HC Deb 30 January 1996 vol 270 cc763-5
5. Mr. Forman

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the quality of the bids his Department received during the second bidding round under the single regeneration budget. [10372]

Mr. Curry

The high quality of the bids received in the second round of the single regeneration budget challenge fund demonstrated the value of competitive bidding. Sutton Regeneration Partnerships and the Wandle Valley Partnership have been successful in both rounds of the challenge fund entirely on the quality of the projects put forward.

Mr. Forman

I am sure that my constituents will be delighted to hear my hon. Friend's commendation of the quality of the bid that came recently on behalf of Roundshaw, South Beddington and Wallington. Does my hon. Friend agree that the distinguishing feature of that successful bid was the way in which it tried to ensure that there would be the fullest co-operation with the private sector, especially with leading firms in my constituency such as Superdrug, Homebase and Canon UK? Will my hon. Friend ensure that this feature of the regeneration process continues to be a dominant one in Government consideration?

Mr. Curry

I shall certainly do so. First, the essence of our regeneration proposals is that as well as a diverse range of players from the public sector, partners are brought in from the private sector. Secondly, the public sector money that is made available attracts private sector finance. By that approach, we arrive at a much more effective scheme. It is one that is generated by the community and it reflects its priority.

Mr. Rooker

Will the Minister take account, in future, of bids from urban areas that may be classed as outer rather than inner areas? We are in great danger of separating the two. Good bids come from outer areas. In my constituency, for example, one has come in from Kingstanding and south Aston in Birmingham. I make no complaint about the successful bid in respect of the inner-city area of Birmingham. There is no evidence, however, that the Minister's officials take seriously bids from outer areas, simply because they are outer rather than inner. Is the Minister aware that that approach is building up a great deal of resentment in the populations of our great cities?

Mr. Curry

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman. I scrutinise all the bids personally to ensure that they are chosen on merit. There are some, however, who would argue that all the bids should be focused on the inner city. Where discrete and sensible programmes can be put together with proper partnerships, however, they can have a major impact on areas that otherwise might be considered to be relatively well off, even though they contain corners or areas that suffer from deprivation. I am determined that the scheme should continue to have national coverage. Where bids succeed on merit, we shall award resources. That can apply equally to outer parts of our great cities as well as to some smaller rural areas where problems need to be addressed.

Sir Donald Thompson

Is there any method by which unsuccessful bidders can reassess their bids for the next round? Is there any co-operation from his Department to enable such bids to be rejigged to fit the pattern?

Mr. Curry

There is indeed. If bids have not been successful in one round, we have made it clear that the bidders concerned should contact regional offices and go through their bids with them to ascertain where there are deficiencies. In the second round, there are many schemes that failed in the first round. For example, in Pendle there was a bid of poor quality in the first round that became a very good bid in the second. We work with local authorities and other partners to try to get bids into the best possible state so that they are competitive. Once they are in that condition, we judge them on their competitiveness.

Ms Armstrong

I am sure that the House will be pleased that the Minister is now accepting that quality should be an issue in competitive tendering. That has not been the position to date. Will the Minister tell us how the Government will make the entire system more open? He has implied that Ministers interfere in the process and in decisions and there is no feeling at local level that there is any accountability. Is he aware that it is felt that Government officers are making decisions that should be made openly, properly and accountably in the political process?

Mr. Curry

I did not say that Ministers interfere. I said that Ministers fulfil their proper constitutional duty to scrutinise because we must take responsibility for the outcome. If the hon. Lady does not want Ministers to do that, it will be done, as she falsely describes, by officials. That would not be an accountable system. A Select Committee gave wide approbation to the regeneration scheme and I shall continue to scrutinise the bids to ensure that we get the best possible value for money and that the best bids receive the funds.

Mr. Thomason

Has my hon. Friend noted the conclusion of the Environment Select Committee, that the single regeneration bids represent extremely good value for taxpayers' money? Does he agree that the local and regional offices of his Department have an important role to play in assisting partnerships to come together, and that partnerships that fail can still sometimes undertake work in future by virtue of the communications that they established in putting in a bid?

Mr. Curry

My hon. Friend is right. The job of the regional offices is to facilitate bids and assist people who are bidding. We do not ask people to put it together entirely by themselves without any form of a device or assistance. We want to get the maximum number of people into a competitive position. That is why we have had such successful schemes, and one of the most successful regeneration projects in recent times has been the Hulme redevelopment in Manchester. I am glad to see the Leader of the Opposition praising such a Tory initiative in this field.