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20 Feb 2008 : Column 74WH—continued

It is no excuse to say that a line was drawn. Before the Government draw a line, they should look at the consequences—I hope that they would do that on a matter as important as inner-city poverty. They should
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have drawn the line and run it through the computer to see what might happen. They should not run it through the computer and say, “Tough! Leeds or whatever other authority is out”. Should they not then say, “Get me the list, so I can see who’s out” and query the list? Did the Minister know that Leeds was out by 0.04 per cent. on the criterion? If he did not know, why not? If he did, did he ask the Oxford people to check their figures? Will he tell us the margin of error that is permitted, expected or acknowledged in the statistics? Is there a margin of error? Even if the Minister did not do those things, why did he not rethink where he drew the line? Taking Leeds out is an insult, and it is an insensitive decision.

The effect is horrifying, as my colleagues will say. It is bad enough now, so what is going to happen when there is no money for the inner city? What will the decision do? At the last count, it will close 67 schemes within three years. The schemes work on antisocial behaviour orders, health, education, youths and drugs—they are designed to achieve the objectives of working neighbourhoods. Some of us know inner cities and understand the problems and the people and what they go through. There are generations of people from families who have never worked. There are youngsters in their 20s and 30s whose dads did not work, who have not worked themselves and whose children are growing up to believe that they will not work, too. Because of the ghettoised system and bad education, those people are unskilled and unable to get a job. There is no anger in them—they have low self-esteem and lack confidence. Some people do not understand the trauma of those things and do not want to do something about them.

The problem has to be dealt with on an individual basis. It is not like putting a shape into a box. It is clearly a business of consulting cities, building relationships and confidence and identifying the problems, be they drugs, health, bad education or even bad attitudes. Why should people not have bad attitudes? I have a bad attitude, because I lived on those estates. It is about finding the problems and carefully and sensitively building people up and getting them to contribute as a stakeholder. Amazingly, we sometimes find that that can lift a whole family’s morale. We could work with children in schools, so that they understand the importance and see the sense of education and believe that they will go into a job. It is heartbreaking when I speak to youngsters in secondary or high school who ask me, “Why should I bother? I’m not going to get a job.” That is how they think.

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): My hon. Friend’s point was recently reinforced by the fact that Leeds has come top of the league table—it is an onerous position—for the number of 16 to 18-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training. Is that not the type of generational problem at the younger end that we need the resources that he has discussed to tackle?

Mr. Mudie: Absolutely. That is true whichever age group we are talking about. The over-50s need help to build their confidence and to reskill, and the same is true of parents, youngsters and children. My hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) and for
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Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West know about that from their work on the council—the latter worked hard as chairman of committees on housing and industry to bring those elements together. We need jobs for people in the communities.

The city produces 30,000 new jobs every 10 years. The aim has always been to skill the indigenous Leeds people to fight, compete for and gain their share of the growing number of jobs, and the city can do it if the political will is there.

Mr. Hamilton: Does my hon. Friend agree that for more than 20 years Leeds has been one of the most successful cities in the country in terms of growth in jobs, yet, as he has said, those jobs are not going to those who need them most in the inner-city areas, because those people do not have the necessary training or opportunities? Instead, the jobs have gone to people living outside the city in the more prosperous areas of West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire, who are flooding into the city as commuters, which causes further congestion and poverty for those who really need the jobs.

Mr. Mudie: That is exactly the point. On the motorways in the Leeds area in the morning and evening, one can see the number of people who take employment in Leeds and then spend their money elsewhere. It is galling for inner-city MPs, and for all Leeds Members, that so many of their constituents are unskilled, unemployed, poor and with bad lifestyles, because we have not been able to raise enough resources and because there has not been the political will to pull together and nurse them in back to mainstream jobs.

I finish with some questions for the Minister. I am cynical enough to know that when it comes to Adjournment debates, apart from a few hurried comments, Ministers’ speeches are written beforehand. We are not going to change the Minister’s mind—we are not going to get a decision today—but I speak for all hon. Members and certainly for all Leeds Members in asking the Minister to think again about drawing such a line. We cannot go from having a problem to not having a problem by 0.01 per cent. There is either a problem or there is not, and there really should be a gearing, so that less significant problems get less money, which has always been the way with inner-city money. This is a brave experiment, but it is in danger of blowing up in the Minister’s face.

In view of the fact that three authorities had their figures changed within a month, will the Minister say whether he has asked the Oxford people if they stand by their figures? Has he asked them to check the figures? Has he asked them for the statistics? The Leeds authorities want to see the methodology, but it will apparently not be available for two months.

We want to work constructively with the Minister to see whether there is enough common ground—even within the criteria, although I think that the criteria are wrong—to see whether the figures are as accurate as has been suggested. We want the methodology and all the details to be given the Leeds authorities. Will the Minister assure us that the statistics on asylum seekers have been taken into consideration? Will he say when the statistics date from? What does he suggest should happen, given
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that the statistics are already two or three years out of date, when we see the effects in the inner city over the next six years?

I am sorry that conversations between myself and the Minister, who is usually calm, patient and tolerant, were so cross. I am sorry if my language was extreme, but the problem in Leeds is extreme. A Labour Government should not operate social policy in that way. We cannot face the people of Leeds and say that poverty, which will still exist on 31 March, has disappeared.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Roger Gale (in the Chair): Order. A considerable number of Members still wish to speak. I propose calling the two Opposition Front-Bench speakers no later than 10.30 am. I would be grateful if hon. Members were to take recognisance of the time available, but it should be possible to accommodate everybody. I intend to give some priority to Leeds Members, but the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) has been good enough to indicate her interest, and if I can call her, I will.

10.5 am

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) on securing the debate and on leading on this important subject. It is a pleasure to follow him. He should not apologise for his forthright language and certainly not for his passion, which is shared across the political divide. He is doing his job, which is to stand up for our city.

As we heard, everyone is extremely proud of our wonderful city and its achievements and the fact that, economically, it has been doing very well over recent years. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the city centre, and we are all aware that there are areas of deprivation. That has to be a focus for us, for the city council and for the Government.

The neighbourhood renewal fund has contributed £63.421 million over the past seven years. The hon. Gentleman mentioned some projects, and I shall highlight a few. Leeds Voice, an interfaith project that works with groups and empowers local communities through a variety of schemes and initiatives, last year received 57 per cent. of its funding from the NRF. The “all relative” project works with parents of 8 to 13-year-olds at risk of antisocial behaviour—something else mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. The sports academy received £35,000 from the NRF last year; a sexual health link project received £109,000; and the Connexions youth project received £232,000. However, because of the change to the working neighbourhood fund, Leeds no longer qualifies for that money. All those projects will be at risk without that funding stream. None of the work done by those wonderful projects will be able to continue. That is of real concern to us all.

The hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton), who is not in his seat at the moment, made the important point that, although some areas of Leeds are a particular focus, there is relative deprivation across the whole metropolitan area, something that is a little unusual compared with other core cities. One of the problems is that Leeds is to some extent a victim of its own success.

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The hon. Member for Leeds, East and I share a dislike of the awful phrase “super output area”, but we have to use it. We are talking about the fact that one super output area has led to us missing out on such a vital source of funding by the extraordinary margin of 0.04 per cent. We are talking about an arbitrary line. The message is clear. The Minister and the Government must reconsider how the funding is to be allocated, because at the moment it does not acknowledge the reality of the situation in Leeds. The scale and extent of deprivation in some parts of the city is clear and visible to all who visit.

Twenty-four authorities eligible for the new working neighbourhood fund have a total population smaller than the number of people living in the 10 per cent. most deprived areas in the country. It seems perverse that with a total of 149,000 people living in the most deprived communities, Leeds should be excluded. Surely, that cannot be right. Moreover, the city has more than 63,000 workless people, the fourth highest figure in the country, and worklessness is one of the criteria for the new fund. Despite the city’s economic success, of which we are all extremely proud, there has been insufficient movement in the number of people living in deprivation—and the number of people on benefits—since 2001. The figure has remained largely similar, despite the emphasis on worklessness.

Leeds has a very good track record in delivering effective schemes through neighbourhood renewal funding. The partnership between the Government, the city council and the other organisations in the third sector has used that money in a way that is a model of how that type of essential regeneration funding can be spent extremely effectively.

Justine Greening: I think that the hon. Gentleman is hitting upon one of the reasons why this funding allocation is inherently flawed. It is the fact that it takes no account of the return on investment—in other words, how valuable the projects that the money is going to support actually are.

Greg Mulholland: The hon. Lady makes an extremely valid contribution. This essential money has been focusing on the 3 per cent. most deprived areas in Leeds and it has delivered the type of returns that we have seen through the projects that have already been mentioned.

The wider problem is that the working neighbourhood fund that is being introduced is part of a wider financial situation in Leeds. As well as losing the neighbourhood renewal funding, Leeds will not receive any income from the local authority business growth incentive scheme. On top of that, of course, Leeds has this year received an extremely tight financial settlement, which has been acknowledged by the Minister.

We need to look at the comparison with other core cities. Next year, on average, the core cities will receive a 3.7 per cent. funding increase and Leeds will receive only a 2.8 per cent. funding increase. Indeed, the gap between Leeds and other West Yorkshire districts is even wider, with those other districts receiving a funding increase of 4.6 per cent.

However, it is when we look at the working neighbourhood renewal fund that the contrast is most extreme. Over the next three years, Leeds will receive
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£12.5 million before the funding peters out over that period, as has been explained. Meanwhile, Manchester will receive £85.6 million; Liverpool will receive £98.6 million, and Birmingham will receive a huge £114.4 million. Quite simply, the reality of Leeds and the deprivation that we face is not reflected in the funding that we will receive, and that is a real concern. It is something that those of us in Leeds from across the political spectrum, both MPs and those at local government level, simply will not sit down and accept. Overall, the net effect of these three funding issues is that next year Leeds will receive £8 million less than this year, which will undoubtedly have an effect on services.

I will wrap up my comments, because I know that there are other hon. Members who wish to speak. There is a strong and unified message coming from Leeds at all levels of political representation and that message was put in an extremely passionate and eloquent way by the hon. Member for Leeds, East. All of us in Leeds are saying to the Government that the arbitrary line that we appear to have just slipped over cannot be a sensible way to allocate essential sources of funding that we need to regenerate the parts of our city that need to catch up with the other parts that are doing better. We simply ask that the Government look at that issue again and come up with a way of allocating the new fund that is fair, commonsensical and, above all, based on reality, because I am afraid that this arbitrary line is not based on reality. The Government must look at the issue again.

10.13 am

John Battle (Leeds, West) (Lab): May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) and say that the city is grateful to him for championing this cause, because it is an absolutely crucial one? He speaks with passion, with experience and also with knowledge. He might not recall this, but he taught me a good deal about politics years ago when we were together in the council. One of his watchwords was that politics is about the arithmetic and justice is in the detail of the arithmetic. I know that he has examined carefully the impact of this particular decision on some 200,000 people in Leeds.

In following the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland), I am tempted to say that I completely agree with him and that, in a sense, we suffer because Leeds is too big. Perhaps we should take what might now be described as the Kosovo option and make a unilateral declaration of independence in all our urban villages. Some of our urban villages, such as Seacroft, Armley, Wortley and Kirkstall, are larger than some of the towns that are now receiving renewal funds. So perhaps we should atomise the city, localise and apply separately as urban villages. That is the irony of our current position.

I would just say to the Minister that statistics are significant and statistical differences are sometimes minimal to statisticians, but they have a massive impact on people’s lives. That is the gap in this debate. Perhaps in contrast to the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West, I want to say that I can remember the days when there were cuts of 10 or 15 per cent. in budgets to Leeds every year. At least under this Government the overall budget for Leeds is increasing and that should be acknowledged.

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We are talking about a particular pocket of funding, which has been renamed the working neighbourhoods fund to focus on getting people into work. The irony is that that budget, which has been cut, is precisely the budget that needs to be supported if we are to avoid having what I would describe as a dividing city—it is an active process; it is not over. The city centre has an 8 per cent. growth rate, with new jobs being created, but not everyone is joining in that growth. People without skills and training in my neighbourhood, which has the lowest number of people going into further and higher education of any constituency in the country, still need support in education and training.

My neighbourhood is that cake slice going out from the city centre that makes up Armley, Bramley, Wortley and Kirkstall, out towards the ring road in Bramley. It starts with the terraced streets with the washing outside; it extends through the council estates; then there a few semi-detached houses; and then it is life beyond the ring road. In terms of output and deprivation, I would describe those four neighbourhoods as Nos. 12, 13, 14 and 16 in the overall needs pattern of the city. If we were to take a compass and draw an arc at the bridge at Kirkstall, those inner neighbourhoods would come No. 1, No. 1 and No. 1—two of those super-output areas are the highest in the whole country.

Let me explain what happens in relation to boundaries. The super-output areas still have high unemployment in the terraced houses. According to Dr. Susan Lawrence, schizophrenia rates around Leeds prison are 10 times higher than the national average. The Government are now saying, “Of course we want to get people off incapacity benefit and into work and we passionately want to do that because it’s good for those people.” But how can we achieve that if the very resources to help us to get people off incapacity benefit and into training and work are taken away?

I am trying to become an expert on super-output areas. Why? It is because everything depends on where the boundary is drawn. We know that as politicians, from drawing up polling areas and the rest of it. That line across a street can be crucial. Let me give an example of what happens to the figures. I will find that 0.04 per cent. for the Minister, and I will tell him why.

New Wortley was moved from the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), where it was in Holbeck ward, which is a high-output area. Its removal lowered the output in his area, but it was put into the better neighbourhood in my area of Armley and Wortley. The figures were therefore submerged by life out towards the ring road. Overnight, that super-output area went from being the top target neighbourhood to being one of the lowest. Did the people move? No, but one person moved, from Heeley in Sheffield, and said, “I have come to a neighbourhood that’s worse. If I had remained in Sheffield, I would have been in the super-output area that got access to the money. So I have moved away from the money and come into a poorer neighbourhood.” I simply make the point that, with increasing mobility, it cannot be right that people either do not move and end up with nothing or do move and end up even worse off.

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