rose to call attention to the role which central government play in supporting local communities; and to move for Papers.
My Lords, several noble Lords have raised with me the open-ended nature of this Motion. I strongly suspect that the wide nature of the debate that we are about to have and the many facets of community support that will be explored will more than justify the breadth of the topic and will prove all the more worth while for that—even if they present my noble friend the Minister with something of a challenge when he comes to reply. I can see experts in local government, rural matters, young offenders, the arts, the business world, the Church, drug abuse, housing and the voluntary sector who will be speaking today, and I am very grateful for the interest that has been shown by noble Lords.
When this Labour Government were elected in 1997 and re-elected in 2001, an important part of the platform on which they stood was that of providing increasing and appropriate support to communities and neighbourhoods. They wanted to encourage the growth of strong, safe and thriving communities—communities that took responsibility for their own development and for changing and improving the lives of their citizens. That has been the focus of the Government's support at local level.
I am sure that most people would accept that the Government have three main roles in their support for local communities: promoting social order and safety, investing in individuals and communities so that they can thrive and help themselves, and creating working partnerships so that people can control or influence the change in their own communities.
I believe that it was recognised in the very early days of community-based programmes that two prerequisites made change viable and possible. First, government at local, regional and national level needed to create and nurture partnerships with a huge range of people and organisations—stakeholders, I suppose, one would call them, although it is not a word that I like. Community leaders, voluntary and community organisations, churches, schools and colleges, small and large business and many of the umbrella organisations that represented those groups needed to be involved. It was recognised that they needed those relationships to find out what people thought the solutions to their problems were and to help to deliver them.
During that period the Government, particularly civil servants, found themselves round the table with all kinds of people. They needed to learn to listen to what local people, experts and practitioners had to tell them. Sometimes that has worked and sometimes it has not. Sometimes it has brought about radical and unusual support from government to local communities, and sometimes we have found ourselves mired in bureaucracy and red tape.
Secondly, and just as importantly, to deliver real change would require the Government to change their culture. It would require work, co-operation and collaboration across government departments in a way that simply had not been normal practice, however much the cause might justify it. It might mean budgets shared, targets set across department boundaries and a more holistic approach to certain seemingly intractable problems over a longer period than one term of government could offer, such as dealing with the issue of rough sleepers, or tackling child poverty, or dealing with failing communities.
Some noble Lords may recall the work of the policy action teams (PAT 1-18 in the first tranche, if I recall correctly) which worked under the then newly created Social Exclusion Unit. They provided both prototypes in the way that they worked, bringing government together with practitioners and experts, and blueprints of the kind of national and local collaboration, mixed with possibly new laws and resources that might be brought to bear on some big issues. I believe that many of the reforms and work carried out since can be traced back to the work of the Social Exclusion Unit.
There have been some startlingly good initiatives that have made a huge impact in local communities. I believe that Sure Start must be one of the most important examples of the Government investing in a local community for the long term, being flexible, listening to local people and providing the right kind of resource. However, I shall focus on what the Government have been doing to support the fight against anti-social behaviour and what they are doing to support local initiatives to build local communities without the help necessarily of the local authority.
It was agreed as long ago as 1998 that the Home Office should co-ordinate tackling anti-social behaviour nationally, working closely with the DETR and other government departments. It was also agreed that preventive work should run alongside punitive measures, as prevention is crucial to reducing anti-social behaviour, particularly in deprived neighbourhoods. Investment in prevention can save large enforcement costs later.
That can be achieved through measures many of which will be familiar to those in your Lordship's House and to those who take an interest in these issues. They are such matters as reducing the risk of anti-social behaviour; for example through lighting in communal areas, entry phones, better housing allocation policies, taking action to deal with tenants, better gathering and sharing of information, co-ordinating preventive services, family support, drug and alcohol services and involving schools and youth services in discouraging anti-social behaviour by young people.
Over the past six years we have seen legislation and initiatives, targets and resources from the Home Office, the ODPM, the Department of Health and the DfES, focusing on this issue because it is clear that unless central government provide local government and local agencies with the tools and a co-ordinated approach, neither of them can tackle any of the issues on their own. None of that, as they say, is rocket science.
The borough in London in which I have my London base is Camden, which has fully embraced the anti-social behaviour legislation to deal with individuals who can blight the lives of their neighbours and communities. At the same time they have heavily invested in cleaning up Camden's streets of graffiti and litter, thereby creating environments that are safe and look safe, and which are attractive to people.
So how is it going? A review of the crime and disorder strategy and the latest crime statistics show that Camden is making significant progress in reducing crime. It is one of the only boroughs in London which is on track to meet its national targets on the reduction of street crime, burglary and vehicle crime this year. The latest statistics for the period April 2003 to February 2004 show a 15 per cent fall in domestic burglary compared with the same period last year; a 10 per cent fall in vehicle crime; a 26 per cent fall in robbery; and a 26 per cent fall in street crime.
One reason for the success is a community safety partnership, which includes the police, the local authority, the voluntary sector and the fire service. That sets the direction and identifies the key priority areas for a programme of action. There are also partnership weeks, when all partners are brought together to focus on the hot spots and to try new and innovative ways to reduce crime; there is a programme of action in Camden Town, supported by investment in the environment to bring about a dramatic change in that area; there is joint work between the police sector teams, the street population service and street wardens, which is targeting people causing particular problems; and there is shared accommodation in some areas between the police and the local authority. In fact the community policeman in Tufnell Park has a base in my children's school.
Camden has recently been commended by the Metropolitan Police for its partnership working to improve community safety and has been used as an example of good practice. Recently there was the launch of a pilot scheme called Step Change in Queen's Crescent, where community-based police will not leave their beat except in exceptional circumstances. In other words, they will not be pulled off to look after football matches on Saturdays or for any other reason. Their priority will be to become integrated into the local community that they serve.
I now turn to my beloved, but sometimes beleaguered, home city of Bradford. I want to talk about community enterprise, creating wealth in communities and keeping it there. The council has not, in recent years, distinguished itself in harnessing and developing community spirit—perhaps a change of regime might do the trick. However, it is significant that during the shameful riots in the Manningham district of Bradford, one building was left untouched—the Carlisle Business Centre. Why was that? It was untouched because it is the home of Action for Business Limited, a development trust founded in 1992 which has gained the trust and respect of local people, of whom over 70 per cent are from ethnic minority communities. With a mixture of funding and government programmes, the centre now offers 89 offices and workshops as well as conference facilities, and it is a community resource as well as a vehicle to reinvigorate the local economy. Community lunches, an employment agency and computer-assisted learning are some of the resources available there.
With that outfit, the development trust is now a sustainable community resource, no longer dependent on grant aid. Bradford Trident is a New Deal for Communities programme with a difference. Bradford Trident from the outset modelled itself on the development trust model. Vigorous investment in local enterprise, including business advice, wage subsidies for local employment and skills training, has been combined with healthy living schemes, environmental improvements and the demolition of particularly horrible, obsolete council flats. As a development trust, Bradford Trident is concerned not just with quick wins but also with the long term. Therefore, it is investing in land and property, so that when the government funds run out, there will be an asset base and income stream in the service of the community for years to come.
I am using development trusts—a national network of community enterprises—as an example of how national programmes can and should be used to promote locally grown initiatives. There are thousands of groups and organisations that I could mention; for example, Groundwork, with its millennium awards and support for environmental change, or social firms or family centres run by children's charities.
Development trusts are community enterprises. As such they are a form of social enterprise, trading for social purpose, based in a community of place or interest. They seek to move beyond the provision of welfare services, by setting up enterprises (including social businesses) which encourage self-help and reduce dependency. They bring the entrepreneurial spirit of the private sector to the problems that face communities. Development trusts are helping to create some of the most enterprising communities in the UK where a "can-do" culture is driving change.
As the examples in Bradford illustrate, investment in enterprise creation can be a means to achieving sustainable community organisations, even in the most disadvantaged areas. Government, local authorities and other public bodies need to play a vital enabling role, such as the transfer of assets of underused buildings and cutting the red tape needed for investment. Recent initiatives, not least the Adventure Capital Fund backed by the Home Office, ODPM, DTI and four of the RDAs—Yorkshire Forward, ENIDA, EEDA, and LDA—have pioneered new forms of investment in community enterprise. More is needed—as always.
Finally, more effective business support and skills development is required because the conventional small business service does not always meet the specialist assistance needs of social and community enterprises.
I have spoken at some length about this particular work because I believe it brings together some of the best examples of how appropriate interventions—not particularly resource intensive—and central government support can be used to grow new and optimistic communities, and in a democratic and sustainable way. I am grateful to the Development Trusts Association for responding to my plea for information, and congratulate it on its pioneering work. When I framed this speech it was difficult not to include examples of some of the exciting urban renaissance that is under way—in fact I do not think that I can resist the temptation to mention a few.
Ask the people of Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow, Cardiff and Manchester whether their city centres are not better than they were six years ago. City Centre Safe in Manchester is an innovative partnership initiative between the Greater Manchester Police, Manchester City Council, Manchester transport and business groups. The project involves marshalling taxi ranks, the introduction of safe night buses and night-net and a communication system linking a wide range of services. The project has made a significant impact on the night-time economy in Manchester, making the city a safer place to visit and enjoy and enabling people to get home safely.
In Sheffield a network of local area panels—in place since 1998—has provided essential support for local regeneration. The joint working with local regeneration boards, development trusts and forums has achieved a better fit between mainstream and community regeneration activity—thus making the best of national support and local investment. There are many more examples we could use today, and I am sure that many noble Lords will.
I close by saying that I hope and believe that the Government have learned over the past six years that providing support from a national level to a local community has to be done in many ways. It must be done with sensitivity and by listening to people. Legislation, all the different schemes—and if I have a criticism, it is that navigating the neighbourhood renewal site of the ODPM is not a straightforward business; often there are too many schemes and they are too difficult to access—the pilot schemes, the national targets and so on have to be combined together and then added to local knowledge and wisdom. They have to be given time to succeed, and sometimes time to fail, to bring about real change. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on introducing what is a very timely debate because we have local elections coming upon us shortly. On these Benches we believe that central government can best support communities by setting a framework which empowers communities and the individuals that make up those communities; and that such a framework should be underpinned by a coherent philosophy and a set of political beliefs.
The present Government have set out to help many of the most deprived communities in Britain. Although much has been achieved after years of increasing centralisation, and in some cases wholesale destruction of some communities—here I think particularly of coal mining areas—several recent reports have flagged up a series of failings in some central government inspired and funded projects. Indeed, the noble Baroness touched on some of those. I shall talk a little more on that later.
I believe that the failures in some circumstances stem from the fact that a clear philosophy and a set of political beliefs do not underpin this Government's actions. There is some evidence for that. Some years ago the parliamentary question that left the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, uncharacteristically lost for words was not about health statistics, ministerial failures or foreign policy; it was a modest request from one of his own side that he should give the House of Commons a brief characterisation of the political philosophy and beliefs that underpin his policies.
He did not actually take the opportunity; he hastily started talking about health service investment figures. That lack of coherence shows through in the various Acts of Parliament and some of the current Bills which the Government have introduced affecting local and regional government. They are often heralded by claims of giving more power to local councils, but the reality is that they are always hedged around with tight description, particularly in secondary legislation, and with too many new powers for Ministers.
If there is no underlying framework of belief or philosophy, the direction of policy change becomes unpredictable. I believe that has been the unhappy experience of many Labour voters of this new Labour Government. As Liberal Democrats, we believe that we have a distinct advantage, which we probably do too little to advertise or exploit, although our opposition colleagues would say we are probably a bit sanctimonious. Nevertheless, I shall continue to be slightly sanctimonious.
Our party is based on a clear set of beliefs. They can be traced back not only to the 19th century when they were systematically articulated by John Stuart Mill, but even further back to the conflict between Crown and Parliament in the 17th century. Fundamental to Liberalism is the belief in the freedom of the individual. That freedom is threatened from many directions: by over-mighty states; by private concentrations of power; by the actions of other individuals; or by circumstances that leave the individual without access to power or opportunity.
The preoccupation of Liberalism has been the creation of a democratic system of government which can protect individual liberty and whose institutions are themselves restrained from usurping the freedom of the individual.
Relationships between different tiers of government will always be strained. We have already heard about that. But there needs to be a clear spreading of power among the different tiers where powers are handled at the most appropriate level. In that way we can guard against the maxim that,
"all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely".
The past 50 years have been characterised by what I think I can describe as, the "Whitehall knows best" syndrome of bigger is better. Local government reorganisers have swept away many of our small, community-based councils in the name of efficiency. We have seen more bureaucracy, more central government initiatives, targets, inspections and bidding rounds for various central government programmes. I believe that has led in many areas to greater public alienation from the political process.
Over the same period, services that have traditionally been run by local government were nationalised or run through government-appointed agencies. In Britain, we witnessed the birth of something that has been described as the "quango state". Today, we see too much financial control at the centre and not enough in lower tiers of government. I think—and I am sure that it will come out in the debate—that across the board everyone recognises that we need to empower local communities if we want to have thriving, vibrant and sustainable communities. Too many of our citizens live in communities where they are excluded, either because of unemployment, low incomes, poor streets, poor housing, high crime environments—a matter referred to by the noble Baroness—bad health and, increasingly, family breakdown.
The Government have tried to drive through an agenda to tackle some of these problems. Some initiatives have been more successful than others. I say again that where there is a lack of success, I believe it stems from the setting up of too many schemes, which again the noble Baroness referred to, often led by Whitehall or quangos. I feel that there has been a failure to strengthen and support local government structures, including changing the financial structures, where we could deliver most of what we all want to see in our local communities.
"A lack of basic financial and performance reporting data hinders NDC partnerships' ability to demonstrate effective delivery and performance, to monitor their own performance, and to draw comparisons and learn from each other".
That was said about the New Deal for Communities. If it had been said about local authorities, Ministers would be sending in hit squads to try to deal with them. The report also states:
"In many cases there are tensions between NDC partnerships and their accountable bodies, usually the local authority".
The schemes often have poor financial management and spend large amounts of money on administration. That is not a cost-effective way to target regeneration.
Indeed, the report of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2003 found that, because the New Deal for Communities is a separate programme to the many other area-based initiatives and local authority regeneration programmes currently running, it overlaps with many other programmes. I probably do not have time to list them all, but some of them are the single regeneration budget, health action zones, education action zones, employment action zones, Excellence in Cities, Sure Start, European Union-funded area-based initiatives, and I could go on.
Yet another report has been produced, this time by the Economic and Social Research Council. It looked specifically at urban regeneration, working in conjunction with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. It highlighted some of the problems that can be created by the partnership approach. On the whole, people think that the partnership approach is a good way to proceed, but we must be aware of the problems. The report states:
"Bringing together the private and voluntary sectors, local community groups and various central and local government agencies in urban regeneration partnerships . . . can sometimes work well. However, it can also raise a host of issues about trust, leadership, costs, and having too many unproductive meetings".
The study was led by Professor Michael Ball of the University of Reading and explored the difficulties of co-operation between such diverse groups. One conclusion was that if we are to use such a model, which is often neither a market nor state project, there should be much more testing before schemes are implemented.
We do not doubt the Government's good intentions in supporting communities. Indeed, we support many of their aims and welcome their successes. Looking at the number of Labour Members on the speakers list, I suspect that we will hear a lot more about some of the Government's successes. But there is quite a bit of evidence, on which I have merely touched, that shows that more thorough evaluation of schemes and a clearer philosophy is needed to guide policies if we are to be and to create what we would describe—and what I have even heard the Government describe—as a liberal democracy that empowers individuals to create the thriving, vibrant and sustainable communities we all want.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on giving us the opportunity to debate the role of central government in local communities. Living in a region—the north-west of England and especially on Merseyside—that continues to require funds for regeneration after two decades, I welcome the debate. Partnership between central government and local communities has taken place in Merseyside for more than 20 years, especially since the riots of 1981. I shall compare then and now.
In the early 1980s, local community leaders from all backgrounds—local councillors, voluntary bodies, churches and residents—were invited to discuss with central government civil servants and Ministers the needs of Liverpool. The regeneration of Toxteth and its surrounding area of Liverpool 8 began, and led to a vast improvement in housing, roads, public areas and new, comprehensive health centres and clinics. I am pleased to see in his place the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sheppard, the former Bishop of Liverpool who played such a significant role during that time in the history of Liverpool.
One of the barriers met—it continues to exist—is that between local government and local people, especially those from black and other ethnic minority backgrounds and communities. An example is the choosing of sites for community centres. The Chinese community in Liverpool was allocated—given, because it could not pay for it—a site that was a former depot for waste disposal vehicles and some distance from the recognised Chinatown.
What has happened since then? Since 1997, local strategic partnerships have been set up involving people with a background in health, housing, the environment, the local community, security and safety. Having been a member of the local strategic partnership in Birkenhead and Wirral, I have mixed feelings about the usefulness of such partnerships. In principle, LSPs are very good, but one difficulty, which has been mentioned, is the influence of government offices and regeneration agencies and other quangos. The priorities of local residents are modified by those bodies because of difficulties of or priorities in funding.
So the Government need to maintain a balance between support for local communities and giving the impression of prescribing from a distance a programme of action that is expected to correct social problems in the short term. That balance requires consultation with local people not once but continuously, but if it is not handled sensitively, communities can become disappointed and disillusioned with the Government.
One example of great success is the Sure Start programme. We have a number of Sure Start programmes on the Wirral in five disadvantaged areas of that part of the world. Sure Start was set up to tackle health inequalities among deprived and disadvantaged communities. Nurses and community workers have been employed to visit families with newborn babies and young children to provide advice and long-term support for up to three years, or even longer. Young and single mothers are given support to breast-feed their babies and care for them and their family. Groups of mothers are also encouraged to meet to support one another and improve their skills.
One disadvantage of the Sure Start programme is the size of population needed to qualify for the programme. As a result, small neighbourhoods on the opposite side of the road from the Sure Start programme and also containing disadvantaged people can miss out on that support. Alternative funding has been found from the neighbourhood renewal programme, together with money from the primary care trust to provide similar support for young families with the freedom to include fathers.
The main worry about support from central government is their time limit of three to five years. If funding runs out before local government can generate funds to carry on effective schemes, good quality work will be cut off and needy people left without support to help them improve themselves. Perhaps the Minister might consider that problem in his reply.
I should also like to highlight on a broader canvas the fact that other parts of government—the National Health Service—have also been listening to local people. That has led to a shifting of the focus of health services to primary healthcare. By improving access to health-related information through the telephone service NHS Direct and walk-in centres, more choice has been provided, which local people have welcomed and used. Availability of appointments to see general practitioners about acute illnesses have improved so much that almost all patients can be seen within 48 hours. I declare that I am a non-executive director of Birkenhead and Wallasey NHS Primary Care Trust.
One unexpected outcome of that improvement in services has been the identification of people who appear to bypass their GP and do not make appointments by telephone but go to the emergency department of their local hospital. Another has been requests by patients with chronic disorders for long-term appointments. But improvement in primary healthcare has not necessarily been welcomed by some hospitals, which realise that their funding will not increase as rapidly as it did in previous decades.
There is the prospect of intermediate care provided by GPs reducing the workload of some hospital departments. Central government have offered patients a choice of treatment for coronary heart disease beyond their local NHS hospitals, including private hospitals and ones on mainland Europe. Currently, eye operations for cataracts are available in mobile operating suites, staffed by South African doctors and nurses. All those innovations provided by central government have been welcomed and appreciated by local patients.
I wish to focus on issues directly related to a diverse population, particularly support provided by race equality councils, which appear to be diminishing in the north-west. That support, which helps ethnic minority communities engage with majority communities in their locality, is vital, especially in towns that experience inter-racial conflict—Oldham, Burnley and Blackburn. Councils may help new migrants to adjust to settling in other areas, too. Funding of race equality councils comes from the Commission for Racial Equality, which is reducing the number of councils that it supports. Services provided by RECs are not available from other sources such as citizens advice bureaux.
Central government should support local choice in housing. It appears that local tenants no longer have the option to remain with their local council as landlord. I look forward to the Minister's response.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for initiating the debate. It is, after all, at local level that the fabric of our civil society is maintained and developed. As the Home Secretary has written in the report of the Home Office's Civil Renewal Unit:
"Building the capacity of both individuals and groups within communities is central to the process of civil renewal, enabling local people to develop their own solutions to the issues which most affect them".
It is because the Churches value and seek to offer a critique of that agenda that we have established the Churches Commission on the Urban Life and Faith as a successor to the landmark report Faith in the City of 20 years ago. I want to speak about two specific dimensions of that enabling role of government, critical among the many and varied avenues of the work of supporting local communities.
First, I want to talk about government support for faith communities in local civil renewal. Having served with other faith leaders as a member of the Home Office steering group on the engagement of government with faith communities in England, I welcomed its report published last February entitled Working Together. That document was part of a significant trend in national policy initiatives developed, particularly since 9/11. It highlights the extensive role of faith communities in delivering services and local capacity building. It cites the finding of the 2001 census that 76.8 per cent of the population identify a religious affiliation, and estimates, as we can from other sources, that 30 per cent of workers in the voluntary sector label themselves as churchgoers. Working Together puts it like this:
"Faith community organizations are gateways to access the tremendous reserves of energy and commitment of their members, which can be of great importance to the development of civil society".
The evidence of that is all around us in Leicester, where I come from. There some 450 faith-based community projects play their part in civil society. They are located at the heart of their communities, can reach the hard-to-reach and most disadvantaged groups, offer extraordinary value for money and are trusted by the local community. As Working Together described, such organisations are,
"informed by . . . values such as compassion, inclusivity, empathy and trust".
For those reasons, in Leicester we have established a faiths regeneration network and a full-time project officer to build on the social role of the sector. It is a sector uniquely placed, alongside other agencies, to provide local neighbourhoods with a wide range of services: work with young people, counselling, health and employment advice, drugs prevention initiatives, family support and services for the elderly, to name but a few. Individual faith-led projects in Leicester serve on average 300 individuals a week each, at very low cost. In Leicester alone the value of the voluntary effort expended through the faith sector is estimated at well over £5 million a year.
Therefore, the question is: how does the Government's clear policy of support for the civil role of faith communities match up with public support and local outcomes on the ground? Despite the Government's enthusiasm for faith-led social action, many local authorities and other public agencies still seem at times to display a distrust of faith involvement. Access to funding can be barred by over-complex funding criteria, and faith groups are sometimes discriminated against in assessing applications. Furthermore, access to local strategic partnerships is sometimes limited and variable from city to city. For that reason, it is crucial that the Home Office Faith Communities Unit ensures that the rhetoric is translated into action. As the Local Government Association commented recently:
"The government's recognition of the faith communities' significant neighbourhood renewal and social inclusion role has yet to be reflected fully in practice".
I look forward to the fuller realisation of such support for that vital work in the days ahead.
I wish to touch briefly on another area of central government support for local communities. Much has been achieved in the complex programme of community-led regeneration, to which reference has already been made. But there remains a long way to go in many of our cities, if we are to learn how to do that well. In my city, as in many others, it is the Churches that provide the local leadership required by programmes such as the New Deal. The vision behind those programmes is the empowerment of the community, but the danger that we see around us is that the Government show signs at times of feeling that delivery is not coming quickly enough.
There are consequences of that political impatience. First, the rhetoric begins to change from community-led regeneration to community-involved regeneration, a subtle shift but a highly significant change of emphasis. It may represent a move away from a deep-seated belief that local communities, given the right support, can and will make wise choices about the future of their cities.
Secondly, the pressures grow for target-driven regeneration, with a constant stream of performance-driven initiatives which, while worthy in themselves, go no way towards measuring less tangible but vital outcomes such as growth in trust, self-esteem and self-confidence, without which sustainable community regeneration cannot be achieved.
Thirdly, the whole concept of capacity-building must be seen much more as a two-way process. Of course, the capacity of the local community needs to be constantly built; handling large sums of money and engaging with the complex world of consultants and specialists are demanding. These programmes also demonstrate the need to work hard to build the capacity of officials, local government offices, consultants, architects and accountants, in order that they know more sensitively how to listen carefully and creatively to local voices and to enter imaginatively worlds that are often alien to them. The key issue here, as elsewhere in the role of government in supporting local communities, has to do with speed of delivery. Changing the culture, the aspirations, the self-esteem and the vision of local communities in our neediest areas cannot be done overnight. Sustained, committed support from local government in the long term is absolutely essential.
The message that I hope that the Government will receive from this debate, as pressures to deliver intensify, is this: do not lose your nerve; continue to enable regeneration to be genuinely community-led, and learn to be patient enough to enable sustainable change to be achieved. Only that way will our most vulnerable, deprived communities be renewed and recreated for a generation to come.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on initiating this debate. I will speak on two areas, which are both close to my heart. Both illustrate the crucial role of government in enabling local communities to serve the needs of their citizens. First, I will use the urban regeneration scheme in Corby to show exactly how this partnership can change the lives of the people of that town. Secondly, I hope to outline the many government initiatives that are helping sport to take its rightful place in society.
I will start with Corby. Our urban regeneration scheme has been modelled exactly on the Government's White Paper and on Lord Rodgers's task force. It is a blueprint for renewal and a case study of value. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has been the driving force behind this project—a radical scheme based totally on partnership, vision and systematic consultation, all aimed at creating a vibrant, sustainable town. The whole of Corby is covered by the project. Our scheme was the first to be announced by John Prescott, and we are proud of that unique status. That was some three years ago. No one told Corby what it wanted; Corby told us. A town that was devastated in the 1980s by the closure of the steelworks had shown in those intervening years that it was not prepared to fade away, and its record spoke for itself.
What was clearly apparent was that the growth anticipated in the 1980s had not happened, and that the crucial mass of the town was lacking. Size does matter if a community is to enjoy all the amenities that it rightly expects. Today, even more than before, commercial interests can only be sustained by an appropriate population, both in size and profile. Schools, shops, sporting and cultural facilities all left much to be desired. Of course, we bore—and still do—the label of being the largest town in Europe without a passenger railway station. That was the scenario before Catalyst Corby came into being. Regeneration can only be accomplished by powerful partnerships and focussed goals, and we now have them in Corby. We have a dynamic board with government representation via the East Midlands Development Agency, English Partnerships, Corby Borough Council, Northamptonshire County Council, the Chamber of Commerce, perhaps most crucially welded together by the local representation from community and business interests, which all drive this project forward.
Our vision is clear; a new town centre, containing a full range of retail, leisure, community and residential uses of which people will be proud; a fully integrated public and private transport system, extensive new housing, which will provide a wide housing choice and attract new residents; employment sites meeting modern requirements, which will attract modern new industries. Underpinning these objectives is the determination to create a town that is sustainable and vibrant; a town of 50,000 to become 100,000, and a town that is diverse and successful. To achieve this, we will require investment of almost £4 billion. Much of this will be privately funded, but we depend on government agencies to kick start our project. They have been remarkable, in the quality of their support, their professional advice and the significant financial support that we have already received in bringing us to the stage we are at today.
Chairing that board has been a privilege. I have seen at first hand the value of total co-operation with central and local government, working hand in hand with the certainty that we will deliver a town that its residents and businesses deserve and rightly demand.
If there is a sting in the tail of my speech today, it must be this: please, Minister, do not allow anyone to take their eye off our prize project. We cannot succeed without continuous and continuing government help and expertise. Do not let us find ourselves in difficult competition with other growth areas. We, as a regeneration project, can form the core and help to provide the solution to the housing needs that the Government have rightly identified, but we are unique, and we should be recognised as such. I hope that our success will encourage even more partnership schemes up and down the country. It is a formula that we have found dynamic and creative. The Government are certainly to be congratulated in instigating it.
Step change is a phrase apparently beloved by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, so perhaps I may borrow it to move on to another area where government action is crucial to success. Sport is high on their agenda. It needs to be. We inherited a sporting landscape decimated by the Tories. Sport in schools—smashed; sport in the communities—smashed; all by a Government that sent their children to public schools, where sport continues to thrive, while crippling the schools to which the rest of us send our children. Thankfully, that is in the past. Our Government see the value of sport, to stave off ill health, particularly obesity and heart disease, and to draw youngsters into sporting activities that can stay with them for the whole of their lives. Sport provides social cohesion and inclusiveness, not forgetting that sport is also wonderful fun and enjoyable.
Let us look at this Government's record to see how they have set about supporting local communities. I do not need to tell noble Lords that money talks. This Government have invested more than £3 billion of government and lottery money directly into sport. Much has been targeted at school sport, in the form of new facilities, setting up and running extra-curricular activities and a wide range of coaching. The New Opportunities Fund and Sport England have played leading roles in this area, and are to be applauded. In respect of Sport England, I will perhaps be the first to offer a welcome to Patrick Carter who, as chair of Sport England, has recently been announced as a new life Peer. It will be wonderful to have him fighting for sport and doubtless arguing for the Government to do even more.
More money—this time from the Treasury, with the Chancellor's blessing and endorsement—means that community amateur sports clubs, at last freed from the shackles of crippling rates and tax, are able to concentrate on opening their doors and welcoming in their local communities. Even more money is to be invested in our stars of the future, elite squads with funding to enable full-time commitment to their chosen sport in their quest for excellence. They are our future heroes who will inspire the next generation of sportsmen and women. I could go on, but I see that the stopwatch is gathering pace.
Perhaps I may indulge myself with a plea for one specific issue to be looked at urgently. I believe that it would help enormously the widest possible range of clubs, including hockey, cricket, rugby union, rugby league, athletics and tennis clubs. The issue to which I refer is planning, which is always a blight for progressives. It is now a blight for existing sports clubs. I am referring to small, local clubs that are often in urban areas. They are constantly refused planning permission to upgrade and improve their facilities, such as floodlighting, playing surfaces and indoor facilities, and for better club and social facilities. I could quote case study after case study where planning has been refused.
In this day and age, local clubs, which are therefore so valuable, must be able to offer year-round facilities. With the wholehearted support of the CCPR, all the governing bodies of sport, including Sport England and the LTA, I urge a revisit of our planning guidelines in order to come to the rescue of those clubs, many of which are now under threat. The syndrome of decline of facilities means that there is a loss of members and eventual extinction—the point at which the property developers move in. Of course, local residents must be protected against gross intrusion, but the balance between residents and clubs is now out of balance.
Perhaps I may finish by repeating a case study that was quoted by none other than our Minister with responsibility for sport, Richard Caborn. After enormous hard work, a school in his constituency upgraded its facilities and became a joint project for the school and community—the perfect formula. Imagine therefore their dismay on being granted, on the one hand, permission to floodlight the facilities, while, on the other hand, being told that the lights had to go out at 6.30 p.m.
My congratulations on all that has been achieved in sport. Please let us pledge ourselves to doing even more in the future.
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank my noble friend Lady Thornton for initiating this debate. It is a very important debate, which marks completely the departure of the Labour Government from what was the "meism" of the previous Tory administrations of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and John Major, and, in particular, getting away from the idea that there was no such thing as community. It is vitally important that, having created this new approach, we ensure that it is carried out. It is a sustainable community. It is a top priority for this Government.
An awful lot of money is involved because roughly £22 billion will be spent. But it is a new approach. The Government are not only talking about how we will build and what we will build; what is more important is that they are talking about a community in the round. They are not just talking about housing, but they are linking it to jobs, to the booming economy, to public services and to improving the environment. This is not just about developing jobs and services, it is about having a good environment for people to live in, to enjoy, to have green spaces, to revitalise the parks and to look again at developing the community forest. It is important that we do not just have a one-step approach—for example, housing—but that we look at the issue in the round.
It is very important that the Government do not only talk about the growth areas in London, the south-east and the south Midlands, but that they also develop a strategy for the north. In the north, they are going to tackle housing demands, boost jobs and boost investment in the three northern regions. That is very important indeed. But to achieve that, we need an engine to carry it out. The regional development agencies will play a key role. I mention that because the party opposite, if and when it comes back to power, intends to abolish the RDAs. Yet, the RDAs are the key to carrying that out.
Before I turn to that, perhaps noble Lords will allow me to indulge myself as chairman of Warrington Wolves. My noble friend Lady Billingham talked about the community and the part that sport plays. We all know that sport is an essential element for many people. My noble friend is sad because Leeds United have temporarily lost their position, but I think that that is only temporary.
I mention Warrington Wolves because last night, in the national sport industry awards—I would not have been able to say that until last night—they won the Best Sport in the Community Award, after competing against national companies, such as McDonalds, the Bank of Scotland, the Daily Telegraph, and even small organisations such as Wimbledon AFC and the Bradford Bulls. But they came out on top—although I am biased—deservedly so because of the amount of time that they spend in providing for the community. They especially provide for schoolchildren who do not particularly want to go to school—they want to play truant and are not interested in lessons—and children who are bullied. When children are brought to our new stadium, it is amazing to see how they develop because our computer programmes are geared to make it interesting for them.
They meet the stars—their local heroes—that they see on the rugby field. The interest that they develop is amazing. I entirely agree with my noble friend about the importance that sport plays. It plays a key role for those kiddies. We receive a number of letters from headteachers who say how pleased they are with what we are doing. I have gone into a little detail about this because I think that it is important. But this could not happen, nor would it happen, if it was not for the people carrying it out; namely, the young people at the club—Sean Mellor and Debbie Blackburn—and Neil Kelly from the local authority. It is the working of the club and the local authority in the community that has enabled us to win that award.
I turn now to the role that the Regional Development Agency will play if the economies of the north are to be developed. The Government have proposed nine pathfinder areas, four of which are in the north-west. It is very important for east Lancashire, which is an area that I represented in Parliament before I represented Warrington. No one was more bothered than myself when we saw the troubles that occurred in Burnley that could have spread further into east Lancashire. There was, first, the decline of major industries, particularly textiles, and, secondly, the abandonment of many homes, plus the clash of racial elements that occurred in that area.
I do not think that a lot needs to be said about the need to develop areas in both Manchester and Salford. Merseyside was referred to in an excellent speech that outlined the difficulties that are faced in Merseyside. However, the optimism for the future displayed by the noble Lord gives us hope, but that is part of being a pathfinder. Of course, Oldham and Rochdale have similar problems to those that occurred in east Lancashire.
The NWDA is involved in all of those areas. It is involved in the north-west, east Manchester and Liverpool. It is equally involved in the west lakes regeneration. People think of the Lake District, but they do not think of the west side or going to Barrow, Whitehaven and Workington, and the beautiful adjoining countryside. That area also needs help, which is why the work of the RDA is so important. The RDA is a member of the North West Housing Board. It has already allocated £516 million to be spent in the next two years. It supports the priorities that are set out in the regional housing strategy.
Indeed, the Deputy Prime Minister, when he set out the progress report, entitled, Making It Happen The Northern Way, charged the northern RDAs to lead on the preparations and proposals on bringing about the northern growth corridor. The RDAs will lead in developing important local economies; they will support activities for the provision and creation of sites, ensure that brownfield sites are available in accordance with the plan and bring them forward to meet demand; they will support the development of countryside parks and forests; and they will support the development of the skills agenda. We will be unable to carry out these programmes unless we have a skilled workforce to bring them about. The RDAs are also charged with forging business links and bringing in business support.
All of these activities offer hope, particularly for the region in which I live, and it is absolutely essential that we develop them. Without the Regional Development Agency we would lack the engine to carry us forward to achieve our goal.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lady Thornton for introducing this important debate.
The Government have placed urban renaissance at the heart of their policies for regeneration, social inclusion and sustainability. Their support for these policies has been provided by better targeted programmes and resources, and clear strategic frameworks. Not least, the Government's support for these policies has been provided by unparalleled sustained growth and low inflation in the economy, which has offered stability and an incentive to investment.
The £22 billion sustainable communities plan of action launched by the Government last year is already making a difference to people's lives. It is not only, of course, a matter of providing more money from central government; as many speakers have already said, local communities must be genuinely engaged in consultation and in decision making. We need to redevelop in many parts of our society a sense of civic pride and a sense that people can take charge of their own destiny.
The business community, too, is part of the partnership for regeneration and renaissance. Private sector involvement, investment and enterprise are critical to successful regeneration. In a city such as mine, Leeds, there is no way that public resources can possibly meet more than a fraction of what is needed for regeneration. If there is one thing missing in the contributions so far, it is a recognition of the vital role that the private sector and private investment has to play. It is as important as social partnerships.
The requirement by the Government that local councils and their local strategic partnerships must produce a 10 to 15 year community strategy for their areas brings these strands together. A local strategic partnership in Leeds—the Leeds Initiative—has been in place since 1990 and has played a vital role in bringing continued growth and success to the city. Leeds is a major financial business services centre but has strength in diversity across a range of industry and commerce. In recent months, Leeds has received a string of accolades: Britain's best city for business; best place in Britain to live; visitor city of the year; the favourite UK university destination; and, not least, top city for night clubs, which is very important to the city's economy.
But, despite this success, the city council and its Leeds Initiative strategic partners recognise that major problems remain for regeneration, social inclusion and sustainability. There remain unacceptable degrees of inequality in unemployment, job opportunities, housing standards, education and skills achievement, health and crime. Successive governments—not only the present one—have struggled to deal with the paradox, to square the circle, of such prosperity in cities and, right next to them, enormous inequalities. These issues in Leeds are squarely addressed in its community strategy, Vision for Leeds 2004 to 2020, recently published by the Leeds Initiative following widespread consultation and the involvement of the community.
Support from and partnership with central government is crucial in producing solutions to deeply entrenched problems. I have time to touch on only two examples of such action in Leeds. The Sure Start programmes have been mentioned by a number of speakers. In Leeds there are eight such programmes, bringing together a range of initiatives offering early learning, childcare and family support services to young children and to families. The leading players in these partnerships are not principally the council; they involve family service units, the Children's Society, a primary care trust, community health, a NHS trust and an independent group. More than 5,000 people have benefited to date.
Sure Start has been a great success. It has helped children access childcare and early education; helped families engage with supportive services; helped access training and jobs; provided debt counselling; and aided healthier eating. As I understand it, the Government's new children's centre programme will be the vehicle to take forward the Sure Start programmes. Leeds has an ambitious programme for 19 children's centres in wards with the highest levels of disadvantage in the city and, indeed, some of the highest in the country. I hope that these successful programmes will be taken forward.
I turn now to the role of regional development agencies. Government support from the centre is delivered not only through local councils but through a range of agencies, and I should like to say a few words about the role of the RDAs. In my region—Yorkshire Forward—the Government have correctly identified the need for regional development agencies to develop strong regional strategies, priorities and policies. Economically stronger regions are needed to take the pressure off the overheated south-east of England as well as to solve many of their own problems. The recent initiative of the Deputy Prime Minister and the regional development agencies of Yorkshire, the north-east and the north-west to start the process of building on the strengths of northern England in the northern way is to be welcomed.
Yorkshire is not only a region of major cities— although there are five of those—but also has a wealth of smaller urban and market townships which form an important part of the character and vitality of the region. Yorkshire Forward has used part of the grant from central government to support these smaller townships in developing local strategic partnerships committed to a vision and practical plan of action to take forward a renaissance in those parts of the region.
A second example of regeneration and sustainable action by Yorkshire Forward is to be found on the Holderness coast, where coastal erosion threatens the future of the caravan parks that are an important part of the local economy in that coastal area of the region. Yorkshire Forward is working in partnership with the East Riding Council, the Environment Agency, English Nature, the Countryside Agency and local communities to develop a plan of action. Over time, it is intended to move caravan developments some 200 to 500 metres inland, so ensuring a 50-year or longer life span for them. At the same time it is intended to implement infrastructure changes to improve and support caravan developments.
It would be impractical and vastly expensive to try to stop coastal erosion at Holderness. In fact, the erosion at Holderness provides much of the sand for beaches in Cleethorpes. I am told that if we stop the erosion, within two years Cleethorpes would lose most of its beaches. It also helps to recharge sediment at Spurn Point sandbanks, which support large amounts of wildlife. This is a far cry from the issues of regeneration in our big cities, but it is all part of supporting local communities to ensure regeneration and sustainability.
The Government play an important role in supporting local communities through clear strategic priorities, backed up with funding and partnership building. This is true for local communities, whether in our big cities such as Leeds, our smaller urban centres such as Barnsley or Wakefield, or our rural communities such as the Holderness coast. I hope that the Government not only remain in office but stay steady on this course of support for regeneration.
My Lords, I should like to concentrate my remarks mainly on the support given by the Government to the local communities in the town of Burnley. I declare an interest in Burnley—an emotional interest that came about due to the difficulties that Burnley experienced when serious disturbances erupted in the town almost three years ago.
Following the disturbances, I was invited to lead the task force that the local authority put together to inquire into the causes of the unrest and subsequent violence and to make recommendations that might help to avoid a recurrence of what had happened over three very sad days in the history of a proud town and its very proud people.
The report of the task force contained more than 80 recommendations, many of which required assistance from central government. Time does not allow me to mention all the areas of concern that were identified. Suffice it to say that many of the problems that needed to be addressed by central government were in a sense quite predictable, given that Burnley, like many other areas in the north-west and other parts of the country, shared an inheritance of decades of underinvestment that had led to many economic and community problems. There were feelings of social exclusion and there was high unemployment and bad housing—a large number of unoccupied and derelict houses in some cases surrounded people who had invested their life's work in property that was, to all intents and purposes, worth just a fraction of what they had paid for it.
Some of the residents were trapped—they had no chance of moving, no chance of selling and moving on, and the value of their property was at rock bottom. I shall always remember looking at the boards outside some of those houses, especially up in the Daneshouse area, which carried the legend, "Best offer so far £1,200". Yes, my Lords, £1,200.
In my introduction to the summary of the main task force report that was entitled, Burnley Speaks—Who Listens, I said:
"Nobody can predict if Government at a local, regional or national level will act on the findings and recommendations contained in the report. If, however, the clear warning signs about the levels of deprivation, the lack of effective communication with the people of the town and the disillusionment felt by many young people in Burnley are ignored, then our time will have been wasted and an opportunity for real change and progress will have been lost".
I am happy to inform your Lordships that central government responded, and they responded quickly and positively.
Among other initiatives, the Government responded quickly to the call for a strategic partnership to be set up, with the help of the local authority, the regional development agency and others. This partnership involved all sectors of the community, such as businesses, local authorities and other public bodies which are responsible for making sure that the local recommendations of the report would be followed up.
The partnership approach is essential. It would be a serious mistake if central government sought to dictate everything from Whitehall; any drift towards direction rather than a partnership approach must be avoided.
The assistance given to local communities in the various programmes for neighbourhood renewal and regeneration could take up most of this debate. They were much needed, much welcomed, and I, for one, am pleased that they are under way. I feel that the people of Burnley and surrounding areas in the north-west have been listened to. An illustration of what is happening at the point of helping people is the Market Renewal Pathfinder programme, known as Elevate East Lancashire. The programme is designed to pilot ways of addressing low demand in the housing market in nine areas of the north and midlands. The Government have allocated £0.5 billion over the current spending review period for this programme.
In the discussions that took place when the programme was at the consultation stage, it was expected that the bureaucracy involved would be "light touch". I have to say to the Minister that there is a feeling among some of the people charged with implementing the programme that there is strong central government control over the policy direction of the pathfinders. That may require some adjustment.
I accept that it is right for central government to set targets and outcomes; all Governments like to know what they are getting for the people's money and set national planning frameworks in various areas. I respectfully say to my noble friend that this is fine at national level but it is wrong to expect all national agendas to be relevant to all communities. They are not. Access to housing may be the dominant housing issue nationally, but it certainly is not in Burnley.
Should we be viewing housing in places such as Burnley, with small terraced housing designed in the 19th century, as appropriate to the needs of the 21st century? Neighbourhood renewal must be more than the numbers of housing units; it must take into account the changing needs of families.
I would not want my comments to be misinterpreted. In my view, the Government have responded to the need to take a fresh look at strategic planning and have given much needed hope to many in Burnley and other places. Working with the communities, through the local authority, much progress has been made.
It is important to recognise more clearly the legitimacy of local government in exercising civic leadership. Most councils have a very clear understanding of the needs of their areas and are certainly viewed as being responsible for leadership in a crisis. This was the case with the immediate consequences of the Burnley 2001 disturbances. Central government can and should be confident that local councils would act responsibly and provide the necessary leadership at times of crisis.
During the time I spent in Burnley and since, I have formed a personal strong view, shared by Burnley council, that the structure of local government, currently under review in the north-west, is very important in helping local communities. I ask the Minister to urge the Deputy Prime Minister to look favourably on proposals for unitary local government that can provide clear, easily communicated, access to council services, also enabling far more effective cross-service and partnership delivery on the ground to local communities.
I would like to touch briefly on two other issues that come from my involvement with the people of Burnley. First, I give a warm welcome to the Government's recognition of the need to involve the faith sector in helping communities. The assistance received from the faith communities was extremely valuable as the town tackled the aftermath of the disturbances. I echo the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester about the role played by the faith community. I will long remember the Bishop of Burnley bringing together the Churches and the mosques in Burnley to discuss the disturbances.
Secondly, I refer to a recent initiative by the community safety partnership in Burnley. I hope that the Government will examine what has gone on with a view to encouraging other local authorities to consider it. Last week it was my privilege, together with television presenter Mr Nick Ross, to launch Burnley's community safety network.
Together with Burnley Borough Council, the company, Community Communications Network, along with Strategic Partnership Television, introduced a partnership project to use the latest broadband technology to convey information on screens sited across Burnley town centre and outlying locations. When it comes to improving safety, disseminating important information, appeals in the case of identifying criminals and those whose behaviour is anti-social, the potential is enormous. The system can be updated at 10 minutes' notice, which means that it could be used to help locate missing persons. It has already, in another area, found a missing child by getting the message on to screens in the various strategic sites.
People can receive information in places such as cafes, burger bars, hospital waiting rooms, the local bus station and other strategically chosen sites. There is also a facility for a hotline link to the statutory bodies such as the police, fire and ambulance services.
It was suggested by Nick Ross at last week's launch that valuable advice could be conveyed over the system about fire prevention and the need for preventive action to avoid the many unnecessary deaths caused by fires in the home.
I make this point because one of the things that struck me when I first went to Burnley was fear. People were afraid of walking on the streets; they were afraid in certain parts of the town. I think that the communication system will do a lot to reduce some of the fears that people have.
Finally, I thank the Government for the way in which they have started to tackle the problems caused by the decades of neglect. It is important that central government should link to communities through the right means—legitimate and properly resourced councils. Learning from the Burnley experience, where they do become directly involved with local communities, they should not promise what cannot be delivered.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Thornton on providing the occasion for some really wonderful speeches this afternoon. They ranged from the rather sobering observations of my noble friend Lord Clarke to the barnstorming performance of my noble friend Lady Billingham. If her debating style is any reflection of her sporting prowess, it indicates that her tennis style is probably a vicious serve followed by a very sharp volley.
I intend to take up only a small part of the generous allocation of time. I am aware that there are several equally important contributions still to come, but I wanted briefly to address the matter of central government support for the arts and specifically for theatre, and how important this has been and continues to be to the health and wellbeing of local communities.
Before doing so, I must declare an interest as a former executive director of the National Theatre and a board member of the Almeida Theatre and of Welsh National Opera. I am also a trustee of the Roundhouse where, thanks in part to significant funds from government sources, restoration work has begun today to bring this beautiful building back into use in ways that will benefit not only the community in Camden—where the Roundhouse is located, and which has already been extensively mentioned by my noble friend Lady Thornton—but the whole of London.
I have spent most of my working life in the theatre, specifically in the subsidised sector, and I remember with no pleasure the difficulties faced by my industry in the 1980s and early 1990s when it appeared that central government—with honourable individual exceptions—neither understood nor was interested in understanding the value of the arts, whether nationally or locally, in building and sustaining communities. Those were dark days and a great deal of damage was done.
In 1997, when the present Government were elected, the arts were in bad need of serious investment. Theatre in particular was in a precarious state throughout the country, but like everyone else we had to wait while Prudence got her act together. In 2000, she came up trumps. The Arts Council secured an extra £100 million of government funding for the arts. In 2001, £25 million of that new money was allocated to theatre, bringing Arts Council England's annual investment in theatre to £100 million—a 72 per cent uplift and the largest ever funding increase to the sector.
Tomorrow, the Arts Council of England will publish research which shows that this injection of funds has had:
"a major economic and artistic impact on theatre in England".
As part of the research, three local theatres have been looked at closely and their local economic impact evaluated. I am afraid that, since the findings are embargoed until tomorrow, I cannot share with your Lordships any of the detailed information that they contain. However, I can say without giving too much away that they reveal beneficial effects both directly, in the employment of local staff and use of local suppliers, for example, and indirectly on local economies where there is a thriving theatre—and there are far more of them now than there were 10 years ago.
Theatres help to sustain jobs, generate additional economic activity and act as forces for economic and social regeneration. Just as importantly they, along with other arts organisations, play a role in building civic pride and underpinning community identity and values. I will not detain the House by listing the many examples that I could supply to these effects. Above all, the arts—and theatre in particular, being my special interest—provide enjoyment and enrich our lives. I believe that this Government have understood the crucial importance of valuing the arts both nationally and locally and have made a real commitment to their beliefs by putting new money behind them. That is one of the many achievements of which they can be proud. I hope that the Minister, when he comes to reply, can assure the House that this fine record will be sustained.
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, although I entirely endorse the thrust of her remarks and the focus of this debate, would she welcome, as I do, the words of the Secretary of State with responsibility for the arts who has given the strongest support in a recent speech about the importance of valuing the arts not only for their external impact on communities but for themselves?
My Lords, I tried to touch on that when I talked about enjoyment and enrichment. The noble Lord will not be surprised to hear that, coming from where I come from, my commitment is entirely to art for its own sake, whatever form it is in. However, it is also true that, where art is delivered and created and is excellent, it has many other benefits, which we should also value.
My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Thornton has secured this timely and important debate and I congratulate her on her dynamic opening. I have already learnt a great deal from other noble Lords and I shall no doubt learn more as the afternoon goes on. I am very pleased to hear that the north is in full swing and that sport and the theatre are also being encompassed in this debate.
My own contribution is not jolly. It relates to how government policy has contributed to improvements for drug users in communities. I declare an interest as the chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, a special health authority set up by the Government in 2001. I will refer to some of our work and to the work of the Centre for Ethnicity and Health supported by the Department of Health. I believe that this will provide examples of qualities other noble Lords have mentioned—sensitivity, empowerment and partnership working with evaluation.
There have been deliberate attempts to push decision making and action down to community level. I shall refer to a couple of examples. Most recently, the Children Bill now going through your Lordships' House emphasises the need for local partnerships, as does the consultation White Paper on public health.
I now turn specifically to the issue of drugs. We all know that drugs can devastate individuals, families and communities. The updated drugs strategy in 2002 promised more resources, more support for parents, carers and families, the expansion of trade and services, including in the criminal justice system, better targeting of communities with the greatest need, strengthening of workforce capacity and improved services in communities affected by crack cocaine use. Funding for treating drug misusers will have risen by 44 per cent between 2002 and 2005.
The National Treatment Agency, which I chair, was set up to double the number of people in treatment from 100,000 in 1998 to 200,000 in 2008. It also set targets for reducing waiting times for treatment, improving effectiveness by retaining people in treatment, improving staffing levels, improving performance information, involving users and carers and having attention to the diverse needs of black and ethnic minorities, women and young people. A template for local drug action teams to develop treatment systems has been established. It will be evident that this ambitious agenda is only possible through delivery at community level.
The National Treatment Agency works through a network of regional teams based at government offices throughout England and there is close liaison with other services. One of our key functions is to help drug action teams—there are 149 all working in communities—to set plans and to monitor those plans. I visit those regularly and I see signs of great improvement to local drug treatment systems. More people are entering treatment, waiting times are going down and more staff are entering the service. As one worker said to me recently:
"It is a good time to be working in the drug treatment field; there is more money around and the National Treatment Agency has encouraged better engagement in communities and a more rigorous approach".
Surely, that is testimony of how national policy translates effectively into local practice.
The evidence has been endorsed by a recent independent stakeholders' audit of treatment agencies and drug action teams, which includes users and carers. It indicates that both the quality and quantity of drugs treatment has improved over the past two years thanks to central initiatives.
I will now briefly describe a research initiative introduced by the Department of Health and carried out by the Centre for Ethnicity and Health at the University of Central Lancashire under the leadership of Professor Kamlesh Patel from Bradford. The aim of the research is to establish the needs of black and minority ethnic groups in communities long recognised as neglected.
Community groups could apply for involvement in the research and 47 projects were approved. Two hundred and four people from the community projects were trained by the University of Central Lancashire to engage with communities to assess needs from which its future action could stem. Those recruited were male and female, from different age groups, and ranged from those with no formal qualifications to those with PhDs.
The successful engagement with communities also demanded matching of researchers to particular groups with particular languages, ethnicity and cultures. The project worked across local structures and identified deficiencies in services for black and minority ethnic groups; for example, in relation to language, to cultural difficulties, the involvement of women and so on. Importantly, it empowered the communities involved to work cohesively to solve their own problems. The community groups and the agencies developed greater understanding and insights into how they could work together more effectively. At an individual level, many of those trained went on to secure employment in the health and social care field. Others went on to higher education. Many spoke of personal growth and increased confidence.
Community groups spoke of how the project had enabled them to raise their profile, seek funding, recruit volunteers, network with other groups and use new skills. One of the most significant outcomes of the project was the recruitment of more people from black and minority ethnic groups into health and social care and the drugs field. This is exciting work and is expanding and continuing with further government funding. Two reports are available which I am happy to share with noble Lords who might be interested.
Would the Minister agree that the setting up of strong central systems with a regional brief can serve communities at a local level? The work of the National Treatment Agency and the community engagement model I have described demonstrate how not only funding but partnerships and sympathetic approaches at local and national level can give rise to local initiatives and can be a powerful force to change.
My Lords, I, too, want to congratulate my noble friend Lady Thornton on initiating the debate. I want to concentrate my remarks on the rural areas and the support into rural communities. I declare an interest as a dairy farmer in Cheshire, a director of Dairy Farmers of Britain, a chairman of the Cheshire branch of the Country Land and Business Association and a board member of the Rural Recovery Board in Cheshire.
Agriculture underpins the rural economy. Your Lordships' House does not need reminding of the crisis agriculture has faced in recent times. The interdependence of agriculture and the wider rural economy was highlighted during the foot and mouth epidemic.
Yesterday, I attended a conference to launch the strategy document of the English Food and Farming Partnership, an industry-wide body drawn together and facilitated by Defra to take forward the conclusions of the Curry commission on the future of agriculture. For the first time, government are championing collaborative and co-operative action between farmers and the food chain to increase the strategic options facing the farming community as it comes to terms with the changes due to begin next year in the reform of the subsidy system of the common agricultural policy.
With the budget of £1 million split 50 per cent to government and 50 per cent to industry partners, the EFFP will promote best practice and joined-up delivery. For example, when retailers start an initiative to raise the price of milk to pass back higher returns to producers, it should be a simple step for hospitals to support and widen the initiative by agreeing higher prices for their suppliers.
Collaborative action also necessitates a review of the competition laws and the legislative and fiscal framework. As agricultural barriers to trade internationally are reduced, we must ensure that enterprise and innovation are not hampered by a comparative UK disadvantage. Would my noble friend the Minister agree to look at the provisions of the Capra Volstead Act which applies in the United States whereby one organisation can control 100 per cent of market supply to see how this could apply in the UK? Agriculture is at an exciting threshold of change.
Central government, through its Kyoto obligations on climate change, can alter the balance of opportunities on renewable energy sources. I refer here to biofuels where, once again, agriculture could "dig for victory". Rural areas regard the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas production as non-negotiable, given the potential long-term damage to the rural economy from climate change. Central government's support must take account of local communities' desire for technology choice in delivering national Kyoto targets. In particular, one medium-sized CHP biomass plant involves far less landscape impact and spreads the benefits of alternative non-food jobs and incomes far more widely than the equivalent output from onshore wind turbines. Would the Minister agree that biomass production could be encouraged to provide a credible alternative? Would he also agree that the use of energy in new development be given a locus in planning policy? Local planning authorities could be encouraged to ensure that new development addresses realistically biomass, CHP, solar and other technologies in order to reduce the requirement for widespread onshore wind turbines.
Following the tumultuous events of the foot and mouth epidemic, central government facilitated the regional development agencies to regenerate rural communities and much activity is focused on regional tourism and market towns. In Cheshire, we are now in year three of the seven-year programme investing £12 million in entrepreneurial advertising. The West Midlands is also undertaking a similar programme, Enterprise Works.
Rural areas must also be enabled to compete effectively with their urban neighbours. This means they require the same access to technology and modern communications. There is a recognition by central government that broadband is vital to rural areas and they are committed to making broadband available throughout the UK by the end of 2005. The Government are spending £1 billion in trying to get the public sector bodies to connect to broadband. In recognition of this, central government needs to make it easier, through incentives to business, to piggyback into the infrastructure. Rural areas need to know what is happening in relation to this and through seeing the success of connecting greater areas, thereby be encouraged towards greater take-up.
Tremendous strides have been made towards the economic regeneration that is vital if communities are to thrive. There is still more that can be achieved. I commend the policies currently being undertaken by this Government.
My Lords, I wonder whether when my noble friend Lady Thornton tabled this topic for debate she expected such a wide-ranging discussion. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Hoyle on the success of Warrington Wolves on their community activities. I am only relieved that they are not as successful on the pitch, which is why I shall be attending the Rugby League Cup Final with Wigan rather than he with Warrington.
I begin by declaring my interest as the leader of Wigan local authority. Your Lordships will not be surprised to learn that I am a committed localist and a strong advocate of supporting local communities through local government. It is essential that local government works in partnership with local communities, local and other agencies and central government. We all use the word "partnership". It is easy to use but difficult to achieve because it means that everyone has to give up a little. But the result is success and we need to learn that.
I want to celebrate the fact that there are local variations. We are not a unitary state and people are different in different parts of the country. Local and central government have a shared objective in improving public services to hard-pressed local communities and local authorities are key in achieving that for three reasons. First, they are accountable to local people. Their accountability is partly through the ballot box. The mind is sharpened by the approach of
The second reason is that local government is committed to its local area and understands their needs. Councillors must live in the area. They are part of those communities and understand what local areas need.
Thirdly, local government can take a holistic and strategic approach to tackling local problems. My noble friend Lady Massey talked about drugs. Locally, there are so many different facets to the drugs problem. It affects health—my noble friend's particular concern—crime and anti-social behaviour and family stability. Locally, only the local authority can pull all of those issues together. As the leader of a local authority I have always believed that local government has a duty to do what we are supposed to be doing—to deliver as well as we can the services for which we have direct responsibilities.
I have to acknowledge the Government's contribution to improving the relationship with local authorities. As I was elected to local government in 1978, I experienced the period which began in 1979 of the Thatcher and Major governments. I know what it was like then and what their attitudes were to local government, particularly to Labour local government.
I should like to touch on two issues on which I think the Government are doing an excellent job. The first is the measurement of local authority's performance, which is being done through the independent Audit Commission. A comprehensive performance assessment has shown that, in the first round, more than 50 per cent of local authorities were in the "excellent" or "good" categories. That result may have surprised some, but it did not surprise those of us who are well versed in local authorities.
The Government have gone on to provide support for local authorities in the "weak" and "poor" categories. I have read the typical remarks of the leader of the Conservatives. On the one hand, he says that they will abolish the CPA; on the other, he was bragging about how many of his authorities were in the "excellent" category.
In performance measurement and the Innovations Forum—I should remind Members that I am the joint chair of that body with Nick Raynsford, the local government Minister—the Government have developed a much more mature and measured relationship with excellent councils. I have spent many hours in this House discussing the problems of bed blocking and how we can get round it. Through the Innovations Forum, local authorities, local health partners and the Department of Health are working on systems that will reduce the need to admit older people to hospital in the first place. That can only be good, not only in terms of saving money but in terms of the experience of older people.
From my local experience I should also like to highlight the Government's support for local authority housing through arm's length housing management companies. Despite their being a Government of spin—not that I would accuse my noble friend the Minister of being a spinner—they have not made enough of this success. My local authority was in one of the first tranches of ALMOs. We received initial investment of £58 million. That was recently followed by further investment of £79 million and has been topped up by local funding. It has enabled new investment in all of our 26,000 council houses, providing security and fencing and improvements such as new kitchens and bathrooms, better insulation and major structural repairs to roofs and so on. We will achieve the Government's decency standards two years ahead of the Government's deadline.
As one might expect, the result of that has been improved tenant satisfaction. Satisfaction levels are now over 90 per cent, and it is 97 per cent in the areas covered by some contractors. There has also been increased demand for council housing, which is good news for us. The improved estates have reaped economic benefits. We have partnering arrangements with contractors who will take on and train local people so that they can get jobs. It is excellent news.
The Government have ensured that the programme works partly by allowing only good quality housing services to become ALMOs. They have done that by ensuring that two-star authorities are involved and by ensuring that the money allocated is used effectively. It has been a challenge to do that within the short time available, but we are on target to spend our first allocation. We are going to bring housing in Wigan up to 21st century standards, and the Government should take much of the credit for it.
The Government have not marched forward consistently in supporting local communities and councils; in fact, sometimes they have marched in reverse. That is partly due to the fact that not all parts of the Government have understood the need to let go and that everything cannot be managed from the centre. However, I am sure that my noble friend the Minister does not need any lessons in consistency from the party opposite—which in local government can promise contradictory things to different streets; indeed, sometimes it can promise them to different ends of the same street.
The future of local government lies in the hands of the local public service agreements. My authority has been part of round one of the agreements, which have been successful because the targets have matched both local and national requirements and stretch local authority performance with welcome financial incentives. Much has been done since the Government came to office to help deprived communities. Much more needs to be done. Central government, local government and local communities need to work together. That is the way forward. I think that the Government are on the right lines.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for raising this debate. I am particularly grateful because this is one debate in which I feel that I need not speak to the House on race. I was wondering how I would fare in such a debate, so I decided to begin with a little history about where we were, and to end with an issue on which I feel we have done much and been successful. As I am sure noble Lords will appreciate, when one speaks so late in a debate one has to think of new points to raise.
As I understand it, a unitary system of English local government was suggested as far back as 1969 by the Redcliffe-Maud Commission, which identified that strategic authorities were fragmented and responsibilities unequally divided between counties and boroughs. But it was not until the early 1990s that this idea was put into practice by the then government.
In 1995 there was a two-tier system of local government in which a few regional councils exercised strategic functions and many more district councils provided housing and more local services. That was the case in Scotland, Wales and England outside major urban areas. There was also a third, very local tier of parish/community government dealing with minor tax-raising powers and a narrow range of statutory/non-statutory functions. After 1996, that system was replaced by single-tier all-purpose authorities, the objectives of which were to improve costs and community identities.
In Scotland and Wales the single-tier authorities seemingly reflected the party political advantage in areas, rather than considering their size or natural boundaries. In England, the two-tier system was replaced by a "packet of allsorts", according to P. Waddington, in 1995. Under that system some counties kept the two-tier system but within reduced county areas. Dorset was in that category. Some counties created urban unitary authorities that split from pre-existing counties, which became small "hybrid" counties. By 1998, a total of 46 unitary authorities had been created in England, leaving 21 "new" counties. At that point it was decided to set up the Audit Commission. The Audit Commission's role was to promote change by identifying best practice and drawing attention to inadequacies; not by questioning individual policies of local authorities, but by reviewing their approach.
The reorganisation of local government had many shortfalls. Despite the Government's clear attempts to support the changes in local government by overseeing the local authorities, the reorganisation caused some problems. Noble Lords may recall that senior local government officials argued that the change to unitary single-tier authorities should have been preceded by a review of local government. That was not so, and Davis reported on that in 1997. He pointed out that an,
"extraordinary feature was the way in which the whole process was founded on the unitary concept but without any attempt to articulate a rationale".
When the reform was first introduced, it was greeted with some hostility by local government, as if central government were trying to take power away from local authorities—especially if they were run by the Opposition. Therefore, the unitary principle was gradually undermined by local authorities trying to defend their interests against neighbouring authorities, seeking hostile takeovers or mergers.
Some main problems identified with the new system included the size of the new authorities, and the creation of many smaller authorities. None the less, the changes took place. There was also disruption and diversion of time and resources, which impacted on staff at all levels. Organisational, funding and service disruption was caused to the work of local voluntary and independent providers. The many new unitary councils had necessarily smaller budgets, leading to loss of economies of scale, less choice for clients and reduction in the level of central support services. However, smaller and more local authorities were also seen as good because they were potentially more accessible, leading to better knowledge of the area.
I gave that history so that I could talk a little bit about the reorganisation of local government and how beneficial it was to health authorities, in that smaller units, especially in cities, were able to reflect more closely the specific needs of certain areas. The relationship between social services and health authorities was given a fresh impetus, giving hope for potential improvement throughout.
However, there were still some problems in the relations between health authorities and local government, because they were complicated when the health authorities had to relate to three or more new authorities instead of the previous one. Duplication was a serious problem, and one health authority was heard to say that it had three times the amount of work to do. Nevertheless, the reorganisation of local government had a lot of potential and most health authorities felt that that had to be realised. It is important for me to say here that that potential has now matured and the full benefits of the reorganisation are now being realised.
The view held by councillors and senior staff is that the changes in personnel in key management positions in social services, with posts left unfilled for lengthy periods, resulted in stalling arrangements and a slow pace of collaboration with partner agencies. However, from April 1993, major changes were introduced by the NHS and the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. That gave health and local authorities the main responsibilities for arrangements providing care in the community, with the local authorities taking the lead.
I mention that because, no sooner was that accepted than the snags became apparent. When the new Government came in, we were able to look again at how we could reorganise without reorganising. The first and fundamental requirement of change to local community care was that there had to be understanding of change at every level. Local authorities could not make superficial changes, believing that businesses could continue much the same as before. To prevent any feeling of threat from the changes, information had to be continuously provided to staff, users and carers, and a gradual approach to change had to be managed.
Parents and children commented that the council was developing strategies for public consultation and were drawing in representatives from every area. They felt that that was good. Young people were generally positive about the support that they received from staff. The communication grew between social workers, hospitals and all those in higher positions. The policy changes now involve systems and processes for collecting and analysing data better to inform planning and monitoring arrangements. On balance, central government's role has been to develop a more defined, less intrusive and generally much more productive system. I believe that we are seeing the results now in both social services and the National Health Service.
I said that I was trying to inform myself of the history; I hope that I have not bored your Lordships.
My Lords, I join all those who have congratulated the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on securing this important debate. I wish to declare my interest as president of the Football Foundation, which, as noble Lords will know, does great work within local communities.
Notwithstanding the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Smith of Leigh, I must say that the foundation is a true working partnership between government and football. That is to say, its partners are the Football Association and the Premier League, each of which gives identical amounts of money and, by so doing, forges a relationship that is unique, with an aim to put an end to the barriers that hitherto have prevailed and which have left many on the periphery of the game of soccer.
However, within the context of this debate, the role of central government is identical to the aims of the foundation. Although football, especially at the grassroots, is the main recipient of the millions of pounds that the foundation has pumped into the game of football, it is by no means directed at football alone. However, the foundation recognises that if it is to make full use of football's power as the gateway and the driver to multi-sport provision, it must open its doors to all members of all communities, regardless of ability, gender or ethnicity. In that way, it meets its aims.
With £52.5 million available to the communities every year, the foundation is therefore reaching out to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. I shall give a few examples of the foundation's work within communities. A grant from the foundation to Myton school in Warwickshire has enabled it to have a floodlit, state-of-the-art artificial turf pitch. The foundation has helped a community scheme in Liverpool for disabled football players on Merseyside. In Hull, Dads Against Drugs has received £95,000 from the foundation; that body has been most effective in combating drug abuse among youngsters there.
From hundreds of new grass roots facilities, to social inclusion projects, crime reduction programmes, anti-obesity and healthy lifestyle schemes and education initiatives, the foundation is using the game to make a lasting impact within communities. Many people, for reasons such as poverty or simply the lack of opportunity, have not been afforded the same chances to play football or other sports that millions of us take for granted. The foundation is determined to break down the barriers and to bring opportunities to play football within the reach of everyone.
In less than four years, 750 projects worth £200 million have been supported. So good is football's ability to attract inward investment, it in essence means that for every £1 invested by government into the foundation, a further £5 is delivered into sport in our communities. In my view, there is no better example of how government can support local communities than by entering into partnerships with sport. The Football Foundation is showing the way.
I know that negotiations on the future arrangements of the foundation are ongoing. After what has been an incredible start, I look forward to many more years of the Government working in partnership with football and to their matching contributions helping other communities to deliver so many different aspects of the Government's agenda. Perhaps one of the most important schemes is the Positive Futures programme, a scheme aimed at offering young people a new start, which is a tailor-made grassroots programme diverting youngsters away from crime, drugs and anti-social behaviour. Sixty-eight per cent of the work carried out is based on football. Following the initial eight towns and cities, another 37 new projects have been added, making a total of £3 million from the foundation and £15 million from the Home Office.
To date, over 7,000 youngsters have been helped by these schemes. Speaking at the Arsenal football ground at the expansion of the latest scheme, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, said:
"This is 7,000 young people away from the streets and getting their lives on the right track".
The foundation has quickly become not only the best good news story in sport in recent times but also one of the great sporting achievements by any government and we should all be proud of it.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has set us a very difficult task: what to select to mention from such a large canvas. But I, too, would like to thank her, while grumbling slightly at the difficulty of it.
There might be a temptation for someone whose background is so rooted in local politics to make a "get your tanks off our local lawns" speech, but I do not want to be negative. However, I follow my noble friend Lady Maddock who referred to a framework that I think, so far as concerns central government, should be minimalist. Noble Lords can decide whether that is a point of political philosophy or Feng Shui. One must define the terms. The closer to the ground, the easier it is to understand what makes up any given community because the boundaries blur. We are all members of a number of communities, not just geographic ones. The community of those who follow a particular soap opera is perhaps not relevant to this debate, but I wrote down that the community of those who follow a particular football team certainly is, because of the social connections, the sense of cohesion and so on that it engenders. I am sorry to say to the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, that I have never understood Rugby League. I support Manchester City, which is often a cue for a chorus of "somebody's got to".
It seems to me that a major role for central government is to set the tone. I wondered whether the noble Baroness selected the debate because it coincides so neatly with the 25th anniversary of the accession of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. There has been a lot in the media about her style and her effect on a generation of "Thatcher's Children", a syndrome that I recognise. Whether or not one loves her, one must accept that she had an impact. By extension, central government has a responsibility. I recognise that this is a bit tangential but I shall extend the point from central government to Parliament itself. We could do far more to open ourselves up and make it apparent to members of all communities that what happens in this building is not irrelevant and is not something that happens in a parallel universe.
Less tangentially, we need to be aware of who delivers on behalf of central government. Politicians are the least of it to most people. Most people's contact with government at every level is with officials or, to use the more derogatory term, bureaucrats. It does not help confidence if officials are plainly lacking in practical experience. The chief executive of a very substantial local authority recently told me that an official from the ODPM said, "What's it like working in local government?". That was someone who was administering local government programmes. In response, in part, to the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, on CPAs, one of the problems is that sometimes quite inexperienced people cost local authorities a lot of money when they go in and are no better, and sometimes a great deal worse, than the local officials they are assessing. Perhaps one partial solution to this would be secondment between the sectors: local government, quangos and business. Secondment would have to be seen not to be a disqualification for promotion. I have heard that it is not always seen as a good thing.
I have often said in this Chamber that I support the community leadership role of local government. Points that I have often made about local government also apply to the third sector, voluntary organisations, to which I pay tribute. They also need to be supported and the support needs to be to the extent that they are free to make mistakes. I am very conscious that the knock-on effect of problems with local authority funding has led to increased reliance on the voluntary sector. To give a single example, I do not know where we would be without the Citizens Advice Bureaux. Increasingly, I hear of problems in voluntary organisations with funding from central government, particularly how long it takes to get decisions from central government which is providing funding. One effect of that is on the staff who work in the organisations. Older workers become used to the uncertainty—though I do not suppose it does their blood pressure a lot of good. Younger ones feel very threatened and vulnerable. The mix of central government and charitable funding is not always easy. Donors tend to think that if central government are involved then it is not for them; they do not need to help out. Of course, everyone is more interested in funding projects than in funding core activities and maintenance. I suppose that that is human nature but it is a problem. Concentrating on capital and ignoring the revenue needs of existing and new projects is not the way to go.
In the London Assembly, of which I am a member, we have done a certain amount of work on regeneration. In 2002, we looked at how the regeneration industry was working. I suppose that we might have had our prejudices confirmed but we were very impressed by the strength of feeling that came from those in the community who were involved in projects and who came to give evidence. Among the points that they made, which were reflected in our conclusions, was that:
"Community involvement, through continuous dialogue and engagement, is central to successful regeneration, ensuring . . . local knowledge of an area . . . maintaining long-term commitments to regeneration proposals, sometimes through long and disruptive building phases, helping to establish . . . long-term viability . . . after the funding is finished and the regeneration agencies have gone. Communities need to be supported to become involved in their own regeneration".
That was in 2002. In 2003, a further look at the regeneration scene led us to say that:
"Ongoing reporting and monitoring . . . creates additional administrative demands and considerable duplication of work".
At the same time one needs to know where the money goes and in this area there is very little co-ordinated reporting that enables one to assess what is best practice. We also commended the commissioning approach; in other words, not competitive bidding where a lot of resources can be applied.
In the last moment or so in which I have to speak, rather than following the right reverend Prelate on capacity building, as I had wanted to do, I shall quote from a report which I received today from the London Churches Group for Social Action, which states:
"There was general agreement that the move over recent decades to increase power at the centre with funding and targets set centrally has encouraged local people to abdicate responsibility and reduced the scope for local stewardship and creativity".
That is a very interesting observation. The report continues:
"The Group . . . were not convinced that creating more and different local bodies . . . is the best and most effective way of achieving more local involvement . . . one just sees the same people on each body wearing different hats".
I could talk at length on the Treasury's role but the clock is against me. I refer to the different innovative funding structures that the Treasury might allow to enable infrastructure funding, to take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham. Can the Minister tell us what has happened to Committee MISC 22, which I understand was set up to undertake a search for innovative funding mechanisms? That might be a question too far for today. I imagine that the letters stand for miscellaneous committee, not Ministers In Secret Conclave.
I agree wholeheartedly with what was said about the plethora of programmes and schemes. Number is not the same as quality. I end on a further note of agreement. I, too, dislike the term "stakeholders", not least because every individual in every community has a stake.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on securing what has been a fairly diffuse debate, if I may say so. I shall not accuse it of being well orchestrated in that every aspect was covered, but certainly we have covered a lot of ground in the past couple of hours.
I think that it must be taken as a given fact that all governments believe that they provide strategies, policies and resources to help and support local communities, however they are defined, but most local communities believe that they do nothing of the sort and that they provide insufficient resources and impose burdens on individual taxpayers and too much centralised control. Undoubtedly the truth lies somewhere in between.
The debate this afternoon has sought to dispel such a view and concentrate largely on the Government's successes. That was not entirely surprising as most of the speakers—probably unusually—were from the Government Benches, with the noble exceptions of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and the noble Lord, Lord Chan, who bravely put their heads above the parapet in this not quite unruly, but unusual, mob of speakers. The debate has not particularly demonstrated a different concept that any government have, or have had, regarding their effect on local communities.
I digress a little as one or two noble Lords attacked the record of the previous Conservative government. That is now fading into memory. I am surprised that noble Lords cannot speak of incidents that are a little more up-to-date. I did not quite understand what the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, said about telling people in one street one thing and people in another street another. I was quite dismayed by the assault of the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, on sport. It is not often that I try to redress balances but I must remind noble Lords opposite that between the early 1990s and 1997 practically every local education authority in this country was run by the Labour Party. Practically every local education authority had a policy of no competition either in sport or in anything else.
My Lords, that is absolute fact. Practically every local education authority was agin sport. That cannot be laid at the door of the Conservative Party. I again remind noble Lords opposite that those local education authorities were by and large Labour controlled.
I also remind the House—I am sure that I shall do so without the Minister expiring entirely—that the Conservative Party was the first party under Michael Heseltine to start on regeneration projects. One of those projects took place in Liverpool, where the first stones were laid in the regeneration of that city. That was a remarkable regeneration. I am very fond of the north. I know the cities in the north quite well. I am delighted that noble Lords opposite feel that they must expostulate at what I am saying but I can vouch for its truth.
We have spent much time in Parliament over the past month debating various pieces of legislation which it is opined will encourage voters to vote, particularly in local and European elections. I am sure that this debate has no connection with that. However, the outcome of those votes will probably not, by and large, be a commentary on either Europe or local authorities, but on the Government and their actions and policies—in short, on the centre. We may learn again that voter apathy sets in when the electorate feels that it has no means of affecting the direction of government, or when it has no relevance to it.
So, should we in this debate today have extolled the virtues of the centre, as, indeed, many have, or should we have looked even more closely at how our communities—cities, rural or urban areas, towns and villages—can help themselves and others? Should we not be looking at how little central government should need to do, rather than how much, and how it should provide more competence to local authorities to do what is needed and to bring projects closer to the ground?
Should we not be learning that the more the Government lay down the blueprint, the less room there is for local decision, for example, in education, housing development, sustainable communities, and the less likely the initiative is to be successful if the local community is not truly involved?
Let us start from the inescapable fact that local government is a creature of central government—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, and I, with our local government experience, would both be the first to admit that that is so—and that local government has to work within increasingly prescriptive volumes of legislation. Let us also acknowledge that government requirements for the money they provide, and the way it is used, are becoming increasingly directive, but also that the actual effect on local communities is governed by how successful any local authority is both politically and administratively in delivering high quality services, which now must be at least equal to government standards, though many, I am glad to say, but by no means all, achieve a much higher standard than that.
On a small canvas the Government have controlled by means of traffic lights, targets, stars and inspection regimes the implementation of their policies. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, drew attention to many of the benefits that have come from such direction. I am the first to acknowledge that projects such as Surestart, the community safety partnerships and the anti-social behaviour policies have had some effect. My local authority has been very much in the forefront of those. But it is local authorities, not central government, which provide community leadership, support and underpin local strategic partnerships. In those areas the Government should be doing all they can regarding neighbourhood renewal policies to ensure that rather than being the impetus for policies generated from the centre, they have the courage and determination truly to devolve that responsibility to the most local administration.
The Sustainable Communities Plan is one area where the Government are beginning to invest a great deal of effort. The commitment to build more than 250,000 houses in the south-east alone will clearly be impossible to achieve without much grief, unless it involves a close relationship with local government. The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, who has left the Chamber, led the Corby Development Corporation with much skill and would probably be the first to admit that urban development corporations are difficult creatures to control. The important task of assembling not just housing, but infrastructure, schooling, community facilities and bringing together people who may not have had any relationship with each other into new communities is far from easy.
The Sustainable Communities programme, which has only been touched on, is a huge policy for this Government. It is also fraught with danger which does and will need a great deal of local community involvement and local authority involvement to work. Together with Members of this House and of another place I had the privilege the other day of travelling to Poundbury to see that new development on the edge of Dorset, which was the brainchild of the Prince of Wales. There the community is being brought together slowly, with 500 or 600 households having been brought together in about five years.
The progress of Sustainable Communities must be measured and taken with great care so that its development is carried out in a way with which we can all live into the future; where everyone will be happy to say that that work has been done and where the communities are able to live together closely. That is only a small aspect of this whole question—one that has been barely touched on in this debate, to my surprise. It is proper that it should be raised. It is an important policy for the Government which has to be handled both at the centre and particularly at local level.
My Lords, I very much congratulate my noble friend Lady Thornton on calling this debate. I have to say that when I saw its title, which says:
"To call attention to the role which central government play in supporting local communities",
I thought, "about time. I am going to the House to talk about the Sustainable Communities Plan". So the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, may be in for a bit of a shock, because that is all I am going to talk about. I wrote the speech with my advisers well before I heard anything said today. That is not to say that I have not been listening and I shall try to respond to some of the points made; but, although I wished to talk about the Sustainable Communities Plan, virtually everything that has been said came somewhere within my framework.
There is one matter that I regret, which is my only note of discord. Given that the title of the debate is so wide, one could come to this House today to talk about virtually any subject that affects our fellow citizens. I want to know why there has obviously been an organised boycott by the Conservative Peers. That is clearly the case. There cannot be any other explanation. One of my noble friends misquoted the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, as saying, "There is no such thing as community". Well, we know about that now, do we not? I had never replied to Wednesday debates before but I had one last week, one today and have one next week. It is astonishing that in a wide-ranging debate such as this the Conservative Party has absolutely nothing to say, except for the comments that the noble Baroness has just made from the Front Bench. Given all the expertise of the Conservatives in this House, I find that astonishing.
My Lords, there has been absolutely no organised boycott. I do not know why other noble Lords on this side of the House have not found this subject interesting or one to which they could contribute. But there has been nothing either from the Front Bench or the Whips to suggest that people should not take part. I find the Minister's comment rather sad.
My Lords, it is sad. Given that the press used constantly to attack the Deputy Prime Minister for wanting to concrete over our green and pleasant land, one would have thought that the opportunity would have been taken to come and face the music. Having said that, it was the only note of discord that I wished to make and clearly it has struck home. I wish briefly to discuss the Sustainable Communities Plan and then I hope to deal with some of the more detailed points that have been raised.
The Deputy Prime Minister's £22 billion Sustainable Communities Plan sets out our vision for reinvigorating existing communities in the north and the Midlands and to deliver new communities in the south—particularly the south-east. It is a national framework with regional and local flexibility. Sustainable communities to us mean cleaner, safer, greener and safer places in which economic progress and social justice go hand in hand. So, we are investing in education and healthcare. We are encouraging more jobs and safer streets. We are bringing new life to our town and city centres. We are offering more attractive, more welcoming public space and encouraging growth and greater confidence.
Our approach to low demand in one area is a good example—referred to as the housing market renewal pathfinders. Our market renewal programme aims to tackle the underlying causes of housing market failure, support local people through the process and create long-lasting communities. It is based on three key principles. First, as I have said repeatedly, it is not a housing problem. Secondly, the Government set the overall context, but local communities need to be responsible and accountable for decisions affecting their lives. Thirdly, we need to work together in new ways to create sustainable communities. That means it is not just about housing, but jobs and the wider social infrastructure. If the issue is treated just as a housing problem, it will fail.
Local involvement is vital to the scheme's success and the pathfinders are working hard to encourage participation from local communities. I accept that there was a national framework, but all of the nine pathfinders are different and will find different solutions. I found in my visits to them that some are clearly much more difficult than others. It is agreed within the department that east Lancashire, covering five local authorities and nine geographical areas has its work cut out to be successful, but I am sure that it will be. Merseyside's "Living through change" programme is encouraging existing residents to stay and to share in the long-term vision. It is a large-scale, £500 million programme.
So far we have initiated the funding in six areas. Prospectuses are in my department for two areas, Birmingham/Sandwell and north Staffordshire. We expect the prospectus from Hull later in the year. However, Manchester/Salford, Newcastle/Gateshead, the three authorities in Merseyside working closer together than ever before, the authorities in South Yorkshire, Oldham/Rochdale and, as I have said, east Lancashire are working extremely well. It is very early days.
We also have a programme for the "core cities" that demonstrates the value of our approach. We published A Tale of Eight Cities in April, which showed that although there was a long way to go, our major cities outside London are achieving economic success, social justice and sustainable communities for three key reasons: better local leadership, which makes a fundamental difference; making different funding streams work together; and effective public/private partnerships. Those eight core cities—Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol, Nottingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool—are leading the way and we can learn the lessons to apply to the other key areas of the country.
Growth areas form a key element of the Sustainable Communities Plan. These are high demand areas that require different solutions, but, again, we provide the resources and supportive framework. All of the key, fundamental decisions in the growth areas will be made in the growth areas, not in Whitehall. They represent a comprehensive programme to create the real communities, schools, nurseries, hospitals and health centres, shops, pubs, homes and jobs. They are not just housing. I must stress that it is not a matter of just providing 200,000 extra houses; it is 200,000 on top of those already planned up to 2016, which was 930,000. We are dealing with a massive enterprise here—1.1 million houses.
I want to re-emphasise that the delivery unit in the town of Ashford is local authority-led. It is not imposed from the centre but is being carried out with our partners. The Thames Gateway will have a variety of delivery units because it is a 40-mile linear city but with green spaces and greenbelt areas put into it.
Milton Keynes/south Midlands was one area touched on by my noble friend Lady Billingham and by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, in relation to Corby. Corby is not an urban development corporation; it is an urban regeneration company. It will not be in an area with an urban development corporation. Corby will be part of the north Northamptonshire delivery unit—a local authority-led delivery unit—unlike west Northamptonshire, which will include Towcester, Northampton and Daventry and will, indeed, be an urban development corporation. There is a major distinction between the two.
With our partners in local government, we have tried to find the best delivery unit for each area. We have not come along from Whitehall and imposed schemes on them. The same will apply in the Peterborough, Cambridge, Stansted and London growth areas. We expect to deliver the 200,000 homes on top of those already planned. However, as I said, we cannot impose that from Whitehall; it must be carried out through local decision-making. The growth must be channelled into more sustainable communities, including the people who already live there. Of course, some younger people are being driven away because there are no affordable homes for them in the areas where they were brought up.
We are taking a structured approach to the planning and delivery of local services and we are building community capacity and cohesion. We know that we have to do that. We are targeting funding to make a difference. For example, recently £11 million was allocated for a major new road and bridge at Wellingborough and £5 million towards progressing the Bedford western bypass. Those schemes have the potential to unlock land, most of which, but not all, is brownfield land, with almost 7,000 dwellings being built. We are clear that we must make the best use of brownfield land to help to ease the pressures on the countryside. I take second place to no one on that. We want to avoid urban sprawl.
The proportion of new homes built on previously developed land rose from 58 per cent in 1998 to 64 per cent in 2002. The latest statistics show that we are on the right track in respect of the green belt. Since 1997, 25,000 hectares of green belt have been created, with a further 12,000 hectares due to be announced in local authority plans. That means that, under this Government, there are more than 35,000 extra hectares of greenbelt land across the country.
I want to put the statistics in proportion. Greenbelt land covers 14 per cent of England; national parks land covers 8 per cent; and areas of outstanding natural beauty cover 16 per cent. Urban land accounts for about 10 per cent of the total. Let us get this in proportion. Even if we deliver the entire growth area, that 10 per cent will become 11 per cent, leaving 89 per cent green land compared with the 90 per cent now. Therefore, the idea that we are despoiling the countryside and getting rid of green land is absolute nonsense. No one has said that during today's debate; it is said in the media outside. I want to put the figures into perspective.
In rural areas, we recognise the importance of delivering sustainable communities, and we are taking action in that respect. For example, we have a programme to help to maintain Britain's rural post offices, and we do not need to go over that. Sometimes the post office is the engine of economic generation and it is very important. Since 2001, the Countryside Agency's Vital Villages programme has spent £20 million on maintaining essential village services and helping communities to prepare parish plans.
Rural regeneration is dependent on what happens at the most local levels. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is working with rural communities to help them to maintain local services and community facilities and to improve their capacity to engage in decision-making. The Housing Corporation also has a separate rural housing programme. Last year, it increased its target for small settlements, which are defined as villages or small towns with a population of less than 3,000. The programme involved building 1,300 dwellings a year. That number increased to 1,600 and has now reached 1,750 a year. That will be double the figure for the year 2000–01. In addition, there is a separate programme for larger rural areas and market towns, in which a further 5,000 dwellings organised by local authorities and the Housing Corporation were built last year.
We do not simply want to build communities; we want to build sustainable communities. The design must be good. We are already knocking down material that was built 20 years ago. We increased our support for the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment as part of the Sustainable Communities Plan in 2003 to drive up design standards. With our extra funding, which was substantial compared with existing funding, CABE was able to launch a new unit, known as CABE Space, to act as a national champion for better-quality parks and public spaces. In the housing market in the Pathfinder areas of the north, and indeed in the growth areas, we are cajoling people to ensure that big developments are checked over by CABE so that we have good design and good functionality. Good design is not only about making places visually attractive; it is also crucial to how places function.
We also need to improve skills, offer training and give people a chance to make the most of their potential. We must ensure that everyone has a fair chance. That is why we commissioned a report from Sir John Egan on the skills that are needed to improve sustainable communities. We are going to take that report forward. It was published only a few days ago.
We can do that only through engaging local communities and groups at neighbourhood, delivery and strategic levels. That is a crucial area for the £2.5 billion programme for neighbourhood renewal. Effective local strategic partnerships can, indeed, bring together the key agencies. As my noble friend Lord Woolmer said, the private sector plays a vital role, as does the community and voluntary sector, in deciding how better services can be made to reach communities. In some areas, the private sector has disappeared, and we need to get it back into those communities.
Community leadership is vital. The ethos of the New Deal for Communities programme, for example, is that communities should be at the heart, working with key agencies to transform neighbourhoods. Neighbourhood renewal is not only about additional funding; it is a question of ensuring that existing funds work more smartly and it is about "mainstreaming". I want to take up that point.
I realise that there is a question of schemes being community-led. The New Deal for Communities did not mean that the local community made all the decisions, irrespective of working with anyone else. The idea was to get the local community to work with all the other partners. I freely admit that there have been one or two problems relating to slowness, capacity and governance in about nine of the 39 New Deal for Communities programmes. We are correcting those as we go along. However, I think that it was a little unfair to quote from the recent National Audit Office report without indicating that that office also compared neighbourhood renewal in this country with five or six overseas countries and said that our programme was more radical and innovative and more likely to succeed than any of the other programmes that it had looked at in those overseas countries.
Therefore, while I accept that there has been a slow start to a 10-year programme, and we have had some difficulties which we have put right as we have gone along, the fact is that we are leading the way in trying to renew neighbourhoods in a sustainable way. Indeed, I attended one such area—not an NDC area—early this morning in the south Acton part of Ealing, where the creation was announced of a new arm's-length management organisation. I did not go to make that announcement; it was announced elsewhere while I was there. There, they are rebuilding a community from the 1960s. They have had to carry out some remodelling of the estate, regenerate jobs and remodel the community. All that is being done at local level with a partnership between the council and others. It was very interesting to see the scheme, and I promised that I would give it a plug here this afternoon.
The issue also comes down to what one of the local residents there said to me. She asked, "Will the spending make a difference to our lives? We want to be part of this. We want to see a difference". That is what it is all about. Therefore, it is important to focus on key geographical areas and to concentrate on schemes to tackle specific problems.
Reference was made to the coalfields, which provide a good example. This Government inherited an appalling situation. In the decade to 1991, 60,000 men of working age left the coalfields. The death rate was 12 per cent higher and overall crime rates were 20 per cent higher than the national average. Overall, across 10 years, our £386 million national coalfield programme will deliver 42,000 jobs, 4,000 hectares of re-used land, 2 million square metres of commercial floor space, 8,000 quality new homes and £1 billion of private sector investment in the coalfields.
We have already given the Coalfields Regeneration Trust about £100 million so that people can access the skills, jobs and training that they need to earn a decent living. We have just announced that the trust will receive an additional £15 million for the year to March 2006. Massive changes are taking place in these coalfield communities. That takes time; nevertheless, so far, more than 8,000 community groups have been supported, 90,000 people are receiving education and training and 14,000 have received qualifications as a result of the programme. At the moment I do not have the figure for the amount of land that has been reclaimed. I had it earlier, but it is now buried in the index. However, a substantial amount of land has been reclaimed. As that land is brought to the market and the value returns, it is recycled into the coal field communities programme. That is a very targeted operation indeed and one that was sadly needed in view of our inheritance.
We know that policies for local communities need to be within a regional policy. There is no doubt about that. The United Kingdom has had one of the most centralised systems of government. I know some still claim that it is very centralised, but with the new legislation of responsible communities, freedoms and flexibilities and freedom to borrow, there is now much more freedom for local government than there has been in the recent past.
We have one of the most centralised systems of government in the western world, with decisions taken too remotely from the places that they affect, but we are changing that. Previous approaches to regional policy did not do enough to close the gap between areas of high and low unemployment. The new generation of measures seeks to strengthen indigenous sources of growth, local enterprise, innovation, infrastructure skills and the labour market and to do so by using local groups, local communities, the private and public sectors, different kinds of delivery vehicles, ensuring that red tape is at the absolutely minimum, and ensuring that we bring in as much private commercial capital as possible.
Most of the investment in all the areas that I have discussed will come from the private sector, but only because the public sector is willing to have a long-term plan for sustainable communities to ensure that we put in the infrastructure. Not only must the roads and the railways be there, but we must also ensure that the schools and the medical centres are built at the same time as the houses so that people do not have to wait years for them.
Since 1997 the Government have given local authorities and their regions a greater chance to improve their performance and to develop capability, capacity and competence. Good progress is being made. Yesterday, during Question Time, I referred to the announcement that 6,000 children no longer live in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. I accept that that was a commitment before the communities plan was published, but it was part and parcel of the operation that we were trying to undertake.
Earlier today my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced the approval of 58 new schemes that could release up to £3 billion more investment to bring another 170,000 homes up to a decent standard and reduce the number of non-decent social homes. He also announced a new initiative to enable proposed stock transfers with a funding gap to go ahead. That demonstrates real progress towards our aim of making all social housing decent by 2010. We are supporting local communities through a national framework for action, delivering money and support where it is most needed, empowering local people to deliver progress according to their own priorities.
I have reached the time limit on my speech, mainly because of the couple of minutes I wasted at the beginning in attacking the Conservative Party. I have covered many points without referring specifically to the noble Lords who raised them. However, on four or five matters I shall write to noble Lords. I shall answer, in a compendium letter, the key issues that were raised that I have not been able to cover. That way I shall not have to write half a dozen different letters, but I shall put everything in one letter.
I have not touched on the crucial role of the regional development agencies, although I have touched on regional policy. Those agencies have a fundamental role in this matter and we shall seek to ensure that that is strengthened. Some issues went outside the brief. The estate that I visited this morning has problems with drug misuse and, therefore, we need to remodel it in the interests of those who live there which, first, means eradicating the dealers from the estate. There are many issues to be dealt with.
I have touched on some aspects of the rural policy and I shall answer the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on MISC 22. MISC 22 is a Cabinet sub-committee chaired by the Prime Minister. Its original brief was to look at the Thames Gateway. To start with that was its sole brief. The Gateway was designated by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, 15 years ago. We do not claim credit for that but we need to get it moving. It is designed to look at how the public get back the money from the vast increase in land values that will take place to build the infrastructure. We are talking about river crossings, so the noughts go on the end of all the estimates. Since then the brief has been widened and now covers the other three growth areas.
The sub-committee meets under the leadership of the Prime Minister and he will be expecting and receiving a verbal, across-the-table report from myself and other Ministers before the month is out. It meets from time to time, but it is key because a Civil Service group mirrors it. So it has not died a death. It is a key part of us ensuring that Whitehall decisions are all joined up because we have to answer to the boss on that.
My Lords, it remains for me to thank my noble friend the Minister for his typically robust reply and all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. I thank the noble mob on this side of the House—it is a shame and a pity that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, did not have the support of her mob. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.