Orders of the Day — Local Government (Contracts) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:19 pm on 23rd June 1997.

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Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Labour, Leeds North East 4:19 pm, 23rd June 1997

I ask for the indulgence of the House, as this is the first time that I have had the honour of speaking in the Chamber. As the Member for Leeds, North-East, I follow the Conservative, Timothy Kirkhope, who rose to the rank of junior Minister at the Home Office. He worked hard for his constituents in the 10 years that he represented the constituency. His predecessor was the late Sir Keith Joseph, the distinguished parliamentarian and architect of what became known as Thatcherism. He represented the constituency for 31 years, and held many high offices of state.

I wish to quote another predecessor this afternoon. The last Labour Member to represent Leeds, North-East was the great Alice Bacon. In the conclusion of her maiden speech on what became the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act 1946, she said: We must remember that this Bill is to deal with the ill, the crippled, and, probably. the depressed, and that, for these people, an ounce of warm humanity is worth a ton of cold legality."—[Official Report, 10 October 1945; Vol. 414, c. 296.] I hope that that sentiment will guide this Parliament.

I have the great privilege of representing a constituency of diverse places and communities. It stretches from inner-city Chapeltown to the stately home of Harewood house. It encompasses the largest Afro-Caribbean community in West Yorkshire, a large Sikh and Muslim population, the largest Jewish community in Yorkshire, which has been well established since the early 19th century, and representatives of the growing Vietnamese, Chinese, Greek, Polish, Latvian, Gujerati Indian, Iranian and African communities that make up the most ethnically rich of Leeds constituencies.

I am also fortunate to have in my constituency the magnificent Roundhay park, one of the finest and largest parks in any European city, with its splendid tropical house and butterfly garden. It is a tribute to the work of Leeds city council over many decades, and the largest tourist attraction in England after Hampton court.

Leeds has one of the fastest growing economies of any city in Great Britain, with more jobs being created than in any other city. One reason for that is the partnership between the Labour-controlled local authority and the business community, which has brought investment by many new firms, many from the financial sector, to the city. I pay tribute to three leaders of Leeds city council, two of whom are now Members of Parliament, for the part they have played in the city's economic regeneration.

Economic good fortune and prosperity do not necessarily bring investment in public housing or schools. The Local Government Finance (Supplementary Credit Approvals) Bill that we discussed on Tuesday will have important consequences for the city of Leeds, especially Leeds, North-East. Social housing is more than just the local authority provision of low-cost rented property. There is a whole host of different providers in the many small independent housing associations.

In Leeds, we have Leeds Partnership Homes, which is a collaboration between the local authority and the housing associations. It has worked for the benefit of those citizens who seek quality housing for a reasonable rent. Organisations such as Unity Housing in Chapeltown have provided good quality low-cost homes for the Afro-Caribbean community, and Leeds Jewish Housing Association, with its 1,000 tenants and 415 properties—many of which are sheltered and specialist homes—has served the Jewish community of Moortown very well.

Leeds has more than £70.4 million in the bank from council house capital receipts, with an estimated £10 million coming in from new sales each year. The release of this sum on a phased basis will do a great deal to refurbish and regenerate old stock, which, according to the housing department of Leeds city council, will need £485 million in the next few years just to bring all properties up to modern standards.

The previous Government's borrowing approval for capital spending was £9.6 million in 1997–98 for the whole of the city of Leeds. In my constituency, there are more than 6,000 council homes, for which identified necessary improvements will cost about £37.8 million. The extra investment that the Bill will generate will be invaluable to the tenants I represent.

In addition to the much-needed improvement of the housing stock in my constituency, the spending of capital receipts will inevitably generate much-needed employment. In Chapeltown especially, the level of male unemployment is one of the highest in Yorkshire. I am confident that the many job opportunities that will result directly from the enactment of this short Bill will benefit my constituents.

In common with those of most local education authorities, Leeds LEA's schools are in great need of building improvements. Leeds is the second largest LEA in England, and has devolved almost 93 per cent. of its budget to schools in the city. That may well be the reason why there are only two grant-maintained schools in Leeds, out of more than 300 schools in total.

As well as the local management of school budgets, the LEA has devolved some capital spending, a policy which has been very popular among schools and their governing bodies. But even this is not enough to counter the huge backlog in spending on school buildings, many of which are in a poor state of repair. The Bill will enable many more private finance initiative schemes to go ahead in areas where they are much needed.

Leeds city council has established a policy of working closely with the private sector over a number of years, especially through organisations such as the Leeds Initiative and various sector initiatives. The PFI, if properly carried out, and with safeguards for public and private interests, will allow the rebuilding of such dilapidated school buildings as Cardinal Heenan Roman Catholic high school in my constituency. Other schemes could benefit schools such as Upper Wortley primary school and Wortley high school, which could be redeveloped using surplus land that could not be used for school playing fields, perhaps as a trade-off for part of the construction costs of the new building.

In the end, it is the welfare and the quality of education for our children which count, and I welcome anything that will improve that education. Used properly, the PH will greatly enhance our schools and buildings, and will assist staff in concentrating on the job of educating, rather than being distracted into site management, as so many senior school staff are currently forced to do.

The combination of this Bill and the Local Government Finance (Supplementary Credit Approvals) Bill will, I hope, lead to a renaissance in local government, which has been so starved of capital during the past 18 years. I commend the Bill to the House, and I hope that its swift passage will allow the rebuilding of schools in Leeds and all over the country, so that we deliver our priority election pledge, education.