HL Deb 06 February 1986 vol 470 cc1278-86
Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to make a Statement on Government help to people living in inner city areas.

We are all only too well aware that people who live in many inner areas of our cities suffer from a wide range of long-standing problems. The Government have increased the amount of central government money spent on employment and training programmes, urban regeneration, and industrial assistance in these areas. We have taken a number of measures including setting up last year city action teams to co-ordinate and target government effort in the seven inner city partnership areas.

In order to complement and build on this existing work we have now decided to try out a new approach to the task by intensifying and bringing together the efforts of government departments, local government, the private sector and the local community in eight small inner city areas.

This initiative is a further step to improve the targeting and enhance the benefit to local people of the money channelled through existing central government programmes. They include the employment and training programmes of the Manpower Services Commission, the Department of Trade and Industry's programme of regional and industrial assistance, the Department of the Environment's urban programmes, and the Home Office programmes of black business support and grants to support staffing of services to ethnic minority populations.

Within the chosen areas we shall try out new approaches, particularly on training provision, and employment or self-employment opportunities for local residents. This will be tackled through projects and activities of wider but direct benefit to the residents of the areas concerned and their environment. We shall seek to stimulate enterprise and provide a stronger base for the local economy. We shall give special attention to the problems of young people from ethnic minorities where they are particularly disadvantaged.

To test our approach we have selected eight areas which are diverse in their character but whose residents all share problems of deprivation and lack of opportunities. They are not necessarily the eight most deprived areas in our cities, but the people who live in them need more employment opportunities, support for their local business economy and a better physical environment. We shall introduce our new initiatives in Notting Hill and North Peckham in London, the Chapeltown area of Leeds, North Central Middlesbrough, the Highfields area of Leicester, Moss Side in Manchester, St. Paul's in Bristol and Handsworth in Birmingham.

We shall be establishing small task forces in each of these areas. They will work with the local authorities, and local community and voluntary organisations. They will quickly seek to attract private sector participation.

We shall seek early discussions with the local authorities concerned about the details of this initiative. We hope to persuade the local authorities to join with us and use their own programmes alongside our own in a concentrated and targeted effort to improve work prospects and the quality of life in these areas.

Large sums are already available to the chosen areas under existing Government programmes. But in order to help the initiative get off the ground the Government will be supplementing the sums with some £8 million of additional money of which £3 million will be found from within my department's existing provision and £5 million will be found from the reserve.

The initiative will be led by a team of Ministers drawn from the Departments of Employment, Education and Science, Trade and Industry, Environment and the Home Office. I will have overall responsibility for the co-ordination of this initiative. My right honourable friend the Paymaster General shall have responsibility for its day-to-day management and supervision with the support of a small central unit. This inner cities initiative will complement and not replace existing Government programmes.

I hope the House will welcome a bold experiment in concentrating all available efforts and resources in a joint way on the improvement of job expectations and the quality of life of the residents of these small inner-city areas.

My Lords, that is the Statement.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for making his Statement this afternoon. However, the measures contained in it do not in any way meet the urgent need to tackle the desperate and growing problem of unemployment, particularly in respect of those who have been out of work for over a year. It is surprising that the response to last month's shocking unemployment figures should be that Statement and the modest measures proposed. I do not think that the measures are bold; they are very modest indeed.

Naturally, we welcome any proposals, however modest, that will assist in overcoming mass unemployment, particularly in the inner cities. But does the noble Lord believe that so small a sum as £8 million will have much effect? Can he say how many additional jobs are likely to be created by the initiative? Can he relate that £8 million to the loss of hundreds of millions of pounds to the urban aid programme as a result of Government cuts, and also to the £1,487 million which has been lost in rate support grant by the areas mentioned since 1979? In relation to those figures £8 million is a flea bite.

The Statement talks of providing a better physical environment. What does that mean? What kind of better physical environment is envisaged? Are more houses to be built in those areas; if so, who is to provide them? Will it be the local authorities, the private sector or a partnership among the local authorities, the housing associations and the private sector?

Can the noble Lord also tell us why the areas mentioned have been chosen? Does that mean that the Government now accept that there is a connection between unemployment and inner-city riots? Bearing in mind his reference to the need particularly to assist black people, what is now the Government's view on contract compliance? What discussions have taken place with the interested parties—the local authorities, the voluntary organisations and the private sector, all of whom will be important if the initiative is to succeed? The Statement refers to city action schemes, but since they were formed, we have heard little about them. What success have they had so far?

I do not want to be entirely critical. As I said, we welcome the proposals, modest though they are. I am glad to find from the Statement that the Government have apparently been converted to the need for planning and co-ordination if we are to solve the problems of the inner cities. That is something that the Labour Party has been urging on the Government for a long time. It is pleasing that at least in that respect they are now adopting the advice that the Opposition have been giving them over a long period.

Finally, may I ask whether we can expect further Statements on measures to deal with mass unemployment, particularly in response to the recommendations of the House of Commons Select Committee on Employment which reported on special employment measures and the long-term unemployed? It recommended that the Government should spend £3,300 million on additional employment measures. Following this modest Statement, will we be getting a bold Statement, perhaps in line with the Select Committee recommendations, in a short time?

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we on these Benches also wish to thank the Minister for making the Statement in your Lordships' House. It is gratifying to have the opportunity on these occasions to get at the Minister with direct responsibility. We should like to see recognition of the need for a change in the Government's macro-economic policy. We have long been urging that what is required is carefully targeted expenditure on infrastructure and particularly on housing and housing repairs. In the areas with which the Statement deals, housing and housing repair developments would be particularly welcome and would make a substantial contribution both to the environment and to job opportunities. Having said that, one recognises that this is a new initiative, modest but nonetheless useful.

All of us who have been connected in any way with the many local experiments to try to bring about improvements in those areas—and there has been a great deal of local initiative of one kind or another—are aware that there is confusion in many parts because people do not know to which Government departments to go, as there has been a considerable amount of overlapping. For the organisations that are working at grass-roots level the bureaucracy of trying to get at the available resources has hindered progress. If the Statement means that the red tape will be cut and the relationships among departments will be co-ordinated by the Secretary of State's unit in such a way that people locally do not have to do the work themselves but can go direct to one place to get the information and support that they need, that would be a very great help indeed and a development which we should very much welcome.

In that connection, I wonder whether the noble Lord can explain this point a little more. The Statement says that it is hoped that local government programmes will run alongside those of the unit. Is the unit to do actual work or is it to co-ordinate, to assist and to cut red tape? It would be unfortunate if there were another set of initiatives being taken from the centre, running in parallel. I think that it is paragraph 8, but without my spectacles I cannot read it properly. Will the noble Lord just explain what the term "alongside" means?

I turn now to more detailed points. Will the premium payments for specially difficult groups under both YTS and the community programmes be extended in those areas? As the Secretary of State will realise, there is a great deal of anxiety in voluntary bodies working in these areas and throughout the country that the premium payments for difficult-to-employ people are not going to be sufficient. The voluntary bodies that have been dealing with schemes for difficult-to-place people will in some cases have to give up their efforts because they believe that the money forthcoming will not be sufficient. Is the Secretary of State saying that in these areas these special payments and the support for the voluntary bodies' working will be at least as much as it has been in the past and perhaps enhanced, rather than, as the voluntary bodies fear, reduced?

I should also like to ask the Secretary of State whether this also means that, when there is this emphasis on training and where the community programme is being carried out under the MSC, the opportunity to use the community programme for training on a much more extensive scale than has been possible up to now is part of what is planned for the aid areas. Some of us believe that the community programme, rightly handled, could be an extremely useful instrument for training and replacing in employment the long term unemployed, but that the present provisions in the community programme do not make this practicable in a great many areas. I should also like to ask the noble Lord whether there is any thought of experimenting with contract compliance, with the emphasis being laid on the needs of the ethnic minorities.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. The noble Lord said, I believe, that he was not being particularly critical. If that was not being particularly critical, I should not like to be in the House when he is being critical. May I say at the outset that this is not in any way a response to the unemployment figures, last month's or at any time. The problem of unemployment is at the forefront of the Government's mind. This is a response to conditions that have been perceived for many years in the inner cities. The noble Lord opposite makes the mistake, as many who sit on the Opposition Benches do, of confusing quantity with quality. It is not a matter of the amount of money that we have spent. Everyone in your Lordships' House should know how much we have spent over the past decade or two on the inner cities. Nor is it money spent to improve the physical environment. All too often, we seem to have spent money to improve the physical environment without it having any particular effect on the inhabitants within that improved environment. This is a dedicated attempt by government departments working together to restore to the inner city that which made the inner city great in the beginning, which was a sense of enterprise, of business and of work. It is no good trying to improve the environment without actually bringing to those who live within that improved environment a sense of belonging to our society, playing their part in our world and having pride in working for themselves and working for others. That is the purpose of this initiative.

Indeed, it is not just about the £8 million. In these small areas, in which some 300,000 souls live, the Government spend over £70 million on a variety of different programmes. It is a way of getting together. I am afraid that I cannot rise to the bait this afternoon of discussing or making an immediate response to the Select Commitee of another place about discussions or solutions for dealing with long term unemployment save to say that the net additional cost, I believe, was some £3.3 billion, and the gross cost some £5.5 billion. I suspect that those of us who are concerned with the steady growth in the community programme, of the problems that we see in finding the projects to increase it by a modest 10,000 places a month—modest in its terms but in fact a very real increase of 10,000 a month—were slightly appalled at the thought of having to find 750,000 places or some other figure. I have no doubt however that we shall be able to come back with a considered response to that in due course.

3.45 p.m.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is part right and part wrong—part wrong, I regret to say, because it is not the infrastructure that these particular areas are vitally concerned with. Of course, the infrastructure is important. It does not do the inhabitants of these areas much good to see re-enveloping schemes carried out, in which outside contractors are brought in, the work is done and the outside contractors go away while the inhabitants stand by and watch. What I hope we can see in this is a way in which we can put together programmes and let the inhabitants of the areas share in the work being done, maybe even carry it out, and, maybe—yes, my Lords, cut through the red tape—look at some of the rules and perhaps experiment to see whether we can adapt the community programme not so much for training alone but for ways in which we can start people off in their own jobs, and also perhaps look at the community benefit rules and at premium places within YTS, and do so in areas where there are particular problems.

This is not a programme that is directed solely at ethnic minorities. One area at least has very few of those who come within the description of ethnic minority communities. This is a programme that looks towards better co-ordination among all government departments in respect of a problem that is real and longstanding—a problem that other government programmes, instituted by those who sit on all sides of the House, have not succeeded in making great progress in tackling.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, can the noble Lord answer two simple questions? In the first place, he says in his Statement that these new initiatives are to consolidate already existing ventures. Can he say to what extent his already existing ventures in the inner cities have reduced unemployment in those areas since they were begun? Secondly, we have been told on this side of the House consistently by a whole series of Ministers from the Government Front Bench that this Government do not believe that they can create jobs. Has he changed his mind? Is he telling the House this afternoon that these new ventures which the Government have cobbled together are, or are not, going to create any new jobs and reduce unemployment within the inner city areas?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I normally fear simple questions because they often prove hard to answer—but not on this occasion. If Government programmes had created jobs in the inner cities, I suspect that we would not have the need for this experiment. The difficulty that we have—it is one faced by all governments—is that many programmes seem by their very nature to avoid the very worst areas of deprivation in our cities. What these programmes are doing is to seek out and confine themselves to these areas. That is what I hope we shall learn from a series of experiments and a series of models. The jobs that Government can directly create are jobs in the Inland Revenue and the VAT offices—not the sort of jobs that people normally think of as being job creation. What the Government can do is to create a climate in which jobs can grow. As we have seen, we are creating more jobs than the rest of Europe put together. What we now want to do is to create jobs in these particular inner city areas and to see conditions in which these jobs can grow. These are areas in which many young people have not benefited from 11 years of compulsory education. Far from it! They are areas in which many have not even come into the youth training scheme but have stayed outside the simple rules of society. These are the people we want to reach. I am sure that all in your Lordships' House will wish the experiment success if only for the sake of the inhabitants of these areas.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I have noted that among the departments to be involved in this initiative and represented by Ministers, there is no mention of the DHSS. The Secretary of State will be aware that there are many existing locally-based and community-based schemes sponsored by and run by the local social services, which include elements of training—training for employment and other forms of training, particularly for young people. Can he explain why the DHSS is not to be involved and represented by Ministers in this initiative?

Lord Young of Graffham

Yes, my Lords, in these particular areas it was thought appropriate that we start with co-ordinating government departments, which had already begun. They are my own department, Education and Science, Trade and Industry, the Environment, and the Home Office. I have no doubt at all that if any other government departments are involved co-operation will not only be sought but be given.

Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone

My Lords, I should have thought there would be a warm welcome for improving the physical environment of the people living in Notting Hill and north Peckham. But there are other vast areas of London where the housing conditions are deteriorating rapidly because the houses there were all built about 120 years ago. From my own experience in dealing with these matters I should have thought a sum of £8 million would be just a drop in the ocean towards solving the problem which exists in the inner areas of London.

Can my noble friend say whether the measures which he has just announced are in addition to those which were previously announced by the Department of the Environment? If they are not, I fear that this programme will have very little effect on those areas beyond Notting Hill and north Peckham—and vast areas are involved. It is not just the ethnic minority who are living in bad housing conditions because of the deteriorating housing stock; it is also the indigenous Londoners who have lived here for generations who I think ought to be looked after as well.

What is needed here is a central organisation. I hope that this matter is not being dealt which piecemeal. Unless we can tackle it over the whole area by a central organisation—and I have to comment that the central organisation in London is going—I cannot see that the measures just announced will be anywhere near enough to tackle this enormous problem.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Plummer. May I say that if a central organisation was the answer—Londoners having had a central organisation for these many decades—surely there would not now be so many areas of central London to which he draws attention in need of urgent rebuilding. That is neither the answer nor the way. I thought I had made clear that within these areas the Government already contribute, through the programmes, the Manpower Services Commission, the Home Office and the Department of Environment, over £70 million, to which we are adding another £8 million merely for the purpose of co-ordinating and getting special schemes going. It is not the shortage of money that is the problem; it is the quality of that spend, not the quantity.

In small, particular areas—which are not confined to those with large ethnic minorities because there are some which do not really have any ethnic minority populations at all—we are endeavouring to demonstrate that it is possible to spend Government moneys better by co-ordinating Government spend with local authority spend and private sector spend. I hope that we shall learn from all of this how to begin to make a quick and permanent cure to the problems of living in the inner urban areas.

Lord Oram

My Lords, does the Minister recognise in the generally dismal record of recent years on inner cities that there has been one small but encouraging development; namely, the increase in the number of small co-operative businesses? I have in mind housing co-operative societies and small producer co-operatives in the service sector which have grown in number from some 200 five years ago to 1,000 now, employing in new jobs some 10,000 members of these co-operative societies in a distinct form of self-employment.

Will the Minister ensure that of the small funds which he has announced some part will go to the encouragement of this kind of small enterprise? If he agrees with that, will the Minister consider channelling those funds through local co-operative development agencies where they happen to coincide with the areas mentioned in his Statement?

Lord Young of Graffham

Yes, my Lords. I would willingly pay testament to the worth of the cooperative movement itself and to co-operatives in getting people to band together to form small businesses. However, these are not small amounts of money. We are talking about some £70 million or more, to which we have added a further £8 million, in areas in which we have some 300,000 people living. The programmes can be co-ordinated better, but they will, I hope, not result in people simply having employment for as long as the tap is turned on but in the end in businesses in which people will carry on when Government funds have come to an end. Indeed, that is the only way we can restore the inner city. Among the varieties of schemes which we shall set up, with the assistance of the private sector, local authorities and the world of education, I hope that there will be many co-operatives and that young people will learn the advantages of working together.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, following the question of the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, will the Secretary of State concede that deprivation is not confined to inner cities but is sometimes at its worst in housing estates which are at some distance from those inner cities?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I suspect that deprivation is often a state of mind as much as anything else. Much of our planning and much of the state of poor living conditions exist in areas far from the inner cities, but in areas of large housing estates. We in this country have a great deal to learn about our living conditions. We have, I believe, 27 per cent. of our housing owned by local authorities compared with 5 per cent. in the United States, and 3 per cent. in Germany. I am not sure that that size has contributed towards the removal of deprivation in our society.

Lord Scarman

My Lords, I welcome this initiative, perhaps because it is a belated although modest attempt to put into effect a recommendation made in a certain report which was published as recently as 1981. I ask one question of the noble Lord. Will this centrally co-ordinated effort, of which I strongly approve, pay particular attention not only to the direction of funds—which, whether they are modest or large, is a very important feature of any effort if it is to be successful—but to communication with the people who live in the inner cities?

There is the age gap of the young people who at the moment are very alienated. Will any attempt be made to discover what they want and what are their aspirations? In allocating the housing effort, will any effort be made to discover the design of houses that they want? In matters of education, will any effort be made to discover what are the minorities' feelings about our educational system? I suggest that unless this is done this effort, like so many other well-intentioned efforts, will fail.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, for his comments. I am glad to give him the assurances he seeks. The essential difference between this, and I suspect other, initiatives that have taken place is that, while there will be central co-ordination, it will be locally directed; while it is concerned with programmes, it is concerned much more with people. What I should like to see above all else in these programmes is a sense of ownership given to the local communities. We shall endeavour to bring community leaders and the inhabitants into the programmes. We shall pay great attention to all the lawful aspirations of the inhabitants so far as we can. Indeed, that is the only way, so far as I can see, that this programme will succeed.

Baroness Airey of Abingdon

My Lords, may I ask whether there are many schemes such as that of the YES organisation, which I think was started by Mr. Angus Ogilvy? This organisation is no charge on the Government and I believe is largely subscribed to by private people or firms. It is particularly for young people. I also believe that this has been expanded to Northern Ireland.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, yes. I hope to be assiduous in going out to friends and acquaintances—I do not expect to have too many friends after this—in the private sector to ask them to contribute towards programmes such as YES and others which exist through business in the community, and which will, I hope, play a real role in helping to bring a sense of business enterprise and a sense of achievement to those who live in these areas.

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