can go away with a little hope in our hearts that the coalition Government are really listening to what coalfield communities need.
I shall try to be brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on raising the issue, and giving us the opportunity to have the debate. She made the point that no one really understood how long it would take to put the life back into our scarred coalfield communities. Sometimes in this place it feels as if we are doing things for our children, but it is actually for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The coalfield community programme that the previous Government set up took a long time to establish. A lot of work was done through English Partnerships, and the then Deputy Prime Minister made sure that there was a programme that could bring the former coalfields back to life. It took a long time, and when it was finally set up and we had the wonderful work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and the coalfield community programme bringing investment to our areas, and funding was secured, it made a difference.
Really, however, that was just the very beginning, and parts of the former coalfield communities, such as my own in north Staffordshire, were very slow off the mark, for all kinds of good reasons. We did not have the capacity to make the applications in the first place to the coalfield programme. Consequently a lot of work had to be done to encourage residents’ associations and local partners to make applications. I thank the Coalfields Regeneration Trust for the work that was done towards the end of the programme. However, in Stoke-on-Trent we are only just beginning to reap the benefits of the coalfield programme, and much work is undone in relation to grants to local organisations and partners. For that reason I want the programme to be continued so that priority is given to the worst-scarred areas.
The other side of the coin is that, as well as the grant made by the CRT, a huge amount of money was provided from what was originally English Partnerships and then through the Homes and Communities Agency. I want briefly to mention the work that is already going on in the north Staffordshire coalfield, on the Chatterley Whitfield site. Chatterley Whitfield was a Victorian colliery and the first in the country to produce more than 1 million tonnes of coal a year. It was part of the industrial revolution. However, since the pit closed there has been little replacement work in the area. With the help of the coalfield programme we have a long-term vision for restoring the site. I am pleased to say that with the help of £15 million I opened, only this Saturday, the land remediation that has resulted in a huge countryside park for local people.
The next important step is investment in job creation on that site. I fail to see how that money can be made available without a targeted approach to former coalfield communities such as mine. Yes, what happens must be recognised as part of the local enterprise partnerships, which the Government will, I hope, agree for areas such as my constituency, but I believe that the continuation of the funding for coalfield areas is so important that we must not lose sight of it. I hope that we are sending the Government a clear message that we want the Minister to sit down with all MPs who represent the areas in question, to make sure that the funding that was put in place can, despite everything, continue in a meaningful way.
I do not know whether I am unique among Conservative Members in this regard, but I still have a working coal mine in my constituency, at Thoresby. It is a very efficient coal mine. Welbeck, which was just outside my constituency, has just been lost. I think that Sherwood lost more coal mines than most other constituencies. There were nine active coal mines, if one goes back 20 years, and eight of those have disappeared, which left the constituency with enormous challenges in certain places. I wanted to take the opportunity to tell hon. Members how we dealt with that—to talk about some of the good things that were done, and some of the poor things—and to say how the Coalfields Regeneration Trust assisted in some areas, but did not work in others. Unless a person lives in a constituency with those challenges, they will not comprehend how big they are. We need, across the parties, to ensure that that message gets across.
One way in which we went wrong was in concentrating on physically restoring some of those areas. Frankly, we spent a lot of money on grass seed and trees, and on renovating spoil tips and pitheads, instead of concentrating on generating jobs. Fundamentally, this is about jobs. If young men leave secondary school and do not have jobs to go to, it has an enormous social impact, and it happens because we have not concentrated enough on generating sufficient employment in such areas.
I point to several mistakes that were made in Sherwood. The Ollerton energy village was an industrial area designed to create employment, but it turned out to be a large industrial development that was successful only in relocating jobs from one part of my constituency to another. It did not generate a single new job for my constituents; all it did was move those jobs around the county. We need to think much more strategically about the type of employment that we generate.
We have also rebuilt village halls, scout huts and other such things, which are fantastic for the community. However, if a son says to his father, “Dad, I want to go to Cubs and to Scouts, and to go to the Scout camp,” the father cannot facilitate that unless he has a job. However, if the father was well employed and his son said, “Dad, can you help us raise some money to rebuild the Scout hut?”, he would be in a much better position.
I compare the two ends of my constituency, and the villages of Ollerton and Calverton. Calverton is much closer to Nottingham city centre; it has good public links, and young people are able to get from the village to their employment. The hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) referred to inspiration and aspiration. Fundamental to the debate is how we give young people leaving school the aspiration and inspiration to go for full-time employment.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for initiating this debate. I support the recommendations of the coalfields regeneration review, particularly on the Coalfields Regeneration Trust in Wales, Scotland and England.
Blaenau Gwent is a coalfield area. Many members of my family have worked in the pits. My grandfather was a miner, as were three uncles on my mum’s side. Blaenau Gwent has come on by leaps and bounds in recent years. We have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. Our coal tips have been regenerated to wonderful effect. Tredegar, my home town, has a wonderful leisure area in Bryn Bach park; it has a lake and there is camping and golfing.
Former miners and their families have been retrained, including members of my family, and have gone on to get good jobs. In recent times, there have been wonderful community art initiatives, including the Six Bells memorial, which commemorates those who died in the mining disaster of 1960. However, much more needs to be done, particularly at the old steelworks in Ebbw Vale, which requires further investment. Plans are in hand for a new learning campus, a new theatre, housing and a hospital, named after Nye Bevan, on old industrial land. However, unemployment is still at 10%, and many people still die too early.
Much more needs to be done. Coalfield areas such as Blaenau Gwent need much more investment for the future. The Government must help us with that work.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing this debate at a very important time; we are in the aftermath of the comprehensive spending review, and the future of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust is under review.
I represent the seat of Easington, which comprises a series of small villages and two large towns. As with Sherwood, mining was the principal industry there. We lost all our coal mines 20 years ago. The town of Seaham, where I live, had 3,500 working miners, and unless one lives in that kind of environment, it is difficult to comprehend the scale of the pit closures. The communities that constitute Easington were formed around the coal mines, which were sunk at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.
The communities that I represent owe their existence to the mining industry, which sustained Britain’s economic wealth, powered the country through two world wars, and created the energy with which the industrialisation of Britain took place. Easington and the Durham coalfields provided the coal that powered the nation; in the aftermath of the pit closure programme, I believe that the nation owes Easington and the other coalfield communities a debt of honour.
However, in our community, as in so many other proud coalmining communities, that mining legacy has been wiped away by a determined adversary. The communities that developed around the pits witnessed, and experienced at first hand, how easily the employment and social welfare that characterised our coal mining communities could be wiped away; furthermore, they witnessed the fact that support for a new economic foundation would not be supported by the Government.
No single industry could step in to replace coal mining, and support for the diversification of the local economy—vital in areas such as mine—was not forthcoming for many years. The unique challenges for former coal mining communities are as important today as they should have been at the time of the mass closure of the coal mines. It is essential to recognise the need for Government support in the transition from a wholly dominant economic sector to a local economy that is more diverse and that supports small businesses and large, new industries.
Building a modern infrastructure and laying the foundations for new industries, particularly new green industries, as well as supporting social and community development and the growth of small businesses and entrepreneurship, will bring about prosperity. Deprived areas, such as east Durham, which I represent, still desperately need an awful lot of work. The unique character and the various complexities of the challenges faced by coalfield communities require a unique and multifaceted response from the Government. The previous Government recognised that fact through their distinctive coalfield regeneration programmes. I echo the sentiments expressed by others today, including by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan, in paying tribute to the excellent work done by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.
The public sector is one of the largest employers in my community and many other coal mining communities, and is the provider of key services for people in them, but it is again under attack. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan referred to the loss of the future jobs fund and the impact that that would have. She also spoke of the impact of cuts in local government budgets. Many of the lifelines given to my region by the last Government are being taken away. We have lost our Minister for the North East, who did an excellent job in attracting investment to Easington and other constituencies in the north-east. We have also lost the Government office for the north-east and our regional development agency, One NorthEast.
Although the review of coalfields regeneration found that the state of coalfield areas was improved when compared to a decade ago, it outlined the continuing need for social change. I hope that the Government understand the key challenges. Coalfield areas suffer due to the ill health of older generations—ill health caused by former working conditions. The situation is exacerbated by the ill health of the younger generations due to poor employment opportunities and the low expectations that result from their marginalisation in the active labour market. The Government must not set their sights on penalising the older generation, who, not unexpectedly, are suffering from disabilities. It would be eminently more sensible to put Government support into creating opportunities for work; that could prevent the next generation from falling into a cycle of economic inactivity, and eventual disability and incapacity.
I briefly want to outline some of the specific benefits that the CRT has brought to my constituency, including the support that it has provided to particular projects. In the small village of Murton, the Murton Welfare Association manages the Murton Miners Welfare Institute and Recreation Ground charity. It maintains the sports fields, cricket pitches and pavilion at the welfare park on behalf of several local sporting clubs. Examples such as that illustrate how our mining heritage, which was typified by the scenes depicted on the miners’ banners, is still interwoven into every aspect of our community life. Although such associations are strong in volunteers, they require financial support that would previously have been provided by contributions from working miners at the pit point.
As hon. Members may be aware, the people of east Durham suffer from poor diet, which often manifests itself in ill health later in life. The Food Chain North East community interest company, which is supported by CRT, is a CIC that seeks to increase access to affordable, high-quality fresh foodstuffs, and make them available to disadvantaged individuals in communities in the north-east, particularly in Easington. The company works with a wide range of community groups, public-sector bodies and other agencies to encourage healthy eating, and it also contributes to the national healthy living agenda. It sources healthy, fresh food and then distributes it to local community venues, households and some workplaces with the support of more than 100 volunteers.
East Durham Community Transport offers an employment lifeline through its “bigger wheels” project. It provides vital, low-cost transport for youth and community groups, charities and other non-profit-making voluntary organisations and statutory bodies. The CRT grant has allowed the group to purchase a new 24-seat wheelchair-accessible coach. East Durham Community Transport also provides a low-cost and very innovative car hire scheme that allows unemployed people who have no transport to take up jobs further away in the Teesside and Tyne and Wear conurbations. Without targeted support from the CRT, such services would have no other means to provide assistance to some of the most disadvantaged communities in Britain.
I am aware that the Minister had some positive words to say on Michael Clapham’s report, and I hope that he will today outline how he intends to back up those words to ensure continuing provision for our hard-pressed coalfield communities.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing today’s much-needed debate. I extend my thanks and the thanks of my community to Michael Clapham, Peter McNestry and the trustees of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust for the excellent work that they have carried out over a number of years. My constituency of Wansbeck is located in the south-east of Northumberland. It is the very heart of the Great Northern coalfield. Indeed, it was the engine room of the great industrial revolution. My constituency offices are sited only 100 yards away from the largest coal mining village in the world—the largest pit in the world is only 100 yards away.
A competition seems to be developing in this debate over who has the most pits and who had the most miners in their constituency. The pit next to my office had 5,000 people working there at one time. I do not think that there is anybody in this Chamber who can beat that. I notice, Mr Bone, that no one wishes to intervene on that comment. Seriously, we are affectionately known as coal town across the world. We had 30 to 40 large mines in my constituency alone. Sadly, the thousands of jobs that were provided by the mining industry have never been replaced, and parts of Wansbeck have never fully recovered from the devastating effect of those job losses.
This week, the announcement in the comprehensive spending review that 490,000 public sector jobs are to go, and all that that brings with it, including the knock-on effect on the private sector, is quite frightening. I am well aware that there are several strands to the regeneration of the coalfields, but I intend to focus on the role of the CRT. I speak today as someone who participated in the coalfield regeneration review consultation process and as, probably, the last working miner who will come into Parliament. I am sure that comrades across the Floor will suggest that “working” might not be the appropriate word to use, but I contest that.
I support the important work of the CRT and recognise its significant contribution to the communities throughout my constituency and beyond. There is no doubt that the CRT has done an excellent job both in Wansbeck and throughout the north-east. To date, it has made grants of more than £31 million to 1,000 groups in the coalfield communities of the north-east. In Wansbeck, the projects benefit people of all ages and from all sections of our community. The CRT grant was used by the citizens advice bureau to take on new staff to provide advice on financial matters, which is extremely important. CRT funding was used to convert a former garage into a 110-place child care centre, and the Cambois rowing club used the funds to build an extension to the boathouse, which enables it to provide rowing opportunities for all ages and for all sections of the community. The flagship Hirst welfare centre in Ashington used the funding to develop its centre in one of the most deprived wards in Northumberland.
Does my hon. Friend not agree that at a time when major cuts are foreseen in the public sector and when a number of the organisations that he mentions will be cut back, there is room for a focused organisation such as the CRT in Scotland, Wales and England? This is a time when it will be needed more than ever.
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend’s comments. The projects that I have just mentioned, and there are a few more to come, are all waiting with bated breath to see whether they will be able to continue in the future. They are organisations that can only live and breathe in the communities if they receive funding from bodies such as the CRT. Everyone in those organisations is extremely concerned about their future. That is why it is imperative that we have this debate and hopefully get a commitment from the Minister.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Bone, and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for securing this debate. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) agree that one of the reasons why the problems have lasted so long in the mining industry is that the previous Tory Government had a view that it was not their role to intervene in the social impacts of the closure programme? If they had, our regions would be much further down the line than they are now. Our worry now is that we have been here before, and if the support is cut, we will go backwards.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. That is why we must, at all costs, ensure that there is a commitment to the CRT, and that help gets into the mining communities. We have not, in any way, shape or form, overcome the problems from 25 years ago. Some of the communities are still absolutely devastated by the impact of the closure of the coal industry. The health and crime rates are compounded by the fact that the industry was closed. Overnight, some communities were shut off from the rest of the world.
At the Hirst welfare centre, we have a healthy living centre, a gym, an IT suite, a community café, a toy library, a crèche facility, youth activities, photography, salsa dancing and training activities. We also have something that is pretty unique in the mining communities—a class for belly dancing. There are not many miners or miners’ wives who have ever been interested in belly dancing and I would love to see some of my Labour colleagues taking up such a class. I have not done it myself yet, but people tell me that it is very good.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will not give way if hon. Members are going to ask me about belly dancing.
That is an example of something that is nice to have but that is not an essential item. We should have been concentrating on employment—it has got to be about jobs.
That is not correct. I am trying to outline what the CRT has provided in terms of grant assistance for people within the community. There are other organisations for the creation of jobs, and finances should be readily available for those organisations. For example, there is One NorthEast, but its total closure has just been announced. Those are the organisations that should be looking to present job opportunities in these communities. What I am outlining this morning is what the CRT has done in the communities to help people to regain their self-esteem, as was the case when people in those communities, including their fathers and mothers, all had employment, but now these communities have very little employment. So there is a huge difference. I really do not see the CRT’s role as creating employment in the communities; its role is quite distinct from that. It has a huge role to play, without having to create jobs.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that is precisely the point of the CRT; that it understands that when a community has been so hugely devastated—not only economically and physically, but socially—the types of activities that he is outlining are precisely the route into employment, because they give people the social integration, the confidence and the skills that they need to seek employment and to make a success of themselves, particularly those people who go on to become entrepreneurs and set up their own businesses?
Yes, of course; that is exactly right. It is about encouraging people to participate in life once again; they are reborn. They actually understand what it is like to mix with other people once again and to be part of a community again. I think that that is the essential role of the CRT, whether it be in rowing, in swimming or in belly dancing. I know that I joked about belly dancing, but it is a fact that it is important. The CRT has a whole mix of roles within the community. That is what the CRT is desperately needed for.
The north-east was once a major industrial region and it has a former mining population of more than 650,000; that is more than a quarter of the region’s entire population. Those figures show the hugely important contribution made by mining communities in the north-east, and the size and the importance of the task that was undertaken when the previous Labour Government quite rightly embarked on their coalfield regeneration programme.
However, despite the excellent work of the CRT, there is still a lot more to do. In the deprivation profiles, the former Northumberland and Durham coalfields are listed as having significant deprivation across most domains. That is the issue: the deprivation situation in the former coalfield areas.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. Does he not feel simply annoyed when the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), who was probably waving his Order Paper last week, talks about job creation, when last week we were told that the Business Link in Seaham in county Durham is sacking 115 people? Those people are part of an organisation of 400 people who, within the last three years, have created 15,000 jobs. That is the truth of what we are seeing. The hon. Gentleman should not denigrate what is happening with the CRT; the CRT is trying to fill a gap while other organisations are being attacked by the present Government in the same way that the collieries were attacked 25 and 30 years ago.
Yes. Just on that point, I must say that one of the worst things that I have ever experienced in my life as a trade union representative and a representative of the Labour and trade union movement was the announcement last week that up to 490,000 jobs were to go in huge cuts across the whole of the country, and at the same time we had people in the House of Commons—people who were elected to be responsible people—waving their Order Papers jubilantly, as if something tremendous had happened. It was an absolute disgrace and I would like that placed on the record.
I will wind up my speech by saying that the employment situation in coalfield areas such as mine looks likely to deteriorate even further as the coalition threatens to axe the jobs that I have just mentioned. Since the demise of the coal industry in the north-east, particularly in my constituency of Wansbeck, we have become dependent on the public sector for employment. It is clear that central Government need to maintain and build upon the support that has already been provided for coalfield areas such as Wansbeck. I recognise that the CRT has a huge knowledge of the coalfields and of our communities. Consequently, it should have an important role to play in the ongoing regeneration of our communities.
In conclusion, I must just cite one or two statistics: 67% of women employed in my constituency are employed in the public sector; 53% of the people in Morpeth, a large town in my constituency, are employed in the public sector; and in total 47% of all the people employed in my constituency are employed in the public sector. We are an area of high unemployment; we are a low-wage economy; we have high teenage pregnancy levels, and we have high crime levels. We have everything associated with poverty, because of the closure of the coal mining industry. And I tell you now, Mr Bone, that I am petrified for the future of my community. However, the CRT can play a major role in trying to assist the people whom I represent in my community, and it is essential that the Government continue to fund the CRT, so that it can help people such as my constituents in Wansbeck.
Several hon. Members
Order. At least five Members are trying to catch my eye and we will begin the winding-up speeches at 12.10 pm. It is helpful to the Chair if Members submit their names to speak in advance, and they are more likely to be called early in a debate if they do so.
I want to say a few words about the comprehensive spending review and its likely impact on the south Wales coalfield. To begin with, however, I want to refer to some of the key features of the central south Wales coalfield.
First, like many other coalfield areas in the UK, there is a relatively large public sector in my area. Local authorities, the health service and the Welsh Assembly Government are all big and major employers in my area. Secondly, following the decline of the coal industry, we have seen a diversification of the economy. Nevertheless, there are still very low wages and a low skills base in my area, and that is common throughout the region.
Thirdly, we have a relatively small private sector, and what private sector there is remains closely linked to the public sector and dependent for many contracts on that sector—we cannot differentiate between the private and public sector in any meaningful way in south Wales.
Fourthly, again like many other coalfield areas in Britain, there is a legacy of ill health in my constituency. If we look at the heads of the south Wales valleys in particular, we see a very high concentration of incapacity benefit claimants. That is a clear legacy of heavy industry. Since the demise of the coal industry, much of that welfare dependency has become intergenerational and there is a whole range of complex social issues to be considered.
Within that context, my Caerphilly constituency is right at the heart of the south Wales coalfield. Just to the north of Cardiff, it is a constituency where the coal industry was at one time by far the most dominant employer. Relatively recently, however, it has been hit by the closure of two of the largest collieries, Bedwas and Penallta, in the wake of the 1984-85 miners strike. Today the local authority is by far the biggest employer in the Caerphilly borough. Caerphilly borough council employs no fewer than 8,000 people; as I say, it is by far the biggest employer in my constituency.
As well as people being employed in the local public sector, people are of course prepared to travel. Travel-to-work patterns in the area give the lie to the recent comment by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that people are not prepared to travel. The facts clearly belie that statement. I am aware of constituents of mine who travel to Newport to work in the public sector: in the passport office—sadly, it is due to close—the patent office and elsewhere. They travel to Cardiff to work in the Welsh Assembly Government offices, the tax office, the offices of the Department for Work and Pensions and Companies House. Many people from Caerphilly travel over the mountain and down into Cardiff.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the recent statement by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions reveals on his part—and, I fear, on that of many Conservative Members—a deep misunderstanding of the endemic nature of unemployment and incapacity in areas such as my hon. Friend’s constituency and mine? It is fundamentally insulting to the people of those communities and implies that they are workshy, when the reality, as he describes, has to do with the communities’ industrial heritage.
My hon. Friend is spot on. The recent comments by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions show a lack of understanding of contemporary south Wales, the history of its coalfield and the true determination of its people. Clearly, where there are jobs, people are prepared to travel to them. That is a fact.
In communities in the south Wales coalfield, including in my constituency, the CSR will have a truly devastating impact on the public sector. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates, for example, that Wales as a whole will lose 52,000 jobs in the private and public sectors as a direct result. Services will be hit, the most vulnerable will suffer and benefit recipients will lose out hugely. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that the CSR will hit the less well-off the hardest, which I am sure is correct, and that the places where the pain is greatest will be geographically concentrated. I suggest that places such as south Wales will be far harder hit than, for instance, the south-east of England.
My hon. Friend can hear that I am croaking at the moment. Does he agree that the figures for disability in the whole UK show that some of the highest percentages of disabled benefit recipients are in the south Wales valleys, which many of us here represent? Does he also agree that the new tests imposed by the Government in their mad rush to cut benefits will be distressing for people who used to work in heavy industry, such as coal miners, if they are expected once again to undergo medical tests that are already proven not to work well? We have asked the Government to delay those tests until they have a better system in place. Does he agree with that?
Yes, certainly. I am sure that all of us from coalfield areas are aware of increasing numbers of constituents coming to our surgeries and offices to express concern about how things will pan out over the next few years. My right hon. Friend has articulately put her finger on a concern felt by many people in places such as south Wales.
The crucial point I want to address is this. The Government, particularly the Chancellor, have belatedly accepted that job losses in the public sector will be significant, but they also say they believe that the private sector will grow quickly and soak up those who lose their jobs in the public sector. I suggest that that is not the case. In areas such as south Wales, there are many key factors, which I identified earlier, that will work against private sector growth. For example, the public and private sectors are interdependent, as the Federation of Small Businesses recognises.
A number of announcements were made just before the comprehensive spending review. For example, it was announced that the Severn barrage will not be constructed. If it had been, it would have been a huge boost for the private sector economy in south Wales. The defence training college has been shelved, and effectively ended. That would have been not a public sector but a private finance initiative, and would have created an estimated 5,000 new jobs in south Wales, but it has been scrapped. We also hear—again—that it is unlikely that the south Wales railway line will be electrified, which would have proved a huge stimulus to the south Wales economy and a job-creating initiative.
We do not have a strong entrepreneurial culture in south Wales. That is not to suggest that people themselves are not entrepreneurial, but historically, creativity has not been directed into the private sector. That is beginning to change, but it is a long-term process that will only come to fruition many years hence.
It is also worth pointing out that as a result of the policies pursued by the last Labour Government, private companies have not shed as many people as was widely anticipated. Many workers now work part-time or are still on the books but not taking up their full cash entitlements. It is therefore more likely that those people will be reactivated, rather than that large numbers will come off the dole queue and go directly into the private sector. Due to those factors, it is pretty clear that areas such as south Wales will not experience a great boost for the private sector; quite the opposite. It is likely that we will lose jobs in the private as well as the public sector.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way once more. He might be interested to know that yesterday, on behalf of the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain), I met a group of 20 or so US companies, many of which have invested in this country, some of them in south Wales. I explored with them their belief in their ability to hire new people and invest in the current climate. The clear message that I heard from them was that, in their view, there is no capacity right now to take on the people who will be laid off in the public sector. They are worried that the impact of the CSR will strip demand from the economy, and they are not in a position to hire the people who will be thrown on the scrap heap.
That is a useful intervention and it underlines my point. It is a myth that the private sector in areas such as south Wales will undergo a great burgeoning; that simply will not happen. It is depressing to recognise, but that is the reality. We must be honest with ourselves and our constituents so they realise that if this Government stay in power and do not change their policies, at least for the next few years, the immediate future will be bleak indeed. To conclude, I hope that the Government will listen and accept objective reality, because many people are concerned that an ideological fixation drives this Government’s policies, irrespective of public opinion.
The insult by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was directed specifically at my community. It was born of ignorance. Does my hon. Friend agree that we are seeing a repeat of the lack of a strategy for transition, as a number of Members have discussed, in an attempt to deliver on the rhetoric surrounding the big society? The role of coalfields regeneration is not and never has been to act as a substitute for the state; it is to supplement and support the state’s activities, thereby building the good society, consistent with Labour’s ethical socialism, and not some big society, which is, frankly, a meaningless slogan without a transition plan.
I agree completely. We have heard a lot about the so-called big society, but I am reminded of what former Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher said: there is no society, only individuals. That is what we are seeing in practice. There is an emphasis on individualism without the recognition that we need a strong, coherent society with a strong public sector and third sector—as well as a strong private sector—for individuals truly to fulfil their potential. For us to continue the transition that has started to take shape over the past few years, there needs to be a continuation of the policies introduced under the previous Labour Government, rather than a dramatic hiatus like the one currently taking place. I therefore urge the Government to think again about the policies they are pursuing and to recognise the impact they will have on individuals and communities in our poor, hard-pressed coalfield communities. If they do that, I hope to goodness they will realise that they need to readopt the sort of policies we have seen during the past 13 years.
In view of the time and the fact that other hon. Members want to speak, I shall keep my remarks brief. I should refer to the fact I am a trustee of the Barony ‘A’ Frame Trust in Ayrshire, which received funding from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. I will make some brief remarks about the importance of the CRT in Scotland. We have already heard some good examples of work that has been undertaken in other areas and I do not intend to go through the whole list of valuable projects across Scotland, but I shall just mention briefly a few of note.
The Barony ‘A’ Frame Trust is symbolic in my area. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) talked about some of the things that are not useful because they do not create jobs, but it is important to remember that we sometimes have had to re-create communities that were absolutely devastated by what happened when the pits shut. In areas such as mine in Ayrshire, everyone has that mining heritage and it is important that we never ever forget the contribution that the miners and their families made in a range of ways to communities across Scotland.
Does my hon. Friend accept that when we talk about travel to work—a point was made about that in relation to how people can get employment—it is much easier for people in Midlothian, where 56% of the population work in Edinburgh, than for people in places such as Ayrshire, where there are no major cities or towns around?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The opportunities for people in the more rural coalfield areas in Scotland are difficult, which is why it is important to have schemes such as the coalfield community transport scheme in my area, which involves a fleet of yellow buses. That scheme not only enables people to get to leisure activities but, importantly, allows them to participate in things such as the east Ayrshire community planning partnership or some of the health initiatives taking place in the area. That transport scheme enables local people to go along to such initiatives and be represented, which is absolutely vital.
It is also important to stress that the CRT in Scotland tried to align its priorities with those of the Government. I do not happen to agree with all the priorities of the Scottish National party Government in Scotland—no surprises there—but some of the initiatives that are being taken forward are very important and the CRT has sought to deal with that. It has also sought to engage with the private sector, which has been important—for example, through the midnight leagues, where there have been partnerships with HBOS, Thompsons solicitors and BSkyB. A whole range of things have been taken forward to try to ensure that capacity is built in the local community.
We have heard much today about how the CRT can enable local communities to be involved, but it can also offer match funding, which is important to enable organisations to draw down money from other areas. The CRT has also played a vital role in keeping the needs of coalfield communities alive and on the agenda, as has the Industrial Communities Alliance. That organisation has recently been re-launched in a Scottish context.
We have heard hon. Members say that it is not enough simply to invest money in a patchwork manner; we have to change the policy approach. We have consistently heard about how outcomes for young people in education and health are not as good. That means that central Government have to change how they do things. Under the previous Government, we saw much of that actually happening. In conclusion, I leave the Minister with this question. What can he do to ensure that in every Department across government, the impact of policies is assessed against how we can improve the life outcomes and chances for people in the coalfield community areas? I hope that he will make some reference to that in his winding-up speech.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing the debate, which is dear to my heart. I thought it might be useful to mention some of my personal experience of receiving CRT grants in a previous job at a citizens advice bureau, where we received one of the first grants in the early 1990s. We received £50,000 to provide money advice to people in the community of St Helens and Wigan near my constituency of Makerfield. That money enabled us to demonstrate that the need existed, which we had not been able to do before. It also enabled us eventually to create nine jobs for people as money advisers and secure £500,000 of funding for that valuable work.
In 2008, together with four other citizens advice bureaux and credit unions in Wigan and Makerfield, we received a grant of £250,000. With that money, we dealt with £6 million of debt; but, more importantly, we set up a project with the credit unions to help people who have got jobs to budget. Within the first six months of someone starting a job, budgeting is vital. Studies have shown that people who are assisted with budgeting stay in work and keep their jobs.
In fact, money problems are probably the most prevalent reason for people leaving a job in the first six months because, once someone gets a job, their creditors come back to haunt them. The credit unions provided loans, budgeting advice and set people up for the future. A grant of £250,000 helped at least 350 people in my community—not to mention people in Cumbria and St Helens. I stress to the Minister that it is very important to continue providing such small grants as they sustain the voluntary sector, promote partnerships and help people in the community through the hard times that I am sure are ahead.
I did not intend to speak in the debate but, to be honest, it has gripped me. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing the debate because the subject is vital to communities, particularly those in the north of England and in Wales and Scotland.
I would like to criticise something that the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) said about environmental improvements and not creating jobs. In communities that have the scars of the coalfields within them, environmental improvements are important because they have a positive impact on the mental health and well-being of a community. It is vital that those environmental improvements continue.
Over the years, my constituency of Gateshead—a new constituency, but an old name—has had many collieries within it, but none have closed in the past 30 years or so. The history of mining in Gateshead goes back much before that. Indeed, the founder of the mining union in Durham, Thomas Hepburn, is buried just outside the fringe of my constituency, but still within the borough of Gateshead, at Heworth colliery. He was a real hero in the locality and I am very proud still to be chair of governors at the Thomas Hepburn community school in Gateshead, which is close to the site of the old Heworth colliery and not far away from the old Wardley colliery.
In fact, the angel of the north in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) is built on an old pit head. We are very much a mining area. Some 300 different mine workings cover the borough of Gateshead. I was joking before with my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) that, over the years, his colleagues and union friends have done something deliberate against my community: they have continued to undermine it over the centuries. That is literally true.
I am very pleased to speak on behalf of the CRT and the work that it does. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) about the need for infrastructure development and continuing investment in our economy. I also agree that it is sad that the Government have seen fit to close down the regional development agency, One North East.
A sad fact of life is that it takes many decades for former mining areas to recover from the necessary scars upon which the wealth and sustainability of our nation have been built. Without the continuing support that organisations such as CRT bring to those communities, we are effectively saying to mining communities up and down the country, “Thank you for your endeavour, thank you for powering the industrial revolution, and thank you for keeping the lights on and industry going during two world wars. Now will the last one to leave please turn the lights out.”
[Jim Dobbin in the Chair]
I will speak briefly to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for securing the debate and to Mick Clapham, who was a colleague in this place for many years. If there was ever anyone who fought for the mining community, it was him. In every aspect of their lives, Mick Clapham came through. If anyone deserved to be a Minister, it was him, so it was a disgrace that the last Labour Government did not make him a Minister. His work has been excellent. The focus of his review is on England, of course, but I hope that the Government will ask him, either through the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, to continue his work and produce similar reviews for those regions. That would be very useful, as many of the problems in my region are precisely the same, although there are some differences.
I have represented a coal mining community for the past 26 years. Having been elected in the middle of a miners’ strike, I have seen over the years how the community goes through suffering and regeneration, mainly due to their force of character. My community kept its pit for 10 years after Mrs Thatcher wanted to close it down, because we fought for it. It was difficult at times, but the Tower colliery in my constituency, which she and the last Conservative Government said was uneconomic, proved that they were wrong. Not only was it economic, but it sold coal to countries that the previous coal board failed to sell to. That is an example of the resilience of a mining community. They were ready to stand up and fight for the future of a pit that the Conservative Government wanted to close.
The Minister, who has been in the House for some time, knows the arguments about the many problems that remain in those constituencies, which the review has highlighted. Over the past 10 years, under the Labour Government, unemployment in Cynon Valley has been cut by 50%, which is a considerable achievement. I do not want those people to be thrown on the scrap heap yet again. I appeal to him to ensure that the CRT continues, that it is given the Government’s full backing and that Mick Clapham is thanked again for his excellent work over the years. I hope that he will be able to carry out a similar review in Wales and Scotland.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing the debate. I want to make a few brief comments about my constituency, which is the working home of Michael Clapham. I first worked with him back in 1978, when we worked together for the Yorkshire miners union. Many of the problems that colleagues have outlined today also affect Barnsley, which lost 19,000 jobs when the coalfields were closed in the 1990s. We should remember that there was an instant loss of jobs in those communities over a very short period when the coalfields closed.
The CRT was never designed to replace jobs on anything near the scale of those losses, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) pointed out. It gave small-scale grants to kick-start credit unions and fund citizens advice bureaux. It was never designed to replace jobs, especially on the scale at which we lost them in the 1990s. With those job losses came other losses, such as the management courses run through the National Coal Board and British Coal, which enabled young people to graduate through colleges and improve their employment prospects. In addition to education, there was the social side, as the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation ran sports and social welfare programmes. That was all lost over a short space of time. It was practically impossible to replace those jobs. No Government since have managed to replace the jobs that were lost in those communities on such a scale.
I have been present when some of those awards have been made in my constituency, such as the Dorothy Hyman stadium, which provided an Olympic-standard running track for local athletes, some of whom have gone on to compete in the Olympic games. There is also riding for the disabled, which would otherwise not be funded because the money is not available in the community. There is the Disabled Information Advice Line, which enables one or two key workers to provide a service to the local community.
Sadly, we are again facing such job losses as a result of the comprehensive spending review. We must remember that in Wales, the north-east, south Yorkshire and perhaps in Nottinghamshire, coal was the dominant industry, to the exclusion of other industries. Private industry did not want to compete for the labour force that was already employed in mining, where there were lots of jobs, career structures and so on. The private sector, as a result, did not come into the region, other than in Coventry, where there was the motor vehicle industry alongside the coal industry. We did not have that luxury in south Yorkshire, in Durham or, to some extent, in Nottinghamshire. When we lost the coal mining industry, there was nothing to fall back on, and nothing else has come into the area to replace those jobs.
That explains our reliance on the public sector. The CSR announced 490,000 job losses in the public sector, and obviously the impact will be felt far more in coalfield communities than in other areas. We cannot escape that. That makes the CSR all the worse for our area. It is essential that the CRT programme, small though it is, be retained and, if possible, expanded. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) suggested, further research should be done on the benefits that the trust has brought, because in my area they are worth while and must be retained.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dobbin. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing the debate, which has been excellent—I counted 16 Members who have spoken. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Mr Illsley) in congratulating Michael Clapham on the work he has done.
In the last Parliament, my constituency contained many former coalfield wards. The last remaining winding gear in Lancashire is in Astley, and it is a strong and visible reminder of our area’s mining heritage. Following boundary changes, I no longer represent the former coalfield areas in Wigan borough, but I still have the ward of Little Hulton, which is a former coalfield ward and still has open-cast coal mining at the adjacent Cutacre site.
The Labour Government set up the CRT in 1999. The coalfields task force had noted that coalfield areas had
“a unique combination of concentrated joblessness, physical isolation, poor infrastructure and severe health problems.”
I saw those same problems on the Higher Folds estates in my former constituency. Higher Folds is in some ways typical of those areas. It is an isolated estate accessible via a single road, and it is remote from commercial centres such as Leigh and Tyldesley. Part of the estate was ranked within the 5% most disadvantaged communities in the country. For many years, its 3,000 residents suffered from high levels of worklessness, low educational achievement and low incomes. The closure of the pits had left that community with few jobs and poor infrastructure. In fact, the CRT singled out Higher Folds as an area where extra funding and support was needed.
The trust found many barriers to local people gaining employment, ranging from a lack of affordable child care to low confidence and skill levels in jobseekers, which are important factors. Its work included setting up a youth project on the estate and a plan to reduce worklessness from more than 30% to less than 20%. The trust plans to improve the community centre and put it at the heart of the community, and to develop new activities, including more child care.
The trust praised the sense of pride and community spirit that it found on Higher Folds, but community spirit is not enough. Without funding and support to get projects off the ground, the community could have achieved little change. One group that developed because of early support and funding was the Agape family support group. It was able to recruit more volunteers due to a grant from the trust, and to use the refurbished community centre. In 2006, one of the group’s co-ordinators stated:
“The group can’t exist without funding as we need to subsidise our costs for the services we provide. The CRT grant has provided funding to cover our running costs…and now that the new centre is open we are hoping to build up a busy programme and a growing band of volunteers to help out.”
That group now runs a pre-school group for the estate, and the community centre has a Sure Start children’s centre, so we have tackled the child care problem which was one of the barriers to local people getting work.
Community support and activism are vital for regeneration, but does the Minister recognise that they are no substitute for adequate levels of funding and support from the Government via organisations such as the CRT? Does he agree that, without adequate funding, we will not continue to see the work to remove barriers to employment that is needed on estates such as Higher Folds? The progress that has been made in many coalfield communities could be derailed. Can he tell us how that level of support can be achieved in the context of the reductions to budgets for his Department and local authorities over the coming months and years?
The Clapham review of coalfields regeneration found a marked improvement in the state of the coalfields today compared with a decade ago, but found that there is a long way to go. As we have heard in this debate, pressing challenges remain. Coalfield areas have greater overall and employment deprivation than average. They tend to be more isolated, they have fewer businesses than the national average, they have 25% fewer jobs per resident than non-coalfield areas, and they have more young people not in education, training or employment than the national average. As many Members have said, coalfield areas have a higher than average mortality rate, with the health of the older generations affected by their former work, and that of younger people affected by poor employment opportunities and low expectations.
The Clapham review called for local authorities to be given a more active role in the regeneration of our former coalfield areas and in dealing with those difficult and challenging issues. In welcoming the report, the Minister for Housing and Local Government said that it was crucial that former mining areas continue to get the support they need, and that there is more to be done to help former mining communities where there are ingrained social and economic problems. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan said, he also said that local authorities working with local people know best what the particular needs are in each area.
However, there is a danger that local authorities will be asked to take on responsibility for programmes without adequate funding to make a real difference. Michael Clapham’s report said that the Government should not leave it to local authorities to make up for reductions in Government programmes, and that coalfield regeneration funding should remain additional to local authority allocations. In the context of cuts of 28% in local authority budgets over the next four years, that is all the more important.
Does the Minister agree with the Clapham review’s recommendation that coalfield regeneration funding must remain additional to other funding, and that local authorities should not be left to make up for cuts to the three national coalfield regeneration programmes? Indeed, will he commit now to an oral statement from the Government when they respond to the Clapham review?
Last week, the Government announced the most severe cuts to public spending since before the second world war. The cuts will lead to almost 500,000 job losses in the public sector, and PricewaterhouseCoopers has estimated that a further 500,000 jobs will be lost from the private sector. That loss of employment will not be spread evenly but will hit some communities harder than others. We heard today from many Members how they fear the cuts will hit their constituencies. Indeed, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research said that many city regions outside the south-east of England were likely to suffer disproportionately from public spending cuts because public sector jobs are a greater proportion of the employment in those areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) gave statistics to show that that is the case in his constituency.
Furthermore, the most vulnerable groups in our communities are likely to suffer the most from the cuts. Figures from the TUC show that the poorest one tenth of households are set to lose income and services equivalent to 20.3% of their household income by 2013, compared with just 1.5% for the richest one tenth of households. As I said earlier, it is former coalfield areas such as the Higher Folds estate that contain the poorest one tenth of households.
The Clapham report states that after the collapse of the collieries in the 1980s, despite the best efforts of central Government working with local authorities and communities,
“it became clear that more substantial intervention would be required to turn these communities around.”
As we heard in many speeches today, the coalfields regeneration programmes have had success because of central Government funding and partnership working between local authorities and local community organisations. The Government are putting that at risk because cuts to local authority budgets are likely to impact on both partnership working and the survival of local voluntary and community organisations. Given the scale and speed of the expected new job losses, we will find that many communities left reeling from the cuts will need active intervention to recover.
The Government must develop a plan for recovery in our local communities that involves more than saying to CBI members, “Over to you to create new jobs.” The private sector does not have a track record since the 1980s of moving into isolated coalfield areas and intervening to create businesses and jobs there. It took support, funding and partnerships to make improvements, as it will in the future.
We await the Government’s response to the Clapham review and their explanation of how regeneration programmes in coalfield areas can continue to tackle the many challenges outlined in this debate. We urge the Minister to confirm that those important announcements will be made, as they should be, in an oral statement to the House.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dobbin, as it was to serve under Mr Bone before you. It is good to have a debate that is so well supported by Members who have passion for, and knowledge about, a subject. Twenty Members were present, and the vast majority of them contributed. I know that it is not the form to say such things, but I was delighted that Michael Clapham was able to be present throughout to listen to the debate. I want to say how much the Government appreciate the work that he did on his report, which was commissioned by the former Government and which we have been happy to receive.
I also want to thank the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for giving the House the opportunity to discuss the matter, and for her reasoned presentation of the case. She is a new Member, but I am sure that she will quickly become established as a champion of Wigan, the miners and the mining community that she represents.
The hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) asked me to undertake to give an oral statement. Such matters are not at all at my pay grade, but I shall ensure that the point is passed on. We do not in any way underestimate the importance of ensuring that the House is well informed about progress on the subject.
I want as far as possible not to get drawn into the broader macro-economic issues, because that would not be a good use of our time at this point, but I would not want the case to go by default. As a result of the spending pattern that this Government inherited from the previous Government, we have, during this debate, borrowed another £24 million, and will borrow an extra £150 billion by the end of the year. That is the background to the position in which we find ourselves, and which, of course, underpins the more local concerns of many who have spoken in the debate.
On 19 July, I was happy to respond to an Adjournment debate on precisely this topic. I say to the hon. Member for Wigan, whom I do not think was able to attend July’s debate, that the Government, now as then, remain supportive of the continuing need for land-based remediation, strongly support the important community-led regeneration projects, and remain committed to helping people and communities to work together to tackle local problems and support local enterprise, particularly in the former coalfields.
That previous debate centred around, or at least took very much into consideration, the report of the Public Accounts Committee. I say this very gently, because I am extremely supportive of the points that hon. Members have made, but there have been problems delivering the programme. It is a little bit like the young man at the casino who sends a text message saying, “System working well. Send more money.” We have heard that the output has not been the jobs that are needed, and we need to look hard at that. From that point of view, the review of coalfields regeneration by Michael Clapham is an outstandingly useful contribution to forming our view about what should happen next.
I have met Michael Clapham and other members of the all-party coalfield communities group since July’s debate. We agreed to meet again in January next year, because then, knowing the outcome of the comprehensive spending review, we would be in a position to consider Michael Clapham’s report and the allocation of departmental funding. I hope that we can proceed on that timetable.
I do not want to use up my time by rehearsing the report’s contents, but it clearly identifies problems on the ground and issues to do with delivery and contains some recommendations for the way ahead. Hon. Members have mentioned different parts of the report.
A great deal has been said in this debate, including by me, about the difficulties with funding from local authorities, and about the possible loss of voluntary organisations. We heard about the impact in Makerfield of the work of the citizens advice bureaux. Given the timetable that the Minister mentioned, will he say whether a watching brief can be kept to ensure that we do not, in the period till January, lose any of the vital voluntary and community organisations that underpin and hold together the work in coalfield communities?
I would not want the January meeting to be regarded as the earliest time at which it is possible for us to make an announcement. I take account of what the hon. Lady says. I would share her concerns if delay in making an announcement led to problems that could otherwise be avoided. I hope that I may, in my last 30 seconds, add something that will help her in at least one respect.
The Government welcome the Clapham report and agree that, often, local authorities working with local people know best what the particular needs are in their area. This Government’s strong, consistent message is that it is the people in a locality or neighbourhood who most often appreciate what the problems are and what the potential solutions might be, rather than people located more remotely, particularly in Whitehall.
The Government are keen to drive forward coalfields regeneration. We believe that a bottom-up, community-focused approach should be central to the next phase of coalfields regeneration. We are carefully considering the recommendations and hope to respond formally in November. As agreed, the full published report is already on the Department for Communities and Local Government website. For some reason, there was serious concern in July that we would keep it secret. We have no intention of doing that.
Hon. Members know that the spending review has been challenging. Over the next four years, DCLG’s overall resource will reduce by 33%, with capital spending reduced by 74%. Alongside this, we are devolving more than £7.6 billion directly to local government to set its own priorities. We are giving more flexibility to local government. We are delivering 150,000 new affordable homes and protecting the Supporting People programme, importing an extra £1 billion into it from the NHS. We are investing £1.7 billion in regeneration and local economic development over the next four years.
One or two hon. Members mentioned young people’s capacity and ambition, and opportunities for them. The introduction of the pupil premium will be a significant step forward that will help young people in communities such as the ones that we are talking about.
My concern, which I raised earlier, is that the coalfields programme is about more than the Coalfields Regeneration Trust; it is about the national coalfield programme per se, including the part delivered by the Homes and Communities Agency. Given what the Minister has just said about the pupil premium being used to help people in deprived areas to get more, is he considering cross-cutting these issues so that coalfield communities, which suffer worse and have most deprivation, can be prioritised in respect of funding from the education and DCLG budgets, and all the budgets that will be working towards creating jobs? If jobs are not created in coalfield communities, we will have no hope whatsoever for the future.
I shall correct one detail: the pupil premium is intended to support disadvantaged children, whatever community they live in, rather than disadvantaged communities. In her main point, the hon. Lady describes exactly what the Government are doing. We are working hard to have community-based budgeting that draws together funding from all the different public sources and allows priorities to be set locally to deliver what is needed, without the necessity for everybody to operate in silos. I hope that the hon. Lady will see the benefits of that. We have established 16 pilot areas for this year and will be rolling that process forward rapidly over the next couple of years.
We have increased the regional growth fund from the original £1 billion that was announced to £1.4 billion, and have extended the life of the fund from two years to three years. I hope that that gives some comfort to those who are concerned about the issue.
On the regional development agencies, two bids have been presented to the Government for local enterprise partnerships for the north-east. Announcements will be made in due course. There could have been only one local enterprise partnership covering the whole north-east, had those involved wished to do that. On the future of coalfields regeneration, I provided assurances during the debate in July that we had no plans to dismantle the programme. The Minister for Housing and Local Government has already said, in response to the report on the review of coalfields regeneration, that it is crucial that former mining areas continue to get the support that they need.
Will the Minister say whether that support includes additional funding? That goes back to the question that I asked about whether areas will retain funding.
We intend to provide the support needed to enable the contractually committed, physical regeneration projects in the Homes and Communities Agency national coalfields programme to come to fruition. However, the settlement has been challenging. Difficult choices still need to be made about the way ahead. We will consider the case for the continuation of dedicated funding for coalfield areas in light of the Clapham report, and we intend to make an announcement on that in the next month.
Will the Minister investigate ways to ask Mick Clapham to do a similar review in Wales and Scotland? That would be valuable.
I will pass the right hon. Lady’s request on to the relevant person. However, DCLG deals only with England, so it is not within my competence to decide that.
I thank all hon. Members for the enthusiasm and passion with which they have brought this cause to my attention and the Government. I hope that we will be able to give them some satisfaction in the near future.