Orders of the Day — Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:39 pm on 13th March 2001.

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Photo of Margaret Moran Margaret Moran Labour, Luton South 8:39 pm, 13th March 2001

My mums tell me that there are more nursery and early years places in my constituency than there ever have been before. An extra £120 extra is now spent in the classroom per pupil in my constituency.

More money is being made available than ever before for regeneration in deprived parts of my constituency, such as Ramridge and Ashcroft in the centre of Luton. We tried to calculate the amount, and worked out that we are spending at least £21 million on regeneration this year alone, through the single regeneration budget, sports action zones and health action zones. On top of that, the Government have successfully argued for objective 2 and assisted area status, so there are more job and training opportunities than ever before. As I said, the Government put their money where their mouth is.

We recognise that there is much more to do, particularly if we are to create job opportunities for everyone who needs them. One of the problems in my constituency is that business start-up rates are among the lowest in the country, while business failure rates are among the highest. Despite the fact that Luton council's venture fund lends money to start-ups that have difficulty getting traditional funding, we still have a major problem in ensuring that small business start- ups are sustainable and can grow in the long term.

Given the legacy of the 1980s—the Tory dark days—when people lost their homes and the future was uncertain, many traditional lenders are wary of lending money to some of my constituents. That is why I particularly welcome the Budget's proposed tax incentive for community investment. The Chancellor has rightly identified the fact that business creation is often lowest in our most disadvantaged communities, and Luton is a case in point. We need to tackle the causes of low economic activity and unemployment, so we need new financial incentives. Instead of community enterprises being totally reliant on filling in forms to apply for grants—in other words, handouts—we must ensure that we have hand-ups for start-ups and small and growing businesses. That is where the tax incentive comes in.

By opening up economic and business opportunities to our most disadvantaged communities, we can unlock their potential, as well as flows of private finance which would not ordinarily find their way into such areas. I think of Bury Park, one of the most deprived areas in Luton, as I said earlier, which suffers from low employment and poor housing and has an urgent need for regeneration. I hope that the tax incentive will encourage more social and ethical investment opportunities because some investors have been very slow indeed to recognise the potential of some of our deprived communities.

Community organisations in my area, such as the Bangladeshi youth league, traditionally develop the next generation of community leaders. They could venture forth and develop the next generation of job and wealth creators in the community, ploughing the investment back into the community and helping to regenerate their own areas to a much larger extent than they have the opportunity to do now. Small local enterprises could establish themselves in areas where unemployment and dereliction would otherwise be the norm. The case for the tax credit is powerful—it could fill the gap in the market between finance for regeneration and community development through grants and private finance.

The tax credit also has the potential to deal with the effects of the years of Tory disinvestment in housing. The same areas that need business start-ups need investment in housing. We inherited a £19 billion backlog of disrepair from the previous Government. There is also an acute housing crisis, which is reflected in the fact that 9.3 per cent. of my constituents are in housing need, yet for every homeless person there are seven empty private properties. Investment is needed to bring them back into use. If we extended the tax credit to property, ensuring that debt and equity are taken into account, it could usefully regenerate the physical infrastructure as well as providing job opportunities.

In my former life, I was chief executive of a housing association. The tax credit would have been extraordinarily useful in producing the comprehensive regeneration that we wanted. We did not want to tackle just problems of bricks and mortar, but problems within the community and of employment as well. I commend the Budget and that initiative in particular to the House. They will bring real benefits, especially to mortgage holders in Luton, who will no longer have to wear the label of living in the mortgage misery capital of the country. To my right hon. Friend, whose policies have created mortgage stability, my constituents say, "Cheers."