Disadvantaged Areas

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:31 am on 8th February 2002.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North 10:31 am, 8th February 2002

Yes and no. I do not disagree. It is no secret that Labour Members lobby extremely hard to make the case for London. We did not do badly in the grant settlement that was announced recently. In fact, both my boroughs received a 7 per cent. increase, which was the joint highest increase in the country. Although there is always a case to be made for London's resources—I am making it now and will continue to do so—I do not think, considering the revenue support grant settlement for the past year and the year before, that London boroughs have done badly.

London has high social mobility, and I want the Government to take on board the fact that that indicator is not properly recognised in any funding formula. Turnover in London schools is 50 per cent. higher than in the rest of the country, which puts enormous financial pressure on them and huge psychological pressure on teachers and classmates, as well has having a knock-on effect on school standards.

London also has poor health indicators, particularly because of the disproportionate concentration of people who have mental health problems. Again, almost all funding formulas fail to recognise that, but it has vast implications for the delivery of services from policing to social services. There is a strong case for London, and I want more resources to help London to deal with its problems, including those shown by the index of multiple deprivation.

Local regeneration has been a recent success story following many years of failure. I pay tribute to everyone involved: community activists and participants, and officers in highly successful schemes ranging from sure start programmes to the New Life for Paddington scheme. The latter is a marvellous example of a regeneration scheme that works with a range of public agencies and community organisations, including tenants and residents organisations, as well as the private sector.

The Paddington regeneration partnership, which represents the private businesses involved in rebuilding the Paddington basin—an urban redevelopment zone three times bigger than the dome—has been a considerable success. The private sector has helped through a local recruitment strategy, particularly with new jobs for the Heathrow express, and we are about to issue a jobs brokerage linked to the next phase, in which new companies moving into the basin will start to recruit. I hope that that will go from strength to strength. The scheme is a tribute to the Employment Service. A few years ago, it was a deadly bureaucracy, but it has genuinely been enlivened by its new responsibilities and has become a real partner in the regeneration of the Paddington area.

The Dalgarno single regeneration budget—a small project across the large estates of north Kensington—has done exciting work in partnership with youth justice boards and young offender teams. That is welcome and shows that new sets of partnerships are being built across different agencies. A small and successful scheme also operates in the Golborne ward.

The recent success of those people-based, participatory schemes stands in stark contrast to the experience of previous schemes, which, though I am not making a party political point here, were developed under the Conservative Government and implemented by Conservative councils. Two examples spring to mind. The first is the Wornington Green estate in north Kensington, which received a large funding injection from the city challenge programme. That brought about some design changes on the estate which were not properly consulted on. Those changes are the reason for the estate's downward spiral further into urban decline and high crime and youth disorder in recent years.

That investment was entirely wasted. The money might as well have been put down the drain. The estate is still seriously blighted, and we need a new partnership between Kensington housing trust and another housing association. We also need substantial funds to try to turn the estate around. I would not live there, and one of the main urban regeneration indicators has to be whether we ourselves would live on the estates to which we condemn thousands of people. I should be delighted to live on some of the redeveloped estates in my constituency; nothing would give me greater pleasure, but I cannot afford them. There are others, however, where the programmes developed during the 1980s and early 1990s have made the problems worse rather than relieving them.

The second major example is Lisson Green estate in the London borough of Westminster. To my amazement, it received investment totalling around £65 million through the estate action programme—roughly the same as the new deal for communities. Yet conditions were so bad during that programme in the mid to late-1990s that I had to write my first ever class complaint to the local authority ombudsman on behalf of the residents, who were put through a living hell as a result of bad building management.

A bricks-and-mortar solution to regeneration failed to tackle the need for community participation and social and economic regeneration. We needed to provide proper youth facilities and to get the people who live on the estate into work. A little has been done, and very welcome it is. Many people have worked hard to turn the estate around, but it was structurally badly managed from the beginning, and it is a good example of a scheme that failed.

A great deal has been achieved in urban regeneration, but we are not yet able to say that inner-city living is an attractive option, particularly for low-income households. There is a great deal to do. We need to back regeneration funding by tackling the housing crisis. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will do all that she can during the comprehensive spending review to make a case for investment in London's housing. If that housing is chronically overcrowded, all the investment in the world to improve the physical condition of the stock will not make those houses desirable and attractive places to live.

London faces complex labour market issues, which were addressed in yesterday's debates on the Tax Credits Bill, and I shall address the same points in an Adjournment debate next week. Alongside London's economic success and dynamic growth there are serious problems of poverty and unemployment. There is also a mismatch between the jobs available and the skills of the people who live in London. Several anti-poverty measures, such as those in the Tax Credits Bill, are not yet reaching London's poorest and most deprived communities. We must understand why that is so and hone our policies to help London's unemployed.

Many of the schemes to which I have referred are excellent. They are doing good and valuable work, but they are too small. I would happily double the number of regeneration schemes in my constituency and the investment that they are bringing. The bid-driven nature of those programmes can involve people too much in the paperwork of writing and monitoring bids. There is a need to streamline some bids.

Local councils have a critical role. Many are doing marvellous work across London, on their own and in partnership, including partnership with the private sector. That is not always the case, however. In Westminster, despite improvements over the past year or two, there has been a failure properly to engage in urban regeneration, in spite of huge poverty and need in the borough. Even now, when negotiations under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 are continuing for the Paddington basin, there are problems with the priority list. The refurbishment of a public toilet in Little Venice has been placed ahead of investment in a youth project in Queen's Park, one of the most deprived and poorly served wards in the whole of London.

Local councils need both to be given their heads and watched carefully by the Government office for London to ensure that authorities such as Westminster are seriously behind urban regeneration. I wish the Minister well in her negotiations over the comprehensive spending review. We could all do with a little more investment along the lines of that which has already come.