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2.47 pm

The Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women (Mrs. Barbara Roche): I begin by warmly congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) on his success in securing the debate, and on the cogent and thorough way in which he advanced his arguments. I am delighted to be able to respond both as Minister for Social Exclusion and as the Member of Parliament for a neighbouring constituency.

As my hon. Friend said, social exclusion covers a wide range of issues. The Government's social exclusion unit has carried out projects on subjects such as truancy and school exclusions, rough sleepers and teenage pregnancies. However, I shall concentrate on neighbourhood renewal.

Edmonton suffers from many of the characteristics of the inner city, which were well described by my hon. Friend. The local neighbourhood renewal strategy identifies local people's key concerns as fear of crime, poor local environment, high unemployment, low incomes and poor access to health care. Those concerns perfectly reflect the linked problems that often combine to socially exclude individuals and communities. However, I know that my hon. Friend would agree that for many communities such as Edmonton, disadvantage is not their defining feature. There is another side to Edmonton. Despite its problems, it remains a vibrant, friendly and multicultural area with enormous potential. It also benefits from a strong and active local community. My hon. Friend was right to say that local buy-in is necessary for the initiatives and the neighbourhood renewal to succeed. That is crucial to the success of the neighbourhood renewal programmes that are happening in Edmonton now.

As my hon. Friend said, Enfield, in which Edmonton falls, was identified by the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal as one of the 88 areas to receive

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additional funding for regeneration. The community in Edmonton has embraced the new opportunities that the funding provides, but I accept that we have responsibilities, too.

For more than 20 years, under-investment in areas such as Edmonton has meant that places with the most need often receive the worst services. We have witnessed the problems that poor services can store up—unemployment, disaffection, deteriorating environment, vandalism and crime. That is why, in 1997, the Prime Minister set up the social exclusion unit and established tackling social exclusion as a key priority for the Government.

Eighteen months ago, the social exclusion unit published the national strategy for neighbourhood renewal. That is now being taken forward by the neighbourhood renewal unit. It is a long-term strategy that aims to make postcode poverty a thing of the past, and to ensure that in 10 to 20 years, no one should be seriously disadvantaged by where they live.

The principle at the core of the strategy, and all our programmes to tackle social exclusion, is to make mainstream services work properly for everyone. My hon. Friend rightly highlighted that. We are pumping extra money—some further £43 million in total—into public services in the next three years. My priority is to make sure that that money helps those communities that need it most. That is why Departments are being measured on where they are doing well, not on the average. We have introduced floor targets—the minimum standard that every area in the country should reach—for, for example, health, education, crime and housing. "Floor targets" is a bureaucratic term for action that is incredibly exciting. They are the social equivalent of the minimum wage. For deprived communities, they will mean better schools, improved health care, safer streets and better housing. All sectors must work together to make sure that that happens.

I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend's remarks about Enfield's local strategic partnership. It has brought together the local authority, local businesses, the voluntary sector and community groups to provide new initiatives and services on crime, health, employment, housing, the environment, and education and skills training. Their draft neighbourhood renewal strategy outlines how the partnership will spend the £4.2 million Enfield has been allocated through the neighbourhood renewal fund.

The national £900 million neighbourhood renewal fund was established by the Government to help local authorities and their partners improve core public services. They can spend the funding not only on their services, but on community groups and the services of providers such as the national health service. To achieve those challenging targets, all providers must ensure that they own the services that they want to provide. I know that that is important in the Enfield area, where access to primary health care is a concern. In Enfield, neighbourhood renewal funding is currently contributing to the Fit for Life programme at the Healthy Living centre.

Further funding for neighbourhood renewal has been allocated to Enfield through the community empowerment fund—more than £300,000 for three years. Enfield Voluntary Action is now co-ordinating the development of the community empowerment network.

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What else are we doing? Nearly £200,000 has been allocated to Enfield through the neighbourhood renewal community chest for the first two years. These were established by the Government to provide easily accessible small grants of between £50 and £5,000 to community groups. In Enfield, the Scarman trust administered awarding the grants in the first year, with the community empowerment network participating on the decision-making panel. So far the response has been encouraging. Edmonton has also developed its own regeneration projects. The Edmonton partnership initiative is a major scheme aimed at improving the local area, and all sections of the community are working together on it.

We are currently working across government to ensure that the outcomes of the spending review continue to support the aims of neighbourhood renewal funding. My hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not comment on the outcome of the review, but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be making an announcement in due course.

I understand the disappointment that the people of Edmonton felt at not being successful in their bid to be a neighbourhood management pathfinder in the first round. We will be considering whether there should be a second pathfinder round, and what form it should take. I understand my hon. Friend's comments on that matter.

I am also aware that unemployment is a significant problem in Edmonton, with nearly 70 per cent. of the population receiving some form of benefit. Running alongside the new deal, employment zones are one of the initiatives that the Government are testing to tackle long-term unemployment. Between April 2000 and the end of February 2002, they helped more than 22,000 people into work.

My hon. Friend is right to talk about the success of what has happened in Haringey. The employment zone there has been performing particularly well. In the first year of its operation, 55 per cent. of the jobseekers in the zone found work, of whom more than 80 per cent. were still in employment after 13 weeks. Decisions on the future development of employment zones will be made in the light of emerging evaluation findings. We expect initial results to become available in December 2002.

We should also applaud the good work that is already going on to help people in Edmonton find work. For example, the New Direction training centre is providing vocational training in road safety, communication skills and business start-up, to enable local people to become self-employed. The technology centre is supporting new and existing community and micro-businesses owned or managed by women, and the Enfield Employment Network is delivering projects targeting individuals and—very importantly—building links with local employers. The New Direction training centre is also attracting people into the copywriting and design business in the Paper Project. There are, therefore, important things going on.

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My hon. Friend rightly mentioned the importance of capacity building, and I absolutely agree with what he said. There is a vital role to be played by the regional development agencies in tackling unemployment and supporting local economies through the local strategic partnerships. As part of the 2000 spending review, regional development agencies were given an expanded role as strategic drivers of regional economic development, and they will benefit from a larger and more flexible budget of around £500 million more per year by 2003–04.

The Government's approach—giving communities the opportunity to set their own priorities and the support to develop their own initiatives—represents a fundamental change. I say frankly to my hon. Friend that I recognise that these new ways of working have inevitably led to some stresses and strains, especially over shared decision making with community groups, and over local priorities and their financing. I am sure he would agree that "partnership" is an extremely easy word to use, but it requires a great deal of time and effort to make it work.

I appreciate what my hon. Friend said about the number of area-based initiatives. That matter has been brought to the Government's attention and we are looking closely at it. The Government's regional co-ordination unit is carrying out a review of area-based initiatives, which aims to tackle the problems of variety and complexity that my hon. Friend mentioned, and improve the way in which they interact with other local activity.

It is important that the local strategic partnerships work well and have a role that is understood by everybody and that seeks to knit some of those issues together. It is absolutely right that the Enfield local strategic partnership is now emerging as a key player in the regeneration of the area. I wish it all the best and look forward to seeing it go from strength to strength.

What emerged very clearly from my hon. Friend's speech is that strong leadership at all levels is absolutely necessary. I know that he never misses an opportunity vigorously to put the case for Edmonton, and the potential exists for that community to move forward. We must develop local people's skills by building on those that they already have but, importantly, by building on their confidence. I was struck by the survey figures that my hon. Friend gave the House at the beginning of his speech.

These communities need the confidence to break the cycle of deprivation in their neighbourhoods, and the only way that they can do that is by having initiatives of this kind, which are not led at the top but driven by local communities and local people. I feel absolutely sure that, with my hon. Friend's leadership, his community will succeed.

Question put and agreed to.

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