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The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean) on securing this debate and on bringing this important issue to the attention of the House. This is an opportunity not just for the House to hear how the people of Burton have benefited from the Government's regeneration policy, as she so eloquently demonstrated; it is also an opportunity for me to place on the record our continuing commitment to regeneration policies that have been shown to work. I have to say that the Government were already aware of the challenges facing Burton, not least due to the assiduous representations that my hon. Friend has made on her constituents' behalf. After tonight, I am even more comprehensively informed.

During the 1990s, Burton lost more than 9,000 manufacturing jobs. Although it played an important role in the industrial revolution, it was perhaps best known for its contribution to the beer pumps of the world. Sadly, following the closure of many breweries, its importance as the centre of the nation's brewing industry has also diminished. The people of the area have had to confront changing economic realities and it has not been easy. As my hon. Friend said, three areas in the borough are among the 10 per cent. most deprived in the country, and average earnings lag behind the rest of the country. However, with household names such as JCB, Pirelli, Holland & Barrett and Marmite still based in the area, and with unemployment levels falling by nearly twice the national average, Burton has some real strengths on which to build. The pride and commitment of local people, as we have heard, has been buttressed by the funding provided for regeneration from a wide variety of sources.

As we have also heard, parts of Burton have been eligible for European structural funds under various programmes since 1994; indeed, Burton has received grants in the region of £5.5 million. We have further heard about the impact of such funding in providing new skills for local people. It has provided a purpose built centre—WIRED—in which film and radio production, audiovisual editing and website design skills can be taught. I recognise that the current funding programme finishes in 2006, but I am afraid that, as my hon. Friend acknowledged, it is simply too early to say what the outcome of the European structural fund negotiations will be at this stage. Again, as we have heard, there is also the single regeneration budget, which has provided much needed support to initiatives across Burton, such as the Burton investing in inclusion programme. That scheme shows how the SRB has succeeded in levering in extra resources. Burton is receiving additional funding worth more than £6.5 million awarded by the regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands.

Again as we have heard, Advantage West Midlands is playing a welcome role in the regeneration of Burton and surrounding areas. It has identified, as one of its key delivery vehicles, 10 business clusters. Advantage West Midlands is investing some £16 million in cluster projects next year, some of which will be particularly helpful in stimulating regeneration in the Burton area.
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With its history of involvement with the food and drink industry, Burton is particularly well placed to take advantage of two cluster projects: the food and drink information centre, which provides regular industry information; and the trade and consumer development project, which supports small and medium-sized enterprises in the staging of consumer and trade events. The latter project also provides assistance with product listings of retailers and caterers to enable local firms to take full advantage of marketing opportunities. It has to be said that some local products need little help. With 180,000 jars of marmite leaving the Burton factory every day, somebody, somewhere must love it. I know I do. As a regular consumer of this excellent spread, I can definitely say that "Marmite is my mate"!

On a somewhat more serious note, Advantage West Midlands is also looking at improving higher education provision in the town to ensure that the people of Burton have the necessary skills to take advantage of every opportunity that arises. Discussions with Staffordshire university and Burton college regarding the provision of a higher education centre at Burton further education college are at an early stage, but even at the concept stage, this £4 million project has already attracted potential funding partners such as the Higher Education Funding Council, Burton college itself, Staffordshire learning and skills council and Advantage West Midlands. The provision of higher education facilities in the town can only benefit the local community and help Burton people to gain the confidence to take control of their own regeneration needs.

That is why the heart of Burton neighbourhood management pathfinder is so important. It is one of 35 pathfinders launched in 2002–03 with a brief to drive improvements to local services by making them more responsive to local needs. The pathfinder covers parts of the wards of Eton Park and Shobnall in the town centre, with a population of 10,000. It has an expected allocation of £3.5 million over seven years, supported through the new ventures fund, of which around £1.4 million has been spent to date.

This pathfinder has identified low educational attainment and lack of access to child care as barriers to employment, particularly to higher paid work. It is therefore supporting initiatives to provide coaching for GCSE pupils and other measures to improve school attendance, such as first day contact—a scheme to tackle the problem at the very start of a new school career and to stop non-attendance becoming a habit. The heart of Burton pathfinder has also, together with Sure Start and European funding, contributed to a children's centre, which provides 60 child care places,
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helping parents to take up offers of work. The really important aspect of that work is the way in which the community is being involved in managing its own neighbourhood.

I have already spoken about the importance of the neighbourhood level, but as we have heard this evening, there is also a need to ensure that Burton has its place in regional economic growth strategies. I would agree with my hon. Friend that Burton now has the opportunity to act as a gateway between the west and east midland regions. The plans for "Smart Growth—the Midlands Way" give the town the perfect opportunity to take advantage of development opportunities, for instance with the site referred to by my hon. Friend already as the land south of Branston. It is a 120-acre site on the southern edge of Burton and it is well connected to the road network, with direct access to the A38. The site has the potential to help Burton take its rightful place in the new regional spatial strategy for the west midlands. Although I cannot make any announcement this evening, I certainly undertake to maintain a strong interest in the progress being made in bringing the site into development.

Burton should continue to make its case to take real advantage of all of the opportunities available. It needs to continue to exploit its position as a gateway linking the M6 in the west midlands with the M1 in the east midlands. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are committed to continuing to support regeneration and neighbourhood renewal. We are getting better at targeting the pockets of deprivation that she mentioned, and we will continue to do so.

I wish to take this opportunity to commend my Department's five-year strategy, "People, Places and Prosperity", to the House. It sets out our policy towards regeneration and should give my hon. Friend, the House and the country at large reassurance that we will not deviate from the successful policies that she described as working in Burton. We are also committed to a continual programme of improving the targeting and operation of those policies, which, as we know from careful monitoring, are having an impact. The Government are pledged to a programme that has already brought benefits to Burton, as we have heard this evening, and to many other locations all over England. I wish every success to the people of Burton and other parts of my hon. Friend's constituency and to my hon. Friend herself, who is working so hard on their behalf.

Question put and agreed to.

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