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Neighbourhood Renewal
15 January 2001
Volume 620

4.27 p.m.

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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my colleague, Hilary Armstrong. The Statement reads as follows:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal action plan—New Commitment to Neighbourhood Renewal—that we are publishing today.

"When we published the Urban and Rural White Papers (in November) we set out our vision to ensure a sustainable quality of life. We made it clear that an important part of the framework was to turn around our most deprived areas and that the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal would spell out our ideas.

"This strategy is a long-term response to the appalling conditions created over decades in communities up and down the country. When this Government came to office, the most deprived areas of England had, when compared with the rest, nearly two-thirds more unemployment; a mortality ratio 30 per cent higher; and two to three times the levels of poor housing, vandalism and dereliction.

"Over the 1980s and into the 1990s the gap between poor neighbourhoods and the rest of the country grew steadily. Places that started with the highest unemployment often also saw the greatest rise in unemployment. Health inequalities widened. The proportion of people living in low-income households more than doubled.

"This was partly the result of global social and economic changes. But it was also a legacy of a lack of political attention and policies that did not work. Past government action was unfocused and uncoordinated. Departments worked at cross-purposes on problems that needed a joined-up response. Regeneration initiatives were short-term and limited to a few areas. Mainstream services, like schools and hospitals, were failing in far too many deprived neighbourhoods. Crucially, there was a failure to harness the knowledge and energy of local people and to empower them to work out their own solutions.

"The result was both socially and economically damaging. Communities were trapped in unemployment and deprived of the good schools and services that would help them get back on their feet. The economy was deprived of workers, taxpayers, customers and entrepreneurs and the bills of social failure mounted up.

"The Government have made tackling this long-term decline a priority from the outset, through new policies such as Sure Start, raising school standards, the New Deal, crime reduction, and the New Deal for Communities. Those policies are already showing results. Britain is a fairer and more prosperous country. Economic prosperity and educational opportunity have increased in all areas. Nineteen of the local authorities with the highest unemployment have seen their unemployment fall faster than the national average, and 44 of the most deprived local authorities are among those with the fastest improving key stage 2 numeracy results.

"But deep-rooted problems require a long-term and integrated approach that can be sure of avoiding the mistakes of past decades. In 1998 the Social Exclusion Unit was asked to develop a national strategy for neighbourhood renewal. Over 400 people from inside and outside government have been involved with the SEU in developing the strategy through 18 policy action teams. In addition, thousands of other people up and down the country—many of whom live and work in deprived neighbourhoods—responded to the consultation on the framework for the strategy that was published last April.

"In parallel, in the spending review last year we identified new resources to be invested in improvement. This has produced a framework for action that has the support of the people who need to make it work on the ground. It sets out an ambitious vision that, within 10 to 20 years, no one should be seriously disadvantaged by where they live; that the gap between the poorest neighbourhoods and the rest will be narrowed. This is an ambitious goal, but in the Government's view a vitally necessary one. It will take time to achieve, but we have clear steps in place to chart our path towards it.

"The action plan sets out a three-year commitment to raise the standard and performance of public sector services in the most deprived areas with clear outcomes of reducing crime; reducing unemployment; improving education and skills; improving health; and improving housing and the physical environment.

"There are three key elements to the strategy: first, new policies, funding and targets to tackle the causes of neighbourhood decline, such as unemployment, crime and poor services. Mainstream services—health, law and order, housing and education—will be judged for the first time ever on their achievements in improving things where they are worst, rather than just on national averages. For example, the Department for Education and Employment will be working towards ensuring that by 2004 no local education authority has less than 38 per cent of its pupils getting five good grade GCSEs, and by 2005 no area should have a burglary rate three times the national average.

"In the spending review 2000, departments were given substantial new resources, like the £1.6 billion increase in spending on the police by 2000–4 and therise in education and health spending, and this year they will be reviewing their resource allocation to ensure they will meet these targets.

"Secondly, we will promote integrated action at local level to get services to work better and deliver for their communities. The local implementation of this strategy will be the responsibility of a single body, the local strategic partnership. These partnerships will bring together public, private and voluntary service providers with the community and business sectors. They will be responsible for drawing up local strategies that address the specific problems and aspirations of all their deprived neighbourhoods, and give communities a single door to knock on rather than being endlessly passed from pillar to post.

"We have already announced that the neighbourhood renewal fund will provide £800 million over the next three years to help local strategic partnerships in the 88 most deprived areas kick-start the process. In addition, I am announcing today that a community empowerment fund of over £35 million will support communities to develop their ideas for change and participate as equal partners in the local strategic partnerships. This will amount to an average of £400,000 over the next three years per area and will allow all residents the chance to have their say.

"There will be other models for community involvement too. A £50 million community chest fund will provide small grants to local communities in these areas to help run their own projects and we will put £45 million into at least 30 neighbourhood management pathfinder projects over the next three years. These projects will explore the benefits of putting one person, or a team of people, in charge of looking after a neighbourhood. They will provide a local presence to whom residents can go if they have concerns about the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood manager will be someone who has the clout to get things done in the area.

"These measures are essential. Communities are at the heart of neighbourhood renewal. Some past government efforts to address neighbourhood deprivation failed because they did not engage with communities in those areas effectively. We must learn from this. People living in deprived neighbourhoods know their area better than anyone else; they must be at the heart of neighbourhood renewal.

"The third key strand of the strategy is better national and regional support to local activity. Central Government must be more joined up and work better with their local partners. The strategy will ensure this happens. We must bring to an end the problems faced by deprived neighbourhoods who are shunted from one service provider to the next, from one department to the next, where no one takes responsibility.

"In September, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced that a new neighbourhood renewal unit in the DETR would be established by April. The unit, headed by Joe Montgomery, will have a cross-cutting, outward focus. It will be staffed by civil servants from across Whitehall and secondees with a broad range of experience in working with local communities. It will be responsible for overseeing and co-ordinating the implementation of the strategy. It will make sure that the Government as a whole deliver on their commitments to neighbourhood renewal, supported by neighbourhood renewal teams in government offices and annual statistics about how neighbourhoods are progressing.

"As our vision turns into reality in more and more neighbourhoods, people on the ground will see huge differences. For the first time someone locally will be prepared and empowered to take responsibility for the many joined-up problems that the poorest neighbourhoods face. There will be a genuine opportunity for residents to get involved and communities will have resources to support them in this. Residents will see further improvements in local and regional economies, new ideas like neighbourhood wardens and IT centres coming on-stream, and improvements in the quality of core public services such as schools, health and policing. Areas that suffer from the worst performance at the moment will see standards brought up to minimum floors.

"It is easy to be sceptical about change, but the improved policies of the last three years, and the concrete examples of what can be achieved by community groups and social entrepreneurs, are a measure of what can be achieved. They give us confidence that we can aim for a position where more neighbourhoods are advancing on all fronts.

"This new commitment to neighbourhood renewal builds on our existing policies; to end boom and bust and put the economy on a stable footing; to invest in public services; to invest in people and their futures, and to take active measures to ensure that everyone benefits from the prosperity and opportunity we have created".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.37 p.m.

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My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend in another place. I am bound to say that I find these occasions, when a new and wonderful initiative such as this is being announced, rather depressing. There is a simple, old-fashioned reason for that, with which I suspect the Minister's noble friend sitting at his side, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, is familiar. The primary agency which should undertake the functions of urban regeneration and renewal is the local authority. It is a depressing fact that over a period of time governments have found it necessary to use other agencies in this way to try to achieve their specific ends, because, I am bound to say, local authorities have not been particularly good and effective in fulfilling functions which should properly be their responsibility. The fact that the majority of the local authorities in these areas happen to be under Labour control is, perhaps, coincidental, but it is a fact.

The first point that requires to be made on this paper is very serious. Inevitably, the paper seems to be almost exclusively biased towards the inner-city areas. The recent third Wealth of the Nation report is beginning to reveal frightening statistics about rural communities, particularly those which are agriculturally based in the more western and northern parts of the country. Deprivation in those areas is now beginning to equal some of the worst in inner-city areas.

My first question to the Minister is whether there is sufficient flexibility within the programmes to permit help to go to those areas. The failures in those areas are of the same nature and come from the same services as those which affect inner-city areas.

We must be careful about how we use statistics. It is certain that measures of expenditure are not measures of output and still less of future expenditure. We must recognise that much of the document contains promises of future expenditure rather than matters of fact. It is interesting to note en passant that the Ocean Estate, where this morning the Prime Minister made a precursory comment to today's Statement, was a recipient of funding under the housing action trusts of the previous government. I say that in order to illustrate that deprivation has been with us in inner cities for a long time and that for a long time governments have been concerned about it. There is nothing new in this programme, apart from a few intervening agencies which may or may not do a good job.

A government Statement which is a genuine attempt—and I give the Statement credit for being that—to assist such areas is bound to be welcome. The fact that we are running towards an election is neither here nor there. If elections do no other good, they occasionally focus attention on matters which require action. We should be grateful for that.

The proposal may result in benefit to the areas with which the paper dealing with urban renewal is concerned. I note at the back a list of 105 separate commitments. Many are the result of existing programmes and some are new. I wish them success; one can do no other than to wish for success in benefiting the areas with which the proposal is concerned. But we should not pretend that it is the solution to the problem or that it is particularly new: it is not. For a long time people have been trying to find the answers to the problems and I have no doubt that they will be trying for a good deal longer.

4.42 p.m.

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My Lords, we on these Benches share the Government's concerns to make inroads into poverty and poverty of aspiration in many of our urban areas. We also share their view that such changes must come from the bottom up; that members of the community know best what is happening in it and how best to deal with the problems. However, the various documents and statements do not make it clear how these aspirations will be realised. Will the Minister make it clear precisely what the role of local government will be?

Last year, we on these Benches welcomed the fact that the Local Government Act 2000 had at last recognised the role of local governments as community leaders. The Statement mentioned neighbourhood managers and we wonder how they will fit in with the local government set-up. Will they have more power than local government and how will the strategic partnerships relate to local government? Who will appoint the management? Will it be the local community? I shall be grateful if the Minister will clarify those points.

Secondly, we have concerns about funding—the type and the amount. There are many different projects for which people can apply so it is "challenge-type" funding. Many authorities find that costly and consuming and are demoralised when they do not win money for their particular projects. I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify how the Government can improve what has previously gone wrong with challenge funding.

Thirdly, it is not clear how much of the funding is new money. Various figures have been bandied about today but we have heard other figures in the past. Can the Minister explain them? When one looks at the problem, the new money does not appear to be a large sum. Will the Minister say exactly how much it will buy? Some of us are cynical—perhaps more so than the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith—about the Government's intent in the run-up to the general election.

We on these Benches also agree that it is vital to raise the standard of public services in these areas. That is the key to the sustainability of communities and programmes. Much has been said about what has been done and what will be done, but perhaps the Minister can clarify what is new money and what is recycled money. Some of us are cynical because such money and ideas are not always new.

However, like the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, we welcome the fact that the Government want to tackle the problems and we wish them every success in doing so. It is not an easy proposition. When I arrived home today from Alexandria in Egypt I found it difficult to deal with a Statement on urban renewal because there I looked around and wondered how they dealt with it. At least we do not have problems on that scale and I wish the Government success in their proposals.

4.46 p.m.

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My Lords, I appreciate the welcoming comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and his wishes for the scheme's success. I am sure that all noble Lords welcome a move to provide a greater coherence and focus to the activities which speakers on the Opposition Front Benches indicated. Those activities have been tried in various forms for some time in an attempt to tackle the problems, but they have not focused on the areas of maximum deprivation. The approach will identify ways in which new and existing local authority and national programmes can be directed at raising the basic standards of our most deprived areas. Some of them are improving but others are declining.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, raised the role of local authorities. They play a major and central role in our proposals. That is complementary to what is provided at national level and will be a significant part of what is provided locally. The neighbourhood management and identification of a single point of focus will enable many local authority programmes to be delivered more effectively and local authorities will be able to direct money and the services they receive from central Government, the police and the health authorities to more deprived areas within their boundaries.

The noble Lord suggested that all the areas were in inner cities. They are not. Many of the local authorities listed in the table on page 89 are not inner-city authorities. The bulk of cumulative deprivation arises in our inner cities and therefore that is where many deprived areas are to be found. But there are also one-industry towns—today there are no-industry towns. I refer to coal mining areas, which are basically rural, and to rural areas, particularly parts of Cornwall and Cumbria, which fall inside the 88 most deprived local authority areas identified in the Statement. Sixteen of the 88 most deprived areas contain significant rural deprivation. We recognise that there are special problems relating to poverty in rural areas, to which the rural White Paper published just before Christmas responds. The 88 authorities named in the report cover some 82 per cent of the deprived wards on the deprivation index. Therefore, they cover the vast majority of the situations in which there is cumulative deprivation and poor performance.

I believe that the noble Lord also asked about flexibility, in the sense of whether when areas moved up the relative index they would be replaced by those which moved down. There will be such flexibility. One is talking of a 10 to 20-year programme. Many areas will take 10 or more years to turn round in the way that we seek; some will achieve success more rapidly than others and the strategy will need to take account of that. There is flexibility to enable local strategic partnerships and local authorities in these areas to address changing problems of relative deprivation. But it is important to identify at the outset the most deprived areas in the country and gear national and local expenditure and services to them to ensure that there is a minimum performance floor so that cumulatively they are able to enter a benign cycle and escape the vicious downward spiral that has taken place in many areas—rural, single town and inner city—over the past decade or so.

The noble Baroness asked what was new in the package. The overall allocations for regeneration and neighbourhood renewal were indicated in the spending review, but for the first time their direction is spelt out in the Statement and the earlier announcement about the £800 million for the neighbourhood renewal scheme. What is new includes such schemes as the community chest of £50 million over the next three years to be spent by communities on projects in deprived neighbourhoods; the community empowerment fund of £35 million over the next three years; the community task force which brings together everybody concerned with the delivery of services and the encouragement of community activity; the neighbourhood management fund which is a £45 million programme to support two rounds of pathfinder authorities which will run for at least three years; and the bringing together of both the public and private sectors into local strategic partnerships. The noble Baroness asked whether local authorities would be subordinate to them. All stakeholders will play their part and be brought together. Local authorities will continue to deliver services and be responsible for their functions which have been enhanced by recent legislation and policy changes.

Therefore, local authorities will be one of the major deliverers of, and influences upon, local strategic partnerships. But there will be a wider coalition which brings together the private, public and voluntary sectors. The £800 million neighbourhood renewal fund has been established for the development of those areas and the interface with their communities so that they can be resourced and provide back-up and access to better education, health, crime prevention, housing and quality of life in those neighbourhoods.

4.54 p.m.

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My Lords, the Minister has announced a whole raft of admirable initiatives. I should be grateful if he could further clarify the way in which the public money directed to those initiatives is to be administered. What is to be the precise accountability? Who is to be responsible for that, and to whom? As the Minister made clear, the key to this is cross-departmental co-operation. Does the noble Lord envisage that there will be a series of small committees in each local authority area to deal with each independent initiative which will all come together under one supremo? Who is to ensure that there is value for money and public funds are properly accounted for?

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My Lords, the allocations of the new funding will be made by the local authority which will have its usual responsibilities in relation to the provision of funds. The point of the local strategic partnerships and the other relatively small-scale funds to which I have referred is to ensure that there is a degree of continuity and cumulative effect as between the programmes that already exist. Some of those programmes, for example those concerned with public and social housing and housing generally, are funded through local authorities; others remain the responsibility of the health service or the police. The aim is to co-ordinate and bring them together. It does not cut across the primary responsibility on public authorities to deliver value for money and effective outcomes in relation to mainstream budgets. However, it gives authorities targets for the expenditure of that money to ensure that it is spread more equitably and the identified neighbourhoods benefit more than the rest of the country in the deployment of those funds. However, management of the mainstream funds remains where it is.

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My Lords, I am grateful for the Statement. I note with satisfaction, and a degree of wry amusement, that when I was the incumbent of a parish I was, without knowing it, a community pathfinder. I think of the battered wife with black eyes and bleeding mouth who sought refuge and counsel from me and my wife. I also think of the number of times that the police phoned me as the vicar of a parish to ask whether I would help someone they held who was mentally disturbed. I also have in mind the countless homeless people who knocked on my door and asked for advice and help. I did what any parish priest would do anywhere.

First, can one guarantee that if local managers are to be appointed they will, like the clergy of this country, live in the places where they work; or will they, as I suspect, go home whenever appropriate? Secondly, will there be discrimination in the disbursement of funds against those religious and faith communities which stay in urban and rural areas of high deprivation, or will their central role in the provision of pastoral, physical and spiritual care be recognised in both word and action?

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My Lords, it is important that faith communities in these areas are brought into the partnerships and play a major role for the very reason indicated by the right reverend Prelate. In many cases the parish priest, minister, temple, synagogue, or whatever, provides a major focus to improve the lot of families subject to the worst effects of living in these deprived neighbourhoods. An enormous amount of experience needs to be brought on board. It is certainly the case that the local strategic partnerships and the other bodies to which we refer should bring in the faith communities.

As to the appointment of staff, obviously it is sensible and desirable that whoever is appointed to a management role is familiar with the area and has considerable knowledge of the community with which he or she has to deal. Whether as a job condition we can express that one actually has to live in the area being targeted is probably taking the matter further than I would be prepared to take it. But the objective behind that issue is clear.

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My Lords, the question of accountability for desirable work and expenditure has been raised. First, it would be much clearer if accountability came through regional authorities in England, as already happens in Wales and Scotland.

Secondly, the two Opposition Front Benches raised some points that they were critical of or unsure about. I believe that the key to them may be in the concept of community development. I point out that community development is completely different from consultation on official plans, desirable as that may be in its own right. Community development is concerned with the personal development of local leadership and the working out of local priorities for what needs to be done first. Without that structure one finds that potential local leaders move somewhere else as soon as they reach a certain degree of prosperity.

I hope that the Government will have a new look at community development as a subject. The issue has had a rather chequered history because it tends to threaten some of the established structures, whether local or central.

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My Lords, on the first point relating to regional level activity, it is important that the regional structure is fully involved. At present it is administrative. Although I would advocate moving towards a certain degree of regional government within England, we are operating on the structure as it is and it is important that the government offices are fully involved in this process. The government offices will have neighbourhood renewal teams which will be the link with the local strategic partnerships bringing together activity at the regional level. There are roles for other regional bodies such as the regional development agencies, particularly with regard to physical regeneration and employment creation. Therefore, there is a regional dimension to this issue. But the most important dimension must be at the local level.

I agree with the noble Lord's point about services and reallocation of funds not being provided solely on a top-down basis. This is about empowerment. It is about enabling communities to stand on their own two feet to bring forward local leadership and to develop communities through the process which he describes. Therefore, those communities will have some control over their own lives. They have so often suffered from the effects of decisions taken miles away without any regard for their own interests. Part of the process is that government and local government become more conscious of their needs and gear their activities towards them. But an important dimension is generating self-help.

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My Lords, perhaps I may commend to the Minister a scheme which took place some years ago in one of the most deprived wards in my then constituency of Plymouth. A committee of local people living on a small estate, together with various local professionals, local authorities and so on, worked out schemes really from the bottom up. They were not just consulted; they took initiatives and were guided and helped by the relevant professionals. That seems to me the answer because for too long it has been the other way around. In these very difficult areas it rarely works. It must come from the bottom up. That little estate was transformed from the time when I attended the committee's first meeting and was told that on no account was I to bring a car because it would not be in one piece by the time I left at the end of the evening.

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My Lords, I agree that there are a number of heartening examples across the country. I am sure that the one in Plymouth is apposite. Many others are referred to in the document. We wish to generalise that without taking a uniform approach. Certainly we can learn from and follow the example of communities which have managed to develop schemes, persuading both public authorities and the private sector to back them. This produces a benign cycle of increasing confidence and therefore increased ability to deal with problems and to improve the quality of life. The more locally-generated proposals that we can come up with, the better in order for us to deliver the intentions of this programme.