HC Deb 19 November 1986 vol 105 cc555-6
7. Mr. Cohen

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will reconsider his Department's proposal to stop urban programme funding to various local authority areas, including Waltham Forest; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Tracey

I am currently considering comments invited from local authority associations and others about our proposals to concentrate urban programme resources on the areas of greatest need.

Mr. Cohen

Does the Minister not realise that areas such as Leyton have severe inner city type problems, although they are not classified as inner city areas, and that by stopping urban aid he is hurting voluntary organisations such as Age Concern, MENCAP, Dial for the Disabled, and ethnic minority, educational and community organisations which are already finding money hard to come by because of the abolition of the GLC and the Government's squeeze on local authorities? If it is claimed that his Department is concentrating resources on the deprived, how can he justify giving support to Kensington and not to Leyton?

Mr. Tracey

As I said, our proposals are to concentrate the resources on the areas of greatest need. The need is carefully measured. In Waltham Forest the level of unemployment is considerably lower than in qualifying areas, so I am afraid that Waltham Forest has dropped out of the category.

Mr. Hayward

Would my hon. Friend not have more sympathy with the request from the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) if it were not for the fact that when Labour councils consider applications for urban programmes, such as in Bristol, they specifically exclude pensioners? They say that consideration will be given to certain groups of people. They identify blacks, gays, the disabled and women, but there is no reference to pensioners and other similarly deserving groups.

Mr. Tracey

My hon. Friend has made a valid point. We have noted with some concern that, in Bristol, letters have been circulated to various bodies quite specifically stating that consideration will be given to gay men, lesbian women, and so on. Our proposals are to concentrate these valuable resources on the areas of greatest need.

Mr. Beith

If it is the intention to concentrate on the areas of greatest need, why has the Minister excluded towns, such as Alnwick, which show up on all the indices, merely because they have fewer than 20,000 people?

Mr. Tracey

As I said, they are proposals. In December I shall meet those authorities which have dropped out of the categories on the basis of need. I shall certainly then be quite prepared to hear the comments of the 24 authorities which come to see me.

Mr. Steen

Surely the purpose of the urban aid programme is to give pump-priming money to voluntary organisations to get their work started, and then once the work has started, to allow the Government to give the money to other well-deserving causes. If the money is locked up indefinitely in one scheme, it robs the Government of their innovatory operations in urban areas. Is not that pump-priming one of the aims of the urban aid programme?

Mr. Tracey

My hon. Friend is right. In 1986–87 the urban programme resources provided 24,000 jobs, 900 small workspace units, 800 business starts, 1,600 grants and loans to firms, 1,000 hectares of improved land and 2,400 refurbished buildings. Since being elected in 1979, the Government have put £2,200 million into the inner cities through the urban programme.

Mr. Robert Sheldon

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Thameside feels very badly done by and that there is some questioning of the methodology? If that can be substantiated, will the hon. Gentleman look at the matter more carefully?

Mr. Tracey

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's point. We have invited comments, which we are considering carefully. We have offered the authorities which have been dropped a meeting in early December so that they can tell us specifically where there might be some improvement to our needs index. However, at the moment, we believe that we are absolutely right. Indeed, only £3 million of new money went to the 24 authorities in 1986–87, and if the right hon. Gentleman judges that against the total resources, he may be able to see my point.