Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

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 the record?

  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 coalfields—Defra, 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 now.

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 clear.

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.

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