HC Deb 11 February 1986 vol 91 cc930-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

1.59 am
Mr. David Lambie (Cunninghame, South)

The Cochrane street centre for single homeless project was mooted more than three years ago by Cunninghame district council because of the increasing problem of single homeless with social, psychological, psychiatric and financial problems presenting themselves to the housing department. Some of those people had, at one time, been tenants of the council but for various reasons had to give up their tenancies. They were known to have personal problems which could not be solved by merely rehousing them. Indeed, if we did that, we were aware that their immediate neighbours would come at once to the housing department and demand to be transferred to other areas or have the unfortunate single person evicted for anti-social behaviour.

We did not have general needs housing in the district which would meet the needs of those prospective tenants. Cunninghame district council was trying to diversify its housing to meet the needs of all categories of people who require housing in this project. The unit at Cochrane street was to be used by the Salvation Army and Cunninghame district council to provide not only shelter, but support, comfort and guidance. The tenants were to have training, work experience and, we hope, motivation to integrate back into society. As part of the treatment plan, Cunninghame district council would provide the workshops to refurbish furniture and electrical goods where the tenants would be supervised by trained staff. They would receive payment for their work, and the workshops would be adjacent to the unit. Cunninghame district council would also set aside general needs housing in all areas to rehouse the tenants when they were ready to move on. This would ensure that the unit would not become blocked or used as permanent housing.

All appropriate agencies were consulted, and they promised to support the project. They included the local social work department of Strathclyde regional council, the DHSS and the Scottish Council for Single Homeless. The project would also complement the supported lodgings scheme sponsored by Strathclyde regional council and financed by urban aid. After those consultations, the council's director of technical services was instructed to design a purpose-built centre within urban aid capital cost limits to provide accommodation for single homeless people to meet the private needs of the residents and the need to provide adequate control and supervision of the centre.

The district council submitted the project to the Scottish Development Department's urban renewal unit for urban programme grant, with much expectation. However, in a letter dated 23 April 1985, the urban renewal unit advised the council that its application for urban aid grant for the centre had been rejected. The decision was accompanied by a comment that the capital cost of the project was extremely high, and the suggestion that Cunninghame district council reconsider the scale and design of the project in consultation with the Scottish Council for Single Homeless.

Since receipt of that letter, Cunninghame district council has consulted the Scottish Council for Single Homeless and the Salvation Army, which have agreed to manage the centre. As a result of the consultations, a revised design was prepared. The original proposals provided accommodation for 32 persons, including five self-contained flats with central kitchen and dining facilities, and day-care facilities. To reduce the costs, a revised plan was prepared as the basis for consultations, which included ½ two storey accommodation for 20 single persons in four clusters of five bed-sits. Each cluster has a common bathroom, and lounge/kitchen/dining area. Each individual bedsit incorporated a WC and wash hand basin. The central kitchen/dining and day care facilities were deleted from the original plan.

Following consultations with the Salvation Army, the plans were altered to provide showers within each bedsit, thereby allowing the communal bathrooms for the two upper floor clusters and one ground floor cluster to be deleted and replaced in each case with storage accommodation. On the advice of the Salvation Army, however, a disabled shower and toilet has been provided on the ground floor for use as required. A covered direct link has also been designated between the warden's house and the centre to allow the warden speedy access to the centre if necessary without requiring to enter through the main entrance.

The main point made by the Scottish Council for Single Homeless was that the centre should also cater for persons requiring more privacy while resident in the centre and, where necessary, to prepare residents for the more independent lifestyle that they would require to adopt on leaving the centre. The design of one of the ground floor bedsit clusters has therefore been amended by deleting the communal lounge/kitchen/dining area and increasing the size of each bedsit to include kitchen facilities. The SCSH also pointed out that the location of the laundry next to the communal/visitors lounge could cause disturbance and the plans have therefore been altered by placing the visitors toilet between the laundry and the lounge.

The revised design had implications for estimated operating costs of the centre and a fresh budget was prepared. Staff salaries were based on Salvation Army gradings for similar posts elsewhere. The staff to client ratio is high, but this is necessary to provide the intensive supervision care and counselling which it is envisaged that the centre will provide. Income will be derived entirely from rental payments. The income figure included in the draft budget is based on a rent of £40 per person per week but this may require to be altered according to circumstances, including current DHSS regulations.

The Minister can imagine the councils's astonishment when it received a letter dated 13 January 1986, from the urban renewal unit, saying that the revised application for urban programme grant for the Cochrane street project had been turned down. The letter said: At a capital cost of £405,000, which may be a conservative estimate, and also in running costs the project is still very expensive. After full consideration we feel that there are not sufficient grounds, in terms of Urban programme priorities … or in terms of an exceptional scale or nature of benefits, to justify approval. I am afraid that we are therefore unable to offer Urban Programme support.

When I met the Minister on 24 January, in the Scottish Office in London, asked him to overturn the decision, and put the council's case to him to grant the application, he refused, and he accepted the reasoning of the urban renewal unit.

This project is unique in Scotland. It is more than a hostel, but it is not an institution. Admission would be voluntary, and the tenant would have to agree to the programme. An advisory group would be set up to monitor the running of the unit. The model for this project is run by the Salvation Army in Vancouver, Canada, and two of the councillors have visited it. Councillor Teresa Beattie, and Councillor George Steven, who works for the Salvation Army and is convenor of the planning committee, took the opportunity to go there when on a visit to Canada. The project leader in Vancouver, Major Campbell, will visit Scotland later this year and he has agreed to advise the council on setting up the hostel.

The running costs will be high initially, but they were projected into 1987–88. They are not prohibitive for this type of venture, which is unique in Scotland. Revenue will be available from the Department of Health and Social Security, from the workshops and from local funding by the Salvation Army through fêtes, bazaars and the rest. The Salvation Army has practical experience of providing care for this type of person. It is renowned for maintaining this type of establishment economically and for providing this type of care and support.

From our discussions—I have been involved in all of them—with the Salvation Army, it is clear that it is committed to the project. It regards it as a pilot scheme in the United Kingdom and as a new initiative. We hope that the project would be self-financing within four years. CDC and the Salvation Army have complied with the original demands of the Scottish Office in reducing the cost to under £500,000 and have also taken the advice of the agencies recommended by the Scottish Office. Mrs. Beattie, the convenor of the council, says in a letter: We would be demoralised if this project was turned down as we have spent so much time and effort following the demands and advice given by the Scottish Office.

I submit that the project satisfies the urban programme priorities in terms of exceptional scale and the nature of the benefits. It therefore justifies approval. I am asking the Minister to review the decision given to me on 13 January and to grant approval or, if he cannot do that, at least to agree to meet a deputation of councillors and representatives of the Salvation Army and others involved in the project to give us an opportunity to have a full discussion to see whether the project could be included in plans for the future.

2.12 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)

The hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) has, as I would expect, given us a clear expression of his support for the project for the centre for the single homeless in Cochrane street, Irvine, which would provide facilities for 20 homeless residents. He has made it clear that he believers that it would meet a real need in the area. I recognise the hon. Gentleman's strength of feeling that this project deserves to go ahead if at all possible.

I hope that the hon. Member will accept that it was with regret, and only after the most careful and extended consideration, that my Department concluded that the urban programme assistance sought for this project could not be approved.

To explain why we had to refuse this application, I need to go back to November 1984, when my right hon. Friend, the previous Secretary of State for Scotland, issued a restatement of the criteria and priorities within which the urban programme would in future operate. These revised eligibility criteria and priorities are designed to improve the effectiveness, and the cost-effectiveness, of the urban programme in tackling multiple deprivation in urban areas. To that end, we tightened up the definition of areas eligible for urban aid. We stressed the need for projects to be new and innovative and we made it clear that priority would be given to those project which would make the best contribution to tackling deprivation.

We also insisted that projects should be cost-effective and, in particular, laid down that projects with a capital cost of over £500,000 would in no circumstances be considered, and those costing over £300,000 would require to offer benefits of a quite exceptional scale or nature to be accepted for support. I am sure that the hon. Member will not quarrel with the intention behind these revised criteria and priorities, which is to ensure that the available resources are used to the best possible effect.

In practice, this means that since 1984 any unusually expensive capital project has to demonstrate quite exceptional merit in terms of its contribution to a comprehensive deprivation strategy for the area, its degree of innovation, its involvement of voluntary or community effort and its value for money.

So how did the proposed centre for the single homeless score on these factors? The short answer is, not too badly, but not nearly well enough.

In the first place, the proposed catchment area for the project is not exceptionally high-priority. While a few parts of the catchment area rank among the relatively most deprived areas, most are not within the worst 5 per cent. in Scotland. As a whole, therefore, the catchment area defined for this project is not amongst the very worst in Scotland.

In the second place, although this project developed out of the district council's concern with local single homelessness as a significant problem in the area, and although the project brings together rehabilitative elements as well as physical housing provision, it cannot really be said to be integral to a comprehensive or co-ordinated strategy for tackling deprivation in the area. Other essential policies and projects do not hinge on it.

What we had in mind in saying in 1984 that priority would be given to projects which are key elements in a properly documented comprehensive strategy to tackle the problems of an area was to encourage authorities to develop programmes of projects to tackle a range of local problems in a systematic fashion over a number of years. No evidence has been submitted to the Scottish Development Department to suggest that this project is integral to a programme of this kind: on the contrary, the various projects submitted by Cunninghame district council over recent years, however worthwhile individually, seem to have little in common, and usually not to be linked in any way.

Thirdly, it has to be said that the project is not particularly innovative. This type of provision has been tried out already in other parts of Scotland. It is therefore not possible to say that this project would have an experimental value. We already have considerable evidence that this type of provision makes a good deal of sense. Indeed, there should by now be enough evidence to convince local authorities that provision of this sort should be met from their mainstream resources, where necessary.

Fourthly, the number of people to benefit directly from the project, as I think the hon. Member appreciates, would be small. At any one time, only 20 individuals could be housed in the unit. In comparison with the total number of deprived households locally—and, more particularly, in comparison with the numbers which might benefit fom other urban programme projects—very few indeed would benefit from this project.

Finally, and most significantly, the costs of the project are extremely high. The original project application, which was turned down last summer, had estimated capital costs of £497,000, perilously close to the limit of £500,000. Estimates being what they are, it seems very likely that actual costs would have exceeded that figure. In turning down the project, as the hon. Member has pointed out, my officials did ask the district council to reconsider the scale and design of accommodation, in further discussion with the Scottish Council for Single Homeless. Our aim was to see whether the costs could be reduced sufficiently to avoid the need for exceptional merit to be demonstrated.

Revised proposals were submitted for a smaller scale centre which was, at £405,000, cheaper than before, but unfortunately still markedly above the £300,000 normal limit. On top of these capital costs, running costs of nearly £100,000 would be required.

My Department's conclusion was that, even after the reworking and reduction in scale, the costs involved remained unacceptably high in relation to the benefits, and were not likely to represent value for money. We concluded therefore that the benefits in terms of impact on the local community as a whole did not justify the costs and therefore that the case for exceptional treatment had not been made out.

I must stress that this refusal does not mean that we think that this project is without value. I am very aware of the problem of single homelessness, and I would wish, wherever possible, to support suitable projects aimed at tackling this problem. But the resources available for the urban programme are limited; and it is simply not acceptable for a single, very expensive project to take up a sizeable slice of those resources unless it can show very exceptional merits indeed in terms of the stated aims of the programme.

When I met the hon. Member to discuss this decision last month, I undertook to consider whether any other sources of central Government support might be available for this project, and to let him know. I regret to have to tell him that I see no prospect of support from other sources. The only other conceivable funding vehicle for such projects from central Government is assistance under section 10 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 but again the project is not sufficiently innovative to be eligible. In any event, this is already fully committed for 1986–87. I am afraid therefore that, if Cunninghame district council wishes to provide this new facility, it seems likely that it will have to find the money itself.

I know that this conclusion will come as a disappointment to the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South, who has campaigned long and hard on behalf of the project. In terms of the criteria and priorities for the urban programme, however, and in the light of the continuing intense high quality competition for its resources, I am afraid that projects like this are simply not strong enough to gain approval.

However, I am pleased to inform the hon. Member that Cunninghame district council has today submitted five new projects for urban programme support for 1986–87. Clearly my Department will have to spend some time in appraising the new applications, but at least one of them—I note that it is the one to which the council itself has given the highest priority—seems at first glance to be very attractive indeed in terms of the criteria and priorities of the urban programme. It is a project to upgrade in stages the physical environment of a rundown council housing estate, while at the same time educating and encouraging the local population to care for their environment, and to participate in community self-help. If my Department is able to approve the project, I very much hope that that will be of some consolation to the hon. Member.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-two minutes past Two o'clock.