Inner Cities

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:20 pm on 11th December 1985.

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Photo of Mr George Park Mr George Park , Coventry North East 6:20 pm, 11th December 1985

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. I do not imagine that Coventry is facing a housing crisis on its own. The Opposition have decided to debate the issue because they recognise that it is a nationwide problem. We have been given an opportunity to highlight the problems that we face in our constituencies. That is why I am drawing attention to the problems within my constituency.

The Government have no policy that will make the inner cities or urban areas generally better places in which to live and obtain employment. If someone gives a prospective employer his address and it is in one of the areas on which we are focusing attention, that is enough to rule him out as a prospective employee. Many of my constituents have told me about that. The urban programme is not an urban policy, as it operates only at the margins. My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who opened the debate on behalf of the Opposition, went into that in some detail and I shall not go over that ground again.

The ability of local authorities to develop urban policies has been hamstrung by financial restraints. Taking the rate support grant at 1985–86 prices, Coventry received slightly less than £74 million in 1981£82. In 1985–86, it received £57·5 million, a reduction of about £16·4 million, or 22·2 per cent. The sheer scale of the problem has been identified by the Audit Commission. It concluded that between £30 billion and £40 billion must be spent on housing construction in the public and private sectors. There is a backlog of about £15 billion on renovation and major repairs. The immensity of the problem is not being faced by the Government. The cost in human terms—in misery and frustration—is incalculable.

The Government should start to work with, not against, local government to develop a corporate urban strategy, to assess the effects of one facet of Government policy against another. They should break out of their watertight compartments and out of this vicious circle of no jobs and bad housing — a seedbed for urban problems which cannot always be foisted on to the police to solve. The housing crisis and urban deprivation are matters as pressing as the problems facing Coventry immediately after the last war.

The need is there, and the good will would develop if it were seen that the Government were seriously intent on overcoming the problem of disrepair, lessening the demand for housing and improving the chance of obtaining a job in our urban areas. For that reason, I shall support the Opposition motion.