§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)
The urban aid programme is now seven years old, yet urban deprivation in this country is worse than ever before. The idea of the programme was to give extra help to areas in which existing services were under strain. That was the purpose of the urban aid programme back in 1968. The question must be asked: what has the urban aid programme achieved if deprivation is now so serious?
In October 1968 the first Government circular was distributed. It stated that £25 million, spread over four years, was available for bids from the whole country. In 1972 the Government properly increased that sum, to take account of the rate of inflation, by a further £40 million for the period 1972–76, making a total of £65 million over the eight-year period.
2033 It is important to realise that that £65 million was not new money but a first charge on the rate support grant pool. The programme switched Government funds from local authorities in general—which received 56 per cent. rate support—to local authorities which were designated multiply deprived, which were to receive 75 per cent. support. The programme was a switching mechanism to rob the richer local authorities for the benefit of the poorer local authorities.
Some said, because of the modest scale of the programme, that it was merely a cosmetic—a political response to the heightening public awareness of the seriousness of the colour problem in Britain. Others saw it in more positive terms, as the implementation of recommendations contained in the Plowden and Seebohm Reports, the blacks serving as a barium meal, highlighting the inequalities of the poor.
Whatever the reason, the fact that the Government were doing something, however modest, was to be welcomed. But why rush to launch it and with such fuzzy objectives and woolly strategy? It was as if the Government felt that they had been neglectful and suddenly woke up to the fact that something needed to be done quickly and with maximum visible impact. The heavy leaning towards capital spending—for example, on buildings rather than services—merely corroborated this.
The then Home Secretary, in a statement on 2nd December 1968, said that the programme was a modest but important step to ensure that every citizen had a fair start in life and a fair opportunity. Yet if this was the intention, it was a bit of a cruel joke since it provided false hopes, not only because the funds were so small as to be virtually not noticeable in areas of acute poverty but because it signified the Government's failure to involve the deprived themselves in the operation and the decision-making process as the programme unfolded.
Instead of using the programme as an opportunity for real power-sharing and giving responsibility and hope to those without either, the Government insisted on making the operation as bureaucratic and as one-sided as possible.
It was to be a Government scheme operated entirely through local government. Fifteen Government circulars have 2034 been sent round the country in the past seven years. In the first six circulars there were six times as many bids as funds available. In Phase 7 the ratio worsened. Up to Phase 7, nearly £22¾ million was allocated to capital projects, of which 93.8 per cent. was spent on local authority building programmes. Only £3¾ 1 million was spent on service projects and less than half went to the voluntary and community organisations.
Up to Phase 7, there was scarcely a mention from the Government that local authorities should pay any attention to schemes submitted by those working at the grass roots. It was as if tenants' associations, community work groups, neighbourhood councils, self-help bodies and voluntary organisations were not worth powder and shot. Although in Phase 7, under the Conservative administration, an extra £3.5 million was injected specially to help such organisations, nothing was done to involve them in the decision-making process.
It is not surprising that, during these years, those involved at the rock face with urban deprivation became alienated towards the programme. They saw it as a local authority bran tub bonanza in which, at special seasons of the year, a benevolent Government picked out lucky numbers, giving gift tokens to the most deserving of local authorities.
Attempts by community leaders to attract central Government funds to worthwhile and pioneering projects usually ended in frustration. Even today, local authorities fail to communicate the reasons why one project is preferred to another, and Governments are equally secretive by failing to publish criteria on which they make their selections.
The Minister will know that successive delegations have come to the doors of the Home Office to try to persuade it to publish criteria. The most distinguished was led by the former Permanent Secretary of the Home Office, who is now the Chairman of the National Council of Social Service. It was made very clear that criteria should be published, and the Government should not wish to conceal the process by which they decide the urban aid programme, but to date this has not been forthcoming. To many, the urban aid programme has just been a capital building programme, especially for those still living within the inner 2035 urban area who continue to be as deprived and downtrodden as ever.
Why should such a brilliant idea have gone sour? There are a number of reasons. Few local authorities have been really prepared to share their power with local people, seeing it as a weakness rather than a strength. The idea of establishing local co-ordinating committees—I am not a man who supports too many committees—made up of those interested in the programme and potential users of it, as anathema to local authorities, whatever their political complexion.
It was only in Liverpool that such a plan was put into practice, and even that has been savaged, this year, by the city council's determination to put its own schemes first, for the rather shaky reason that they are labour-intensive.
Perhaps it is worth pausing at this point to outline the rather unique way in which the Liverpool City Council proceeded. It allowed and encouraged every grass-roots community group, self-help group, voluntary organisation, and so on, to submit applications to the urban aid programme funds through the local authority. Discussion took place with the officers of the council and the particular voluntary body concerned, estimates were worked out, the project was planned and it went into the melting pot with the 150 or so other applications. The local authority and the voluntary bodies probably knew that only one-fifth or one-sixth of these would be successful.
At that point, unlike the normal process, in which the local authority decides which should be in the priority list—because the Home Office leans very heavily on that priority list—in Liverpool the statutory schemes and the voluntary schemes went side by side and were discussed openly with all those submitting applications, in a day-long conference. As a result, at the end of the conference, recommendations were made by the whole meeting as to which schemes were of priority, and the local authority, although not bound by that decision, inevitably agreed to accept the recommendations.
This programme has been the envy of the "urban aid eye" for years, and, as a result, Liverpool has seen what I may call 2036 a flourishing private sector and a flourishing public sector, with both the voluntary bodies and the statutory bodies trusting each other.
Then, this year, with the threat of very substantial cuts and the prospect of no growth next year, the local authority did something quite inexplicable. It decided that the statutory departments and the voluntary organisations did not actually know best. Instead of accepting the list of schemes and saying that these would be submitted to the Home Office for consideration, the local authority tipped the projects completely on their head and put its own schemes forward in preference to those agreed with the other organisations. Not only was that an unfortunate thing to do; it caused the trust which had been built up over the years to be shattered overnight.
The rather curious reason advanced by Liverpool City Council—and I am sure that it took the decision in good faith and believed that it was the right one to take—was that the schemes it put forward were labour-intensive. Liverpool has been fortunate, as part of the Merseyside complex, to have had an injection of £4 million for the job creation programme whereby young people are carving out jobs to benefit the community. I think that about £665,000 of that money has been used, and there is a lot left.
Although jobs in the job creation programme are labour-intensive, some may feel that the local authority rather unwisely did what it did on the basis that the schemes that it put forward were more labour-intensive than those in the job creation programme. Whatever the reasons, the ill-feeling that has been created is such that it will take years to regain good will and trust. People have a basic distrust of the elected representative, and this stab in the back is another twist in that saga.
It is not surprising that the non-statutory bodies have turned against one another in the chance of getting a crumb of the urban cake. Young community groups have fallen out with one another as they battle for local authority recognition and preference. In the main, their efforts have been to no avail, because local authorities have tended to finance the more established voluntary organisations—those less likely to threaten the local authority's autonomy. Perhaps one 2037 can understand that local authorities are cautious animals and do not like to consider the risk of financing non-tried and non-tested schemes, yet the whole purpose of the urban aid programme was to finance innovatory and exciting new projects, and the voluntary organisations that have been supported have tended to be those of an established nature that have been going for many years.
As a result, a great deal of community talent has gone by the board simply because of the inability of the organisers to submit the right applications. It is easy for a local authority to submit applications on the proper forms. It is difficult for small ad hoc community groups to know how to go about writing the applications, submitting them to the right department at the right time and providing the kind of information that Government and local government officers feel they want.
If local authorities were really concerned to see people taking responsibility and pioneering new activities they would open their departments to help and advise such groups and help them to prepare applications. This again, as the Minister will know, is a matter which I, when I was Director of the Young Voluntary Force, advanced as a way of encouraging volunteer groups to submit applications, because even now they do not know the machinery of local government or Government. Unless there is a department in the local authority that can advise and help them to draft their applications, some of the most creative work will go by the board, because those who are good on the creative side of the job are not good at submitting applications and dealing with bureaucracy.
I ask the Minister to consider whether he can, in the next circular, advise local authorities to establish a focal point in each of their town halls—not more staff, but added responsibilities for the treasurer or the accountant—to advise voluntary community groups on how to submit applications under the urban aid programme. The Government could make this gesture at no cost. It is something that most local authorities could do at no cost, and it would show at least some measure of good will between local government and Government Departments.
2038 In 1972, the injection of a special fund by the Conservative administration to help non-statutory bodies allowed for some modest developments. That programme has swung full circle, now that local authorities are faced with a no-growth year, and the first to go in their list of priorities will be the voluntary organisations.
There is a fear not only that the voluntary organisations will be deprived of urban aid money; the rumour among town halls is that some local authorities will not even submit a quota for themselves, because they have to find the 25 per cent. local authority contribution out of their own funds. Therefore, they may reach a stage where they have to choose between running an old people's home and submitting a new application under the urban aid programme, because the urban aid programme, rightly, looks to new developments.
The Minister may know that some local authorities have not done that, but have used the urban aid programme as another means of rate support grant for things that they would probably have done any way.
The Minister will also know that in the early days some local authorities told voluntary organisations that if they raised the 25 per cent. themselves the authorities would submit the applications because they would not cost them a penny. That practice is dying out, but it occurred when local authorities were under stress I mention that, because it is perhaps worth repeating to local authorities that the idea of the exercise is not to boost their own operations to do things which they would normally do, or to persuade voluntary bodies to raise cash for themselves and then for onward submission of applications to the Government; it is a partnership between the Government and local government.
Although one can criticise the Government for not kicking the local authorities in the right direction regarding the urban aid programme, they must take responsibility for alienating the community in their own way. Not only have they not published criteria for determining urban aid applications; they have refused to consider outsiders, other than the Civil Service, on the Home Office decision-making body. Or perhaps there is not 2039 one. I have been unable to find out how the urban aid programme is distributed. In fact, I am all for entrepreneurial exercises, but even I have been defeated in trying to find out who makes the decision, how, and on what information. The most one can learn is that civil servants pay high regard to the priority lists submitted by the local authorities.
It might be an eye-opener, and it would take the lid off, if the processes by which urban aid applications were approved or not approved were open and visible and not carried on behind closed doors. I am not suggesting that anything improper goes on; quite the contrary. A difficult job has to be done and the civil servants who do that consciencious work are probably doing it as expeditiously as possible. But the principle in all community work is that all is visible. Nothing is concealed. I suggest that a lot could be done to improve relationships between the grassroots and the Government and local Government if the decision-making process were visible.
A suggestion repeatedly made to the Home Office is that independent people—possibly not from those who submit applications under the urban aid programme—could be invited to sit alongside Civil Service officials to see that justice is done and to make their own useful contribution. Until that is done there will be a view and a distrust by the grass-roots that the urban aid programme is a random selection by officials in Whitehall.
Sizeable injections of money will reduce, and clearly have reduced, poverty. However, it has been a slow process, and although the urban aid programme has helped in one way, other pressures have arisen and increased the problems in another way. More money is obviously important and valuable, but the process by which that money is imparted and passed to organisations is equally important.
Therefore, I wish to make two points in general terms. First, the amount of money is important—everyone will always ask for a larger slice of the cake—and, secondly, the process by which that money is distributed is important.
The way in which the Home Office has run the urban aid programme has been 2040 as paternalistic to the community as the Victorian factory owners were to their employees. The Government's insistence that the people cannot be trusted is well illustrated. If a successful application is made, the Government refuse to pay the money awarded direct to the voluntary bodies, in spite of the fact that the local authority is a partner in the project and is prepared to inject its money as well. More than once the dilatoriness of local government or Government in paying over the money has caused acute embarrassment to successful applicants, who rely totally on the money for survival and who have built up expectations in the locality, which have consequently been shattered because there have been delays in the payment of the grants.
For simplicity's sake I invite the Minister to consider whether the whole year's grant could not be paid to the organisation so that it could receive the interest, rather than the grant being paid in quarterly instalments which are usually late and which cause great anxiety and concern to the voluntary body. This would go a long way towards helping voluntary bodies meet their commitments, particularly when they depend so much on urban aid money.
The urban aid programme has had seven lean years. The decision-making process, which has failed, is still in existence. Will the Government change it so that we can have seven fat years, or are they intent on a head-on confrontation with the community groups? So long as the system makes local authorities both judge and, in practice, jury, the private non-statutory organisations and the self-help groups will continue to be discriminated against. The more progressive the operation at the grass roots, the less the local authority will take to it and put its money where it says its heart is.
Perhaps these matters were in the Minister's mind when he answered Questions on 4th July 1974 and stated that he was considering a number of points concerning the interests of voluntary organisations. However, all has gone silent since then, and subsequent circulars have merely paid lip service to the importance of funding community work, neighbourhood councils and the like, and have failed to mention the crucial issues of participation in the urban aid process.
The problem is compounded by the attitude of councillors, predominantly, I fear, 2041 those from the Labour Party. Although initially welcoming the urban aid programme, as they saw it, as a means of getting further resources for their areas, they quickly turned tail as soon as the local people found their voice and started to shout, and particularly when they started to criticise the council.
It is strange that this should be so because since the Education Act, 1944, we have all been exhorting people in every way to become better educated. Not only do we have day release and a year extra at school, but there is every conceivable means of gaining knowledge and educating oneself. There are welfare rights and benefits and one can learn how to improve the system and to involve oneself in the local community.
However, when the urban aid programme has given money to the people and they start to question the behaviour of local councils, their councillors lose interest quickly and say that they want nothing more to do with the urban aid programme. This is not entirely confined to Labour councillors, but in some of the most deprived areas Labour councillors are used to being the squires of the area and as soon as a new leader emerges, they feel extremely threatened. Those urban aid projects which have developed their own community leaders are ultimately seen as a direct challenge to the council's authority. This in turn has led to distrust between councillors and community groups, with the Government irresponsibly standing back and letting the two war with each other.
There is a limit to what the Government can do, but the circulars which they issue have a tremendously strong authority, and the Government could, if they wished, advise local authorities of things which they should consider not doing. One would be trying to explain to the local councillor that he should not feel threatened if community groups in his own patch emerge wanting to do things. They may be misguided and not know all the facts, but his job is not to challenge them but to assist them.
The Home Office has given no answer about the way in which grants to community projects have been cut. In this matter the whole principle followed by the Home Office, as I understand it, has 2042 been to sustain community effort and to use the urban aid programme as a method by which to encourage the growth of natural community work. This means that the programmes need to be considered in terms of a three-year or five-year phase rather than as a one-off matter, because no sooner has the organisation got off the ground than it will fall flat on its face if the urban aid programme does not continue to support it. The Home Office would be well advised not to give grant for one year if it has little inclination to give it thereafter.
The argument may be that it is up to the local authority to determine whether it will continue to support a scheme; but then the Home Office in turn can say to the local authority "For the first year of the grant, we will give this only on the basis that it is a five-year grant. I know of many such cases.
On the other hand, there are a number of bad examples of community work which has been shattered, probably without any realisation on the part of Whitehall officials, simply because the year's grant has come to an end and the local authority has felt unable or unwilling to finance the whole project thereafter. That has been one of the effects. Even with a five-year grant, the organisation has the problem of financing the scheme after the period has ended. But with a cut after one year the effect is catastrophic.
I suggest that this is the area in which widespread community alienation, anger, misunderstanding and ultimately disillusionment have set in and that in many parts of the country the community is worse off. A good example of this is the neighbourhood council in the south end of Liverpool. It was granted £18,000 in 1974–75 but nothing in 1975–76. Yet it is a remarkable success story by all accounts. This neighbourhood council, which is on a pre-war council estate, is giving the community a real sense of purpose and confidence. There are voluntary street representatives who see that the elderly are cared for and that the neighbours are in touch. There is a link-up with the local authority services, with weekly meetings between organisers for different areas of the work—housing, environment, youth and so on—all meeting the local authority counterpart week by week.
2043 However, perhaps most important of all, the young have developed a high incentive to keep down vandalism and provide a range of social and cultural activities, which they organise themselves. They received a letter from the chief constable saying that for the year in which the neighbourhood council was operating vandalism had dropped by nearly 50 per cent. Thus the local authority was able to give better services, and the police service is better.
But the neighbourhood council was the clue. It is run by a docker, who is the local chairman. There is a committee made up of local people. There is a community adviser, from somewhat outside the area, who plays a relatively lowprofile, neutral rôle. The project is a most exciting and vivid illumination of how the community will in future have to work. The feeling towards the local authority has only been damaged by the fact the urban aid grant has been cut off after one year.
It is exciting and rewarding to go there any evening and witness the constructive activity devoted to the young and the old in the community. Last year the organisers ran a fish and chip shop on the estate and raised £1,000 which they distributed at Christmas to the elderly people on the estate. However, they are not complaining about raising money. They are deeply hurt because somebody in Whitehall whom they do not know and whom they cannot get hold of—that is just as well, perhaps—has cut their grant after only one year. One only hears reports. However, even if these are not the exact facts they indicate how they feel.
Whatever the truth of the matter, the way in which ordinary and deprived people living in a deprived part of the city have taken action is indeed remarkable. Thousands of people have become actively involved. The city council gives due weight to the importance of neighbourhood councils. However, there are not sufficient neighbourhood councils. Much greater emphasis should be devoted to establishing neighbourhood councils in the next phase of the urban aid programme. The neighbourhood councils in Liverpool give to the people a sense of purpose, of confidence and of involvement—they run the show. The most important thing that the Government could now do is to show their confidence in the operation.
2044 How could a Government committed to equality and social reform not realise how important neighbourhood councils are? No doubt the Minister is familiar with the recommendations of the Chief Constable of Merseyside which were reported in The Times yesterday. In his report on Kirby the chief constable recommends the setting up of neighbourhood councils on a very local basis to encourage a sense of identity and to foster people's pride in their immediate environment. Why have not the Government backed more of these schemes and why do we have to pay the price of vandalism because of inactivity in this regard?
Then there is the well-known case of SLAB, which is a derivative of "Arts Lab", on the outskirts of Bristol. This is an innovatory arts and community laboratory outside Bristol which applied for five years of urban aid. This was under the old Gloucestershire County Council. Commitments were entered into. Fifteen thousand pounds was raised from a private foundation to renovate a disused zinc smelting works. It was one of the first schemes in the country. A community centre of workshops and therapy, advice and help centres was built, with the involvement of young people who were some of the drop-outs and unemployables around the outskirts of Bristol.
The Gloucestershire County Council successfully applied under the urban aid programme, but the following year, on the reorganisation of local government, the SLAB project went into Avon. Unfortunately the Avon County Council, although it applied for the urban aid programme, was turned down after one year. This resulted in considerable bitterness on the part of the hundreds of disadvantaged young people who were told that SLAB would have to continue at a reduced level as the Government could not continue the funding arrangements. Somehow the communication between the local authority, Whitehall and the community had broken down. This breakdown in communication has proved disastrous.
Perhaps the best example of community alienation can be seen in the Government's disregard of their own community development project, carved out of the urban aid programme and aimed at investigating new ways of meeting the 2045 needs of individuals, families and communities, whether native or immigrant, suffering from many forms of social deprivation.
The community development project was to have a special emphasis on community involvement and citizen self-help. Twelve professional teams have been detailed to different localities thoughout Britain, and with an action research project attached to them they were to produce findings on which the Government would subsequently act. The teams soon discovered that simply to improve co-ordination of existing social and welfare services would at best make only a marginal impact. They concluded that their most valuable strategy was to provide information and resources and give power and resources to community groups so that they could formulate their own demands and press directly for change.
Community development teams have been at the rock face—or, as it is known in some areas, the coal face—for over five years. They have done a great deal of valuable work, but in some of the areas things have gone wrong. It is totally the Government's fault in failing to take any notice of a highly detailed and, I am told, highly confidential report which stresses the total lack of central management and direction in the community development project.
Here we have these teams dotted all over the country with virtually no one at the centre to help, advise and direct them, and all the people who were involved at the outset seem to have drifted away. The result is that in the last few years the CDP ship has been virtually rudderless and the motors have been intermittently breaking down. To put groups of highly intelligent young people into areas of the worst deprivation in Britain and leave them there without any support or direction, as the Government did, can only be described as negligent, and part of the damage which the Government have done is not only to the communities in the areas in which the community development is sited but also to the people themselves who were professionally employed to carry out this work.
Perhaps the most damage and greatest community alienation will shortly be seen in Cumberland, where the county council 2046 has decided to discontinue its support following a ham-fisted letter written by the Home Office telling local authorities, in so many words, that the Home Office will quite understand if the county council decides not to continue its support.
Cleator Moor is one of the most deprived parts of rural England, in Cumberland, and has been neglected for centuries. Here people were for the first time given real hope, encouragement and resources and a real opportunity to do something constructive, and they responded to it. They set up a community information and action centre, a shop-front centre, which helps people with their problems. An information van was provided. It carries the information and action services to Cleator and Frizington. This is the first mobile information service in the county. It has been evaluated by the research teams, and important lessons have been spelt out for the information services throughout the rural areas in Britain.
There is the Cellar Youth Project. Eight thousand pounds of the project's funds has converted an old cellar under the public offices in Cleator Moor into a modern meeting place for young people. Run by young people, the cellar has a full-time youth worker. Unlike so many youth organisations, it is run by the young. The pride of our youth service is that very few people over the age of 40 are involved. There is the Big Hill adventure playground, an initiative undertaken in association with the church. It turned the Old Green quarry in Cleator Moor into the first adventure playground in Cumbria. It attracted £15,000 grant for reclamation. There is the Impact Housing Association, part of the Community Development Project's programme of work. It established a new independent housing association committed to the improvement of older property and the principle of tenant involvement in management. Launched with a grant from the Community Development Project, the Impact Housing Scheme is planning to improve 100 houses in the next 18 months.
Then there is Community Industry, which came to West Cumbria through the initiative of the Community Development Project to bring new work into the area. It employs 10 adults and 16 young people who otherwise would be unemployed. 2047 The community resource centre provides practical help to many local organisations with community television, slide projectors, display screens and general office equipment. Its services are used by schools, sports organisations, youth clubs and many other bodies. There are a thousand and one other schemes which I could mention.
The industrial co-operative project has been attempting to create a new industrial enterprise for new employment in the area. The scheme is only a few months old and plans have just been laid for the launching of a West Cumberland co-operative fund aimed at raising £25,000 in the next year in West Cumbria.
The fact that the Home Office can stand by and let all this perish for the want of £20,000 needs some explanation. Of course, we all know what the explanation will be. We will be told that it is not for the Government to interfere with decisions of local authorities, but perhaps the Minister will explain why he cannot spend £20,000 of the £800,000 that is left in his Department for voluntary services. It is there for voluntary work and it has not been spent. It is the last year of the project and £250,000 has already been spent on it. It is absolute madness not to spend £20,000 from the £800,000 left in the kitty to keep the scheme going for the rest of its lifetime. This would do a great deal to persuade voluntary organisations that the Government appreciate their worth. Or are the Government going to stand by like the Soviets and let a scheme that has been building up for four years collapse?
The fact that the Government are about to embark on comprehensive community programmes before the lessons of the community development projects have been learned and evaluated makes nonsense of the Government's lofty commitment to every citizen and throws into question whether they really believe in helping to develop the potential of every individual in our country or whether they must control everything themselves. The urban aid programme has done some good, but the alienation of the community that has gone on for some time is the cost we shall have to bear for many years ahead.
§ 9.12 p.m
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
It is not usual for hon. Members to intervene in Adjournment debates, but it is not usual for these debates to come before the House at this time. The Minister may be encouraged to know that I shall not speak anywhere near as long as did the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen). Before anyone criticises any hon. Member from Liverpool, whether Labour or Conservative, I must say that the hon. Member for Wavertree has taken a great interest in this programme—and not only in Liverpool. He has been holding it inside for a long time, and if it has burst out tonight, across the Chamber, I am the last to complain.
I shall confine my remarks to Liverpool. The Cavern, in Liverpool, is well known, but the Cellar, at Cleator Moor, is unknown to me. Whether it will ever get the reputation of the Cavern is another matter. The hon. Member for Wavertree voiced the concern of voluntary organisations in his constituency and throughout the city of Liverpool. I have no direct knowledge of or any right to speak for Bristol, or any other part of the country.
Liverpool is blessed with many active and effective local organisations and, for a long time, an understanding grew up between the district councils, the city council and these organisations. Ineviably, programmes put to the district councils or the Ministry have to be judged by someone according to priorities. Those who are not quite so highly placed usually complain about the priority. Every Liverpool member has had complaints, not only from groups who were not at the top of the list, or were halfway down it but from those who had no help at all. The complaints take two forms. First, there seems to be no theme, or any exception to any theme. There seems to be neither rhyme nor reason in the selection. Rightly, those with complaints make them to their own district council representatives, carrying them though the programme and argue them out, complaining to their Members of Parliament, not only on this but other matters, regarding the administration of Liverpool.
We are being thought of as a court of appeal, so why do we not tell them 2049 what they should do. Equally, the decisions ought to be made inside the city of Liverpool. We are not running the city of Liverpool from the Palace of Westminster. There are times when we should, but this is not one of them. The Government may say that they cannot issue a direction, but when a Department has regional officers in direct contact with the officers of the district council, and when central Government are providing the money, at least if the Government cannot direct they can give guidance, to avoid the kind of mistakes that crop up. In that regard I am grateful that the hon. Member has been fortunate in bringing forward his complaint tonight.
I cannot accept his broad criticism of every Labour councillor. That was a pretty wide blunderbuss, and it is unfair to those who are trying desperately hard in the hon. Member's own campaign.
§ Mr. Steen
I was careful to say that it was not everyone, and that it was not confined to the Labour Party, but that it happened in areas of bad deprivation, where Labour councillors tended to be of the old school, seeing themselves as the squires of an area, and had some difficulty in understanding the new trend of community groups and community leaders.
§ Mr. Ogden
The hon. Member's approach nevertheless labels everyone in the same way. His approach is the same as that which describes a London restaurant as "used by Members of Parliament" when 99 per cent. of Members have never seen it.
The hon. Member suggested that the voluntary organisations in the city had had seven lean years, and he hoped that they would now have seven fat years. He must spell out more clearly what he means. I do not think there will be fat years for anyone, or, if there are, priority must be decided in a different form from that being put forward tonight. Certainly the city of Liverpool had strong rate support grant assistance from the Government. After that, the district council cut its rates by 1p, and that did not assist our attempts to get extra help from the Government.
I support the hon. Member's general claim that this issue has been mishandled. It does not matter who is at fault. I do not accept the sweeping criticism that 2050 we could run Liverpool, or the urban aid programme, from Whitehall, because there would be strong opposition to that suggestion in the city. I believe, however, that the Minister's officials could be encouraged to be a little more interventionist and decisive and to risk up-setting the citizens of Liverpool and their district council occasionally, because, in the long term, that would be welcomed by the district council, the urban aid programme and the voluntary aid organisations. Something has gone wrong over the last two years and we want the Minister and his officials to help put it right.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) both for the way in which he has brought the issue to the attention of the House, which is packed by comparison with most Adjournment debates, and for the work he did before he became a Member in showing what community enthusiasm can do and how infectious it is.
My major reason for speaking in support of my hon. Friend tonight is the total ignorance in most deprived areas of what urban aid is, what urban aid projects can achieve and what some of them have achieved. I used to do work in Tower Hamlets, in which one could find a primary school where one-third of the children belonged to families with an income at or below the supplementary benefit level. That is an example of how deprived an area can be. It is an area where the parents have exactly the same ambitions for their children as all other parents have, but they feel impotent to express their hopes and ambitions and to deal with their fears and problems. They feel that they cannot obtain outside advice, that they cannot imitate successful innovations elsewhere and that they cannot secure all the resources they need, because of ignorance and because of the lack of opportunity to gain the facilities that the urban aid programme is supposed to provide.
Even in an area of my constituency, the Ferrier Estate, a well-built, large—perhaps over-large—housing estate, where there are families who can provide nothing for their children to do outside their own front room in an outside area, 2051 there is a block of flats with about 1,000 families in it, almost the size of a mini-Thamesmead, surrounded by derelict land. Once the parents have a small community association going they do not know how to set about applying for funds so that their own efforts and their own fund-raising, which they are already doing, can provide the facilities that they need for their children, to prevent those children going, as so many do, to child guidance units, juvenile courts and eventually other institutions which cost much more than providing the information on how to get community aid projects going and how to turn the parents' efforts into a successful community for them and their families to grow up in.
§ Mr. Steen rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. The hon. Gentleman has already given us the pleasure of listening to him for 42 minutes. I hope that he will not interrupt others.
§ Mr. Bottomley
The real question I want to put to the Minister is to what extent he believes that existing community groups know about urban aid, about its successes, how to apply for it, and how long they have to go on putting in their proposals, how long they have to keep their enthusiasm going, before obtaining the facilities they need to start off.
What does the Minister propose to do about all this? I accept that in the main it is the local authorities' job, but the Government are responsible for the urban aid project. A wander around many of the deprived areas of London will show how little of the aid has got through to the people who need the encouragement and the resources most.
To back up a point made by my hon. Friend, I recall that in the borough of Lambeth, in which I live, a number of us decided that we needed a park for children to play in. I made that decision after I had been burgled for the fourth time and after I had asked the fourth set of burglars, who were there when I came home, why they had done it. They said "Your house is much more fun than anybody else's." I asked them why they 2052 did not play football, and they replied that there was nowhere to play football.
A little group of people interested in the community—social workers, police, clergy and one or two embryo politicians like myself—got together, and someone said "We are all interested in the community. What can we do to help it?" Someone else suggested "Let's set up a study group to look into the terms of reference for a working party to analyse the needs of the area." However, I suggested instead "Why don't we get together and build a park for the children to play football in? There's a 20-acre site of prime parkland in the middle of London. Let's get on with that." I was told that the council had no money to do it. I said, "We have got ourselves, and if we can get £100 together we can have six acres made into a temporary play space for children in no time at all."
We were fortunate in that one of the local churches was willing to put a little bit of money towards the venture. The £100 could buy six acres. Two years later the council came along with £25,000 and put the park out of use to carry out a grander scheme. I have not been burgled since the park was built.
Then we decided on a neighbourhood council. The local council decided on the same thing at the same time. A councillor called a meeting and the public relations officer explained what a neighbourhood council could do. The councillor asked for all those who were in favour, and we all put up our hands. Then he said "All right, I will select the steering committee." We thought that that was not very democratic and so we said that we would do it ourselves. Eventually he decided that we were right, and the neighbourhood council has gone on to do a variety of things in a variety of ways, with financial help from the local authority. It deserves every praise for that.
The point is that the urban aid facilities—although known to many neighbourhood councils and the activists within them—should be spreading out further into the community so that within every deprived area people are putting in applications, not necessarily on a grand scale—for example, for a housing association combined with a child-care centre at a cost of about £80,000, something 2053 greatly needed in my area of South London—but applications which require a smaller amount of money and which will galvanise more people into action.
If we can make more progress towards that aim, as well as dealing with the problem of alienation—I speak about ignorance; my hon. Friend talked of alienation in existing communities—we shall find that the deprived areas will be deprived for a far shorter time than if we keep working away only on existing applications with the Home Office.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
I realise that the Minister has a long list of points to which he must reply and that if I am to have any hope of receiving an answer from him I must keep my remarks brief. It is rare that an hon. Member tables a Written Question, receives an answer with which he is disappointed and then has the opportunity of pressing a Minister to amplify his reply. Hon. Members are no doubt frequently disappointed by written replies, but it is rare for them to be able to press the matter.
I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the reply that he gave to a Written Question that I tabled yesterday dealing with urban aid. Let me explain why I tabled that Question. In the Manchester area there is great concern about the urban aid submissions which have been made for the next year. The concern, felt particularly by voluntary bodies, is that far fewer submissions have been made than in previous years because of the economic situation. Rumour is rife, and disillusionment is considerable.
In my Written Question I asked the Minister to tell me what submissions had been made in the North-West, so that I could make a comparison and see whether it was true, as many people believe, that fewer submissions had been made this year than in previous years. Unfortunately, the Minister seemed not to have read that part of my Question, because he did not reply to it. I then asked how many local authorities had reduced their submissions, or made none at all. The Minister told me that only Cheshire had not made an application this year, but he did not tell me which local authorities had submitted fewer applications.
2054 There is a fear among local authorities that they might be successful in their submissions and would then be faced with the problem of paying for the service. If they are to carry out the strictures of the Department of the Environment and plan for no growth at all, where will they find the 25 per cent. contribution which they have to make? It will have to come from cuts in other services. The Home Office ought to be examining this problem. If we are asking for no growth from local authorities, we ought to be making 100 per cent. grants for projects worth while and that will make a contribution to urban aid. We should also be spelling out to groups receiving this aid that it is meant to be a priming of the pump.
One of the sad things is that while a grant is often made for one or two years on the understanding that either the local authority or the local voluntary bodies will take over responsibility for the scheme thereafter, there is an expectation that there will be an annual grant. It ceases to be a pump-priming operation and produces disillusionment, because it is an an ongoing process. I ask the Minister to throw more light on the number of submissions that have been received from the North-West of England and to offer local authorities comfort in their problem of financing schemes.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)
My reputation, unlike that of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen), is for brevity, but I congratulate my hon. Friend because he had so much to contribute.
I have been associated for 15 years with after-care projects and penal reform. I was associated with my hon. Friend in the work carried out in the Bristol area in connection with the Arts Laboratory for deprived youngsters. I am a member of the Gloucester County Council, and I was able to persuade that authority to support an application for urban aid.
I shall not attempt to chastise the Home Office. I have worked with the Department for many years on after-care projects. Generally speaking, I have found the Department helpful and willing to give almost full support. I am concerned that local authorities are going 2055 through a difficult time. The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) asked whether it was time for the Home Office to have a complete re-examination of Government grants and consider whether it would be wiser to give 100 per cent. grants to projects which meet the criteria.
I speak with experience as Vice-Chairman for NACRO—the National Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders—and I know the difficulties that exist throughout the country in the provision of after-care projects, lodging houses and homes for ex-offenders and their families and other deprived sections of the community. All those establishments are suffering immense difficulties.
When NACRO started, about 15 years ago, we were able to raise quite large sums from voluntary sources. Unfortunately, those sources have dried up. Even charitable trusts are finding it difficult to make commitments on the proposals which come to the organisation. I am certain that we have the sympathetic ear of the Minister—
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Irving
The Minister shakes his head, but he does himself a grave injustice. I am sure that he is sympathetic. If he is not, he should be, bearing in mind the position that he occupies.
I plead with the Minister to re-examine this matter with the greatest possible care. I cannot speak for Liverpool, but I can for many parts of the country where applications are piling up for the provision of accommodation for homeless single people and shelters for the destitute. Unless we can be confident of Home Office support, these projects will fall to the ground.
Those who live in London know of the miserable and wretched condition of homeless people in this great city. Many night shelters have closed and more are on the point of closing. Unless we can be assured of Government financial support and assistance I fear that there will be a great deterioration in the hostels that remain open and no possibility of opening further hostels in the next four or five years.
2056 I add my plea to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree. My eyes sparkled when I heard that the Minister has £800,000 in the kitty. We are not asking for much. When he has given £20,000 to Liverpool I hope that he will give me £100,000 for NACRO.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon)
The last time the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) and I clashed on this subject, I was somewhat critical of his speech. Tonight, however, I think he has done the House and the country a very distinguished service by a perceptive and revealing speech about the problems of the urban programme which is long overdue and which few hon. Members have his capacity to present.
But the hon. Member thereby causes me acute embarrassment, because I came to the House tonight to answer an Adjournment debate, which would normally have lasted about half an hour, on the subject that was christenedCommunity alienation through mishandling of urban aid programme funds.That might mean a great deal or not very much, but most of the brief I had was about the Liverpool District Council's treatment of the recent application for aid. I can therefore take one of two courses. I can go on for 15 minutes with vapid phrases to cover any embarrassment or I can take a great risk, because this is not my area in the Department. I answer for it in the House but it is not one that I control.
The hon. Gentleman asked some detailed questions about an administration for which I am not responsible. Nonetheless the programme is part of my thinking as the Minister largely responsible for community relations and immigration. I have therefore given a good deal of thought to what we ought to be doing about it, because those responsibilities are pertinent to the programme.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the origin of the programme, which was a speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in 1968 which followed closely on the famous "rivers of blood" speech. It was designed to indicate a commitment for dealing with the continuing problems 2057 of blacks, newly arrived in this country, who were grouped in areas of urban deprivation. Over the years it has widened simply from the black commitment to helpful initiatives on urban deprivation. I believe that it would be better if it were restricted to its original purpose.
Limited funds are available for the programme and there is very little else in the total structure of public expenditure which is committed specifically to eliminating the problems of black disadvantage, whereas most of the areas which have caused concern in the debate are those where other Departments, or even the Home Office in other areas of its spending, are supposed to provide public funds to help solve the difficulties.
In talking of the problem of the homeless we are dealing with the general spending programme by the Department of the Environment in conjunction with local authorities. It is to that Department that we should look for initiatives of that kind. The same is true with the problems of educational priority areas. One should be looking to the Department of Education and Science if one is looking to a specific spending Department and specific spending budget for these areas. There are distinctive disadvantages suffered by blacks who have come to this country within the last 30 years, but no part of the total ramifications of public expenditure is peculiar to their problems and not shared by white disadvantaged living in the same areas.
The problem of housing is common to blacks and whites if they live in a deprived area, but the problem of language is suffered only by new immigrants, and it is to that kind of peculiar extra disadvantage that we ought to be directing our attention within the money available for urban programmes.
But that has not been the thinking over the years. The thinking over the years has been that tins should be used as the nucleus of experimental programmes to cure the whole problem of urban deprivation. Almost by saying that I condemn what successive Governments have done, because this is a £4 million a year new money programme. The total, as the hon. Gentleman says, is now reaching something like £20 million, but most of that is committed in forward grants which 2058 have been made for a period of five years. The new money which becomes available each year is about £4 million, and that will not be enough to deal with the problems of urban deprivation on the massive scale that is required.
What is required is a new look at total Government spending in both the national sector and the local authority sector, in order to see whether we have our priorities right. It is for that reason that the Government have committed themselves in the comprehensive community programme to looking at the structure of public expenditure, looking for the areas of urban deprivation and at what is being spent at the moment in local authorities, and trying to see whether this can be reconstructed in a way which gives greater scope, even within the same spending programmes, to the urban areas, particularly to the deprived centres of them.
That is why the CCP idea is fundamental to any total review of the commitment for urban deprivation. Until that is worked out—and at the moment all we have are four experimental programmes which have hardly got off the ground—there cannot really be the kind of comprehensive review of national expenditure which I should dearly like to see, and building into that a specific programme for dealing with black disadvantage.
§ Mr. Steen
Is the Minister aware that the community development projects for 1968 were designed to do just what he said should be done now in 1975 in the shape of these comprehensive community programmes, and that the research element—running parallel to the community development project—was designed to evaluate the action side of the work and to present a comprehensive programme?
Is he further aware that the Secretary of State for the Environment started the four city studies three years ago in different parts of the country solely to develop a comprehensive community programme, that there were then a hundred and one comprehensive action and research projects, and that every successive Minister has said that nothing can be done—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It is becoming more than an interruption now. I was afraid of a repeat performance.
§ Mr. Lyon
I was about to make the same point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman took 42 minutes, and it will take me most of the remaining 45 minutes to answer him if he is to repeat the points he made.
I am well aware of the hon. Gentleman's main point, which is absolutely valid. He could make the criticism not only of this Government but of the Conservative Government. The truth of the matter is that all Governments have avoided the central issue, which in my judgment is one of the most important facing us in politics today—how to restructure Government spending in order to get the benefits to the areas of the country most in need, namely, the urban deprived areas.
None of us has really faced that commitment. We have toyed with it with various experimental programmes, but the comprehensive community programme is the most enveloping attempt to deal with this problem.
The community development projects to which the hon. Gentleman referred were a specifically designed attempt to encourage the people of a deprived neighbourhood to use the services available, to find ways of expressing their own needs in their own way, and to put pressure on the authorities. In some areas they have been brilliantly successful in doing that, to such an extent that, as the hon. Gentleman said, they have become something of a nuisance to local authorities.
On the other hand, the CDPs were not designed to find new resources and they were not designed to find new ways of restructuring the programmes of spending so that a more coherent programme emerged for dealing with the total problem of urban deprivation in those areas. They were designed to teach people how to stand on their own feet and speak for themselves, and they have done that. Now, however, that kind of useful life is coming to an end and, as I have got to the point, perhaps I may reply to the hon. Gentleman about Cleator Moor.
The trouble with the hon. Gentleman is that he knows an enormous amount about this subject and can make an enormous contribution to our thinking on it, and has done so, but every so often 2060 he lapses into party political dogma which spoils the effect of what he is saying. It is not true that all Labour councillors have this squirarchical attitude. It is not true that they are not concerned about community development. Some are not, and need to be condemned, but many are as concerned as the hon. Gentleman is, and the truth of the matter is that in the one CDP that has closed down the decision was made by a Conservative-controlled council.
It is no good the hon. Gentleman saying that it is all the Government's fault. That decision was made after the Government told all local authorities with responsible CDPs that they were willing to continue aiding them for the full five-year programme if they wanted to put in their 25 per cent. Only one authority decided to close down its CDP, and that was a Conservative-controlled council in Cumbria. I regret that, and I am sorry that the council has taken that view. My hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham) has been taking a most critical attitude to the decision of the local authority and hopes to put pressure on it to reconsider its decision. I hope that it will reconsider it, because the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that Cleator Moor is an area of deprivation that needs this kind of support.
The hon. Gentleman made a wider and more incisive criticism of the way in which the urban programme is administered at present, never mind what we ought to do in any future review of it. What we have to consider is what the effect is now. The real difficulty is that the amount of money that is available is far less than the expectations of both the local authorities and the voluntary organisations for dealing with their problems, and every year the circular is well over-subscribed. Usually, as the hon. Gentleman said, there are about six bids for every one that can be financed. This year, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) said, the total is down substantially to about £14 million worth of bids, but that will still be a ratio of about three and a half to one of those who will get their bids accepted. I have no doubt that the reason for that is the squeeze on local authority expenditure and the amount of money that local authorities will be able to contribute towards the 25 per cent.
2061 I do not think I can accept the suggestion—even if I wanted to, I am certain that the Treasury would not—that there ought to be 100 per cent. funding for the projects, even in this year of economic difficulties, because the whole object of the review of public expenditure as part of the process for tackling the economic crisis is that the economic stringency has to apply not only to local authorities but also to the Government themselves, and all public expenditure programmes are under review. It would make no sense if we were to tell local authorities that they had to consider their expenditure and they therefore took the decision that they could not afford the 25 per cent. contribution, and we made that up from Government expenditure. That would cancel the effects of the review. None the less, it is a painful process for any repicient of Government money whether at local authority or national level.
I fully understand the anxieties which have been mentioned because of the reduction in expenditure. However, we have received about £14 million worth of bids, which is well over the amount that we shall be able to make available. Therefore, useful work will be done even under the new Circular 14.
The hon. Member for Wavertree claimed that we had not given any real incentive to local authorities to help voluntary organisations. There is a full paragraph in the circular dealing with voluntary organisations. I shall read it in full for the record:The Government hopes that voluntary organisations will be encouraged to participate in the urban programme. Local authorities are therefore asked to publicise this circular, to consult interested bodies about local needs, to submit schemes to be run wholly or partly by voluntary organisations, and to invite voluntary organisations to discuss proposed projects with appropriate local authority officials before preparing their applications in detail.That is the very thing that the hon. Gentleman suggested we ought to tell them. It continues:Since grant aid can be paid by the Home Office only on expenditure incurred by local authorities (either directly on their own services or on financial assistance to voluntary organisations), it is for local authorities to decide in each case whether to seek grant aid on the costs of projects to be run by voluntary organisations. In all cases, approved local authority expenditure will be grant-aided at the rate of 75 per cent. leaving a net cost of 25 per cent. to be met by the local authority.2062 It was on that combination of voluntary organisation, local authority and the Government that the hon. Gentleman centred much of his criticism.
In the breakdown of the £14 million worth of projects which we have received, the total cost of the proposed capital projects is £11 million, of which £3.8 million is for voluntary projects; that is, between 25 per cent. and 30 per cent. The total recurrent cost of proposed non-capital projects is £3.4 million, of which £1.1 million is for voluntary projects. Therefore, again, about one-third is for voluntary projects.
A substantial number of the projects which have been put in will be voluntary projects. We shall take due account of that proportion and of the strong hint that we gave in the circular that local authorities ought to back voluntary projects if they can.
I do not think that at the end of the day either the hon. Gentleman or the voluntary organisations that he espouses will feel that they have done too badly out of the urban aid programme.
The hon. Gentleman said that the administration of the programme had built up resentment and frustration. All I can say is that as I go round the country I find that this is one of the most popular areas of spending and that the local voluntary organisations find that it is a useful way of helping their initiatives. Those who are refused obviously feel frustrated, but those who manage to come out of the lottery, as the hon. Gentleman described it, feel that it is most useful help from the Government.
The hon. Gentleman asked why there were no clearer guidelines and, in addition, some involvement of the voluntary organisations at both local and national level in deciding how the money should be spent. The guidelines are to some extent set out in each circular. We indicate the kind of projects which attracted this aid in the past and on which we will be concentrating in the circular. The hon. Gentleman will find that this is set out in some detail in Circular 14.
We are not precise; we do not claim that we shall take only certain kinds of projects in any one year. If either local authorities or voluntary organisations have interesting ideas to propose which require backing, and those ideas have 2063 achieved high priority on the local authority's list, we would normally examine them for new initiatives. This is a sensible way of approaching the matter. We do not do that through any formalised unit. The work is done by civil servants, in conjunction with Ministers, in the same way as any other spending programme is administered by the Government. There is no great magic about it.
The hon. Member for Wavertree said that he had sought to find out how it was done. It is done in the same way as almost every other spending programme is organised. In addition, it is difficult to envisage how we could build into the decision-making process in the Home Office a committee which would comprise voluntary organisations and which would make the kind of decisions which, in the end, Ministers have to make. Good and bad projects are put forward. If the money were available, all the projects would be desirable. It is simply a question of choice between projects, all of which are desirable. That is the most invidious kind of priority that any Government can be called upon to decide. It is not an easy task.
Ministers and civil servants spend a good deal of time each year choosing the most desirable projects to push. However, any group of people, whether voluntary organisations or any other group, could come to perfectly respectable decisions that were contrary to the final outcome for each circular. As long as the programme is designed as it is, there is no hope of creating the kind of formal structure that the hon. Gentleman has in mind for liaison between Government and voluntary organisations.
I seek a more comprehensive programme for dealing, first, with urban deprivation and, secondly, with the black projects, which would bring in the local authorities and thereby the voluntary organisations. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that if voluntary organisations are to flourish in local authority areas, by and large they will work in conjunction with the local authorities. The relationship has to be set at that level.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that a most interesting experiment was conducted in Liverpool, whereby this kind 2064 of consultation could take place, and that it worked successfully for a number of years. Like him, I deeply regret that this year it did not work. Curiously enough, it did not work because of a decision that was made by the Liberal-controlled city council, which had been voted into power because it believed in community participation. As I know from a recent visit to Liverpool, this has been a matter of the deepest frustration to the voluntary organisations involved in the decision-making process.
I am sorry that the Liverpool City Council took that view, but the matter was entirely within its discretion. The Government could do nothing about it because, in the final analysis, the urban programme relies upon the local authorities putting forward projects which they deem to be desirable and to which they will contribute 25 per cent. Therefore, though I personally may regret it, I am afraid that there is nothing that I can do about that decision.
In those circumstances, all I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that I think there is a great deal in what he said. We shall certainly look at the existing programme in the light of his criticisms, but for myself I should require a very much more comprehensive reassessment.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. James Hamilton.]