§ Mr. Bevan
To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he is making any changes to the inner city task forces.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
Yes. There are now 16 Government task forces operating in small inner city areas. The task force in Handsworth in Birmingham set up two years ago has made remarkable progress in stimulating enterprise and creating jobs for local people. The time has now come to transfer the benefits of the task force approach to another deprived part of Birmingham. I am therefore setting up a new Government task force to focus on the Saltley, Nechells and Washwood Heath areas of east Birmingham. The new task force will work closely with the private sector-led Birmingham heartlands urban development agency which is already tackling the economic regeneration of east Birmingham.
The new emphasis on east Birmingham does not mean that Handsworth will be forgotten. There is much work still to be done and projects to implement. The task force has brought a new impetus and freshness to tackling the area's problems and has proved that Handsworth is a place with a future worth investing in. The task force has contributed £4 million to 60 projects whose total cost has been 10 million. We estimate that it will have created over 2,000 jobs and training opportunities for local people and the ongoing effect of the projects will create many more.
I have always made it clear that task forces were short-term pump-priming and experimental teams working in deprived areas. I envisage the Handsworth team remaining for another nine months or so, but the demands on it are such that it will not be able to accept any new projects from today. Over the next few months the task force will be consulting with other public and private sector bodies, including the Government city action team, Birmingham city council and the CBI, to determine the best means to continue its work and maintain its record of success.
Through our action for cities programme, the Government will continue to focus a wide range of special assistance on Handsworth. We will also continue to learn from experiences in Handsworth and other task forces, and apply the lessons to the Government's continuing support for inner cities. Our new high priority in Birmingham will be the work of the east Birmingham task force.