Examination of Witness (Questions 70-79)|
21 MARCH 2005
Q70 Chairman: Welcome,
Minister, to the follow-up session on our Coalfields Community
inquiry. Can I ask you to identify yourself for the purpose of
Yvette Cooper: Yvette Cooper,
Minister for Housing and Regeneration.
Q71 Chairman: Is there
anything you wish to say by way of introduction or do you want
to go straight to questions?
Yvette Cooper: We can go straight
to the questions. You have obviously had all the facts from the
department about the progress on the coalfield regeneration and
the English Partnerships programme.
Q72 Mr O'Brien: Minister,
our report last year highlighted varying commitments from government
departments to tackle the regeneration of the former coalfieldsDefra,
CMS, the Home Office, the Treasury, Health. How do you ensure
that all departments are now signed up to the regeneration programme?
Yvette Cooper: We obviously have
considerable work going on right across the government, as your
report highlighted was needed, and we organised the National Coalfield
Conference in November with the CCC, also with English Partnerships,
the RDAs, the Regeneration Trust, but also representatives from
other government departments. The Deputy Prime Minister made the
keynote speech. English Partnerships has been holding workshops
for stakeholders, focusing on the issues of specific interest
to the coalfields. The most recent event was in January which
was about skills and jobs, which included the Learning and Skills
Council and Jobcentre Plus. We have a ministerial round table
due to take place later this year. I was going to say May but
it will probably be later this year. The intention of that is
to build on the cross-government work that has been going on to
support the English Partnerships workshops.
Q73 Mr O'Brien: Following
the conference and the workshops that are being developed can
we see any real improvement in the co-ordination of the contributions
of different government departments and what achievements can
we point to?
Yvette Cooper: I think we can
point to a series of achievements in terms of the progress which
has been made. If you look at the investment that has taken place,
for example, through the National Coalfields Programme, which
is overall expected to deliver 42,000 jobs and so far work is
under way on 61 of the 101 sites with over 13,000 jobs already
created, 576 new homes built, 510,000 square metres of new floor
space provided, a lot of that work is the result of partnerships
across different agencies and different local organisations, but
another obvious example of the joint working has been the response
to some of the coalfield closures that we have seen, particularly
Selby but also Prince of Wales in our area, where we have seen
very close co-ordination between the Coalfield Regeneration Trust
and Jobcentre and the Department for Work and Pensions, and we
are also increasingly seeing partnership work from the RDAs. There
is a lot of evidence of joint working, particularly at the local
level, which is starting to reap benefits for the coalfield communities
Q74 Mr Page: The government
told the committee that it would be issuing new guidance regarding
the commitments that are going to be made by the revision of the
regional economic strategies for the needs of the coalfield communities.
What is the current position?
Yvette Cooper: Can we write to
you and give you the timetable for that?
Q75 Mr Page: That is a
pity, of course. To your knowledge how many RDAs have developed
specific programmes to help the coalfield communities?
Yvette Cooper: There is quite
a lot of work going on with the RDAs already. The RDA that probably
has the most detailed individual programmes is One NorthEast and
its partners delivering the coalfield programme. They include,
for example, work on the 120-acre Weetslade Colliery site in North
Tyneside, Dordon and Fox(?) cover, other programmes with English
Partnerships, Lambton and Fenwick Eccles(?) and so on. The Yorkshire
Forward corporate plan, for example, says that it is fully committed
to the coalfields programme and I know from local constituency
evidence that there is a lot of work that Yorkshire Forward is
doing but less of that I think currently in their corporate plan.
We are currently looking at the overall corporate plans and we
take very seriously the issue about coalfield regeneration in
those regions which are affected and so we do think that this
needs to be an appropriate priority as part of the RDAs, but each
RDA has, of course, taken a different approach to each of the
coalfield issues that they face.
Q76 Mr Page: Obviously
your guidance is still to come. Is this chicken and egg? Are you
waiting to see what the RDAs are going to do first and then you
are going to issue your guidance in line, or is your guidance
going to be independent and you will then if necessary be asking
the RDAs to conform?
Yvette Cooper: We need to recognise
the expertise that each region has in the problems in its own
area and so we need to take that into account as part of any guidance.
On the other hand we are not simply going to drop guidance which
says to them, "Do what you are already doing". If we
think there is a problem and they are not addressing the coalfield
issues that they need to be addressing we will make that very
Q77 Andrew Bennett: What
about the West Midlands and their interest in the Stoke old coalfield
there? West Midlands just does not think that the old coalfield
area exists, does it?
Yvette Cooper: I understand that
Advantage West Midlands is involved in five of the English Partnerships
programme sites in the region. Each of the RDAs ought to be working
very closely with English Partnerships.
Q78 Andrew Bennett: You
say "ought to be" but are they?
Yvette Cooper: We are still reviewing
the overall corporate plans for the RDAs at the moment. I think
that there is a lot of evidence of close working by some of the
RDAs with local partnerships, both English Partnerships but also
local councils on coalfields regeneration. We are, as I said,
reviewing where the RDAs are overall in terms of the support for
coalfields and we will take all those local factors into account.
Q79 Mr Betts: In its 2004
report the committee recommended that there be an independent
evaluation of the progress that had been made in regenerating
coalfield areas. Has that now started?
Yvette Cooper: No, it has not
started yet. We are looking to start it as soon as possible. English
Partnerships has already done some preliminary work to take account
of the adjustments of ward boundaries and to bring up to date
the labour market variables since the commencement of the programme.
We hope to commence the work on the format of that evaluation
in the next month or so.