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17 Oct 2006 : Column 235WH—continued

That is only half the story, however. I am concerned that the recent review also reopened a debate about what appears to be the privatisation of the port of Belfast land bank, creating the possibility of the port being stripped of its assets. However, free land in and around the port appears to be limited. Most if not all
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the land is tied up in leases lasting for 100 to 150 years from now. The concerns and anxiety about the implied threat has destabilised our situation. Access to that land is essential in the public interest. The port is a public organisation, and the public interest has to be kept at a high level.

To those who wonder why the port of Belfast should be the city’s largest land holder, I would say that the public interest in the harbour estate is protected by legislation enshrined in the previous Assembly. Again, much of the harbour estate was created at the port’s own expense as the harbour extended. The port started small in the heart of the city, but as it needed deeper and deeper water it moved out and developed reclaimed land from Belfast lough. My figures suggest that 97 per cent. of the non-port land supports various forms of useful economic activity. Some 2 per cent. of the land was released for other uses in April 2006, and 1 per cent. is unusable. It would be wrong to interfere unnecessarily with the activities of the port and the success that it has been. Indeed, my opinion on that seems reflected and supported by no less an expert than the Minister with responsibility for shipping, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), who said this to the ports policy review conference:

I say to that Minister, and his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Department of Regional Development, that the port of Belfast is not “broke”. It needs to be retuned and given more flexibility, freedom and scope to act commercially. It is delivering substantial benefits to the Northern Ireland economy and is well placed to gear up for future challenges. All Belfast wants is for the sentiment expressed by the Minister at the conference to apply equally to all UK ports. If that does not happen, the ability of Belfast port to prepare for and service the substantial anticipated economic growth will be hindered. In the short term, breaking up the port would yield some financial benefits but it would create obstacles in the long term.

Massive investment will be required to build new quays, berths and deeper channels to accommodate growing international trade and a new generation of larger ships that, I hope, will use the port. The required investment will come relatively easily if the port has greater commercial agility and the ownership of the harbour estate is protected.

At the beginning of my contribution, I remarked that until 50 years ago, Belfast was known as a centre for manufacturing and trade. If we make the correct decisions for the port now, Belfast will be able to resurrect itself as a centre for manufacturing and trade. Some 95 per cent. of all our trade is seaborne; I repeat that, by volume, Belfast handles 60 per cent. of Northern Ireland’s trade and 20 per cent. of the whole island’s trade.

If time were available, I would add much more, but I shall leave the issue here. I call on the Minister to state whether he shares my vision of the potential of the port of Belfast. I welcome his views on the issue, whether he agrees with me or not, because we must have a serious debate on the port before any decisions are made that could put a positive and successful economic future at risk.

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12.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (David Cairns): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Williams. This is the first such occasion since you were elevated to the Chairmen’s Panel. It is a pleasure to see you ensconced at the heart of the British establishment, where you definitely belong.

It is also a pleasure to respond to the debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell). I say right off the bat that I entirely share his vision of a thriving, prosperous and successful Belfast port and harbour. I entirely get the message that the harbour is important—and not only in its own economic terms, nor only for the economic development of south Belfast and the city of Belfast. It is vital to the economic development and future prosperity of the whole of Northern Ireland.

As my hon. Friend knows, we are now looking at the responses that came in as part of the ports review. I am a bit constrained in outlining the way forward, because we need to consider what people have said as part of the consultation process. My hon. Friend’s contribution today is an important part of that process and we shall take his points seriously.

At the beginning of his remarks, my hon. Friend spoke movingly about Belfast’s proud industrial heritage and past and the centrality of the docks and port in building the city’s prosperity in the last century. From my conversations with him on this subject here and in Belfast, my hon. Friend knows that I entirely share that vision of the importance of the port in the industrial present, not only the industrial past.

Like my hon. Friend, I come from a port town—much smaller than Belfast—that has a proud shipbuilding history, now sadly almost gone. However, it continues to thrive as a port. People who, unlike me and my hon. Friend, do not have day-to-day dealings with ports and harbours simply do not understand their enormous commercial potential in this day and age. More and more freight is travelling the world on larger and larger vessels and more and more people are going on cruises and so on. The potential of ports is greater today than it has been for a long time. People who do not have many dealings with them do not understand that; they think that ports belong to the 19th century. My hon. Friend and I know that that is not the case.

I should like to pay tribute to Frank Cushnahan, the outgoing chairman of the Belfast harbour commissioners, who has worked very hard during many years of involvement with Belfast. He is retiring, but only in the sense that he will not be chairman for much longer—he is certainly not “retiring” otherwise, but comes forward to express his views on what should happen in Belfast. He has done a great deal to advance the cause of the port of Belfast and I wish him a long and happy retirement.

I do not want to go over every bit of ground covered by my hon. Friend, but it is important to understand the scale of Belfast port and harbour to understand the seriousness of the decisions that the Government will have to make on its future and that of others in Northern Ireland. The eight miles of Belfast port’s quays occupy 2,000 acres. The port has 1.2 million sq ft of warehousing and 100 acres of terminals. As my hon. Friend rightly
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reminded us, two thirds of Northern Ireland’s seaborne trade and a quarter of that for Ireland as a whole is handled by the port. It is doing very well and going from strength to strength. It is the busiest ferry port in Northern Ireland, ferrying 1.2 million passengers, many of them lucky enough to be going to Scotland. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the port for garnering the title of Irish port of the year at the recent awards ceremony.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that standing still is not an option for the port of Belfast; this era of globalisation, developing trade, changing ship design and changing business processes means that the port has to evolve and change. My hon. Friend highlighted one model that he thinks would serve that change process, but there is no difference between us—we both believe that the port of Belfast, although currently successful, has great potential into which it can grow. We must find the right mechanism to unlock some of that potential and allow the port to flourish to an even greater extent.

I am happy to acknowledge the Belfast harbour commissioners’ response: their five-year, £140 million capital expenditure programme, delivering new terminals, new logistics facilities and new container capacity. I look forward to seeing those developments emerge, albeit from this side of the water.

Belfast port is successful, thriving and crucial to the well-being of Northern Ireland. In that context and as part of the review, we are giving consideration to the power, status and governance of the public trust ports such as Belfast to ensure that they are appropriate for their crucial role.

Time is short, so I shall cut to the model raised by my hon. Friend: giving extended commercial powers to the port, as recommended by the Assembly and the Executive. My hon. Friend was fair enough to acknowledge that that was part of a package on tighter public accountability. He knows that all that was caught up in and affected by the ruling by the Office for National Statistics that certain trust ports should be considered as public corporations for public expenditure purposes. There is a dilemma at the heart of that: if ports are to remain public corporations, how do we give them greater commercial freedom while ensuring that there are public lines of accountability? That is one of the options outlined in the ports review and it is under consideration. It is not the only one; on this side of the water, there are many examples of privatised ports that do an excellent job of developing their facilities—and, in a sensitive way, the associated land bank—for the economic benefit of people who live around them. There is not simply one available model. We have to look at the special circumstances of Belfast port. We also have to ensure that we design a model that is appropriate to all the trust ports in Northern Ireland. Of course, the specific circumstances of Belfast port would automatically read across to the other trust ports, but it is the largest one and is absolutely central to this discussion.

The Government take seriously my hon. Friend’s advice. We will reflect on the model that he proposed and in due course introduce plans that will unlock the greater potential of Belfast port, as we entirely share his vision for it.

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Youth Service Funding

1 pm

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Williams. I know that you take an interest in the youth service, which is an important service. I am pleased to have this opportunity to praise the work of youth service workers and to draw attention to funding.

I want to make an opening remark about young people. If one were to believe the tabloid press, one would think that young people were difficult and a threat to our society. I believe that they are a force for change. Young citizens can make a real difference to our society, and it is important to praise them rather than constantly criticise them.

It is also important to praise the work of the many people who work in the youth service and who provide a range of avenues for young people’s development. I am pleased that the Government recognise the work of the youth service. After all, in recent years they have commissioned a great number of publications and reports about it. Let me highlight some of them: “Transforming Youth Work: Resourcing Excellent Youth Services” in 2002, and “Every Child Matters” in 2003, followed by “Youth Matters” in 2005, the same year in which Ofsted’s report, “Effective Youth Services”, came out. More recently, “Youth Matters: Next Steps” was published this year. In July, the Department for Education and Skills and the Treasury working together made an important statement about the need to introduce proposals in respect of the youth service during the comprehensive spending review. I welcome that—it is a real opportunity.

All those reports accept the value of the youth service. It can reduce antisocial behaviour and crime, help reduce truancy—I have personal experience of projects that get youngsters back into school—and tackle social problems such as drug misuse and teenage pregnancies. Most importantly, good youth work involves young people, makes them active citizens and gives them an opportunity to debate not just society and international affairs but how tangibly they can affect local governance.

In a way, all those outcomes can be measured, but one of the real issues for the youth service is that a good deal of its work cannot be measured quantitatively. Much of the youth service centres around building personalities and developing young people. It is about the relationships that exist between youth workers and young people. In effect, we are talking about a qualitative rather than a quantitative relationship, and one of the areas of social policy that we need to do further work on is being clearer about how we measure qualitative relationships. Of course, one of the ways to do it is to ask young people themselves. When asked, they give a resounding cheer for the youth service. They see it as an important project and sector.

I am pleased that the Audit Commission in its report “Misspent Youth” suggested that for every £1 that is invested in the youth service, a corresponding £8 is spent in the voluntary sector. For every £1 from the state, £8 of voluntary work is produced. The Audit Commission stated clearly that investment in youth
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services could help save money in other Government services, particularly in health and education. Despite those favourable reviews and reports, the youth service is under threat. I do not want to exaggerate the situation, but the Government need carefully to consider several factors so that the service can go forward into the future.

The first threat is the development by local authorities of integrated children’s services, which come out of “Every Child Matters”. In principle, I support that move. It must be right that education, social services, play services and youth services work together within a local authority, but my fear—it is one that exists in the youth service—is that when it comes to considering the spending on youth services compared with spending on, say, schools or children in care, the youth service, which traditionally has been a Cinderella service, may lose out. It really is important that the youth service plays an important part in the new integrated children’s services. There are people in local government who advocate the youth service and its importance.

One of the things that the Community and Youth Workers Union has done is to review the strategies provided by local authorities to the Government on the way forward on integrated youth services. I am concerned that the youth service gets no mention at all in 50 per cent. of those published strategies. That reinforces my anxiety that it will lose out in the new local government world. That is a challenge to the local authorities but also to the people who work in the youth service. They must argue strongly—I know that they will—about the importance of their service.

My second point is about the need for a statutory basis for the youth service and its work force plan, and the need for people who work with young people to be professionally licensed. Those are all long-term campaign aims of the TUC and the CYWU. The CYWU has long argued that only with a statutory base can we be sure that the youth service will have priority in local government services and resources. It is interesting and coincidental that the Education and Inspections Bill is in the other place this afternoon. Clause 6 places a requirement on local authorities—I stress this—

to provide a range of recreational provisions for 13 to 19-year-olds. There has been substantial debate about whether the clause gives the statutory basis that the youth service deserves and needs. I understand that the Government are to introduce amendments to strengthen the youth service, and I would be interested in hearing from the Minister, before the debate in the other place this afternoon, what the Government’s thinking is about a statutory base for the youth service.

Thirdly, I want to discuss current spending on the youth service. I am grateful for the figures provided by the National Youth Agency. In the last financial year, 2004-05, the average local authority spent £75 per head of population on the youth service—on young people aged 13 to 19. There was a lot of variation in what local authorities did. The highest spender spent just over £200; the lowest spender spent £23.23. My local authority, Nottinghamshire, spent £89.78, and the Minister’s local authority, Gloucestershire, spent £74.22, which was about the average. It is interesting to
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note that 13 local authorities spent less than £50, well below the average of £75. I remind the Minister and his Department that in “Transforming Youth Work”, one of the Government’s publications, the suggestion was made that the average spend—the appropriate amount—should be £100 per young person. That shows that we still have a long way to go. We can look at local authority spending on the youth service in another way, as a percentage of total education spending. Again, I am grateful to the NYA for providing the figures. In 2004-05, spending on the youth service as a proportion of total education spending was 1.18 per cent., slightly down from 1.2 per cent. in 2003-04 and significantly different from 1996-97, when the figure was proportionally higher at 1.24 per cent. Spending on the youth service is patchy.

One of the important things for the youth service has been the ability to benchmark its spending against the Government grant. Using the youth and communities sub-block allocation to local authorities, as defined in the education formula spending, it is possible to see what the Government are allocating and expecting local authorities to spend against the actual spend. As I have argued before, the amount spent is significantly below the expectation. I am concerned—this is a real challenge to the youth service—that in funding integrated services in future that spending will be contained in the children and young persons’ services block, and it will not be possible to disaggregate the amount of money spent on the youth service. I hope that the Minister will consider that issue and that it will be considered during the joint Treasury departmental spending review.

There is a long history of local authorities trying to avoid spending on the youth service. In the ’80s and ’90s, some local authorities tried to stop spending on the youth service. The CYWU intervened and stopped them from doing that. It is interesting that Bromley outsourced its youth service and has now taken it back in-house. At the moment, there are problems in Northamptonshire—my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) will speak about that—with youth workers being sacked and Ofsted finding the service unsatisfactory.

I do not want to end on a dismal note. I am a strong believer in the youth service. My local authority in Nottinghamshire has an excellent service. I know that it faces hard choices in the future. It spends £6.5 million on youth services but because of budget planning it is talking about reducing that by about £500,000. However, I want the good things—such as the shadow exercise that took place in Sherwood forest, the E2E project and the work that is done to involve young people in monitoring Connexions—to go forward. It is important that we have a strong, statutory youth service that is well resourced by local government.

1.13 pm

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) for allowing me to speak in his Adjournment debate. In Northamptonshire, as he said, the decision was made by the Conservative-controlled county council to shut down the statutory youth
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service and outsource it to the independent and voluntary sector. The CYWU campaigned strongly against that and won a wide level of support from the general public, the churches, for example, and other organisations.

In principle I am not one of those who have a huge objection to outsourcing to the independent and voluntary sector. However, the CYWU’s arguments in this case have all proved to be absolutely accurate. If something is to be outsourced and contracted to the independent and voluntary sector, there has to be a voluntary sector to contract with. In this instance, there simply was not. The areas that most need youth services are often those where the voluntary sector is least active. For example, in the Goldings and Overstone Lodge estates in my constituency, a door-to-door survey that I carried out with local residents showed that their highest need was for some youth facilities. It also showed a startling lack of access to services elsewhere in the town and constituency.

In Southfields estate, the one person who did all the youth work was unfortunately very elderly and died, and was profoundly missed by all of the young people. Some of the mothers and I held a mini fun day on the estate during the school holidays to give the children something to do. I would rather do five night sittings on the trot than do one fun day on a difficult estate, because of the difficulty of the work. The mothers are determined to carry on and set up something, and all credit to them.

I applaud the voluntary sector and the other parts of the statutory service for the work they do for young people. For example, the county’s music and performing arts service, which my daughter has gone to since she was two years old, is astounding. Fantastic work is done for youth sports and an amazing job is done through the supplementary schools. However, there is a bit missing. We have to ensure that we target the areas of disadvantage. There is no point in hugging hoodies if we do not even have them in a room to hug.

It is important that we have a youth service with a clear commitment to dealing with the issues of social disadvantage, which is given real guidance to ensure that that happens. That is what I fear is now sadly missing in my constituency. It is really important as things move forward, particularly as we get integrated budgets, that the need to tackle social disadvantage among young people and to reach difficult, excluded young people is clearly carried out in the interests of our communities. I am grateful to have had the chance to make this point.

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