HC Deb 15 July 1992 vol 211 cc1122-3
3. Ms. Ruddock

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will report on the progress of the city challenge programme in Deptford.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Sir George Young)

Deptford city challenge is now making good progress. Its recent achievements include the launch of the community safety programme on 13 July, and the schools routeways programme yesterday. We will be reviewing its progress with its action plan towards the end of the year.

Ms. Ruddock

I share the Minister's satisfaction with the good start that has been made, especially with regard to training. But does he share the despair that I felt on learning that Siemens Plessey Controls, the flagship private sector partner of Deptford city challenge, has had to issue redundancy notices in respect of two thirds of its staff, including all eight apprentices? What action will he take, along with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade—who set up the city challenge scheme—to protect existing manufacturing jobs and training in my constituency?

Sir George Young

I am grateful for the kind words about the progress of city challenge with which the hon. Lady began her question. Yesterday, as she knows, I spoke to Dick Liddell, the Siemens Plessey site manager, and I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade has had a meeting with Mr. Beresford of Siemens. He has agreed to help the company to diversify. I also understand that the parent company has agreed to help the subsidiary in Deptford with some of its problems.

One of the problems that face the hon. Lady's local firm is the high cost of the lease. The freeholder is the London borough of Lewisham. It may be possible for the company to renegotiate the lease, thereby bringing down the overheads and some of the running costs.

Mr. Blunkett

In reaching a decision tomorrow about the winners and losers for the next round of city challenge projects, will the Minister take into account the difficulties that have been experienced in the Deptford programme, as outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock)? Does he acknowledge that the urban programme, which the Government have cut by £121 million since the mid-1980s—they have cut it by £14.5 million this year, and a further £50 million has been cut from specific housing projects—should form the basis of any sensible inner city regeneration policy, rather than city challenge schemes? Such schemes inevitably involve many losers as well as winners and they are taking vital moneys from the urban programme. Will the Minister confirm, at the end of the parliamentary session, that the urban programme will not be cut in the next two years, and will he give a guarantee to that effect as he has guaranteed that city challenge will not be cut next year?

Sir George Young

I am slightly surprised that the hon. Gentleman should speak about city challenge in such terms. The response from local authorities—including those under Labour control—has been most encouraging and my colleagues and I have spent many days over the past month listening to submissions from authorities throughout the country.

My own view is that city challenge has unlocked a fresh spirit of enterprise in the inner cities. We are seeing new partnerships between local authorities, the private sector and voluntary organisations, and I consider that a worthwhile extension of our inner-city policies. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until tomorrow, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will be announcing the round two winners.