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Disabled Facilities Grants

8. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): If he will make a statement on disabled facilities grants. [152915]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Beverley Hughes): The disabled facilities grant is a mandatory grant that is paid through local authorities for adaptations to help disabled people to live independently in their own homes for as long as possible. The Government have increased the resources available for this grant in the comprehensive spending review by 20 per cent., to £87 million next year and £89 million in 2003-04.

Mr. Cunningham: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will she outline how Coventry will benefit from the increases, bearing in mind that many families waited for years under the previous Government, but were always denied access to the grant because of the lack of money allocated to them?

Ms Hughes: My hon. Friend is right on that last point. We have increased resources substantially from £56 million, which was the amount set in the last Budget

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of the previous Government, to £87 million for the coming financial year. I happen to have Coventry's disabled facilities grant allocation to hand. For the current year it is £456,000, but for the next financial year of 2001-02 it will increase by 23 per cent. to £561,000, which is about 5 per cent. higher than the average for the area. The allocation reflects Coventry's very good record on investment in facilities for disabled people and in housing adaptations.

South East England Development Agency

9. Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): What the current annual cost is of the South East England development agency. [152916]

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott) rose--

Hon. Members: Hurray!

Mr. Prescott: Any more?

The South East England development agency's total budget will be £79.2 million this year. Only 8 per cent.--£6.3 million--will be spent on its strategic and management role. That is excellent value for money and is less than the 9 per cent. average for the rest of the RDAs. We have a streamlined and effective way of delivering regional development, in contrast with the previous Government, who had no co-ordination and no regional policy.

Mr. Fallon: Is the Secretary of State aware that the South East England development agency has written to Members of Parliament asking them to make representations to the Commission in support of the Chancellor's highly controversial state-subsidised regional venture capital fund? Is he aware that it has supplied MPs with core scripts for that purpose? Is it genuinely the function of a regional development agency to try to rig a competition investigation in that way?

Mr. Prescott: I do not accept for one moment that the agency is doing what the hon. Gentleman suggests. It is doing an excellent job on regional development in the south-east. One can see how many jobs it has created and how much investment has been brought in. That is a matter of record. It is often said in the House that the Conservatives do not support the regional development agencies or the assemblies, which are actively involved, but it is important to bear it in mind that 105 Tory councillors serve on the regional chambers, 41 of whom do so in the south-east regional assembly. I note that the Conservative party is rightly prepared to keep the RDAs for Scotland and Wales, but that it has apparently said that it is prepared to keep them for London and not for the rest of the English regions. Greater London Assembly Member Bob Neil said:

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Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Can my right hon. Friend ensure that the South East England development agency, which leads the No. 1 region in Britain, has the resources that it needs for capital development, such as the proposed heart of Slough development? That would enable the local authority, local business and so on to create a hub of communications and cultural industries in the town that I represent.

Mr. Prescott: Yes, that is exactly what the regional development agency is doing, not only in my hon. Friend's constituency, but in many parts of the south-east. Indeed, we met RDA chairmen only about a week ago and told them about the extra resources and the single pool of development capital that will available for investment in the regions. That was welcomed, but we went further. We gave £500,000 a year to each of the regional assemblies so that they can check what the RDAs are doing in their areas and to ensure that they are more accountable.

Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells): I am surprised that the Deputy Prime Minister does not accept that SEEDA is doing what my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) says it is doing, because it has described exactly that in writing to all south-east Members. As the Deputy Prime Minister believes that SEEDA is such excellent value for money--indeed, it is one of the more efficient development agencies--will he say how much it spends on representation and lobbying in Brussels and how much it spent last year on PR and marketing, including its own annual report?

Mr. Prescott: The amount I mentioned for administration was £6.3 million. I do not know the exact figure for how much is spent in Brussels, although it is clear that development agencies want to make representations because much regional funding is decided there. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman to say how much is spent, but a quick call to the regional chair would have established it.

The agencies are doing an excellent job and I am absolutely delighted to hear that the Opposition spokesman believes that the South East England RDA is doing a good job, as 41 of the Tory councillors--[Hon. Members: "He did not say that."] Well, I thought he said that. If he did not, I withdraw my remark. Presumably, he believes that RDAs are not doing a good job. That is fine; he will have a chance at the coming election, whenever it comes, to put his case for abolition. I am sure that many Tory councillors, including the leader in Kent and the leaders of a number of Tory authorities, support the proposal for a development agency and an assembly. They will have a choice and I think they will vote accordingly.

Mr. Norman: The Deputy Prime Minister seems to be totally out of touch, even with his own figures. Let me tell him the figure for administrative expenses, PR and marketing SEEDA itself--£630,000 last year. Furthermore, £50,000 is spent keeping employees in

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Brussels and a large sum also goes on lobbying there. The leader of Kent county council has specifically assured me, and has gone on the public record as saying, that he opposes the development agency and supports our policy to abolish it.

Is not the real truth that SEEDA is another example of an unwanted quango covering a region that nobody identifies with and spending money that would not otherwise be spent? Does not the Deputy Prime Minister agree that if it succeeds in achieving anything, it will attract businesses that would otherwise go to the north and the midlands, thereby extending the north-south divide? Is not this the real point: England would be better represented as one country with a coherent regional policy rather than by eight regions, all with their hands out for state subsidy?

Mr. Prescott: I fail to understand the logic of the hon. Gentleman's point. He is prepared to accept development agencies for Scotland and Wales, whatever the bureaucratic cost and whatever the difficulties in assisting with the differential between the north and south of Scotland and the English regions. Why can he accept development agencies for Scotland and Wales, but not for the English regions, where the populations are far higher and often in desperate need of economic assistance? The agencies have done an excellent job. In order to inform the House, and so that I can be better informed, will he comment on this statement by a Tory GLA Member:

Would the Tories keep the agency for London?

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): Does my right hon. Friend agree that Labour Members have supported RDAs from the very beginning? Like him, I am a Yorkshire and Humber Member, and he will agree that Yorkshire and Humber is the No. 1 region in the United Kingdom. We believe in the RDAs, for all the country, because they are good for investment, good for innovation, good for planning and good for the future.

Mr. Prescott: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The Tories said that they would abolish the Scottish and Welsh development agencies and they put that in their manifesto, but when they came to power they found that they needed such agencies to help to change and develop the economies in all regions. I suspect that the same would happen on this occasion were they to be elected, but there is not much chance of that.

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