HC Deb 08 July 1987 vol 119 cc341-3
Mr. Frank Cook

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how much more will be spent in 1987–88 on his inner-city programmes in the north.

Mr. Clarke

Inner-city task forces aim to ensure a more efficient allocation and better targeting of the considerable resources already being spent in inner cities under central Government programmes.

In addition, the inner-cities initiative has been allocated £14 million for the current financial year. The seven task forces in the north — Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Preston, Leeds, Rochdale, Doncaster and Manchester—will be able, or continue to be able, to draw on this central top-up fund.

Mr. Cook

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman readily acknowledge that the main problem of the north is that it is work hungry—in fact, work starved? Will he acknowledge that the amount of money that he has mentioned today is no more than a flea bite in comparison with the kind of help that is necessary? Will he admit that what is needed is an allocation of real resource that will provide real work in real jobs doing real community refurbishment?

Mr. Clarke

What I have mentioned today is what the hon. Gentleman asked me about, that is, one feature of the Government's programmes to help the north and establish the basis for a strong and competitive economy there. The hon. Gentleman's constituency is within the borders of the new urban development corporation. The Government's Cleveland initiative is spending a great deal of money on cleaning up derelict land in Stockton. There are enterprise zones in the north-east of England and a substantial amount of regional grants go there. We are looking to new education and housing policies to help improve the living conditions and the preparation for work of the people who live there. All of that, together with the Government's economic policies and the creation of strong competitive industries in the north, will be the solution to the problems.

Mr. Fallon

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that central to the task of regenerating the inner cities of the north is the need to lift the political blight of high rates and municipal Socialili? Will he accept that the Cleveland task force and the Tesside urban development corporation are practical, non-political initiatives supported by everybody on Teesside except a few bigots in the Labour party?

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend's propositions. In fact, there is a high degree of support in the north for many of the things that the Government have done. The Government have responded by putting money into the Northern Development Company, which is a locally-generated intitiative of potentially great value. I agree with my hon. Friend that changing the system of business rates will be a great advantage to industry in the north and I look forward to the new arrangements for the non-domestic rate, which will be of great advantage to existing and new industry in my hon. Friend's part of the world.

Mr. Madden

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain why Bradford has been left off all the lists, excluded from the partnerships and missed out of all the initiatives? Will he give a clear assurance that Bradford is not being punished or penalised because its citizens elected a Labour council? Will he do his best to persuade the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to accept a request that I made this week for him to meet a deputation from Bradford and to visit the city so that we can discuss with the Government what they will do to help us overcome the social and economic problems that we have there?

Mr. Clarke

Whenever one of my right hon. or hon. Friends or I announce an initiative in a particular town or city, we tend to find that we are being denounced by the Labour Member of Parliament for that town because what we are doing is inadequte, and then we are denounced by Labour Members in other cities or towns who want us to set up the same sort of arrangements in their constituencies. I would be happy to consider the unexpected request from the hon. Gentleman that we look at the possibility of a task force or further assistance for Bradford. We have given considerable support to all the efforts that Bradford has made to promote tourism in the city as a major source of employment. We will certainly give every other assistance to the people in Bradford who want to improve the commercial base of the city.

Mr. Holt

May I emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) that the trouble in the north-east of England is endemic Socialism from municipalised power over many years? That was exemplified by the recent decision of Cleveland county council to spend £250 million of its pensioners' money on a speculative newspaper which everybody knew was bound to fail. The leader of the council justified that by saying that there was always a sum of money available for speculative ventures. However, it never has any money available to help entrepreneurs set up businesses.

Mr. Clarke

Those responsible for pension funds should use those funds for the benefit of the pensioners and exercise their judgment on solely commercial grounds to look after the interests of the pensioners and their future. That is not a matter for me. However, I accept that we have to get more people in the north-east to look at ways in which more private industry might be encouraged. We have to create a climate that will attract more inward investment and new job opportunities. We still have some municipal Socialism, less in the north-east sometimes than elsewhere, which tends to work in the opposite direction.

Mr. Gordon Brown

How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman claim that there are more resources for the regions and the inner cities when, as a result of cuts in rate support grant and regional aid, less is being spent on those areas this year? Will he tell the House and the people of the north and the inner cities how the process of urban regeneration will be assisted by a 59 per cent. cut in regional development grants this year and the biggest ever cut in regional aid—£300 billion taken out of the budget — making a total of £3 billion of cuts since the Government came to power?

Mr. Clarke

The Government allocate rate support grant according to the respective needs of authorities and according to the levels which authorities need to spend on running their services in an economic and efficient way. The rate support grant system involves a substantial shift of resources from the south to the north. I do not believe that simply increasing rate support grant to allow high-spending councils to continue to waste money is a very significant contribution to inner city revival. Regional development grants have been reformed to make them more useful and to concentrate the resources available on the creation of jobs and on those areas where, otherwise, investment might not take place. Simply going back to spending huge sums of money on the old development grants would be wasting resources that could be better used elsewhere.

Dr. Hampson

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the major problems in rejuvenating northern cities has been the long-standing drift of industry to London and to the south-east and that there is real concern in the northern cities that the Channel tunnel will intensify the magnet effect of the south? Will he do his level best to ensure that a major freight terminal is established, preferably around Leeds or Bradford, with freeport status so that industry is held in the north and it can be proven that they can get access from Leeds to Lyon direct?

Mr. Clarke

One of the major advantages of the Channel tunnel for the economy of all parts of the United Kingdom will be the prospect of a direct rail link through to the European terminals. The Channel tunnel is as attractive to the north as it is to the south. The prospect of through travel from Leeds, Manchester or further north, all the way through to Milan is one of the brighter features of the whole scheme.