HC Deb 15 January 2001 vol 361 cc27-43 3.51 pm
The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Ms Hilary Armstrong)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal action plan "new commitment to neighbourhood renewal", which we are publishing today.

When we published the urban and rural White Papers in November, we set out our vision for ensuring a sustainable quality of life. We made it clear that an important part of the framework was to turn round our most deprived areas, and that the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal would spell out our ideas. This strategy is a long-term response to the appalling conditions created over decades in communities up and down the country.

When the Government came to office, the most deprived areas of England had, when compared with the rest, almost two thirds more unemployment; a mortality ratio 30 per cent. higher; and two to three times the level of poor housing, vandalism and dereliction. Over the 1980s and into the 1990s, the gap between poor neighbourhoods and the rest of the country grew steadily. Places that started with the highest unemployment often also saw the greatest rise in unemployment. Health inequalities widened. The proportion of people living in low-income households more than doubled. That was partly the result of global social and economic changes, but it was also a legacy of a lack of political attention and of policies that did not work.

Past Government action was unfocused and unco-ordinated. Departments worked at cross purposes on problems that needed a joined-up response. Regeneration initiatives were short-term and limited to a few areas. Mainstream services, such as schools and hospitals, were failing in far too many deprived neighbourhoods. Crucially, there was a failure to harness the knowledge and energy of local people, and to empower them to work out their own solutions.

The result was both socially and economically damaging. Communities were trapped in unemployment, and deprived of the good schools and services that would help them to get back on their feet. The economy was deprived of workers, taxpayers, customers and entrepreneurs, and the bills of social failure mounted up.

The Government have made tackling this long-term decline a priority from the outset, through new policies such as sure start, raising school standards, the new deal, crime reduction, the health plan and the new deal for communities. Those policies are already showing results. Britain is a fairer and more prosperous country. Economic prosperity and educational opportunity have increased in all areas. In 19 of the local authorities with the highest unemployment rates, unemployment has fallen faster than the national average, and 44 of the most deprived local authorities are among those with the fastest improving key stage 2 numeracy results.

However, deep-rooted problems require a long-term and integrated approach that can be sure of avoiding the mistakes of past decades.

In 1998, the social exclusion unit was asked to develop a national strategy for neighbourhood renewal. More than 400 people from inside and outside Government have been involved with the SEU in developing the strategy through 18 policy action teams. In addition, thousands of other people up and down the country, many of whom live and work in deprived neighbourhoods, responded to the consultation on the framework for the strategy that was published last April. In parallel, last year's spending review identified new resources to be invested in improvement.

That produced a framework for action which has the support of the people who need to make it work on the ground. It sets out an ambitious vision: that within 10 to 20 years no one should be seriously disadvantaged by where they live, and that the gap between the poorest neighbourhoods and the rest will have been narrowed. That is indeed an ambitious goal, but, in the Government's view, it is a vital one. It will take time to achieve, but we have established clear measures to chart our path towards it.

The action plan sets out a three-year commitment to raising the standard and performance of public-sector services in the most deprived areas, with the following clear outcomes: reducing crime; reducing unemployment; improving education and skills; improving health; and improving housing and the physical environment.

The strategy has three key elements. First, there are new policies, funding and targets to tackle the causes of neighbourhood decline, such as unemployment, crime and poor services. Mainstream services—health, law and order, housing and education—will for the first time be judged on their achievements in improving things where they are worst, rather than just in relation to national averages. For example, the Department for Education and Employment will work towards ensuring that by 2004 no local education authority has fewer than 38 per cent. of pupils getting five good grades at GCSE; and by 2005 no area should have a burglary rate more than three times the national average.

In the 2000 spending review, Departments were given substantial new resources—for instance, the £1.6 billion increase in spending on the police by 2003–04, and the rise in education and health spending. This year, they will review their resource allocations to ensure that they meet their targets.

Secondly, we will promote integrated action at local level to get services to work better, and to deliver for their communities.

Local implementation of the strategy in each area will he the responsibility of a single body, the local strategic partnership. The partnerships will bring together public, private and voluntary service providers with the community and business sectors. They will be responsible for drawing up local strategies that address the specific problems and aspirations of all their deprived neighbourhoods, and give communities a single door to knock on so that they are not endlessly passed from pillar to post.

We have already announced that the neighbourhood renewal fund will provide £800 million over the next three years to help local strategic partnerships in the 88 most deprived areas to kick-start the process. In addition, I am announcing today that a community empowerment fund of over £35 million will support communities, enabling them to develop their ideas for change and to participate as equal partners in local strategic partnerships. It will amount to an average of £400,000 per area over the next three years, and will allow all residents the chance to have their say.

There will be other models for community involvement. A £50 million community chest fund will give communities in such areas small grants to help them run their own projects, and we will put £45 million into at least 30 neighbourhood management pathfinder projects over the next three years. Those projects will explore the benefits of putting one person, or a team of people, in charge of looking after a neighbourhood. They will provide a local presence to whom residents can go if they have concerns about the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood manager will have the clout to get things done in the area.

These measures are essential. Communities are at the heart of neighbourhood renewal. Some past Government efforts to deal with neighbourhood deprivation failed because they did not engage effectively with communities in those areas. We must learn from that. People living in deprived neighbourhoods know their area better than anyone else. They must be at the heart of neighbourhood renewal.

The third key strand of the strategy is better national and regional support for local activity. Central Government must be more joined up and work better with their local partners. The strategy will ensure that that happens. We must end the problems faced by deprived neighbourhoods which are shunted from one service provider to the next and from one Department to the next, with no one taking responsibility.

In September, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that a new neighbourhood renewal unit in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions would be established by April. The unit, headed by Joe Montgomery, director of regeneration at the London borough of Lewisham, will have a cross-cutting, outward focus. It will be staffed by civil servants from across Whitehall and secondees with a broad range of experience in working with local communities. It will be responsible for overseeing and for co-ordinating the implementation of the strategy. It will ensure that the Government as a whole deliver on their commitments to neighbourhood renewal, supported by neighbourhood renewal teams in Government offices and annual statistics about how neighbourhoods are progressing.

As our vision turns into reality in more and more neighbourhoods, people on the ground will see a huge difference. For the first time, someone locally will be prepared and empowered to take responsibility for the many joined-up problems that the poorest neighbourhoods face. There will be a genuine opportunity for residents to get involved, and communities will have resources to support them in that. Residents will see further improvements in local and regional economies, new ideas such as neighbourhood wardens and IT centres coming on stream, and improvements in the quality of core public services such as schools, health and policing. Areas that suffer from the worst performance at the moment will see standards brought up to minimum floors.

It is easy to be sceptical about change, but the improved policies of the past three years and the concrete examples of what can be achieved by community groups and social entrepreneurs are a measure of what can be achieved. They give us confidence that we can aim for a position where more neighbourhoods are advancing on all fronts. The new commitment to neighbourhood renewal builds on existing policies: to end boom and bust; to put the economy on a stable footing; to invest in public services; to invest in people and their futures; and to take active measures to ensure that everyone benefits from the prosperity and opportunity that we have created.

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

I am glad that I came in.

I thank the Minister for giving us an advance copy of her statement and for coming to the House to take questions. With the greatest respect to her, it is odd that the strategy announcement was made this morning at the Ocean estate, Stepney by the Prime Minister, aided and abetted by the Deputy Prime Minister, the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Social Security and assorted other senior hangers-on, while the Minister for Local Government and the Regions will do for the House.

The statement has an interesting title—"new commitment to neighbourhood renewal." It is not clear whether it is a new commitment to neighbourhood renewal after the previous one failed, or a new-found commitment that the Government want to be seen to be committed to before a general election. However, the Opposition welcome any genuine moves to raise the problems of urban regeneration up the agenda and to bring about practical solutions. We particularly welcome any moves that seek to involve and to empower the community at all levels, with a genuinely bottom-up approach.

Many of the community-based regeneration projects that I have seen in recent months—whether the Royds community association in Bradford or similar organisations in Sheffield or Brent—say that progress is best made when communities are provided with the tools and set free to get on with the job at the sharp end, with minimal interference from the Government. I am pleased, albeit suspiciously, that the Government are starting to acknowledge that the solution to urban regeneration problems is an holistic one, involving making communities safer; ensuring that they have decent schools to which parents want to send their children rather than being forced to get out to get them an education; and making them places where businesses want to invest.

Such an approach is at the heart of our "Believing in our Cities" policy document, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) launched last year. That document is all about putting in place building blocks for sustainable communities, not only depending on bricks and mortar. However, that is barely a "new approach" to public investment—as the Prime Minister put it today in his speech in Stepney. After four years of warm soundbites, unfulfilled promises and failing delivery, people will want to know exactly how the scheme will work in practice, if at all, and to ask the following questions.

As the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee recently noted: The quality of services provided to urban neighbourhoods is very poor despite the large amount of mainstream funds spent. Why will the money that the Minister has announced be spent better? We are told that the new neighbourhood managers are to act as an interface between Government agencies and communities. Is not such interface made necessary by the fragmentation and complication of the Government's plethora of competing schemes under the heading of urban regeneration—such as education action zones, health action zones, the new deal for communities, renewal areas, and so on? Has not that complication made the whole business of urban regeneration bureaucratic, administratively costly and much removed from the communities which they are supposedly there to benefit and which now need the supposed remedies? Was not dome tsar Lord Falconer supposed to have sorted all that out?

Secondly, is the money new money or simply the usual recycled announcement of funds from last year's comprehensive spending review? Rather than the £131 million mentioned by the Prime Minister, and just now by the Minister, is not the amount allocated for neighbourhood management and neighbourhood managers really £45 million spread over three years? How much will that translate into for each of the communities involved? How many communities will be involved? When will they receive it?

Who will the money be paid to? Will the regional development agencies have a role as the major distributors of urban regeneration grants? Will local authorities have a hand in the determination of funds? If so, will communities genuinely be empowered—as the Prime Minister claimed—to control and shape their own destiny?

What will be the role of the Department of Trade and Industry? The Secretary of State seemed rather keen to muscle in on the act this morning. We are delighted to see him in the Chamber now.

What exactly will neighbourhood managers do? How are they different from neighbourhood wardens? Will they be there simply to manage neighbourhood wardens? Who will appoint them? On the basis of what criteria will they be appointed, and to whom will they be accountable? This morning, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry did not seem to know the answers to those questions. How exactly will neighbourhood managers interface with local authorities?

Thirdly, is it not gross opportunism to announce the scheme now, just weeks before a general election? Is it not really little more than yet another gimmick that barely rectifies the record of a Government who have presided over a widening north-south divide and a widening poverty gap—the extent of which have been clarified with publication today of the third "Wealth of Nations" report showing that 60 per cent. of households in centres such as Liverpool, Bradford, Blackburn and Middlesbrough are earning less than £10,000 annually per household?

Have not the Government presided over a decrease of 35 per cent. in the amount of new social housing built, and an increase of 74 per cent. in the number of people in temporary accommodation? Moreover, against the background of 190,000 extra crimes committed last year, has not crime in inner cities increased most of all—up by 12.6 per cent. in London, and 16 per cent. in the west midlands?

Does the statement go any way to satisfying any of the remaining 91 recommendations of the Rogers report which were not dealt with in the earlier urban White Paper? Does the statement restore a single one of the 2,600 police officers who are no longer present to patrol the streets in deprived communities? Will the right hon. Lady admit that neighbourhood wardens are no substitute for properly trained bobbies on the beat? Will she confirm that one of the more fatuous pledges in her announcement, namely, that by 2005 no area should have a burglary rate of three times the national average, can be achieved simply by raising that average?

Does the statement restore a single one of the teachers who are leaving the profession in droves, demoralised by form-filling, bureaucracy and political correctness? Does it shorten by one single day the waiting times that people in inner cities must suffer to obtain urgent treatment in hospitals, if they are lucky enough to graduate from the waiting list for the waiting list?

If the answer to any of those questions is no, why are the Government again palming us off with gimmicks when they could be spending the money on more police, more teachers or more operations? Like people elsewhere, people in inner cities have paid the taxes, so when are they going to get the services?

Ms Armstrong

I had intended to thank the hon. Gentleman for not indulging in cynicism, but I am afraid that he moved in a cynical direction towards the end of his remarks.

Services in many of our deprived areas have been worsening for decades. The previous Government did nothing to arrest that process or to ensure that specific action was taken in those areas. Indeed, they engaged in rounds of cuts year after year before the last election. We are giving ourselves tough targets on all of the key services and have worked with people from communities throughout the county on identifying those services and the aspects that need to be improved; that has been an intensive activity over the past two years.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) seems yet again to want a top-down approach in which the Government decide what is right without proper consultation or discussion and without piloting proposals with local communities. On money, he seems to think that Budgets and statements by Chancellors do not matter and that we can suddenly resurrect money from an unidentifiable pot of gold. Yes, the money was announced in the public spending round last July, but it has not previously been allocated and we have been working 'with local communities on deciding the most effective allocation. Our piloting of neighbourhood managers will involve 30 different areas in two rounds during the next three years. Many areas that benefit from the new deal for communities are already piloting or beginning to set up new forms of neighbourhood management. The 30 additional communities that will benefit from the piloting are all in the top 10 per cent. of the country's deprived wards.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether local authorities would be involved, but he seemed schizophrenic about the nature of such involvement. Of course they will be involved, as they are responsible for several of the key services that must be delivered more effectively in the areas in question. It is therefore important for them to act as partners with the local community, business, other public sector agencies and voluntary organisations. They will be partners in the local strategic partnerships and in drawing up priorities and plans for their deprived neighbourhoods.

Of course the DTI is involved. If we do not improve enterprise in these areas, their long-term sustainability will be reduced. The actions of the DTI on the minimum wage, for example, and its work with the Small Business Service are absolutely critical.

We shall not appoint the neighbourhood managers: they will be appointed locally. The appointments will come from whatever vehicle the local strategic partnerships decide to set up. Under the new deal for communities, many areas have already set up community trusts. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham is really not interested in my answer, is he? Several areas are setting up community trusts that will appoint a neighbourhood manager. In other areas, the appointments will be carried out in a different way by people in those areas, who will decide the most effective way of acting.

Conservative Members clearly have severe problems in understanding that one cannot dictate everything centrally while expecting local people to trust that their involvement will matter. We are determined to show that that will be the key.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that Burnley is a deprived area? We certainly welcome the statement, and Burnley has a record of seizing any opportunity given by a Government, although we were given few by the Tory Government during their 18 years of responsibility for the problem. Several community groups in Burnley—particularly south-west Burnley—will already be considering how to meet the challenge that the Minister has proposed for community groups to receive this funding.

May I spell out one problem for my right hon. Friend? When we involve community groups and build up their hopes, there is always a danger that those people's hopes will be dashed and that they will get depressed if sufficient money is not then available. Can we have an assurance that the money will be available, and that these people will get the go-ahead and be able to tackle the kind of problems to which my right hon. Friend has referred?

Ms Armstrong

Burnley is one of the authorities that will benefit from the neighbourhood renewal fund, to the tune of £2.5 million over the next three years. It will also be able to access the other funds that I have announced this afternoon. Given the increased investment announced by the Chancellor, as long as the authority focuses on ways of reducing crime and unemployment, of improving health, and so on—although there will never be enough money and everyone will always want more—I am confident that the increase will be able to satisfy the aspirations of people in Burnley.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I welcome, as I have on two previous occasions, the broad principle of today's statement. The Minister has acknowledged that, with the exception of the £35 million for the community empowerment scheme, there is no announcement of new money. Will she at least confirm that the targets for crime reduction, education and health that she has announced today are absolutely identical to those that the Government announced on 10 September?

Will the Minister also tell the House why it has taken the Labour party 18 years in opposition and three and a half years in government to discover what many people have known for all that time and longer—namely that the people who live with particular problems are the ones who are best placed, with support, to find the solutions to them?

Does the right hon. Lady accept that her announcement of, for example, a community chest, neighbourhood management and community empowerment schemes adds yet more bureaucratic schemes to the large number that already exists? So bureaucratic are some of those schemes that people have difficulty finding their way through them, and much of the funding announced by the Government to help those most in need of it has ended up being underspent.

On underspending, will the Minister acknowledge that, although there is to be £100 million for the neighbourhood renewal fund, the first time the Chancellor announced that, he did not announce—although the figures clearly demonstrate—that in the same financial year, £160 million was to be cut from the budget for the new deal for communities? That money was intended specifically for the same target group.

Ms Armstrong

The new money announced today—or the new allocation of money—is £50 million for the community chest over the next three years; £35 million for the community empowerment fund over the next three years; and money to support other community activities. Overall, there is £130 million.

It has not taken us so long to find out that the people living in an area are those best placed to turn it round. It is precisely because we have been working with people that the strategy is being announced today, rather than on the first day after the general election. We were working with people to develop the strategy, because we did not think that we could say, "We know best, and you'll do what we tell you."

The hon. Gentleman said that the new system would be more bureaucratic. I disagree. The local strategic partnership will allow all the other partnerships to come together in discussion and debate with others, and find the most effective way of meeting their targets. By bringing things together we can reduce bureaucracy.

Of course there has been underspend in some programmes, precisely because we were working with communities over a longer time. For example, the new deal for communities pathfinder in Birmingham needed another year to put its proposals together, so we gave it another year. That meant that it did not spend the money that would otherwise have been available. Taking the opportunity to work with people sometimes means that money is not spent at exactly the expected time.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

Like many Labour Members, I welcome the statement—but I am upset that it does not extend to my constituency. The index of deprivation 2000 rates Slough as only the 107th most deprived area, but all other indices of deprivation put Slough much higher. We are among the top 20 boroughs in the country for burglary. We have very high levels of deaths from heart attacks and heart disease. One in three children entering Slough schools has English as an additional language.

I am particularly concerned that the new deprivation index does not account sufficiently for pockets of deprivation among ethnic minority communities.

Eighty per cent. of Pakistanis in Slough earn less than £10,000 a year. Will the Minister please reconsider the way in which boroughs with large ethnic minority populations are treated under the deprivation index, because it does not accurately reflect the needs of the community that I represent?

Ms Armstrong

I understand my hon. Friend's concerns; she is constantly seeking to increase opportunities for people in Slough—and so she should. However, 70 per cent. of this country's ethnic minority population live in the 10 per cent. of wards that are most deprived. That is reflected in the new index, so my hon. Friend can see that it takes account of people from ethnic minorities. I assure her that we want to improve the available data all the time. Indeed, the comprehensive spending review put money into the Office for National Statistics to improve data collection and availability not only at ward level but at remuneration by district level. That is important not only for those of us who administer programmes but for local people, who should have proper access to information about what is really going on in their neighbourhoods—and that is what we seek to provide over the next three years.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

Is the Minister aware of the sense of outrage in Essex when people learned that, of the £800 million announced by the Government, not a penny was to go to anywhere in Essex—apart from Dagenham—even areas where there are substantial problems, such as Basildon, Tilbury and Southend-on-Sea? Is the Minister aware that unemployment there is well above average and that there are many social problems, as seen from the concentration of bed-and-breakfasts and houses in multiple occupation? Is she also aware of the concentration of elderly people? Will she ask the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), about the situation regarding asylum seekers? In Southend, we have a nightmare of a problem, which places a big strain on public services?

Does the Minister appreciate that there is considerable anger that Southend is not getting a penny? I was told this morning that Southend's problem could be its above-average results for education—that is not a problem for us; we are delighted with it—and that we have an effective Conservative council that avoids the shambles we have seen in other areas. Is the Minister willing to look again at the criteria, because the present situation is not fair to Essex and not fair to Southend?

Ms Armstrong

We had to take difficult decisions about what were the poorest areas. We did so according to very clear criteria which we have published in "Indices of Deprivation 2000", and I invite the hon. Gentleman to look at them.

I know that Southend is seeking to tackle its problems. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I visited recently to announce a very generous transport settlement. As he also knows, Southend is doing quite well out of the local government settlement. I want to ensure that Southend is using its mainstream money effectively. This statement is not just about money but about how we work with areas that have problems to make sure that the mainstream money works effectively. I am sure that Southend will be seeking to do that.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Will my right hon. Friend accept from me—most unusually, perhaps—that this statement will be warmly welcomed by my constituents and by Thurrock borough council? The proposals that she has announced fit in very well with the borough's new structures to enable and empower neighbourhoods. I speak for Tilbury, not for Southend, and I hope that the lion. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) will bear that in mind.

We welcome this document because it is a little bit of socialism, if I dare use the word. It targets the most deprived areas so that they get much more than they would get in blanket grants.

The paper refers to the co-operation of a number of agencies, particularly the police. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that she will not allow the chief constable of Essex police to be tardy and hold back on this matter? We find the least policing in our areas of greatest poverty. The local authority and local community might be lined up on this, but unless we can get the co-operation of the chief constable in recognising that deprived areas such as Tilbury need greater policing, we will be frustrated in our attempts to fulfil the radical and progressive objectives that my right hon. Friend has outlined this afternoon, particularly for my community in Thurrock and Tilbury.

Ms Armstrong

My hon. Friend's authority, although it does not receive a neighbourhood renewal fund, none the less has at least two wards which are suffering from deprivation and are among the 10 per cent. worst in the country, which mewls that it will be eligible for the neighbourhood management pilots and for some of the other money.

More than anything else, this strategy is a means by which local communities can come together to work out what the local priorities are and how to tackle them locally. The police will have targets. Whatever the chief constable feels about other matters, he will be seeking to ensure that the outcomes that every community has the right to expect are delivered in his area.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

I have rarely heard such a blubber-laden statement, even by the prolix standards of the Labour Government. Does the Minister agree that she spends too much time emphasising exam results in secondary schools and not enough time identifying the real problems in primary schools? In those areas, many primary schools are not failing, quite; are not in special measures, quite; and are not in an education action zone. They thus receive no help from the Government at all, and are finding things immensely tough. What measures does the right hon. Lady propose to give head teachers to enable them to fire bad teachers and to reward and thereby retain good teachers who could easily leave to work in a much more pleasant neighbourhood for the same money?

Ms Armstrong

The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that there has been significant investment in primary schools. No primary school has failed to benefit from that additional money. Every primary school has received significant additional money and has been engaged in raising attainment at key stages 1 and 2. In the most deprived areas, 44 of the 88 most deprived authorities have achieved the greatest rise in attainment at key stage 2 in numeracy. That is a real testament to primary school heads and teachers. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will support them in meeting those targets everywhere.

Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)

I warmly welcome the report and pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's personal commitment to regeneration issues. That is in complete contrast to Conservative policies which, in their 18 years in government, led to mass unemployment, wrote off inner-city communities and caused a doubling of crime.

As a result of the rundown of inner-city areas, one of the most difficult matters is to engage local people in regeneration initiatives. My right hon. Friend is aware that in Salford several initiatives are under way, but one of the most difficult things is to get local people to have the confidence to take part in decision making. That is why the community empowerment fund will be crucial in encouraging people to come forward. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the fund will support existing initiatives, as well as the new neighbourhood management initiatives? I fundamentally believe that we all need to learn from each other's experience of the whole range of initiatives; the community empowerment fund could be a mechanism that enables us to do that.

Ms Armstrong

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's dogged determination in her own constituency and to the way in which she works directly with community groups in some of the regeneration areas in Salford. Over the next three years, Salford will benefit by almost £11 million from the neighbourhood renewal fund. That shows the degree of deprivation in the city and the work that is to be done. I assure my hon. Friend that the community empowerment fund will ensure that local groups—local people—can be full partners, so that their voice can be heard whether the programmes are existing or new. Local people will be able to play their part; they will be equal partners, along with the local authority, the police authority, the health authority and business. Local people have their part to play; the programmes cannot be achieved without them.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

The Minister knows that any interest in the more deprived communities—many of which were Labour heartlands, but are so no longer—will be most welcome. Do her comments about neighbourhood managers mean that local residents, and not other agencies, will appoint—and sack, if need be—such managers?

Will the right hon. Lady look positively at the fact that, as London is the only part of the United Kingdom where there is not even a power to set up parish or community government, if people want to set up such government, they should be allowed to do so? In combination with the Homes Bill, which is also welcome, will these measures mean an end to the politically correct system of allocating housing? That system broke up communities, separating people from their families, from carers and from their children's nursery places. Families should be allowed to live near each other—if they want to do so—where they can be mutually supportive, and not thrown to the four winds, where they have suffered; as many academics and politicians agree, communities have been broken up over the past 50 years.

Ms Armstrong

The hon. Gentleman's constituency is in the London borough of Southwark, which over the next three years will benefit to the tune of nearly £16 million from the neighbourhood renewal fund. Local residents will be involved in appointing the neighbourhood manager and will determine the framework for that. Some may decide to do it through a community trust. It is not up to us to establish the local framework. The local community must determine the employer, accountable body and so on.

The Homes Bill aims to change the way in which homeless people are accounted for. As a result of the response to the housing Green Paper, we have signalled a change in allocations policy.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

I very much welcome the Minister's statement, especially in the context of the economic regeneration that is under way. I anticipate that Liverpool, where eight of the 20th poorest postcode areas are to be found, will benefit. What powers will be given to the strategic partnerships or their nominees to ensure that co-ordination of existing initiatives takes place and that Departments react constructively to what is happening locally? What role does my right hon. Friend see for local government, with its renewed powers in relation to environmental and economic well-being?

Ms Armstrong

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for welcoming the initiative. She is right: Liverpool has some of the most deprived people in the country. They will benefit by receiving more than £40 million from the neighbourhood renewal fund in the next three years, in addition to mainstream funding. We need to be sure that that money works effectively. It is therefore important to have co-ordination at local, regional and national levels, and that is precisely what the strategy sets out to achieve.

The local strategic partnership will work with regional government offices and central Government to ensure that barriers to effective co-ordination are removed. The negotiation of work between central and local government will also help to ensure that that happens. By having the right levers at local level, local people will be able to make a difference and bridge the gap between poorer and richer areas.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Is the Minister aware that if we are going to have daily ministerial electioneering statements, I shall pray nightly and fervently to the Almighty for an early general election to release us from our sufferings? Of course there is cynicism, here and elsewhere: if the Government cannot even deliver on the five early promises contained in pledge cards at the previous general election, how on earth does the right hon. Lady expect to persuade people in the inner cities that she is going to build the new Jerusalem, starting tomorrow?

Ms Armstrong

We cannot win, can we? Some Tories accuse us of not announcing the strategy early enough and others accuse us of producing a last-minute election ploy. Today's statement is a result of sustained work over the past two and a half years, within government and between central and local government and the Government and local people. That is why we have made a statement today.

Thousands of people took part in an extensive consultation. We have assessed and evaluated that consultation and the results are before us today. I suspect that if we had not laid them before the House, the hon. Gentleman would be raising points of order and complaining. This is a significant move. We are admitting past mistakes made by Labour Governments and by Governments of whom the hon. Gentleman was a member. Governments have too often been part of the problem. We have to change that and ensure that they work effectively with people so that everyone benefits from this country's growing prosperity.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North)

Until recently, the Lisson Green estate in the Conservative-controlled borough of Westminster was the model of how not to do urban regeneration. Some £50 million was spent on hugely mismanaged building works, with no consideration given to crime prevention, the community or economic development. I am glad to say that the corner is now being turned, with an education action zone, a sure start scheme and the opening last week of the council-funded information technology access project, firststep.com.

Will my right hon. Friend give me a commitment that small areas of acute deprivation such as the Lisson Green estate in Church street will continue to benefit from Government initiatives even though they are located in the midst of areas of considerable prosperity, as is so often the case in London?

Ms Armstrong

As I said, this strategy is not just about money; it is about ways of working and making sure that mainstream money works effectively. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right that some local authorities had money from mainstream funds but were not using it to target areas of deprivation in ways that gave people in those areas real opportunities. This strategy will make sure that that happens. Both the boroughs that my hon. Friend represents will benefit from the neighbourhood renewal fund, and I assure her that we will be watching carefully to make sure that councils target areas of deprivation. Initiatives such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend will continue to benefit small areas of deprivation in otherwise prosperous places. It is important that we tackle deprivation and give people opportunities wherever they live.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

In her recycled, sustainable statement the Minister said that the measures outlined are designed to cut crime in deprived communities. Given that in such communities it is often the case that a high proportion of crimes are committed by a small number of dedicated criminals whom the courts allow out again and again instead of using their powers to put them away, will she explain how the measures will have any effect whatever on the level of crime in those communities?

Ms Armstrong

I did warn you, Mr. Speaker, that there would be some cynicism, and the hon. Gentleman displays it by saying that nothing can be done. I simply do not accept that. The Government have already introduced significant legislative changes to enable local authorities and the police to take action against the very people about whom he is talking. Through the local crime and disorder partnerships and other methods, police and court activities are targeted at tackling problems locally. I am confident that that can happen, and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is so cynical that he believes that nothing can be done. He is obviously content that we will continue to have areas of social deprivation and he does not want to do anything about that.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I welcome the statement and wholeheartedly thank the Government for their work to deal with social exclusion, to reduce the poverty gap, to deal with ill health and to improve education. What work has been done to help people in Stoke-on-Trent where, far from there being one area of deprivation, 80 per cent. of people live in wards where there is 25 per cent. poverty among children? Will the programme that my right hon. Friend has announced enable whole areas of cities to be targeted?

Ms Armstrong

The programme is specifically for the most deprived areas. Stoke-on-Trent will benefit to the tune of £8 million from the neighbourhood renewal fund over the next three years. The Government are targeting the specific issues that my hon. Friend raises. She will know that we have a target to eliminate child poverty within 20 years. Our mainstream policies of the minimum wage and the working families tax credit, with the increase in child benefit, will benefit all those in her area who have not in the past received the help and support that they ought to have received.

The programme will particularly enable such people to get involved in other things that are needed to turn their area around, so that there are more job opportunities and they acquire the necessary skills and qualifications for better jobs. It will also tackle inequalities in health, crime and so on. Along with other mainstream policies, the programme will make a real difference to people's lives in Stoke-on-Trent.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Will the right hon. Lady share with the House the reason why the statement is being made today although, as she has admitted, the money was announced as part of the public spending review, and the Select Committee reports on urban and rural renewal are due for discussion on Friday next week? She talks about whole neighbourhoods, but how will the policies adapt to and tackle pockets of urban deprivation? Is she saying that such policies are needed because all the partners to whom she referred woefully let down little Anna from Haringey?

Ms Armstrong

The hon. Lady asks why the statement is being made today. As I have said several times, it is not just about money. It is about how that money will be spent effectively and what can happen locally and nationally in order to ensure that programmes are targeted effectively and have effective outcomes. We are able to make the statement today because we have completed work with those around the country who have been involved in consultation and policy action teams.

Of course the strategy can be used to tackle pockets of deprivation. We have acknowledged in the index that there are such pockets, which the previous Government seemed never to want to do. We know that we must do that and that the data are not sufficiently good to enable us to do so effectively. We continue to work on the data but none the less have a strategy that enables every community to consider what can be done to help to turn things around.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

I welcome the commitment of the Government and my right hon. Friend to neighbourhood renewal. My right hon. Friend will know that Birmingham not only has a new deal for communities pathfinder initiative, but is to receive £44 million under the neighbourhood renewal fund.

May I take my right hon. Friend back to the issue of pockets of deprivation? Although I appreciate the work that she and her Department are doing on improving data, a problem remains if they are based on ward indices and there are areas of deprivation alongside areas of affluence in a ward. In allocating moneys such as the neighbourhood renewal fund, will she urge local authorities and other accountable bodies to try to target below ward level in order to address that problem?

Ms Armstrong

I thank my hon. Friend. In fact, Birmingham has two new deal for communities areas and will benefit by more than £44 million from the neighbourhood renewal fund in the next three years. I agree with my hon. Friend about The quality of data. At the moment, we are working hard to amass effective data at ward level. That has been difficult; it was part of the reason for the new index. We invested money through the 2000 spending review to try to collect good data on remuneration at district level, data from across the range of public services and information from other important aspects in order to find out what is going on and what priorities should be. Obviously this year's census will help us to do that. In future, the Office for National Statistics will perform that task.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South)

I warmly welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend, who, I am delighted to say, knows my constituency very well. I wish to draw her attention to Thornaby and Parkfield, which face a problem of unemployment that is considerably worse than the national average, as well as problems of drugs, alcohol and crime which seriously debilitate the community. In addition, the local authority is attempting to find £132 million to repair its council properties—a debt left by the previous Administration. Is Stockton to be included in the urban regeneration package? In particular, are Thornaby and Parkfield, which are areas of serious deprivation, to be included?

Ms Armstrong

I can assure my hon. Friend that Stockton will benefit from the neighbourhood renewal fund to the tune of £7.7 million in the next three years, and I am confident that the Thornaby and Parkfield wards will be covered. The problems that she mentioned, especially drugs, are scourges that tear the heart out of many communities—hence the importance of the drugs strategy and the work done by my colleagues in the Home Office and the Department of Health.

The strategy sets clear targets for housing improvement. I think that it states that one third of the houses that have not been improved should be improved within three years, and that all houses should be fit and improved within 10 years. The Government have put in the money to back up those commitments. Now, we shall work with local people to ensure that we meet those targets.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)

To return to the question of pockets of deprivation, I have in my constituency, which is relatively prosperous, several small areas of deprivation, one of which is the Mardyke estate, in which there are high levels of crime, very high levels of anti-social behaviour, and families facing real difficulties. However, the figures for such areas do not register under the criteria mentioned today, because they are surrounded by areas of relative prosperity. Will my right hon. Friend look again at the data book, and will she give sympathetic consideration to the joint bid from Havering council and the local police for a neighbourhood warden scheme that would cover the Mardyke estate and other areas?

Ms Armstrong

My hon. Friend is right to say that overall levels of deprivation in Havering do not warrant its inclusion in the 88 authorities. However, as I keep saying, the programme is not only about money; it is about providing a toolkit for local communities, local authorities and other public agencies to use to turn areas around. I am sure that Havering will seek to do that in line with mainstream programmes, and I shall be more than happy to discuss with my hon. Friend how we might meet some of his objectives.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

I welcome the announcement. If my understanding is correct, both Thanet and Dover are eligible to apply for neighbourhood management pilot status. If that is so, I am even more grateful for the statement. However, will my right hon. Friend explain what she means when she says that neighbourhood managers will have clout? We in Thanet have a regeneration board, a district council, a county council and involvement in the regional development agency. If the neighbourhood manager is to achieve anything he or she must be able to take decisions and get them implemented. How will my right hon. Friend ensure that neighbourhood managers are granted the power to implement decisions?

Ms Armstrong

I can confirm that Thanet and Dover will be eligible to apply for neighbourhood management pilots. We will work at Government office level with the local strategic partnerships to make sure that they can draw in all the public sector agencies, from the Employment Service and the Department of Social Security to the local housing authority, the health authority and so on. All those agencies have a part to play and we shall work to co-ordinate things at local level to ensure that that happens. Local people will have information about what is going on, and will have an opportunity to be involved. They will also make demands that need a response. I believe that we will have a structure that will ensure a response because people will know that their jobs are on the line.

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

My right hon. Friend will know only too clearly that many coastal towns around the country are in the most deprived areas. Along with Labour colleagues who represent those resorts and communities, I welcome very much the Government's approach in the report. Will my right hon. Friend say specifically whether Scarborough and Whitby, especially the communities of Eastfield and Barrowclough in Scarborough and Streonshalh in Whitby, will have an opportunity to participate in the urban renewal project?

Ms Armstrong

I know my hon. Friend's constituency well and I know the real problems faced by many seaside towns in this country. We have sought to target them specifically in the comprehensive spending review, and, although I do not have the names of Scarborough wards that are eligible, I can tell my hon. Friend that, as an authority, Scarborough has at least two wards on the index which will be able to apply for the neighbourhood management pilots.

Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central)

May I tell my right hon. Friend that the last thing that my constituents who live in areas scarred by poverty need is cynicism? There is a lot of cynicism about, which is why I welcome her announcement, which combines a financial helping hand with the philosophy of self-help. Will she tell the House how the progress of the initiatives will be measured? In particular, how will my constituents in places like Halton Moor, Osmondthorpe, Holbeck, Cottlingley, Little London and Lincoln Green be able to see for themselves what difference her announcements today have made to their lives?

Ms Armstrong

My hon. Friend is right: those communities need to know that we believe and trust them. That is very important, and cynicism from this place undermines their confidence in themselves and in those who work with them. As my hon. Friend knows, I visited his constituency and know of the poverty there. However, I am also aware that economically, Leeds is a fast-growing city overall. None the less, we are making available to Leeds in the next three years nearly £17 million for neighbourhood renewal. I assure my hon. Friend that we will make sure that that money is used effectively and that local people can measure what is going on. The statistics will be published much more frequently each year, and people will know what is going on and will be able to hold the public agencies to account for the way in which they are spending their money and for the outcomes of that spending.