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Mr. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East): Everyone must have been shocked by the media pictures from Santa Tecla. At least it is relatively close to San Salvador and is reasonably accessible. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the speedy action that has been taken. Will he bear in mind the needs of more remote areas, such as Santiago de Maria, which is near to the coast and where, I have been told, 90 per cent. of all houses have been damaged or destroyed?

Mr. Foulkes: My hon. Friend, who also knows the area, has put his finger on an immediate problem. The information we are getting is from San Salvador and the immediate surrounding area. We envisage problems in areas further away from the capital, but we have not heard anything yet. We are trying to get as much information as possible, and to see how we can respond in the area that he mentioned and in other areas remote from the capital. We shall respond as sympathetically as we can to any requests from those areas.

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Neighbourhood Renewal

3.51 pm

The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Ms Hilary Armstrong): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal action plan "new commitment to neighbourhood renewal", which we are publishing today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1998, the social exclusion unit was asked to develop a national strategy for neighbourhood renewal. More than 400 people from inside and outside Government have

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been involved with the SEU in developing the strategy through 18 policy action teams. In addition, thousands of other people up and down the country, many of whom live and work in deprived neighbourhoods, responded to the consultation on the framework for the strategy that was published last April. In parallel, last year's spending review identified new resources to be invested in improvement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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amount to an average of £400,000 per area over the next three years, and will allow all residents the chance to have their say.

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

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

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

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

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

It is easy to be sceptical about change, but the improved policies of the past three years and the concrete examples of what can be achieved by community groups and social entrepreneurs are a measure of what can be achieved. They give us confidence that we can aim for a position

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where more neighbourhoods are advancing on all fronts. The new commitment to neighbourhood renewal builds on existing policies: to end boom and bust; to put the economy on a stable footing; to invest in public services; to invest in people and their futures; and to take active measures to ensure that everyone benefits from the prosperity and opportunity that we have created.

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