HL Deb 08 February 1989 vol 503 cc1631-50

8. 14 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the implications of the cuts in local services being imposed by the controlling Conservative group in the city of Bradford, and whether they propose to take any action.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall first explain why I placed this particular Question on the Order Paper to be considered in your Lordships' House. I can assure your Lordships that I did not do so as an act of political spleen. I put down the Question because of the deep concern that has been expressed in the city of Bradford. That concern has been expressed right across the spectrum of public life there. People are concerned about what is happening in that city today.

People may ask me why I became involved in that. I did so because for nearly 10 years I represented in another place a constituency that had a common boundary with the city of Bradford. I knew a lot of people from Bradford. For six years I lived within about half a mile to a mile of the border of Bradford itself. Therefore, I think I am as knowledgeable as most people as regards the kind of place that Bradford is.

Bradford is one of the major cities of the North that perhaps suffered to the greatest degree from the adverse effects of all that the Industrial Revolution imposed on the cities of the North. It gradually inherited thousands of bad houses, decaying schools and a decaying infrastructure because wealth was leaving the city. The city lost perhaps hundreds of thousands of its basic jobs over a period. Bradford existed because of those basic jobs in the woollen and clothing trade. That serves as an indication of the kind of deprivation that the city was suffering.

Nevertheless, over the past few years there have been great efforts in Bradford to try and correct those particular shortfalls and to do something about them. Bradford was gaining the reputation of a city on the way up. That was widely recognised by most people who knew anything about Bradford. It is perhaps the only major city which has an increasing population at present. The population is increasing at a substantial rate. Now there are nearly half a million people resident in that city. Outside of London Bradford probably comes among the top four or five cities in the country in terms of population. The case has been proved therefore for the need for substantial resources in order to help Bradford get on with the job of trying to correct some of the deprivation in the area.

Bradford has had to do that despite huge cuts in real terms that have taken place in the rate support grant over the past 10 years due to the present Government's policies. Bradford has lost multiples of millions of pounds over 10 years because of the reduction in the rate support grant. That has certainly had its effect on that city. But, as I said, Bradford was nevertheless doing its best to deal with that situation.

However, last summer certain events occurred. I do not challenge the legality of the fact that a Lord Mayor elected can use a casting vote. It has always been said that if one wants to push one's policies through, a majority of one is sufficient. I am not aware that the local government elections in Bradford over the past few years have been fought by anyone on the basis of the devastating cuts that have been inflicted on that city. A by-election occurred and it was won by a particular party that changed the control of the city council. It changed that control overnight.

On the list of speakers who will follow me I notice the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, from the Government Back-Benches. The noble Baroness has tremendous experience of local government. However, I hope that she will not make the mistake of comparing the lush pastures of Cambridge with the deprivation of a city like Bradford. If one compares the two, one finds the perfect example of the North-South divide. We keep talking about that factor and nothing could exemplify it more than a local authority having to try and run a city like Bradford as compared with running a shire county like Cambridgeshire and a city like Cambridge. I do not say for one moment that those areas do not have problems. My contention is that their problems are minuscule in comparison with the problems of Bradford.

Let us look at what is taking place. Bradford is an area of low wages and high unemployment. The party that has taken control in the city of Bradford has already imposed a £3 a week increase in council rents with another to follow. While it may be said that the people who have to carry that increase will receive some increased funding towards it, it is nevertheless a devastating blow to be faced with that kind of increase if one is in a poorly-paid job and is a borderline case. Many of the population of Bradford will find it hard to find the money.

Like every other city, Bradford has a large ageing population. Why would a local authority which has the care of its people at heart decide overnight to sell 13 old people's homes? What a prospect it is for the ageing people of Bradford to know that 13 of their old people's homes are to be sold off so that there will be nowhere for a number of them to go in their old age.

We are all aware, and I do not claim a conscience only for my party, of the urgent need in our society to take greater care of our children and to be more watchful in view of some of the appalling incidents that have occurred over the years which we as a society ought to be ashamed of. In Bradford they are cutting the number of social workers dealing with child abuse. If anyone can justify that in view of what has taken place and in the light of the very Bill that is before your Lordships' House at present, then it makes complete nonsense of the humanities.

A £1 charge is being imposed for home help. Once again that affects those at the lower end of the scale whom we ought to take more pride in looking after the old people and young people. It has often been said that a society that cannot care for its elderly people and its children is a very poor society indeed. Here again the action will hit viciously the people in the community least able to bear it.

The charges for meals on wheels have been increased by 22 per cent. from 49p to 60p. That may not seem much to us, but it means more than a 50p a week increase to an old age pensioner who may be living alone and for whom it is the main meal of the day. That is an arbitrary charge and I hope that the city council will look at that facet again with a view to considering whether the amount of money it collects is worth the misery that will be caused and, I suspect, the pittance it will raise.

I referred briefly to the question of employment in Bradford. At the end of July 1988 nearly 22,000 people in the district were registered as unemployed, a rate of 10.4 per cent. Some may consider that that is just above the national average. However, within the city, in the area known as University, the unemployment rate was 28.2 per cent. In Bradford Moor it was 22.6 per cent., in Little Horton, 19.4 per cent., Toiler, 17.8 per cent., Bowling, 16.9 per cent. and Undercliffe, 16.5 per cent. Youth unemployment is of particular concern. The rates for those aged 16 to 19 are: University, 53.7 per cent.—one youth in every two is out of work in that area. In Bradford. Moor the figure is 40.9 per cent., again nearly one in every two is out of work. In Toiler it is 31.4 per cent., one in every three; Little Horton, 23.6 per cent.; Undercliffe, 21.9 per cent., and Bowling, 20.4 per cent. 1 submit to your Lordships' House that by any standards those figures are horrendous. There is no possibility in the foreseeable future of the figures falling significantly.

Bradford is a city of hardworking people. It has a good, peaceful industrial history of people wanting to work. They have never earned very high wages, as anyone who knows the textile industry and the woollen mills and clothing manufacture will know. They have worked long hours; they have worked diligently. All they ask is to be given a chance to carry on with refurbishing their society and their city as they knew it.

By all accounts, even in the extreme situation I have mentioned and in the face of massive cuts in rate support grant, the charges that were levied on the population were not giveaways. They were higher than the national average. That can be proved by the cost of school dinners and so on. However, I shall not go into detail because my noble friend and colleague Lady Lockwood, who is closer to the area than I am, will deal with that point.

I do not know what the motive of the leader of the council is in pursuing those measures. I should have hoped that in May there might have been an opportunity to reverse the policy. However, no local authority elections are to be held within the major cities. The electorate will have to wait until next year. In my opinion the majority of the actions have been carried out without the widest approval of the people of Bradford. The policies hinge on the results of one by-election alone.

The sad thing is that by the time the-electorate of Bradford are called upon once again either to renew the mandate for the people who are running the city or to replace' them with somebody else irreparable damage will have been caused to the city. The process that was under way to deal with the deprivation and to improve the situation in the city of Bradford will be reversed.

Bradford probably has the largest ethnic groups of any city, representing all colours and races. A process of harmonisation was taking place which was a credit to Bradford. Full intergration was taking place at every level. I am almost certain that it was the first major city outside London to appoint a mayor who came originally from the Indian sub-continent. What is now taking place is a savage blow that will cut into all that was progressive.

I put down this Question on the basis that I believe that your Lordships ought to know about the situation. I do not know why the new leader of Bradford City Council is pursuing those activities. It may well be that he thinks that it offers a short cut to another place along the corridor. Sometimes people undertake such activities with that objective.

I am glad that your Lordships' House provides a forum where we can air this kind of problem. I hope that what I have said this evening will give some concern to the Government so that they may consider whether they can bring any influence to bear on the matter.

8.30 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I enter this debate as a ratepayer in the metropolitan district of Bradford. I am not a native of Bradford, but I think that I can claim to know the area reasonably well, having divided my leisure and shopping activities for most of my life between the rival cities of Bradford and Leeds.

I also enter the debate because I am concerned about the long-term effects on Bradford as well as about the immediate problems. I should like to start by saying a little more about Bradford metropolitan district and by dispelling some of the myths that exist. The image of Bradford does not always exactly fit the reality. Bradford metropolitan district spans two river valleys—the more industrialised Aire valley and the more rural Wharfe valley. It has a combination of inner-city areas—in effect, two inner-city areas: that of the former city of Bradford and that of the former borough of Keighley—and prosperous suburban and rural commuter areas.

In recent years, the district has successfully projected itself as a tourist centre. Its attractions are based first, strange though it may seem, on the city centre itself, which now houses the National Film and Photographic Library. Soon it will have part of the Victoria and Albert Indian collection which will be accommodated in a large disused mill of both historic and architectural interest. It has a newly-renovated and widely praised Alhambra Theatre as well as its Playhouse theatre club. It has a long musical tradition being the birthplace of Delius—an early and consistent supporter of the Halle subscription concerts—and has a longstanding choral society of some excellence.

Recently, in a national press article, the district was projected as having one of the best ranges of restaurant facilities in the country, many of which were of ethnic origin. In addition to this, it has within a stone's throw of the city centre Bradford University and its campus and Bradford University's science park which is a considerable asset to the city. Next door to the university is Bradford College, one of the largest colleges of further education in the country, which has a reputation for gearing its training to industrial needs.

On the moors to one side of the city is Haworth village, home of the Brontes, which attracts a constant stream of literary pilgrims. Over the tops, on the other side, is the spa town of Ilkley with its famous moor and a few miles upstream is Bolton Abbey and the Yorkshire Dales national park whose boundary touches that of Bradford.

I have gone on at some length about this because I think you will see that Bradford metropolitan council has in many ways much going for it. This has been summed up in its slogan, "Bradford bounces back". It is important that this be put on the record because it is significant that a number of people who move into Bradford for employment are quite surprised at the quality of life that they can find there.

However, in that context I should say that Bradford needed the recent adverse publicity that has arisen from these cuts like it needed a hole in the head. It is beyond question that it has severe economic problems. As my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick said, it has suffered the contraction of the wool textile industry, although what remains of that industry is highly competitive. Its engineering industry has almost disappeared so it badly needs industrial regeneration. However, it was bouncing back. It was capitalising on the boom in tourism, and through the local authority it was actively seeking to encourage new industry and obtaining considerable assistance from the European Economic Community both for employment and social projects.

As my noble friend said, unemployment is a problem. The average unemployment rate of 10.4 per cent. hides very different percentages in the various wards. For instance, in my ward of Craven, there is an unemployment rate of only 3.4 per cent., but that contrasts with the high percentages in other inner-city wards that have already been mentioned.

Of course, many of those inner-city wards contain a high proportion of the ethnic community. Bradford has a large ethnic community which is growing fast. It is estimated that by the year 2006 the ethnic community will have risen from 65,300 in 1985 to over 111,000. Between 1985 and 1996, the number of ethnic children of compulsory school age will rise by 26 per cent. from over 17,000 to over 20,000. The high rate of unemployment among ethnic school-leavers has been a cause of considerable concern to the careers service in the city. Many youngsters have completely disappeared from the records when they have left school.

When I was a member of the area board of the Manpower Services Commission, as it then was, there was also considerable concern on the board's part at the apparent discrimination against ethnic youngsters both in employment and YTS schemes. Those factors all add to the social problems of Bradford and mean that policies have to be geared to take account of those dimensions.

In the past, Bradford metropolitan council has had policies that have attempted to alleviate those problems. I should point out that it has done so without rate-capping and despite the enormousness of its problems and the loss of rate support grant to which my noble friend referred. It has done so without serious racial conflict; so that is credit to what has been done in the past.

What is happening to those policies now, and what has happened to them in the past few months? I want to say a few words about education because education has been the cornerstone of both social policy and economic revival. The education system in Bradford has not conflicted with government advice. On the contrary, it had one of the first pilot TVEI schemes which was highly praised. Its further education college network has been geared to meet industrial and commercial needs and has received co-operation from local industry. I have sat in on a number of meetings of the Bradford Education Forum where both industrialists and educationists have attempted to work out policies to meet the needs of both.

Last year a feasibility study was undertaken on whether or not Bradford should have a city technology college. It concluded that it was not in the best interests of education in the city to have such a college. Apparently there has now been some change of mind. But I must say that one city technology college will not make up for the damage that is being done to the education system at the present time.

Let us look at what happened to education. In the current year it has been cut by £3.9 million. The cuts have ranged from pre-school to further education facilities. First of all there was a reorganisation of the capitation fee for schools. Regrettably, some priority is now being given to schools in the outer areas whereas previously the formula on which the capitation fee for schools was based was the number of free school meals received by them; in other words the needs of those schools.

School meals have suffered drastically under the cuts. There has been an overall increase of 25 per cent. in the cost of school meals; with an increase of 78 per cent. in first schools, where meals have risen from 45 to 80p. It is little wonder therefore that there has been a fall-off in the numbers of those taking school meals by something in the order of 8,500 per day.

Secondly, some of the Asian language assistant posts in the schools have been scrapped. That is a very serious cut. Over 80 jobs have gone in that sphere. It is rather strange to have to record that some 64 of those posts would have been in receipt of Section 11 grants under urban programmes. The Home Office itself had sent representatives to Bradford and looked at the scheme for bilingual language teaching and decided that Bradford was a good model for the rest of the country. However, that service is now disappearing. Also the remedial teaching centre has been abolished. Some remedial teaching is still being done but the special centre has now been abolished. Those are all services that affect most badly those areas which are in need of help and assistance in those ways.

There has been a cut in in-service training in the schools and it has happened at a time when the GCSE examination is still new and schools are preparing for the national curriculum. There can be no doubt that cuts in in-service training are a great disservice to our children.

Many other cuts are taking place: in school caretaking, cleaning, and so on. Only the other day I was talking to a school governor who told me that her school was now relying upon the PTA to fund its normal redecoration. These are very serious cuts indeed. Bradford College, which offers a very fine example of FE, has also been badly affected by the cuts—again at a time when the skills that it provided are badly needed by the district.

Going rather beyond education, there has been the closure of what were called benefit shops. In effect they were advisory shops where those in need could go for help and advice. During 1988 over 50,000 people were helped by those benefit shops. That help was instrumental in obtaining £125 million in benefits which the Bradford residents would probably not otherwise have been able to obtain from the social security services. The closure of those shops is adding to the responsibility of the voluntary sector in Bradford, which has a thriving voluntary sector that has been receiving some —4 million in funding from the city council and a further —1.1 million from other public sources. There is great concern in the voluntary sector about the security and continuation of its funding in the future.

In the past there have been political differences between the parties. Different policies have been pursued at different times when each of the two major parties has been in control but this is a sudden and complete reversal of many of the policies on which previously there had appeared to be consensus—policies which directly promoted Bradford's needs and efforts and helped to reduce its social problems.

What is happening now is the introduction of policies which will not minimise the social problems and not help to maximise the industrial and economic regeneration of Bradford, which needs an increase in the number of educated and skilled workers so that a workforce will be available when new industry is attracted to the city. It needs policies that encourage and do not deter the impetus that has been given toward what the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Industry seems to regard as his favourite growth industry; namely, the tourist industry.

I ask the Government to think seriously about what is now happening in the metropolitan district of Bradford. If the policies of the present governing administration continue, I fear that Bradford will be set back for decades.

8.47 p.m.

Lord Soper

My Lords, the presence of my name on the list of speakers is not due to arty particular information about Bradford that I can offer to the House, except in Methodist terms. It is very largely the result of a cascade of letters that I have received over the past fortnight. They are letters which vary in ferocity, indignation and expressions of sorrow at what many of them described as the appalling prospect of what will happen in Bradford in terms of the current intentions to cut so many of the social services.

I begin from a theoretical and political position which may not necessarily be acceptable to other Members of your Lordships' House. I am a Socialist and I am quite sure that at the moment we are enduring the actions of a predatory government who are keen on privatisation, a measure for which there is no evidence in the New Testament wherever else it may be discovered. Under this Government the difference between those who have and those who have not tends to widen and we have a society in which the public responsibility for the care of those in need is increasingly shifted away from the public administration itself to other directions which, however singularly emotionally directed toward charity, in my judgment are no substitute for a collective application of justice in many a place where there is great poverty and an increasing divergence between those who have and those who have not. I immediately came to the conclusion that the letters that I received indicated a glaring example of something which I politically abominate. However, I hope that I was wise enough to make sure that it was not just my spleen that was being engaged in this matter but that I could find some information about it. I therefore wrote to the chairperson of the Methodist district of Bradford. She happens to be the only woman chairman of a Methodist district yet. I received from her a document which has the authority of the churches of Bradford. Not only has it that authority, but it justifies a great deal of what I have tried to say about the basic iniquity of the political system from which we now suffer. I shall not read all the letter. It gives evidence over and again of those denials of opportunities of welfare which hitherto have been regarded as a constituent element in any civilised society.

The letter has not been sent to me from a body of politically engineered representatives. It is signed by the Bishop of Bradford, the Bishop of Leeds, the Methodist Chairman, the Reverend John Nicholson, Superintendent of the Baptist Union, the Reverend Donald Hilton, Moderator of the United Reformed Church and Major Douglas Rayner of the Salvation Army. It is unanimous. It would have been more suitable if the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford had been able to present what I am now saying. Unfortunately he has yet to make his maiden speech and therefore could not take part in this debate.

In my judgment this letter gives an unanswerable catalogue of the impiety of the kind of programme that is now envisaged by the current council in Bradford. I shall recite, if I may, one or two of those elements in the programme that seem to me to be particularly venomous. I cite the example of meals on wheels, which will be increased in cost and the numbers distributed limited to fixed quotas. Charges for home helps will be reintroduced. Charges for day care facilities will be increased. Selling of assets will include old people's homes and sports and recreation facilities. Voluntary groups will now be dependent on what is called a community trust. I do not have time to develop that in detail. It does not commend itself to the signatories of the document presenting the Christian point of view. In fact they think that it is wanting in almost every degree.

I would make especial mention of Methodist links that will be affected by this change. They include the Blenheim Project, Girlington Centre, Tetley Street Multi-Racial Playgroup and Women's Centre, Grange Interlink and Green Hill Community Centre. Other groups include the Citizens' Advice Bureau. It is a terrifying total, and in my judgment is totally unjustified.

I shall not say very much because the evidence is overwhelming. I put it in this way. This is not original to Bradford. It is not some brilliant new deal for all Bradfordians. It is part—and I think the evidence is incontrovertible—of a wider Tory strategy. It is a strategy to distance public spending from both local and national exchequers. Bradford is being used as a loss leader with no regard to the consequence of injury inflicted on the poor and the powerless.

That is a very large indictment. I have not spoken off the cuff because it is easy enough to become indignant about small matters. However, I have spoken in this way because it seems to me a glaring example of the inhumanity of the present administration. I very much hope that as a consequence of what has been said in your Lordships' House this evening there will be a recognition that this is so. It is a matter that can be dealt with in ways that do not necessarily appear on the surface now. But such inhumanity is a menace and a shame in a so-called civilised society.

8.55 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it may come as a relief to the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, that I shall not compare Bradford with Cambridgeshire. I shall talk about democracy.

It is an interesting Unstarred Question because it asks whether the Government are aware of the implication of cuts imposed by Conservatives in Bradford and whether they intend to take any action. I am a relatively new Member of this House. However, I have been here long enough to have heard noble Lords on the Benches opposite hectoring and lecturing these Benches about interference in local authority affairs. When I knew that this issue was to be debated today, I immediately posed a number of questions. Did the Conservatives win two by-elections in 1988 and were the councillors democratically elected? The answer is yes. Is there any reason given in the circumstances that the mayor should not have used his casting vote? The answer is no. Had Bradford Conservatives acted illegally? The answer is no. Did the electorate know in advance of the second by-election that several million pounds would be cut from the expenditure? The answer is yes. Were Bradford Conservatives in breach of any local government rules or regulations? The answer is no.

There are two issues here. First, is it right for the Government to interfere in the affairs of Bradford Council? In view of the answers to my self-imposed questions I would argue that the Government should not interfere. Secondly, what has happened in Bradford?

In July 1988 the director of finance warned the council that it was overspending at such a rate that unless urgent action was taken it could be rate-capped. At this time Bradford was a hung council: Conservatives 44 members; Labour 44 members; and the SLD two. Conservatives could not have acted alone and such was the warning from the director of finance that the SLD councillors supported the Bradford Conservatives to reduce expenditure by £5 million and to introduce a freeze on capital spending. The sum of £6 million, which is the subject of today's Question, included the £5 million agreed by SLD and Conservative councillors plus a further £1 million which was determined following the September by-election when Conservatives took the view that the financial situation was getting worse. Expenditure reductions this year totalled £5.8 million, rising to £8 million in subsequent years.

Bradford is not unique. Labour-controlled authorities up and down the land are cutting services and increasing charges. For example, Labour-controlled Wakefield must reduce by approximately £20 million to avoid rate capping. Sheffield Labour councillors have resolved to reduce by approximately £20 million also. Brent council has cut £17.5 million from its budget. As the community charge system looms we are beginning to see the relationship between those who spend and those who must pay brought very much into focus.

New figures produced recently by CIPFA show that London boroughs, anxious to reduce the community charges for next year, are modifying their expenditure downwards. Much of Bradford's savings have come from increased charges for services. It depends on one's priorities as to whether increased charges are preferable to the options adopted by some local authorities. For example, in Brent, 230 teachers were sacked, salaries were cut and discretionary awards to students were cut. Brent authority tried without success to abolish school meals and some nursery education provision. Bradford Conservatives on the other hand increased the price of school meals from 60p to 80p. Labour councillors had not increased the price of school meals in Bradford since 1984 and even reduced them for some children in 1988. Under Labour Bradford recouped only 21 per cent. of the cost of school meals, which was the lowest recoupment in West Yorkshire. It is also worth noting that 37 per cent. of school children who receive free school meals will not have to pay the increased charges.

Bradford also increased house rents. Under Labour rents were kept artificially low, which resulted in a backlog of repairs and a housing stock in appalling condition. There is mounting deficit in the housing revenue account causing a crisis in public sector housing in Bradford. Conservatives increased rents by £3 in November and they have promised regular reviews. This has been necessary to restore a housing repairs programme to a more acceptable level. Bradford's rent increase pales into insignificance compared with the rent increase in Brent of £7 per household.

Another area of controversy is homes for the elderly and the transfer of those homes to a housing association or to the private sector. Bradford Conservatives commissioned a feasibility study into transferring 13 non-purpose-built homes for the elderly, consulting trade unions, residents and their relatives. The results of the study show that it is possible and desirable to transfer the homes, largely because a change in ownership would allow for an injection of capital to bring those homes up to standard. The social services department has admitted the shocking statistic that nine out of the 13 council homes would fail to be registered if they were in the private sector. The council must ensure the proper care of the elderly people in the district, but it is abundantly clear that it does not have the resources to provide suitable facilities on its own.

By this method the council will save £2.3 million in revenue plus the capital required to bring the homes up to standard. Transfer will take place only if an obligation to bring the homes within a reasonable time up to the registration standards which are set by the council is accepted. From the savings a team of eight inspectors will be funded to deal with registration and quality of provision throughout the district. Surely what is important is the quality of provision for the elderly at an affordable cost and not whether the homes are council run. Let us remember that statistic: nine council homes would fail to be registered if they were in the private sector.

Bradford Conservatives are committed to providing dignified care of the highest quality, and the transfer of homes will not only save money but will give a guarantee of proper levels of capital investment while day-to-day care for the elderly will be as good as or even better than it has been in the past. Bradford has also planned, as has already been mentioned, to close high street benefit shops. There was consideable duplication of the work of the Department of Social Security, which already employs staff to assist complainants and in addition runs a mobile service throughout the district. Bradford Conservatives are cutting bureaucracy and giving managers more freedom to work effectively without political interference.

It is worth noting the reasons why Mr. Johnson, the Labour councillor who caused the second by-election in 1988, resigned. He resigned because of Labour's emphasis on fringe party issues which are of little concern to 99 per cent. of Bradford people. He claimed that anti-apartheid zones receive more attention than vital services such as refuse collection. He also said that he resigned because of Labour's mismanagement of the council and because there was a lack of vision and of democracy in practice by the Labour councillors.

Councillor Eric Pickles and his Conservative colleagues in my opinion should be left to get on with the job. Bradford Conservatives won a by-election in June 1988 and another in September. Some £5 million of the £6 million reduction in expenditure was debated in July in good time for the people of Bradford to make an informed choice in September when Conservatives won the second by-election.

My appeal to my noble friend tonight is to recognise the democratic rights of Bradford Conservatives to accept and confirm that they have not breached local government legislation in the pursuit of policy changes; to endorse their commitment to develop policies and provide services of quality to the people of Bradford consistent with what can be afforded; and to invite our Labour colleagues to allow the people of Bradford to pass judgment on Bradford City Council through the ballot box.

9.4 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, my only qualifications for making a brief contribution to the debate are, first, that I come from a diocese in which we have cities and towns that have similar circumstances to those in Bradford in such matters as unemployment, urban deprivation and so on. Secondly, I am in close touch with the Bishop of Bradford and have often spoken to him about these problems. Only today I was having a word with him about how the churches in Bradford view what is going on there.

It has already been explained by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, that the Bishop of Bradford cannot be present in this House today, but if he were he could not yet speak because he is still seeking a subject on your Lordships' menu which is sufficiently uncontroversial for him to make a maiden speech. That happy time I am sure will be approaching very soon. However, what he says about the situation in Bradford is that the churches are deeply concerned about the effect on the lives of many people there, including those who are most deprived in the community. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, has already outlined some of' that concern with the document from which he quoted.

The churches are in touch with the local politicians and are meeting them with fair regularity. They regard it as their role primarily to ask questions about the effect of policies on the people with whom they are most concerned. The areas of concern have already been outlined in what has been said earlier in the debate. There are five main concerns: the cuts in education, and especially in school meals and allied subjects of that kind, go right through from preschool education to further education. The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, made that point. There are pressures on the voluntary sector, not only where they get their funding from but also the increased pressures caused by council cut-backs on those who turn to voluntary bodies expecting there to find their salvation. That problem is not unknown in other parts of the country where there are these pressures on local government services.

In spite of what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about rent rises, the evidence is that many of those who fail to pay rents are among the poorest in the community and poverty is a very real implication there. Sometimes the impression is given that if councils do not manage to collect rents adequately, that is just gross inefficiency and letting people get away with it. I am afraid that is not the whole story, although it may be an element.

The closure of the so-called benefit shops has already been mentioned. Although the point was made that this was duplicating work that the social services are doing, when there is already enormous pressure on the social services the point about where people get their information is important. I know that there are priorities in local government expenditure and that some would argue that the benefit shops are not of the highest priority compared with some other things; but now that they have been established in Bradford they have proved their value. Questions are being asked by the Churches about the effect of closure. We must remember what has been said about the presence of ethnic minorities in Bradford and the difficulties about getting out adequate information to people whose first language is not English. That is a crucial point.

The fifth area of concern is the future of the council's old people's homes. Many people are worried about the assumption that if one privatises an organisation one is necessarily producing a more efficient service for the elderly. I do not believe that that assumption is proved. The question about obtaining injections of capital for the improvement of housing stock could be answered in another way: that if there were not such great pressures on local government the capital could be forthcoming to upgrade council homes.

Those are matters of deep concern to the Churches. I should like to emphasise that, according to what the right reverend Prelate has said, the Churches are asking questions through their leaders. They are not going out 100 per cent. to condemn the council. They are merely asking: what is the effect on people in the community, including some of the poorest and most deprived?

I should like to make a general point about local government. Councils are often accused of waste, inefficiency and extravagance. It would be a bold man or woman who would say that there is no truth in such allegations. Of course there is often waste, in efficiency and extravagance in the public sector of both central and local government. It also exists in the private sector. It is a complete fallacy to suppose that the private sector is free of the issues about which we are always engaged in fighting in our society.

When appeals are made for the need to cut bureaucracy it is often forgotten that we are talking about the effect on people's lives and about the efforts of local government to help them in welfare and in the provision of services. I should like to believe that a feeling is shared on all sides of the House that we must persuade people at every level of society that it is worth paying for good public services at both local and national levels. It is a tragedy when there is a spirit in the country which seems to regard the provision of public services through taxation as being "a bad thing". In recent years there have been considerable pressures from central government on local government. Many people have therefore gained the impression that there is a vendetta against local government in this country. That may be wrong and I should like the Minister to tell me that it is wrong.

Local government is of particular importance in the older industrial areas such as those represented in my diocese and the City of Bradford. Recently central government have put great emphasis on regenerating the older industrial areas. It has been said: We must do something about our inner cities". I leave noble Lords to supply the origin of that quotation. Indeed we must. Tackling the enormous problems in those areas means a full and adequate partnership between central and local government and commerce and industry.

It is a fallacy to suppose that public expenditure can be cut without hurting the people at the receiving end. Some waste, inefficiency and extravagance may be cut out because they are often present. However, one must be careful to ensure that the cuts do not go so deep as to hurt people in that way.

I hope that my concluding remark is not seen in any sense as political because it is not meant to be. It concerns the point made by the noble Baroness about democracy in elected councils. Is it not true that from time to time we hear voices saying that where there are democratically elected Left-wing councils going to extremes one expects the central political party to act to moderate that and deal with such extremism? Surely what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander and ought to apply at all levels.

9.12 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I should like to tell the House a relevant story about why I am not a Communist. As a schoolboy during the latter part of the war I was evacuated to Bradford. I stayed in a household where the husband used to walk five miles to the centre of Bradford with his knapsack on his back, in proper style. You entered the house past terraced gardens where the lawns were cut with nail scissors. You took your shoes off at the door. You could hardly breathe on the furniture. When you sat up at table you had to sit up tight and keep your elbows in. The householders were members of the Communist party and you did all those things because you were a good Communist. You sat up straight at table like a good Communist. You kept the furniture clean like a good Communist. You did not run or walk fast in the street like a good Communist.

Since then I have regarded Communism as an extreme version of Calvinism to which I have had a great aversion. I have been saved politically by my experience in Bradford. Ever since that time I have had a quizzical affection for the city enhanced by the praise of Priestley and the abuse of T. S. Eliot. However, Bradford is not what it was and it is an example of something to which other noble Lords have drawn attention which I believe to be profoundly important in our society: Bradford is perhaps the most extreme example of which one can think of the gap between the have's and the have-nots and the way in which the have's, having gained a slight control, are ruthlessly proceeding to feather their own financial nests at the expense of the have-nots.

My noble friends Lord Dean, Lady Lockwood and Lord Soper have spoken far more eloquently than I could of the details of the cuts imposed on the people of Bradford by their elected city council. Let us dispose immediately with the argument about democracy which I thought was a spectacular own goal from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Of course we do not say that the people of Bradford did not have the right to select a Conservative council and we do not say that the Government should take action in Bradford to frustrate the actions of the Bradford council. We are saying that this is the peak of the implementation of a policy pursued by the Government for nearly 10 years of seeking to impoverish communities and to cut public services, not only through central government action but by impositions and restrictions on the actions of local authorities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is quite right in saying that Labour councils throughout the country—and she quoted Wakefield but my own council in Haringey is a more vivid example—are cutting services in exactly the same way as Bradford. They are cutting services because they are forced to do so by a Government who do not believe in public services delivered by local authorities at local level at the wish of the local people who are prepared to pay for them. The financial crisis in the summer of this year, to which the noble Baroness quite rightly referred, made it possible to claim that the Bradford council had been extravagant, and enabled the by-elections to take place and for the result of that election to be what it is.

We are not asking the Government to move commissioners into Bradford. That is the last thing we want. However, we are asking the Government to take action to recognise that local authorities and central government together, as my noble friend Lord Soper so eloquently said, have an essential social role in our society. Together they have the responsibility for seeing to it that the unfortunately natural tendency of the gap between rich and poor to extend does not extend even further than it needs to and to ensure that there are civilised minimum standards in our social services, education, care for the young and care for old people. 'They should ensure that there is concern for those in need whether they are working or unemployed and concern for the successful adaptation of ethnic minui hies to our communities and that they make a contribution not only to our economy but also to our culture. Local authorities can deliver those services if they are given encouragement by people in their areas and are allowed to do so by the Government. That is what we ask and that is the purpose of this debate. I am glad it has taken place.

9.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Hesketh)

My Lords, first, perhaps I may congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, on securing this debate. We have heard various suggestions that the Government should take action following the decisions made by an elected local council. As a relative newcomer to these matters, I must say that that strikes me as something of a sea change for noble Lords opposite for they have often claimed that they are the only true supporters of the independence of democratically elected local authorities.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, perhaps the Minister will tell us which noble Lord said that we should intervene in the affairs of Bradford. I did not suggest that and I did not hear any of my noble friends do so.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper asks whether the Government have any plans. I am hoping and endeavouring to answer that Question. We have acted with a new system of community charges, with the local accountability which that will bring, which will greatly strengthen elected local government.

Therefore, returning to Bradford, I find it rather strange that noble Lords should nevertheless think it right for the Government to intervene in matters which are entirely the responsibility of the elected council of Bradford.

The fact is that locally elected members answer to their local people and not to this House or any other place. There is no question of central government becoming embroiled in decisions which are properly for local government. What about the decisions taken by the council? We know that it has voted for a package of measures designed primarily, I understand, to reduce its expenditure, to provide value for money and lighten the burden on its ratepayers. But why should that be necessary?

For the benefit of noble Lords on both sides, I should explain that Bradford's rates have increased by over 24 per cent. in two years. Such an increase is significantly above the national average and clearly well above the rate of inflation. The local rate is now the sixth highest of any of the 36 metropolitan areas. And why? Well, the real answer is that ratepayers in Bradford have had, and are having, to pay for the previous administration's excesses. If noble Lords feel that I am being intemperate, let me remind them of the facts.

Noble Lords will, I am sure, be aware of the term grant related expenditure (GRE) assessment. I hope tonight that I shall not need to explain the complex formula of GREs. All I would say is that the GRE is the measure for grant purposes of an authority's need to spend to provide a standard level of service without inefficiency. Bradford's GRE in 1988–89 is some £565 per head, the fifth highest of all 36 metropolitan authorities, in recognition of the real needs of its people.

However, in a very short period from 1985–86 to 1988–89 the council, under Labour control, had increased its spending from 6 per cent. below its GRE, to almost 7 per cent. above. This excess—for that is what it is is equivalent to some £17.5 million or an extra 17 per cent. on ratepayers' bills this year. To put it another way, before the measures adopted by the new council, Bradford was planning to spend some £600 for every man, woman and child in the area. This was higher than virtually any other metropolitan district. It was higher than Birmingham and higher than Salford—both of which have similar levels of needs.

It was also some £130 per head more than is being spent by neighbouring Leeds, which has budgeted to spend broadly in line with its needs assessment. Is it any wonder that Labour's partners at the time, the SLD, became concerned about the direction in which the policies were taking them and were, I understand, seeking to get agreement to cuts? Is the noble Lord really suggesting that the people of Bradford were getting a service which was so much better than in Leeds, an authority which I understand has long been held up as well run and efficient and which surely provides a proper level of service?

I simply cannot believe that Bradford's people were enjoying a service so superior to that of their neighbours. I cannot therefore believe that once they know all the facts noble Lords will still say that the council is wrong to take action to reduce the high costs of providing services and to lighten the burden on ratepayers; and, of course, on community chargepayers in the future.

Turning to the measures proposed, let me first say, as I have said before, that these are a matter for Bradford, but I understand that they are designed to save some £6 million on the revenue budget this year and around £8 million for succeeding years. They involve both increasing income and cutting back on expenditure. Notable among these measures are the proposals for slimming down the workforce.

It may assist the noble Lord if I briefly explain to the House my understanding of the background to these manpower measures. In common with a number of other, largely Labour controlled authorities, Bradford significantly increased the number of its employees in recent years. By June 1988 it employed 2,500 more staff than at the same time the previous year. This was an increase of some 6 per cent. for full time, and 15 per cent. for part time staff. In the same period the figures nationally, though greater than we thought were necessary, were only 0.1 per cent. for full time and 2.6 for part time staff. I recognise that these increases brought the staffing levels in Bradford broadly into line with the average (per 1,000 population) for metropolitan authorities generally; but the fact is, as we all surely recognise, that many authorities can manage perfectly well with less, and many do, as Bradford itself has in the recent past.

My understanding is that the new council therefore plans to return in an ordered way to a slimmer workforce and at the same time overhaul the administration and the management so that the services are provided no less effectively, but much more efficiently than currently. Nothing the noble Lord has said tonight should persuade anyone that these measures will in any way jeopardise the provision of the necessary services and it is clearly not true to say that what was previously done with fewer staff cannot now be done.

As I have suggested, there are many ways for local authorities to carry out their functions with efficiency and care. Bradford has recognised this and is grasping the opportunities provided, for example, by competition and contracting out of services. These offer a particularly good way of achieving value for money, with up to 20 to 30 per cent. savings in most cases. Surely we should all applaud such action. It means that the ratepayers and all the people of Bradford benefit, and I know of no evidence whatsoever to suggest that, with adequate controls to ensure that local authorities fulfil their statutory responsibilities, the level of service provided in this way is any different from that produced by direct provision.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister would give way for just a moment. If the situation is such as he describes and these economies are being achieved without reduction of services, how does he account for the fact that so many of the Church people in Bradford are deeply concerned about them? For example, the Bishop of Bradford has 33 parishes which are in urban priority areas and is fully informed about the effect on the people in those areas. Can he explain that?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, in answer to the right reverend Prelate's question, of course I am replying on behalf of the department and these are questions which, as he himself rightly pointed out, are questions that Church leaders in Bradford are addressing to the elected councillors in Bradford.

Much has been made of what was described by the right reverend Prelate as "drastic actions" which are being taken in Bradford. But what are we really talking about? If the council are taking significant and imaginative steps to give their people a better deal we will welcome that, and I hope that noble Lords opposite will do likewise. As I have said, the council are planning some measures, particularly in the field of administration, competition and contracting out. There has been much comment about such things as charges for school meals, and I fully recognise the great importance of these matters. The increases mean that Bradford's charges will be more in line with the average and likewise the proposed increase in the charges for elderly day centres and meals on wheels will, I understand, bring these very much into line with many others.

We are not talking about massive, or even significant, increases; and for those unable to pay the Government have provided for support to be available. I think I should make clear at this point that the reductions in expenditure we are talking about represent 2 per cent. of expenditure. I hope I have made it clear to noble Lords that we are not looking at massive and intrusive changes in Bradford. The proposed savings this year and next will in fact do no more than bring the council's spending in line with its needs assessment and in line with the spending of its neighbours.

I have heard nothing which persuades me that the implications for the people of Bradford are disastrous. Clearly the new mood which has been created in this city has found expression in many ways. The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, did not feel too kindly towards the City Technology College which is scheduled to open late next year, but she spoke with pride of the new gallery which will house a collection of national importance.

Finally, let me remind the House that this Government have always recognised the real needs of areas such as Bradford. That is why they have attracted a block grant of some £167 million next year—over £23 million more than in the current year. That is why Bradford has an urban programme allocation of some £3 million, and why it has consistently received the highest education capital allocation of any metropolitan district. That is also why approval has recently been given to European funds totalling some £50 million to enable the city's integrated development operation to proceed.

I have listened carefully to everything which has been said tonight. I have to say, however, that there is no justification for the Government to intervene and no reason for them to take any action beyond that already being taken. Indeed, to act as the noble Lord, Lord Dean, suggests and to interfere in the affairs of a properly run local authority would be quite wrong and in fact entirely contrary to the beliefs which I am sure noble Lords opposite hold about the vital role that local government plays.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am sorry to intervene at such a late stage. If the Minister bases his answer mainly on the fact that the Government will not interfere in local government, I shall remind him of it in the very near future when we come to debate what some of the residuary bodies do when they wind up.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate asked whether the Government have a vendetta against local government. They most certainly do not, but they have a different view from that expressed by opposition Members on how to achieve a better form of local government and a better delivery of services to the community, and we most sincerely believe that we are on the right way to do so.