HC Deb 10 February 1999 vol 325 cc305-6
3. Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

If he will list the main priorities of the social exclusion unit for the current year. [68645]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Dr. Jack Cunningham)

The unit will continue to lead the co-ordination of policy development across Whitehall on neighbourhood renewal. It will produce two new reports to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on teenage parents and on 16 to 18-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training.

Mr. Corbett

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I welcome and encourage the work that the unit is doing on truancy and school exclusion, and now with teenage parents. The efforts of thousands of my constituents to rebuild their lives, homes and community through the Castle Vale housing action trust are being harmed by the activities of a handful of eight to 14-year-old youngsters who feel socially excluded. Will my right hon. Friend endorse the efforts of the trust, Castle Vale school, the police and community groups to work together to offer those young people better hope for their lives, in a great city where they are lucky to live?

Dr. Cunningham

Yes, I will endorse that work. My hon. Friend's comments about the work of the social exclusion unit will be widely welcomed by the people who work for it. It is worth pointing out to the House that, as a result of their work, the Government have provided an extra £1.8 billion so far, targeted at schemes that featured in the unit's report, including those such as sure start, which is aimed at helping children who face the very risks that my hon. Friend has just described.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that Home Start is one of the most effective and sensitive of the voluntary organisations which are helping to tackle social exclusion? Will he ask the social exclusion unit expressly to examine the difficulties in Farncombe, in Godalming? Is it his Government's view that disadvantage, isolation and deprivation do not occur in relatively prosperous counties? Such is the effect of the spending decisions on Surrey's health and social services that it is inconceivable that money will be found to start any new projects; indeed, the small amount of joint finance funding already available will have to be withdrawn. Will the right hon. Gentleman expressly ask the social exclusion unit to study what is happening in the home counties and the suffering experienced there?

Dr. Cunningham

First, I pay tribute to the work that the right hon. Lady has always done in the voluntary sector through her long and effective association with voluntary work. I cannot comment on the organisation that she mentioned, but I am sure that it is, as she says, worthy of support. As for the social exclusion unit considering specific difficulties rather than general issues, that is not really within its remit, but I undertake to look carefully at what the right hon. Lady has said and to see how I can draw that to the attention of my appropriate right hon. Friends.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a key role for the social exclusion unit must be to continue to develop policies across government that support social entrepreneurs, the people who provide the drive behind credit unions, community businesses and other forms of social enterprise? Will my right hon. Friend further encourage the social exclusion unit to promote more partnerships between mainstream banks and social enterprises to bring the hard-headed financial skills of the private sector to our work on neighbourhood renewal?


Although my hon. Friend makes an important point, it is not currently within the work programme of the social exclusion unit. However, he is right to draw attention to the important work of credit unions and co-operative organisations. Again, I shall draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who has responsibility for such matters.