HC Deb 18 January 1989 vol 145 cc319-21
7. Mr. Boswell

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the progress of the inner-city task forces in the east midlands.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Eric Forth)

The inner-city task forces are central to the Government's action for cities programme. Their objectives are to secure more jobs for local people, to improve their employability, to encourage and facilitate local enterprise and to support environmental initiatives, which also contribute to these objectives. The Nottingham and Highfields (Leicester) task forces have both made sound progress towards achieving those aims. To date, they have committed £2.8 million to more than 100 projects which, among other things, are expected to create around 730 jobs and 2,230 training places for local people. A number of projects have also attracted additional support from the private sector and from other Government programmes.

Mr. Boswell

Bearing in mind that I too come from the east midlands, but represent a more rural constituency, will my hon. Friend accept that the news is equally welcome to us as it is to the inner cities? In view of the fact that 1989 is British Food and Farming Year and that good work is being done by the Country Trust, the Association of Agriculture and other organisations will my hon. Friend bear in mind the countryside's scope as an educational and social resource which can work alongside his project?

Mr. Forth

I praise my hon. Friend for his ingenuity in managing to bring his praiseworthy words about the countryside into a question about the inner-city task forces. In view of the type of constituency that he represents, I am glad that he appreciates the good work that has been done, and continues to be done, by the inner-city task forces. I am sure that everyone will appreciate that the benefits that come directly to people in the inner cities are a contribution to the improved well-being of society as a whole.

Mr. Vaz

In view of the Minister's cheerful explanation about the Highfields task force—which I dispute—does he think that it is appropriate at this stage to enable local authorities to play a more direct role in the operation of the inner-city task forces? Does he agree that now is the time to place the task forces under the direct control of local authorities? He will recall that when the matter has been raised on previous occasions, the Minister has said that he will come before the House with proposals to create outer estate task forces. Has progress been made on that?

Mr. Forth

I think that I can understand why the hon. Gentleman in particular has raised the question in that way. The sad truth is that whereas task forces have been able to work well with local authorities—including Labour-controlled local authorities—in virtually every task force area, Leicester, his own local authority, has refused to co-operate with the task force and has made its work more difficult. It has obstructed its work and has, therefore, contributed to making it less effective than those in other cities. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's contribution will be to go back to his local authority and urge it to take a more constructive approach, so that his constituents can benefit as much as those in other city areas.

Mr. Devlin

Does the Minister accept that similar problems have been experienced by Government projects in other parts of the country? In Middlesbrough, for example, there are problems with the Teesside development corporation, which is being obstructed in every way by Middlesbrough council, which has now said that it has not had consultation with the Teesside development corporation, having not asked for any. It has the support of the local Labour Member in this matter.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend has raised an important point and I am sure that it has not been lost on the local people. When they see what can be done when local authorities co-operate with organisations such as the task forces in bringing benefits to the local people, they will judge for themselves whether it is correct for the local authority to be helpful or unhelpful. There are many examples of areas where local authorities and the task forces work well together to the benefit of the people in the inner cities. As a result of what my hon. Friend has said and the question put by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), the point will be noted by the local electorate in local elections.

Mr. Alton

Although I confirm what the Minister said about the successful role that the task forces can play in the regeneration of an economy, does he accept that there is something in the comments of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) about the lack of accountability of some task forces? Does the Minister recognise that some people perceive the task force as a gauleiter in carpet slippers? The task forces should be more accountable to the local community and should contain a greater local element when they are established.

Mr. Forth

Of course, I recognise the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is only fair to point out that great progress has been made over many decades, for example, by the use of such devices as new town development corporations, one of which was very successful in my own constituency, and which, by the very fact that they are not elected, can make progress in a way in which elected authorities cannot. The key is to get co-operation between the elected representatives in local government and the task forces for as long as they are operating in particular areas. At best, that should give us a balance between the effectiveness of the task force and the accountability of the local authority.