HC Deb 26 July 1989 vol 157 cc1018-9
11. Mr. Bill Michie

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will increase the amount of money allocated by urban development corporations for the purpose of community projects and voluntary sector initiatives; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Hunt

It is for each urban development corporation to decide, within the total budget we have provided, what degree of resources to devote to community projects and voluntary sector initiatives.

Mr. Michie

On 24 May, the Minister told the House that a miserly 0.7 per cent. of the budget for the Sheffield UDC would be allocated to the voluntary community initiative. If the Government want to convince the community that UDCs are good for it, instead of criticising hon. Members who, with good reason, continue to knock UDCs, why do the Government not get their own house in order and guarantee that more money and more resources will be available for the community initiative?

Mr. Hunt

It is for the hon. Gentleman's own UDC to decide how to allocate funds, and the proportion of the budget that it allocates to community groups and projects. I pay tribute to Sheffield, which is one of the few areas that have actually appointed a community director. That is a very good move. UDCs should actively seek good relations and co-operation with local community groups.

Mr. Rowe

Does my hon. Friend agree that there are alleged to be two great problems? One is the rundown of the inner cities and the other is the enormous increase in the number of elderly people? Does he agree also that the second is not a problem but an opportunity? If more elderly people could be persuaded and helped to offer their skills and experience as volunteers, they could make an enormous impact on the problems of inner cities. To do that, they require a certain amount of pump-priming finance, and I hope that his Department will carefully look at that matter.

Mr. Hunt

I certainly hope that those involved in decision making within UDCs will pay attention to what my hon. Friend has said. I prefer to recognise the problem as the challenge of the young-old. Those who retire earlier have a tremendous potential contribution to make to the community, particularly to inner cities.

.Mr. Rooker

Does the Minister accept that there is nothing at all wrong with new administrative organisations and activities to solve new problems? We accept that UDCs have a role to play. Will he look at what has been happening in docklands and the UDC there? It is reported that hundreds of new dwellings that cannot be sold are being rented by the private sector at over £200 a week, fully funded by housing benefit. Surely it was not the intention that urban development corporations should result in such mismanagement of public funds.

Mr. Hunt

The whole point of our positive policies is to try to encourage people to want to live and work once again in those crucial areas. The docklands UDC has been a marvellous example of a stimulus to that area. I would not want to deride its progress as the hon. Gentleman has.

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