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Social Exclusion

8. Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): What steps the Government are taking to encourage local authorities to develop services for young people at risk of social exclusion. [112180]

11. Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch): What steps the Government are taking to encourage local authorities to develop services for young people at risk of social exclusion. [112183]

The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Ms Hilary Armstrong): Reports by the social exclusion unit and others have highlighted the need to develop services for young people and children at risk of social exclusion. We are taking action across government, and a number of Departments are working with local authorities to deliver programmes such as sure start and new deal for communities. In addition, best value will drive up the standard of local authority services, and statutory

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guidance will encourage authorities to develop cross-cutting approaches to service delivery that focus on the needs of socially excluded sections of society and not on traditional service boundaries.

Mr. Foster: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. The Xtrax centre in Hastings deals with a wide range of issues affecting the excluded young people in that town. However, the withdrawal of lottery and European social funding means that existing projects are often in jeopardy. Will her Department's invest-to-save schemes be available to pick up the shortfall when the other schemes come to an end?

Ms Armstrong: The invest-to-save programmes are very much targeted at how we can, through public investment, make sure that we improve service delivery and enable services to develop in a local area. The recent round of invest-to-save programmes has provided £23 million of funding for local authority-led projects to develop joint working in the delivery of services. Some of those projects, such as those in Milton Keynes and Worcestershire, were specifically targeted at work with young people. I cannot promise my hon. Friend today that his authority will be successful in terms of the next invest-to-save round, but I assure him that we will work with it to find ways in which good practice can be extended and developed.

Mr. Cryer: I acknowledge what my right hon. Friend says and I thank her for her answer. However, will she bear it in mind that even in comparatively affluent and prosperous areas, such as the one that I represent, there are pockets of deprivation and unemployment? The bottom line is that areas such as Havering need more resources--however they are brought to bear--to tackle social exclusion and youth disorder, which is closely associated with it.

Ms Armstrong: I have not yet encountered a local authority that does not say that there are pockets of deprivation in its area. We have been seeking ways to make sure that we measure and recognise those areas more effectively. We are determined to tackle problems wherever they arise, whether or not they are in so-called affluent areas. We are determined also to work with local councils and the local voluntary sector to ensure that our children and young people have the opportunities that they deserve and need if they are to grow up to be the contributing citizens that we all want them to be.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): In all her answers the Minister has missed the point. Would not a more effective and efficient way to help people in danger of social exclusion be to give taxpayers' money to the social services departments that so badly need it--instead of wasting it on more politicians and bureaucrats in unnecessary regional assemblies?

Ms Armstrong: The hon. Lady has forgotten that in the last three years of the previous Administration, the money given to local authorities by central Government was reduced in real terms by 4.3 per cent. In the first three years of this Administration, we have increased that sum

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by 7.8 per cent. in real terms. We are funding local government so that it can tackle problems that the hon. Lady's Government created.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): When will the Minister recognise that she is speaking a lot of twaddle? Local authorities are strapped for cash. They want to do a lot more for the socially excluded, but they see over £1 billion of their money being drained away into useless regional assemblies and the cost of extra government. Is it not about time that the Government returned that money to local authorities so that they can better help people in need?

Ms Armstrong: Clearly, the hon. Gentleman had worked out that question before I gave my previous answer. The Government have substantially increased, in real terms, the amount going to local government. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to have understood that regional assemblies are not created by the Government or funded by the Government; they are established locally and funded locally.

Coastal Towns

9. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): What his strategy is for the regeneration of coastal towns. [112181]

The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Ms Hilary Armstrong): We are already addressing the needs of coastal towns through the single regeneration budget, the assisted areas map and European structural funds, and regenerating seaside resorts is a high priority in our tourism strategy. Our rural and urban White Papers, to be published later this year, will set out our policies on regeneration for towns, cities and rural areas in England, including coastal towns.

Mr. Blizzard: Much has been made of the so-called north-south divide, but do not the league table of unemployment in travel-to-work areas--which shows that most of the top 20 are coastal towns--and new indices of deprivation that highlight poverty in coastal towns point to a coastal-inland divide? Does my right hon. Friend recognise that poor transport links to coastal towns make them even more peripheral? Does she accept that improved road links to Lowestoft in my constituency are needed to integrate it into the transport system and successfully regenerate the economy?

Ms Armstrong: My hon. Friend makes the point well and reinforces the Government's policy of governing for the whole country, north and south, east and west and coast to coast. That means that we take seriously the problems in coastal towns, and we seek to ensure that we co-ordinate policies across the board, so that the community as a whole will benefit. That of course includes a determined, robust integrated transport strategy.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): I am glad that the right hon. Lady mentioned the integrated transport strategy, and I certainly agree that the issues faced by coastal areas are very similar to those faced by inland areas. Will she nudge the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for

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Streatham (Mr. Hill), thank him for agreeing to come to Weymouth in my constituency in June or July to see the brown route and mention to him how important good roads are to visitors to a seaside town and to the general population? I hope that the right hon. Lady will tell us that the Government will stop dragging their feet on giving funding for the brown route.

Ms Armstrong: I have every confidence in the ability of my right hon. and hon. Friends to deal with these issues as they have undertaken to the House that they will do.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute): I regret to tell the Minister that my constituents and I have no great faith in the Government's strategy for regenerating coastal towns, in the light of the announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister that the Oban coastguard station is to close. That means the loss of 21 jobs and, more important, the loss of local knowledge in that area, which we hope to build up to attract tourism, with increasing maritime activity. I hope that the Minister will persuade the Deputy Prime Minister, who gave us considerable support before the election for the retention of the coastguard stations, to look again at the recommendations of the Transport Sub-Committee and at all the representations that were received, and to reconsider that extremely damaging decision.

Ms Armstrong: I understand the hon. Lady's concern in respect of her constituency, but she knows that the decision arose from a commissioned report from Lord Justice Donaldson. The Government implemented his recommendation.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I draw the Minister's attention to the fine detail in the recent Cabinet Office report on social exclusion, which points out that many coastal towns in west Wales, such as Borth and Cardigan in my constituency, have a level of deprivation equivalent to that in inner cities. How will she ensure that such areas can get the maximum benefit from objective 1 funding in the comprehensive spending review? Will she fight for additionality for coastal towns along the west Wales coast?

Ms Armstrong: Hon. Members are being very inventive in their questions today.

We have addressed the needs of coastal towns, whereas the previous Administration simply ignored them. We are determined that coastal towns will share in the country's increasing prosperity. We shall do what we can to tackle social exclusion. With regard to objective 1, the hon. Gentleman knows that we are working with the authorities and bodies concerned to ensure that the system is fair to the whole country and that local authorities in Wales can play their part in the objective 1 project.

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