Regeneration

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:38 pm on 1st March 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 2:38 pm, 1st March 2006

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4024, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on regeneration in Scotland—people and place. I advise members that the implication of the overrun on the statement by the Minister for Transport and Telecommunications is that I must reduce the time for speeches in the open debate from six minutes to four minutes. I regret the inconvenience to the members who will be affected by that.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour 3:20 pm, 1st March 2006

I begin by setting the Executive's "People and Place: Regeneration Policy Statement" in its broader context. To improve the fabric of our country, since devolution, we have invested massively in enterprise, jobs, housing and transport and in combating poverty and deprivation. For example, Scotland's employment rate is now among the best in Europe; we have spent more than £4 billion on good-quality housing for Scotland's people; and we have reduced dramatically the number of Scottish children and pensioners who live in poverty.

We have also set out clear policies, for example on our support for economic development, in the refreshed version of "A Smart, Successful Scotland"; on our future investment in infrastructure, in the infrastructure investment plan; and on action to turn round the most deprived communities, in our community regeneration statement of 2002, which paved the way for our integrated community regeneration fund, with its strategic approach that focuses on outcomes. That is a strong foundation for future wider regeneration policy.

Despite all that work, we felt that the time had come to take stock of how our funding, policies and action across a range of portfolios work together to support regeneration. We asked whether we needed to do more and do better. "People and Place" is the result of that. Before I turn to the content of the statement, I will say a few words about the fundamental principles that underlie our approach. First, as the title suggests, regeneration is about people and place: it is about realising the opportunities that places offer for the benefit of people who live and work there and about capitalising on our assets and making them work for the good of the economy and local communities. It is about linking opportunity and need. Our aim is to grow the economy—our number 1 task—but also to tackle the poverty and disadvantage that still hold back too many of our communities. Regeneration has a clear economic rationale, but it also has a compelling moral purpose.

Secondly, regeneration is not about having a prescribed list of actions; it is about outcomes, such as increased economic activity and employment, higher incomes, a higher skills base, increased community confidence and improved quality of life. Thirdly, regeneration needs partnership between the public and private sectors, local authorities and central Government and agencies and communities, but it also needs clarity of purpose and leadership.

At local level, where regeneration really takes place, local authorities have a key role. At national level, we are determined to play a wider and more ambitious leadership role. We want to raise our game, which we will do by bringing together private and public sector players to maximise the impact of their activities and resources; by acting as a catalyst for private sector activity and investment; by ensuring a genuinely joined-up approach across the Executive to remove barriers to action; by tackling the land and property issues that can hold back regeneration; and by using a range of policy measures to create mixed and vibrant communities throughout Scotland. By doing so, we will show that Scotland is open for business.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

Will those mixed and vibrant communities include rural communities? In the foreword to the statement, the minister mentions growing urban communities and cities and regenerating former coalfield areas. Can we assume that more idyllic communities such as those in the Highlands and Islands will also be addressed?

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

Mary Scanlon is right to assume that.

Part of the leadership role to which we aspire is to be clear about our priorities, because, while we want to be ambitious, we need to be realistic. We cannot aspire to engage everywhere to the same level at the same time. We have to prioritise on the basis of economic opportunity, community need, and the state of activity on the ground, which is why our statement identifies three key geographic priorities for the immediate future.

Our national priority is the Clyde corridor, including the areas that are covered by the Clyde gateway and Clyde waterfront regeneration initiatives. Glasgow has seen strong economic growth in the past decade and parts of the city are undergoing a remarkable physical transformation that is led by major investment in housing. However, the long-term decline of traditional industries has left a legacy of underused assets and there is a concentration of Scotland's most deprived communities, in which social exclusion, economic inactivity and physical dereliction and decay have been long-standing problems.

Our regional priorities are Inverclyde and Ayrshire. Both areas have suffered from long-standing problems of industrial decline, deprivation and depopulation, but they have great assets, such as good transport connections, high-quality natural environments, a strong cultural heritage and increasing property markets. Both areas have the potential to become better and more integrated into the Glasgow city region and the wider economy of the central belt.

In each of those priority areas, the Executive and all our agencies will work together to intensify our activity in support of regeneration.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

I thank the minister for his visit to North Ayrshire yesterday and his announcement on the regeneration package, which has been warmly welcomed by my constituents. Does he agree that in order for stakeholders to have confidence in the future of the project, they must know that funding will be available in future years? Can he give an assurance today that the Scottish Executive is in this for the long term?

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I was just about to talk about our support in North Ayrshire; as Irene Oldfather has intervened, I shall begin with that. We will support a pathfinder urban regeneration company to regenerate the area around Irvine bay, which I was pleased to visit yesterday. The start-up costs have been announced and when the business plan is produced, further funding will be forthcoming. In Inverclyde, which I was pleased also to visit yesterday, we will support a pathfinder urban regeneration company. The same details will apply there as those that I have just described for North Ayrshire.

In the Clyde corridor, we will step up our engagement with Glasgow City Council and its partners to deliver the regeneration of the Clyde gateway and waterfront, including working to establish an urban regeneration company to drive forward the gateway initiative. The Executive and its agencies will provide additional support—financial and other—for all three of those initiatives. We will seek to prioritise investment throughout all Executive portfolios in support of the regeneration of those geographic areas.

This is partly about money but, more important, it is about changing the way in which we work; it is about ensuring a joined-up approach throughout Executive departments and agencies, at the centre and on the ground, in support of local action; it is about opening doors for others; it is about being proactive and outward looking; and it is about engaging more effectively with public and private sector players. It is about working better and smarter to support regeneration wherever it takes place. We will focus particularly intensively on our priority areas, and we will follow that new approach in our activity throughout Scotland.

There is no question of a lessening of our existing commitment to supporting local government and its partners in other parts of the country. Through the community regeneration fund, we will continue to support targeted action to help the most deprived neighbourhoods throughout the country. We will continue to support business development throughout Scotland; critically, through all our departments and agencies, through the regeneration outcome agreement process, through our support for skills and employability training and through a range of other action, we will work to ensure that effective action is taken to link economic development to community need. Communities Scotland and the enterprise networks have particularly vital and complementary roles to play in all that work. They will work hand in hand to promote and encourage regeneration initiatives at local and regional level.

I shall touch on two critical areas: land and property, and creating mixed and vibrant communities. We know from past experience that investment in bricks and mortar alone is not enough for lasting regeneration, but developing land and property can bring new industrial, commercial and residential development and new opportunities for employment and economic growth. The private sector is and must be at the forefront of such development, but the public sector has a key role in oiling the wheels and making it easier for others to realise the potential of particular locations. Our planning reforms will make planning more responsive to regeneration opportunities and provide greater clarity and certainty for the private sector. That will complement our investment in tackling the problems of contaminated land throughout Scotland and the worst concentrations of vacant and derelict land. Over the three years to 2008, we are providing £20 million to local authorities to help them address the problems of contaminated land. That is in addition to the £24 million that was provided over the previous five years.

Moreover, we have already provided £20 million to Glasgow City Council, Dundee City Council and North Lanarkshire Council—the authorities with the most significant problems—to deal with concentrations of vacant and derelict land that can hinder redevelopment and regeneration. Yesterday, I announced a further £24 million for those three council areas and for South Lanarkshire.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

In terms of joined-up government, does the minister agree that what the document contains about the acquisition of strategic land flies in the face of what is happening with Scottish Enterprise, which is currently holding an auction of strategic land sites that some people say borders on a land fire sale?

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I am sure that Nicol Stephen will address the issue of Scottish Enterprise in his winding-up speech. However, one of the key features of the regeneration statement is that Scottish Enterprise and the local enterprise companies will be signed up to the regeneration priorities that we have outlined today.

I do not have time to say all that I wanted to say about creating mixed and vibrant communities. However, I can say that a key role of regeneration is to do precisely that. We want communities that have a mix of housing and a mix of income; that are great places in which to live and invest; that are strong and safe and have a sense of place and identity; that provide opportunities for sport, leisure and cultural activities for all ages; and in which there are different housing choices and public and private sector services that serve people's needs. Obviously, our £1.2 billion investment in new housing over the three years is relevant to that, as are issues such as good architecture and design, which will be the subject of tomorrow's debate.

A detailed action plan will be drawn up soon and I believe that we need to draw on the experience and expertise of those on the front line. That is why I will establish and chair an informal sounding board of high-level players from the private and public sectors to advise us as we develop and refine our approach.

The statement that we are publishing today is just the start of the process. However, we are absolutely committed to the approach that we have outlined. We hope and believe that it will result in lasting change for Scotland. We have raised the stakes and we are determined to deliver.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the Scottish Executive's statement "People and Place: Regeneration Policy in Scotland"; notes the current support for the regeneration of communities across Scotland; supports the commitment from the Executive and its agencies to work with local authorities and other partners to ensure that communities benefit from economic activity and to attract further investment from the private sector, and welcomes the Executive's determination to tackle those land, property and other issues that can act as a barrier to regeneration and to create successful, mixed and vibrant communities.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 3:31 pm, 1st March 2006

I am minded to ask whether, after the little stramash that we have witnessed, the coalition is off to regenerate in some dark corner.

I have a few preliminary comments to make with regard to the document. I advise the minister that it is not sufficient to intimate to my colleagues only 24 hours before a document is launched that it will be launched. That practice is becoming more prevalent and should be completely discouraged. The practice of issuing policy documents only 24 hours before a debate is unacceptable and makes a farce of any commitment from the coalition to open, accountable and transparent government. Given our other commitments, 24 hours is not sufficient time for us to consider a document.

Either it is my imagination or the Executive's documents are getting glossier. Today's document contains lots of shiny pictures that pad out the text and, frankly, one loses the will to continue to page 64. Buried in the document, however, are some unfortunate gems. The document praises Glasgow Housing Association, which has told the Executive that it is short of millions of pounds that it needs to devolve its functions downwards. It praises Scottish Borders Housing Association, which is suing Scottish Borders Council because, it claims, it was overcharged on the sale of houses. It praises Scottish Water, whose chairman has just resigned, saying that he cannot meet the Executive's targets. On top of all that, the document maintains a commitment to keeping the right to buy, despite evidence from many housing providers that that policy must end. I mention those points to let the minister know that I have actually read the document.

What of the cost of the document? Heaven knows. By the middle of last year, the Executive had spent £7 million on producing such documents, but when I ask parliamentary questions to find out who reads them and distributes them, it cannot tell me because it does not know.

There has been a gestation period of two years since the setting up of a working group and, after seven years of Labour and the Liberal Democrats being in power, they are now taking stock. I think that they are looking at the failure of the past seven years. I know that because I read in The Herald that the plan comes two years after the First Minister was warned by business leaders that some of Scotland's poorest communities were being hobbled by bureaucratic confusion—I was here when he was told that. Further, a Scottish Executive spokesperson says:

"Through the 1990s, there was big progress and England jumped ahead of us on this. This is us getting our act together."

What has the Executive been doing for the past seven years? The spokesperson continues:

"Ministers are keen to be sharper, more innovative and fleet of foot."

I say to Malcolm Chisholm that I cannot bear the sight of it. Fleet of foot? If I were being charitable, I would say that it was better late than never. However, it is not my job to be charitable with regard to the failures of those who are sitting opposite me.

Millions of pounds have been poured into schemes, yet the deprived remain deprived. One in four children in Scotland still lives in poverty. The Executive is not on course to meet its target to eradicate child poverty by 2020. One in five pensioners lives in poverty but, of course, there is no target for that. Tens of thousands of young people are not in education, employment or training and some 39,000 manufacturing jobs were lost to Scotland in the first three years of the Liberal and Labour coalition. In 2003, a report by Cardiff University said that manufacturing in Scotland was in meltdown.

In place, we have the ubiquitous call centre jobs, which offer low pay, no job security and no prospects. The many part-time jobs mask the actual unemployment rate.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

The member insulted many of my constituents.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I did not insult the member's constituents. I have constituents who work in call centres and they tell me these things.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

The member insulted the many people in my constituency who work in call centres. Some of them are required to speak more than one language and they deal with the supply of services throughout the world. Will the member apologise to those people?

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I defend the workers in call centres because they are given low pay and no protection. As an ex-trade unionist, Duncan McNeil should be aware of the call centre in the Borders that will not allow trade unions in to enable the workers to have proper working conditions. That is my point. I remain a socialist. Duncan McNeil is not one.

Scotland is energy rich. It is the fourth largest producer of gas in the world, yet we have the highest cold-related death figures in western Europe. Age Concern estimates that, in the past five years, 14,000 Scots died as a direct result of cold-related illness in the winter months. That is 23 Scots every winter day, but Mr McNeil turns his back on that because it is not important. With every 5 per cent increase in fuel costs, 30,000 Scots are plummeted back into fuel poverty. If members count up the recent price rises—including the rises that Powergen announced today—they will find that more than 120,000 Scots have been put back into fuel poverty. That is the truth in the real world of real people, rather than the stuff of pretty pictures in glossy brochures.

Members should consider Norway and the lies that we were told about Scotland and independence. We were told that the oil would run out and that we would be poor. The trouble is that we would not be poor. We would have been rich enough to spread the money around our people. In Norway—

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I do not have time.

Between 1997 and 2004, Norway built up a fund of money to invest in infrastructure, to give to its people and to build up resources. If we had such an oil fund, we would have £30.77 billion to build roads, bridges, railways and schools. We would not have the nonsense of public-private partnerships and the private finance initiative, which are costly and precarious. That money would build regeneration. The Executive proposes cosmetic things such as dealing with three parts of the country that are, incidentally, Labour strongholds. We wonder why. There is an election next year. Perhaps the Executive is tossing out its first election bribe, but the people know better.

I move amendment S2M-4024.1, to leave out from "welcomes" to end and insert:

"notes that after some seven years of this Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition and the launch of yet another glossy brochure littered with self-evident axioms, one in four Scottish children and one in five pensioners remain in poverty; further notes that tens of thousands of young people remain not in education, training or employment and that 39,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the first three years of this government and that, according to a report in The Herald on 28 February 2006, a spokesman for the First Minister stated regarding regeneration, "England has jumped ahead of us on this. This is us getting our act together"; therefore welcomes the Finance Committee's inquiry on deprivation spending, to report at the end of March, and recognises that, had the Scottish people not been deliberately misled about the impact of the energy reserves in the 1970s and the economic and social prospects of independence, poverty in Scotland would have been made history."

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 3:38 pm, 1st March 2006

There are many issues to be discussed in a debate on regeneration, but it is impossible to cover them all in the short time that is available today. However, I say to the minister that it is not just words in glossy brochures that are important.

We must also consider the action that follows and, indeed, the action that the Executive has taken in the past seven years.

In speaking to the amendment in the name of my colleague Murdo Fraser, I start by welcoming the inclusion of the private sector. I say to the minister, "Welcome to the real world and to the policies that the Tories have been pursuing for many years." I am delighted that, throughout "People and Place: Regeneration Policy Statement", there is a commitment to engage and work with the private sector. That is welcome.

However, the recent figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which are mentioned in the Conservative amendment, make worrying reading. I do not want to give a speech full of statistics, but, for example, the number of working-age adults who do not have dependent children and who are in income poverty has increased by almost 100,000 in recent years. Economic and business statistics show that growth in Scotland remains well below that in the United Kingdom and that the number of business start-ups in Scotland is well below that for the rest of the UK. Such figures do not reflect a business-friendly environment.

The minister's foreword to the policy statement refers to growing urban communities, cities and coalfield areas. I assume that the Highlands and Islands are included in considerations, but I am concerned, because I should not need to assume that. Writing the 67-page statement took a lot of time and it should make a commitment to rural areas, where deprivation and the serious lack of access to public services are often masked by the fact that people live in idyllic surroundings rather than derelict urban landscapes.

I listened carefully to what the minister said. I may be wrong, but I did not pick up mention of a single penny of investment north of Dundee. That is also of concern. I do not want to be as sceptical as my colleague Christine Grahame was, but it is difficult not to be. The cost of flood prevention measures in Moray totals £132 million and I hope that the minister will give a commitment to that in his summing-up. Moray also has the lowest average wage rate of any constituency in Scotland. Yes—Glasgow and Ayrshire have problems, but we should not forget the remote and rural areas.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I share the member's concern for the low paid. Given her concern, why did she oppose the minimum wage?

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

The minimum wage has not done much to bring wages in Moray up to the average for the whole of Scotland.

Among Government bodies, there is a great need for joined-up working and, more important, joined-up thinking. I will give just one example. A person may undergo drug and alcohol rehabilitation after many years of chaos and problems. That process can take up to two years. However, at the end, that person is offered isolation and a place in a bed and breakfast, without organised support. If the document is about people, opportunities and chances to get people back into work, which we all support, far greater joined-up thinking is needed.

The theme of the debate is regeneration. As a resident of the Tesco capital of Scotland, I ask whether it must always be Tesco superstores that enter communities and offer extra jobs. Planning departments seem to take no cognisance of the jobs that are lost in old towns, for example. In Inverness, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Inverness and Nairn Enterprise, the Forestry Commission and the primary care trust all moved out to a new out-of-town development while the old town was left to wither on the vine. We support economic development and out-of-town development, but not at the cost of our old towns. When I asked people last week whether any town or city in Scotland has achieved the right balance between old town regeneration and new town development, the example that was given was Edinburgh. I would like to think that more than one city had not allowed its old town to die. We should keep an eye on that.

The Westminster Government has just finished a consultation on Gordon Brown's latest stealth tax—the planning gain supplement. That measure will have a significant impact on local authorities' ability to negotiate section 75 agreements. In fact, they will have no power. The tax will go to Westminster and the money is not guaranteed to return to the local authorities that raised it. The supplement will not only weaken local authorities' negotiating power, but mean that any infrastructure improvements that are associated with development will depend on the crumbs that are sent back north through Gordon Brown's latest tax.

In the middle of our considering a major planning bill—the first since 1947—why is the Westminster Parliament introducing the planning gain supplement, which will ride roughshod over an element of the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill? I hope that the minister will examine that in his summing-up, because it relates to a major part of regeneration.

I move amendment S2M-4024.2, to leave out from "welcomes" to end and insert:

"notes the publication of the Scottish Executive's statement "People and Place: Regeneration Policy in Scotland"; further notes that under the Executive's stewardship the gap between the poorest and rich in our society is widening, as shown in recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation figures, and that the number of working-age adults without dependent children who are in income poverty has increased from around 300,000 in the mid-1990s to almost 400,000 in recent years; believes that the key to tackling poverty is to have a thriving economy where people can find secure employment, and accordingly calls on the Executive to create an environment for businesses to invest in Scotland by reducing the burden of regulation and tax and by investing in our infrastructure."

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 3:45 pm, 1st March 2006

Obviously, it is very good that the Scottish Executive has addressed regeneration in its "People and Place: Regeneration Policy Statement". It is particularly welcome and clearly important that there is a continuing commitment to work more closely with the private sector to remove barriers to action and to bring about a more strategic and focused approach.

The minister mentioned the key features of the new strategy, which include two new urban regeneration companies to boost activity in Irvine bay and Inverclyde, more joint financial ventures to deliver regeneration more effectively, and a single contact point in the Scottish Executive that will act as a one-stop shop for business investors. The Liberal Democrats wish those initiatives well and attach considerable importance to the large investments that will be made. It is clearly right to address the problems of communities that have suffered ill effects as a result of changes in the economy and society in recent years. Having large areas of dereliction in Scotland is in no one's interest, but it is in everyone's interest to transform such dereliction and establish vibrant new communities and commercial activities.

Balanced development is important—I will give one example of that in the brief time that is available to me. Local authorities that see depopulation in one part of their area and population moves to another part of their area will be faced with serious problems. That has happened in the Inverclyde Council area, for example—the population has declined in the eastern part of the area and increased in the west. Such population increases and declines lead to immense difficulties for local authorities with respect to planning and providing education, transport, recreation and social work services. The Executive's policy is aimed at addressing those difficulties among others. In the second section of "People and Place", regeneration is set in the context of major transport, water infrastructure, schools and higher and further education investments.

Liberal Democrats want to see planning controls and regeneration funding being used to build balanced urban communities. Where that is possible, it will encourage decentralised decisions on regeneration initiatives. We want a regulatory framework that encourages and supports community regeneration initiatives through financial incentives and support, and we believe that local authorities and the voluntary and independent sectors should co-operate to pursue regeneration. We also support community development trusts participating in drawing up regeneration plans.

There is a strong role for the Executive in helping local authorities to clear concentrations of derelict and vacant land. The money that is allocated by the Minister for Communities to councils—which we welcome—will help in that regard. My constituency, for example, recently benefited when a grant was made available to clear contaminated land on a gas works site in Hawick. That grant will allow redevelopment to take place. There is an important and continuing role for central Government, and the derelict land fund is an appropriate vehicle for delivery.

Many people in Scotland—perhaps the majority, depending on the calculation that is used—do not live in urban or rural areas: they live in towns and large villages throughout the country. In that context, there are opportunities beyond the policy statement to address regeneration issues if a focus is brought to bear on towns and larger villages. Many towns in Scotland face the same difficulties. Are they to be dormitories or are they to contain diverse communities? What investment is needed to sustain them? Where should the balance lie in that investment between public and private provision? What can be done to enhance the built environment? How can towns be linked to one another and to cities? Strategic development plans are important in that regard and I hope that they will focus on issues relating to towns and larger villages when the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill becomes law and those plans are produced.

Regeneration of towns throughout Scotland is important. I want to mention two issues in that regard, the first of which is the built environment. A recent survey by my local authority, Scottish Borders Council, demonstrated that often unseen repairs and renewal work in towns can amount to £200 million to £300 million across the authority area. How can the private sector be encouraged to make such renovations and improve our towns? Doing so is important in many towns in Scotland not only to enhance residents' quality of life, but to ensure that we continue to attract the tourism industry and visitors. Is there a case for enhancing improvement grants for the private sector in order to encourage work on the built environment?

The commercial registration of our towns is essential so that they can retain their young people. Too often, economically active young people leave our towns because they cannot obtain suitable employment or housing. A great deal of investment is going into housing to provide sustainable communities but, as far as regeneration is concerned, it is immensely important to ensure that a career structure is available for young people locally. It is often said that it is the job that counts, but beyond that, it is the job prospects that count: the question whether someone can develop a career locally will influence their decision on whether to stay or leave.

There is little doubt that there is a continuing role for local enterprise companies to play in regeneration throughout Scotland. The enterprise system must have a local dimension so that it is flexible and responsive to local needs. For example, input into the redevelopment of high streets and the diversification of businesses there cannot be driven centrally. That needs local input. Perhaps ministers might like to reflect on the role of the enterprise networks' local input when they are developing policy.

The Liberal Democrats welcome the statement's emphasis on regeneration, as well as the Executive's other recent announcements, and we look to build on the progress that has been made thus far in towns and villages in particular.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 3:51 pm, 1st March 2006

The "People and Place" policy document clearly establishes the important, yet often overlooked, principle that community regeneration must involve both personal and physical regeneration. Too often in the past, well-meaning Governments have failed to strike the right balance. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, community regeneration, as practised by the Community Development Foundation, focused heavily on personal and community development. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, first the new life for urban Scotland initiative, and then Ian Lang's important, yet ultimately flawed, document, "Programme for Partnership", moved the balance firmly towards the large-scale physical regeneration of our poorest communities.

I have commented on those initiatives in previous debates. They are to be commended for the realisation that no single sector, be it Government, the private sector or civic society, can deal with the complex problems that are associated with regenerating our poorest communities. However, they missed the central point, which is that the physical regeneration of our communities must be part of the process of personal and social development of those communities. They are not separate elements of the same task; rather, physical and social regeneration are different sides of the same coin.

I will use the little time that I have to speak about the regeneration that has taken place in Petersburn, in my constituency. The work that has been done by all the partners in Petersburn has helped to transform what was once one of the worst housing estates in central Scotland into one of the best. Central to the process of that physical regeneration has been the development of community capacity in the area—what Robert Putnam would call "social capital".

Petersburn has been, and continues to be, an excellent example of genuine partnership working. The Scottish Executive, Link Housing Association and North Lanarkshire Council have worked in partnership with local people to rebuild the housing, the community and the surrounding village. I say to Christine Grahame that the people who live in Petersburn certainly do not think that that rebuilding was any sort of electoral bribe.

The Petersburn Development Trust, of which I am a director—so I must declare an interest—recently won the runner-up prize at the prestigious Scottish Urban Regeneration Forum awards. In presenting the award, SURF commented:

"The Petersburn Development Trust in Airdrie is an excellent model of participation and joint working between a range of public, private and voluntary organisations ... The activities of the PDT have resulted in better community cohesion and involvement, and young people are being empowered through a new sense of local pride. The judges were impressed by the initiative taken by the community and their sustained willingness to work in partnership with others to achieve the aims of the Trust."

One way in which the local community is being supported is through the provision of personal computers and broadband connections. PC links is a partnership project. Capital funding has been provided for it by Communities Scotland and the Link Housing Association, and computer training is being provided by North Lanarkshire Council. As well as enhancing people's skills, and therefore improving their employment opportunities, the project brings practical benefits, in that all the work for the Petersburn Development Trust can be done using computers and e-mail. In addition, some of the more complex funding applications are completed by e-mailing the forms between trust members for their comments.

Before concluding, I will highlight one or two other important points that are mentioned in the regeneration policy statement. It rightly points out the importance of developing infrastructure for the economic and social regeneration of our poorest communities. That is why I welcome the Executive's commitment to reopen the Airdrie to Bathgate railway line. Furthermore, the statement is correct to highlight the importance of the planning process to regeneration. It is vital that we take the opportunity of the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill to create a planning system that is fair to communities and conducive to economic development.

I commend "People and Place" and look forward to it providing a robust framework for the regeneration of many of Scotland's communities.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 3:56 pm, 1st March 2006

Any debate or policy that attempts to address regeneration and deprivation is to be welcomed. However, as always, the devil is in the detail and I will expand on that as I go on.

My colleague, Christine Grahame, was right about the level of poverty in the population, particularly among children and pensioners. We should be reminded that if it was not for the legacy of past unionist Governments, our country would not be in such poverty. I do not know whether we are allowed to use the word "lies" in Parliament, but untruths were certainly told about the amount of oil and wealth that Scotland could have had in the early 1970s. Perhaps if we had been told the truth, we would not be having this debate today. We must recognise that. The Westminster Government should apologise to the Scottish people for what it has done. No other country would put up with it and we should all hang our heads in shame that a unionist Government was allowed to get away with it. Therefore, I congratulate Christine Grahame on her speech.

I sometimes think that Glasgow—the area that I represent—should be renamed the phoenix. Glasgow has reinvented itself time and time again, and some areas have reinvented themselves very well. The minister mentioned housing. Of course, housing is being built along the banks of the Clyde, but only for people who can afford to pay £250,000 or more for it. At the same time, and straight across the road, the typical high flats—which are not unlike the £250,000 flats—are being bulldozed by the Glasgow Housing Association and people are being moved out of their communities.

If we are talking about regeneration, let us think about communities as well—as Karen Whitefield rightly said. Communities deserve to be regenerated, but perhaps that should happen in areas that are actually communities; we must remember that. The GHA was set up by the Executive and it is an absolute disgrace. Local housing organisations are banging at the doors of the Executive and Communities Scotland asking them to look at the GHA because they cannot go on to secondary transfer. The Executive made a promise, but they are not able to move on to secondary transfer because there is a funding shortfall of £300 million.

Let us also not forget that, although the GHA is a social landlord, it has the highest rents of any landlord in Glasgow. That is an absolute disgrace. The minister talks about regenerating communities, but I would like to see him regenerate them by giving them proper control over their housing and not leaving the GHA to tell them what to do.

On transport, Glasgow needs to have closure on the crossrail scheme, which would open up the whole of Glasgow and Ayr. Someone coming from Edinburgh would not need to change trains. The idea has been on the cards for 25 to 30 years. I ask the minister for an answer on that as well as on a transport strategy for Glasgow.

Will the minister explain exactly what urban regeneration companies will do? Before he tells me that I have not read the document—I have—I will go through some of the organisations that already exist for regeneration. We have LECs. As we all know, Scottish Enterprise gets a block of money, takes out a large chunk for its own administration and hands the rest to the LECs, which take out large chunks to meet their administration costs. We used to have 48 social inclusion partnerships, and I could go on about some of them all day. They all had administration costs. We also had community planning partnerships, which are now community regeneration funds.

I ask the minister, sincerely, whether the regeneration companies will be headed by someone. Will they be in a building? Will all the companies that I mentioned sign up to a memorandum of understanding, as mentioned on page 23 of the policy statement? Are we creating new bodies or simply duplicating existing ones? How many people will be employed and what exactly will they do? From reading the policy statement, I cannot see what they will do that is not already being done.

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour 4:00 pm, 1st March 2006

Since the Parliament came into being and the Executive came into power, by any objective measure, massive progress has been made in the area of regeneration investment. It does not suit politicians of different political hues to acknowledge that point. However, as Karen Whitefield and others have outlined, progress has been made on investing in and developing a consensus policy for a sensible way forward.

However, I have no hesitation in saying that there are areas that require serious attention to ensure that the regeneration programme moves forward, further and faster than it has done in many parts of the country. To that extent, I welcome the Executive's willingness to take stock—it is eminently sensible to show willingness to take stock. My concern is only that I would like to see the document going further on specific points about how some barriers might be removed and some actions might be taken. I want the minister to explain how and when we might see some meat on the project's bones.

The approach taken in the statement is to set out geographic priorities. I understand why that sensible approach has been taken and why the areas that are referred to as geographic priorities have been selected for that purpose. I also listened carefully to what the minister said about how the principles and the action referred to in the statement will apply in other parts of the country. Nonetheless, I urge ministers to be cautious about the language used and the approach of identifying "geographic priorities", to ensure that they do not even unintentionally imply or serve to ignore the fact that there are major issues to be addressed in other parts of the country.

I appeal directly to the minister, Malcolm Chisholm, as a constituency neighbour in Edinburgh. In both our constituencies, the largest regeneration projects in the east of the country have been undertaken—at Leith waterfront and Craigmillar. The projects are important, not just for the city but for Scotland more widely. Their economic strategic importance to Edinburgh is immense, as they address housing supply, the labour market and so on. I know that the minister agrees on those points—I certainly hope that he does. It is important to convey the message and to translate it into a plan for how action and investment can be distributed across the country.

I am glad that the document majors on the importance of leadership and clarity of purpose. However, to achieve those practical matters need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The points made about the multiplicity of organisations and the LECs are real. I am not advocating lots of top-down structural reform. God help us—that would only delay matters further still. Instead, some practical and pragmatic measures need to be put in place by the Executive and local authorities to get rid of the spaghetti that stands in the way of making progress in many communities. Will the minister consider how to force such measures through and build leadership in the public sector in Scotland? I refer him to the work carried out by Audit Scotland, examined in turn by the Audit Committee, that shows how little has been done by the Executive to build leadership capacity in the public sector. We need people with leadership skills who can do that work nationally and locally.

I am glad that we are willing to learn lessons from other parts of the UK, something we should be more willing to do. I urge the minister also to learn lessons from closer to home. The statement says that the Executive will take a more proactive leadership role. I am fine with that but I hope that that will be about the Executive. I have listened to those with experience of regeneration projects on the ground. They have informed me of the barriers that they face and about what needs to be done at an Executive level to fix them. Every member will welcome it if we can get that relationship and momentum going.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 4:04 pm, 1st March 2006

We have just heard a balanced speech from the Labour back benches. I will try to offer a similar amount of balance from my perspective.

I begin by acknowledging that the problems that we are discussing are hard to address. No Government, whatever its political persuasion, would find it easy to address them by rebalancing the powers of our four different levels of government—or even by getting rid of one of those levels. I also acknowledge that the damage that can be done to economies and local communities in a fairly short space of time—even a few months or years—can take generations to begin to heal. For those reasons, the SNP's amendment goes a little too far for my taste in attributing blame for past events rather than talking about the future, on which we should focus.

I argue that the future of regeneration, like the future of our society and economy more generally, must be grounded in sustainable development. I am disappointed that the report did not emphasise that more. As Karen Whitefield said, there needs to be a balance between different aspects of regeneration—physical, social, economic and environmental. Those aspects underpin sustainable development and must underpin our approach to regeneration. There are forms of development that harm communities. In some cases, that harm can be mitigated, so that it can be tolerated, but there are other forms of development for which we cannot find mitigation and that we simply should not pursue.

On the role of the private sector, I agree with the Executive's statement that the private sector has a vital role to play in regeneration. Almost everyone accepts that. However, I am pleased that the Executive is not relying absolutely on the PPP finance mechanism, because the case against it remains strong. I ask the minister in closing to say more about the criteria that he believes should apply. Where should PPP be thought of as appropriate and where should it not? In the private sector, there is a huge difference between the contribution that locally owned businesses can make to the regeneration of communities and local economies and the consequences of overreliance on attracting external investment from big businesses, which by its nature is often temporary. The Executive is strongly reliant on gross domestic product as an economic indicator. I remind the minister that half of Scottish GDP is based on locally owned businesses, often family businesses.

In the short time that I have left, I will comment briefly on land issues. The Executive refers to the need to

"Tackle land and property issues which can inhibit regeneration".

As my colleagues and I have done on many previous occasions, I urge the Executive to remain open minded about the concept of land value taxation, which we support as an alternative to current local government finance and business rates. Even if it is just an additional, occasional tool in the box, it has huge potential to invigorate development of the kind that we support, in the locations that we support, and to contribute to the common good.

In closing, I emphasise the need for the balance about which Karen Whitefield and others have spoken. If we do not want money that we have put in to continue to leak out of communities, we must ensure that there is local ownership and vibrancy, not just physical regeneration.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 4:09 pm, 1st March 2006

It is encouraging that two Cabinet ministers are present for the debate. That leads one to hope that there may be genuine co-operation and some of the famous joined-up government that we hear about. Hitherto, community regeneration has fallen down a hole between enterprise and development assistance. A wider range of ministers need to be involved.

I share the enthusiasm for land value taxation or site value rating. The report states that the Executive will

"Examine mechanisms for realising increases in land values arising from public sector investment in development".

That must surely open the door to consideration of site value rating, which would help to put pressure on people who own neglected sites, because they would pay tax as if the site had been developed. It would also help existing businesses in poorer areas because their land would not be as valuable as land in more prosperous areas, so they would pay less tax. We should examine seriously the important issue of land value taxation.

My main point is that, over the years, well-meaning Governments of different varieties have put money into what are perceived as being poorer or less developed areas, but that approach has not worked. Improvements have been made in some places, but inspection of a map that shows areas with the most unemployment 20 years ago and a map that shows such areas now reveals that the areas with the worst education, the most petty crime and so on have stayed the same. Top-down funding does not work; bottom-up funding is required. We must help communities to create their own initiatives. There is quite a lot in the report about helping communities, but the idea is still that somebody will tell them what to do. We must harness communities' own energy. People in such communities have a far better idea of what needs doing than we do.

We must encourage local initiatives. The Executive and Parliament have made a start by introducing a better voting system for local government. When the voters get a grip of the system, it will enable them to choose better people, so there should be a better quality of person in councils. However, an opportunity is being lost. A document that was published about community councils states that nothing will be done about giving them more power. Community councils can be a great vehicle for delivering local initiative, which is what we want. There should be systems for giving small grants to local projects, with a minimum of bureaucracy. We would help such projects, but we would expect some of them to go wrong and others to succeed. Such an approach would enable real local development that would last. That would be preferable to a scheme being parachuted in.

People such as Mr Sirolli, who I know Nicol Stephen's predecessor met, have interesting ideas about development. There are techniques to help local people to have an idea and enable it to flourish and grow. In that way, local people can develop their own quality of life and, as was said, get stuck into local planning. There is a lot of scope for developing real local democracy. We have never managed to achieve that before, but there is a real opportunity to get it right now.

Photo of Margaret Jamieson Margaret Jamieson Labour 4:13 pm, 1st March 2006

For many years, I and my colleagues in Kilmarnock and East Ayrshire have campaigned for extra effort from Government to aid the regeneration of our community. We have done so because of a desire to improve our community environment, to improve our economic opportunities, to give improved opportunities to all in our community and to put us back on the map after being ignored for years.

It is accepted that to regenerate an area a strategy that is owned by the community must be in place. After many months—some would say years—we now have the final piece of the strategy that will address the varied needs that must be met to regenerate East Ayrshire and, in particular, Kilmarnock.

It is worth noting that many funding allocations, for example the supporting people fund, better neighbourhood funding, schools PPP funding and the town centre living initiative, all fall into the category of regeneration, although many see them as specific initiatives. Some people in Kilmarnock deliberately forget what has been achieved on regeneration across the council area. They narrow their thoughts and comments to the town centre, and their answer to regeneration is to have an expensive guru who will regenerate our town centre. Unfortunately, they are also given significant space by the local newspaper, the Kilmarnock Standard, which I am sure will ignore the positive announcement by the minister yesterday and will continue the doom-and-gloom, narrow, parochial view and miss the big picture of what is being achieved and what can be achieved by working in partnership.

Many private companies out there are willing and able to work with local authorities. It takes time and effort to get the strategy, but once they have it, they are willing partners. The minister saw yesterday what can be achieved by working in partnership, with the public sector bearing the cost of infrastructure and the private sector funding the development of a site. The site to which I refer is in north Muirfield, on the outskirts of Kilmarnock. The public sector will recoup its pump-priming moneys when the site is occupied and the local economy will benefit from the new jobs that will be created. That process will continue in an area of the town centre of Kilmarnock that has been identified for an office development, which has attracted significant private sector interest.

It is imperative that regeneration does not smother the unique aspects of communities and town centres but builds on them. We do not want or need cloned towns and communities across Scotland. Just because some developers have a particular model does not mean that we must all have the same model. All areas are different and we should let them continue to be different and bold; we should not hold them back.

Planning obstacles must not be put in the way of the vision to deliver much-needed housing development. In Kilmarnock, we have a development that was blighted for 25 years. The owner allowed it to fall into disrepair, be set on fire and then demolished. Someone else—a local developer—came along, but it has taken them three years to get planning permission. That type of delay in the planning process gives the opportunity for continued criticism by those who have no vision. It is not possible for one person, organisation, community, local business, council, public body or private company to deliver a regeneration programme. Only when we have an agreed community-based plan for regeneration are we able to demonstrate to our communities that we are serious about regenerating them by working in partnership with them to deliver.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 4:17 pm, 1st March 2006

I stand here so often with a sense of déjà vu and I have—encore—that sense now. In the previous session of Parliament there was the cities review, the annual social justice report—which has been abandoned—the sustainable development strategy, the closing the opportunity gap strategy, the smart, successful Scotland strategy and the employability framework. Now we have a regeneration strategy, which is a "statement of intent" and a commitment to

"a series of meetings and events ... to discuss our approach to regeneration".

However, it is not, as it has been billed, a policy statement; rather it is, as the minister said, the start of a process. No new policies have been laid out, nor have any new plans or real actions that can be pinned down. The statement is all a bit amorphous and insubstantial. It says things such as,

"We aim to lay down a framework for our future action".

An action plan, in fact, is due later this year. That is all, despite a ministerial group having met for the past two years.

We do, however, have new terminology. We now have "mixed ... communities", which have taken over from balanced communities. I am still waiting for a minister to tell me what the heck a balanced community is. The Executive never defined it, so it has changed it. This time we are not having a steering group, a consultative panel, a task force or a working group—we are having a "sounding board".

I have a real concern about the "People and Place" document, but that is overshadowed by a greater initiative sickness because there has been initiative upon initiative. The Executive may attempt to convince us that that is joined-up government, but it comes across instead as a confusing and crowded bidding agenda. There is lack of clarity and a waste of resources at Executive and agency levels. On the creation of the two urban regeneration companies, will they have any relationship at all with the pathfinder companies that were announced last year? Is the funding for regeneration additional to the cities growth fund and the vacant and derelict land fund? We hear more and more announcements all the time, but how many measures are delivered? How many are completed? What will have to give this time, to allow another measure to go ahead?

If the proposed policy is actually one of consolidation, the minister should tell us exactly how much new money is being committed by the Government, and how much money is forecast or expected from the private sector. Is the Commonwealth games village in Glasgow included in the policy? Will the minister tell us now or will we, further down the line, have to watch the charade of Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Executive standing up, patting each other on the back and reannouncing money?

I could talk for ever about housing, but I am running out of time. How often will the 21,500 affordable homes be reannounced? Why are we still encouraging private sector developers and registered social landlords to build for sale or rent in the most deprived areas? As for the idea of demonstration mixed-tenure projects, they have been around for years and years. We do not need any more pilot schemes.

We have areas of deprivation and we have to address the consequences of market failure in the west of Scotland. That has to be done, but it is to the shame of successive Governments that areas that had heavy industries in the past are still undergoing transition. If the market is structurally tilted against people, and if we cannot make macro-adjustments to the way in which they compete in that market, we are forced to intervene at a micro level. We are forced to put sticking plasters over gaping wounds. It is sad for our nation that that is what this Executive seems to be intent on doing.

Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP 4:22 pm, 1st March 2006

I could not agree more with Christine Grahame: the document is another waste of paper. It is about policy wonks congratulating themselves. It is propaganda and it is a marketing ploy. In all its 68 pages, there is no intention to begin to bring about grass-roots regeneration.

I never thought that I would use words that Prince Charles had used, and it galls me to do so, but this document is a product of people sitting behind desks and taking decisions on things they know nothing about. It is a manifesto for a loss of power for communities. The new model of strategic partnership is designed to prevent communities from having a say; it is designed to work against participation by communities that are supposed to be the beneficiaries of regeneration. As Bob Holman, the writer and sociologist who lived in Easterhouse, has put it, the model is

"little different from the elitist urban development corporations so dear to Mrs Thatcher."

That one phrase sums up the 68 pages of the document. It is paternalism. Its attitude is, "We'll ask the children their view, and then we'll exercise the maxim, 'Daddy knows best.'" People who live in the communities know exactly that that is the tone that they are hearing. They know the attitudes of the people who are driving the regeneration—the attitudes to them, their housing, their community resources, their community services and their existing networks. The document is another example from Fantasyland that bears no relation to what is actually happening in communities.

The minister mentioned the Clyde corridor. Given the amount of money that has gone into the Clyde corridor, how much involvement has there been by the local community? Absolutely none. How can a person get access to decision making on the Clyde corridor? I have no idea. My living-room window looks out on to the brand-new flats. I eventually managed to get through to someone to get information, after going round in circles. Do members know how many units of social housing there will be in the Clyde corridor among the 4,000 big flashy flats? There will be 40, and that figure is not even statutory or definite. It might not happen. The document talks about driving regeneration and tackling the concentrated deprivation in the area. What a joke—the only people who will benefit are the big development companies.

On previous occasions, I have mentioned the fact that no private money is being put into the Lennoxtown Initiative. The model involves a private limited company with a chairman. No one in the community knows who can get on the board—people have tried to get on the board and have asked for an election. The reporting-back mechanism is an annual general meeting at which members of the community are not allowed to move any proposals. The set-up stinks and is giving off whiffs of corruption.

In Paisley, there is the Shortroods regeneration. For four months, I have been trying to find out about the venture company that has been set up to do that regeneration. It has six board members, who include representatives of the local council, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Scottish Enterprise. It is more difficult to find out how its decisions are made and what will happen than it is to trace the financial transactions of Tessa Jowell and David Mills. That is the reality on the ground for many people who are involved in regeneration projects.

The companies that have been set up are trying to prevent communities from being involved in decision making, but it does not have to be like that. The Executive has chosen the model—we know exactly where it is going—but serious models of participatory democracy already exist internationally; for example, in Brazil there are models of community involvement. Such models have been used by the United Nations and the World Bank because they are transparent and they combat corruption. A whiff of corruption surrounds companies such as the Lennoxtown Initiative, on which it is not possible to get information. I urge the Executive to adopt a different model. I say to the minister that "People and Place" is mince.

Photo of Marilyn Livingstone Marilyn Livingstone Labour 4:26 pm, 1st March 2006

The title of today's motion, "Regeneration in Scotland—People and Place", is important because it expresses clearly the approach that we must take to regeneration. That approach is not just about housing, important though that is; it is also about our communities as a whole. I have seen it working in my constituency. It ensures that major stakeholders work together to provide improved economic opportunities and infrastructure, a better environment, safer communities and—most important—genuine community engagement and participation. All that is helping to build a sense of pride in the community in which I live.

I have been able to play an active part in that process and to observe at first hand the impact that it has had on my constituency. As a member of the Dysart regeneration forum, I realise the important role that the community has to play in assessing and addressing its needs and I recognise the benefits that involvement in regeneration has brought to individuals. Confidence building, the development of new skills and people playing an active role in shaping the area in which they live are all key factors.

When we develop policy, we need to ensure that we are all aware of what we want and need to achieve and how we can measure that achievement. However, we should not get too tied up in measurement because some improvements are qualitative and it sometimes takes a long time for measurable improvements to become apparent.

Fife has formed a sustainable communities group and has agreed to focus regeneration activity on specific geographical areas. It is quite correct that the areas that have been chosen are the 20 per cent most-deprived areas as identified by the Scottish index of multiple deprivation. As part of the development of an action plan, existing master plans are being updated so that they align with the agreed priorities. In addition, over the next few months the regeneration manager will produce a draft Kirkcaldy regeneration action plan in which Dysart, the regeneration area in my constituency, will feature and through which best practice arising from the evidence that we have gained in Dysart can be rolled out.

The Dysart regeneration forum and the Dysart management committee have worked together in genuine partnership to the benefit of their community. The regeneration programme is now reaping the rewards of the hard work and commitment of the community and stakeholders. There is investment in housing and emphasis has been placed on safer communities through the introduction of community wardens.

Project development in the area has fallen into a number of categories. Encouragement of community spirit has resulted in the reintroduction of the Dysart gala day, which had not taken place for many years. Health and well-being have been improved through the food and health initiative. A regeneration worker has been employed to examine employability and environmental improvements across the board have been considered. We have developed tourism potential, improved services and opportunities for school children and young people and have improved services for the elderly. Those are the results of communities working together. I thank everyone who has been involved in the project.

I welcome the new regeneration policy that the Executive unveiled on Tuesday and I am pleased that the Executive intends to play a wider, more strategic and ambitious leadership role in regeneration. I firmly believe that economic growth and tackling poverty are inextricably linked, which is why I believe that the Minister for Transport and Telecommunications must reconsider tolling on the Forth and Tay bridges. Penalising a community as Fife is being penalised will have an impact on its social and economic regeneration—Fife must not and cannot be subjected to such a discriminatory policy.

Regeneration gives the opportunity to improve the places where we live and the lives of people who are in most need by providing access to high-quality services for the most disadvantaged people. Regeneration is about people and place. I support the motion in the name of the minister.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

We move to the wind-up speeches. I call Duncan McNeil.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour 4:30 pm, 1st March 2006

In the interests of balance, I will bring some facts to the debate to counter the terrible and depressing stuff that we have heard from the SNP.

Through the actions of the Scottish Executive, 630,000 Scots have been taken out of absolute poverty, 190,000 of whom are pensioners. In addition, we have created 34,000 modern apprenticeships and we have achieved that figure two years ahead of target. We have lifted the burden from council house tenants in Glasgow by shifting it to the UK taxpayer, thereby enabling 1,000 new houses to be produced each year for those people, 99 per cent of whom are now in tenant-controlled housing stock, with 600 tenants participating in the management of their housing. We have achieved that and more.

Scotland's employment rate is now the best in the UK and is also among the highest in Europe—unemployment is down by a third. In trying to meet our aim of ending child poverty, the number of children who live in absolute poverty has been halved. We have provided better transport links, including road, rail and station improvements and more bus and rail journeys are being made.

Despite those efforts, some communities—such as mine—continue to miss out on the chance to gain from the improvements. It is very difficult to invest in and to grow communities that are in decline because we are competing with Edinburgh and the heart of Glasgow. The minister said that it is important to do more, better and that areas such as Inverclyde and North Ayrshire must not be left behind in the regeneration strategy. That signals the Executive's determination to ensure that that will not happen.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Is not it the case that the areas that have found it most difficult to attract investment are those that have had unbroken Labour rule for about 50 years?

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

Those areas are the traditional Labour heartlands where people followed traditional employment patterns for many years. However, when those working people have taken up new employment, Alex Neil's colleague Christine Grahame has denigrated them for doing so. People have sought to move on from the traditional industries; they are working hard to create lives for themselves and to provide good homes and so on for their families, yet the SNP denigrates them for doing so. Alex Neil cannot give me any lectures.

Tory members may be smiling, but Patrick Harvie got it right when he said that when tens of thousands of jobs are taken out of a community, the result is problems such as those that we have in my area. That is what happens, irrespective of the political leadership in the area. The job is a difficult one, but it is one that we are determined to tackle.

The Clyde corridor is to become a national priority and a massive investment—£1.5 billion—will go into it as a result. The Tories refuse to welcome any of the investment. In their amendment, they seek to remove the word "welcomes". As the minister pointed out, regional priorities have been set for areas such as Inverclyde and North Ayrshire, which will continue to face the challenges to which I alluded earlier. I call those problems the three Ds: deindustrialisation, depopulation and deprivation. Both those areas have great potential and I invite members, including Christine Grahame, to come and see the potential for themselves. Anyone who comes to Inverclyde will see it. The river that used to be the success of the past can become our future. That is why someone who is even as hard to please as I am welcomes the initiative.

The announcement that Inverclyde and Irvine bay are to get their own urban regeneration companies is important. I say to Donald Gorrie that, instead of top-down objectives being imposed, those companies will work to promote confidence and to support communities in delivering their objectives. I hope that those companies will generate the confidence that will encourage investment and move us forward. I think that they will deliver on the ground by sealing the deals and bringing benefits.

A question that was never far below the surface in some speeches is the one that is posed in dysfunctional families: "Where's the money?" It has been acknowledged that we can draw on massive amounts of private investment. To be fair, the Executive has shown its determination to provide statutory funding—it is in there for the long term. I am sure that the Executive is determined to succeed. If I may focus on my community, Scottish Enterprise Renfrewshire has committed £10 million to the Inverclyde regeneration programme.

However, the First Minister made it clear in yesterday's announcement on regeneration that the issue is about not just money, but about changing how we work so that we ensure that a joined-up approach across Executive departments and agencies supports local action. Karen Whitefield, Donald Gorrie and Susan Deacon mentioned that. "Partnership working" and "joined-up government" are overused phrases, but they are not meaningless just because they can be used inappropriately. Genuine partnership working is not about throwing together a group of agencies and departments that have their own agendas and interests and which will negotiate themselves into a stalemate; it is about operating in concert, which requires real leadership, as the regeneration policy statement acknowledges.

I am under pressure for time, so I will move on quickly. If communities like mine are to share in Scotland's increased prosperity, concerted efforts are needed at all levels. The policy that we are discussing will tackle the hard problems that Patrick Harvie described. It will give communities a real chance in the future.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 4:37 pm, 1st March 2006

The debate has been interesting and wide ranging and we have heard well-informed speeches from members of different parties.

I received my copy of the regeneration policy statement yesterday evening and I agree with Christine Grahame—probably for the only time in the debate—that it is ridiculous of the Executive to provide us with a 67-page document and expect us to be able to digest its contents in time for a well-informed debate the following afternoon. I hope that the Executive will reflect on that, because if it is to produce new strategy documents that contain such detail, it should give us a little more notice, so that we can have a better-informed debate. Members have had a busy afternoon dealing with other important business, in particular the statement on tolls on the Forth and Tay bridges, so some members' minds have been elsewhere.

The Conservative amendment refers to the situation that we currently face. As Mary Scanlon said, poverty continues to blight the lives of far too many Scots, as research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation demonstrates. The number of working-age adults who have no dependent children and who are in income poverty has increased from around 300,000 in the mid-1990s to almost 400,000 in recent years. The gap between the richest and poorest in society is increasing. Life expectancy in the poorest postcode areas of Scotland is 64.4 years, which is lower than life expectancy in Lebanon, North Korea or the Gaza strip. Indeed, life expectancy in the poorest areas of Scotland has fallen since 1992, so much needs to be done.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

Is the minister aware that in one Labour ward in Glasgow, life expectancy for a male is 54 years?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I am grateful to Christine Grahame for promoting me to a ministerial position. The statistic that she gives proves my point. Much needs to be done.

New strategies from the Executive are always welcome. If nothing else, they demonstrate that the old strategies have not always worked. The key to regenerating communities is economic regeneration. The areas that are targeted in the regeneration policy statement—the Clyde corridor, Inverclyde and Ayrshire—are blighted by a lack of economic progress. If we are to turn those communities round, the fundamental need is for more investment, more jobs and a stronger economy. The Executive's record in that context is simply not good enough. Scotland's annual growth rate is dragging behind that of our competitors south of the border. The minister will probably tell me that Scotland managed to match the UK growth rate in the most recent quarter. However, we managed to do so only because the UK growth rate fell towards the level of the Scottish rate.

Very worrying for the minister, in an analysis that was published on Friday in that fine organ, The Scotsman, Professor David Bell made the point—backed up with evidence—that the level of economic growth in Scotland is artificially inflated by the high level of public sector expenditure. If we stripped out public sector expenditure which, as we know, is much higher in Scotland than it is in the rest of the UK, the pretty feeble economic growth figures for the past five or six years would be even worse and the gap between Scottish and UK growth would be even larger than it has been in the past few years. The Executive must tackle the lack of competitiveness in the Scottish economy. Rather than publish glossy brochures, the Executive should tackle the fundamentals, such as business rates and the cost of doing business—the Executive has taken a step in the right direction on that, but it needs to progress more quickly. The Executive should invest in infrastructure and tackle the problems with Scottish Water and business regulation. We support and welcome much of the detail in the strategy but, unless the general business environment improves, the strategy will achieve little.

I do not want to steal anybody's thunder for tomorrow's debate on Scottish Water, but development constraints are a huge issue for economic regeneration throughout Scotland—they are a huge problem in the area in which I live and throughout my region and for communities elsewhere. Unless we sort out those problems and allow economic expansion, we will not even be able to start on the bottom rung of the ladder in dealing with the problems that have been mentioned. We need a joined-up approach from Government. We also need to deal with planning issues, although we welcome the start that has been made through the Executive's Planning etc (Scotland) Bill towards easing the problems that delays in the planning process create for major infrastructure projects.

I accept that the problems in our communities are not only to do with physical infrastructure. Karen Whitefield made that point and was gracious enough to draw attention to initiatives of the former Conservative Government—like her, I always acknowledge the actions of political opponents with which we agree. The issue is not only about material poverty and material regeneration; we need to deal with all sorts of problems in our communities, such as family breakdown, alcohol and drug abuse, poor housing, crime and poor public services. Of course, the poorest in society suffer the most when public services fail.

We must be careful that more direct Government intervention does not simply entrench a culture of welfare dependency, which can be counterproductive. Donald Gorrie made exactly that point when he said that not everything should come from the top down and that we need to empower communities to start building from the bottom up. We need imaginative solutions for real community regeneration to build stronger communities. In that respect, the proposals on supporting the voluntary sector and the social economy are extremely welcome.

Fundamentally, we will regenerate communities if we have a stronger economy. If the Executive is working towards that, it will have our support.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party 4:43 pm, 1st March 2006

I begin by going back to one of the original comprehensive regeneration programmes, the GEER—Glasgow east end regeneration—project, which was set up in the late 1970s by the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Bruce Millan, and which was reported on and evaluated in the 1980s. The evaluation report contained an important lesson that has not been fully learned: we can spend millions upon millions of pounds on the physical regeneration of areas such as the east end of Glasgow but, unless we create indigenous economic strength and high-calibre employment opportunities for the people who live there, the areas will have to be regenerated again in a few years. Without sustained employment and economic activity, they end up back at square one.

In regenerating areas throughout Scotland, whether towns such as Kilmarnock or larger areas such as the Clyde estuary, the priority must be the creation of sustainable employment. When Gordon Brown was the shadow chancellor, he rightly spoke about his aspiration for full and fulfilling employment. It is probably true that we have one of the highest-ever levels of employment in Scotland but, ironically, we also have the highest-ever level of economic inactivity. That sounds like a contradiction, but it is because of the large number of people who are on incapacity benefit, primarily, and other long-term benefits, and because of the number of people who have been forced into early retirement rather than added to the unemployment figures. Until we tackle economic inactivity, we will never solve the regeneration puzzle or achieve our objectives. The prerequisite to success must be the creation of not just any kind of job but high-value, well-paid, decent employment opportunities.

Why do we not have that level of employment opportunity? Why is it that many of the jobs that have been created in the past few years are relatively low paid, often insecure and often with unsocial hours? Much of that goes back not just for the past seven or nine years but for the past 40 years. There has been a lack of sufficient investment in the public and private sectors in Scotland and probably throughout the UK. Even today, the level of private sector investment in Scotland as a share of our GDP is less than half that of our major competitors.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

In a minute.

The share of public spending that is allocated to investment is less than half that which is allocated to investment by our competitors. Whether we are talking about the profile of public or private sector spending, the key phrase is the lack of sufficient investment—in infrastructure, in the scientific base, in skills and in business and industry. We will not solve the problem until we double the level of investment in the private sector and the share of public spending on investment. That is the greatest challenge for us at present. I will let Irene Oldfather in because naebody else has.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

I appreciate that. I wonder whether the member will be voting tonight for the £300,000 that will come to my communities as a result of the package that the minister announced, as it will enable the lifting of barriers to private sector investment and activity, which is just the sort of thing that he has been talking about.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I was hoping for a higher level of intervention than that. I am sure that Irene Oldfather shares my concern that it does not help Ayrshire's cause in trying to attract private sector investment when the chairman of Scottish Enterprise compares its economy to that of an eastern European country. Irene Oldfather was not there; I was.

The other key issue is the need for a sustained strategy. In the 1980s, the Tories introduced the urban renewal programme, which had limited success in a number of areas of Scotland. However, that came to an end and has been succeeded by umpteen different programmes and umpteen different organisations. To use the example of the Irish—although I could use many other examples—we need a long-term national development programme that people stick to over a 20-year period and that is not riddled with bureaucracy and urban development companies that create jobs for the Labour boys. We need a long-term strategy, the centrepiece of which is investment in the community with, as Donald Gorrie said, priorities that are set at the community level. We can talk and talk about regeneration, but we will never get it unless we are prepared to face up to the realities of life.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat 4:50 pm, 1st March 2006

Christine Grahame started off the speeches that followed Malcolm Chisholm's. I am not quite sure how one would best respond to her speech, which was a seven-minute flow of stream-of-consciousness negativity without a constructive proposal or SNP policy.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I gave the example of the Norwegian economy and what it had done. That is where Scotland ought to be today, not where it is now.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

Well, I heard a lot of criticism and a lot of negativity. Perhaps there was a mention of Norway and other overseas examples, but I heard little explanation of how such policies would be implemented by the SNP.

I have always been concerned about the issue of winter deaths, having represented the area of Braemar and Ballater at one time. However, Christine Grahame could have pointed out that the Executive has insulated 220,000 homes, installed nearly 60,000 new central heating systems and invested more than £200 million in this area. I ask her to give a balanced view. We are taking action in these areas and are making progress.

Mary Scanlon was not as sceptical as Christine Grahame. She made a more constructive contribution, although she made a commendable attempt to match Christine Grahame's tone. I share her concern for the low paid and for rural areas in Scotland. It is important to remember that rural authorities will continue to benefit from their share of the £318 million community regeneration fund.

Linda Fabiani mentioned the proliferation of funds and initiatives. I have some sympathy with her point. However, she should recall that, as a result of today's statement, we are going to work to align funds. We have already brought together three separate funds in the community regeneration fund.

Everything that we are talking about is to do with investing in our areas that have experienced decline and difficulty. The issue is not simply to do with bringing life into old buildings, such as the fantastic grade A listed sugar warehouse in Inverclyde. That is important in our attempts to regenerate areas, but the aspect that is more important is that of people. We have to bring the heart back into our communities.

We could focus investment only on areas of opportunity and success. People of a Conservative mentality often suggest that we should back only winners and success stories. We could look for the allocation of many more greenfield sites. We could turn our backs on the more difficult redevelopment opportunities that exist. However, that would be quite wrong. We need a balanced approach that focuses on some of the areas of greatest difficulty around Scotland.

We need to learn from the lessons of the past. Alex Neil mentioned the GEER initiative, which is mentioned at the heart of our document. We need to learn that there are economic challenges relating to the employment issues that he focused on that need to be tackled as well as the bricks-and-mortar issues of regeneration.

To achieve that, we need much better joined-up working involving not only me, as the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, Malcolm Chisholm and others in the Executive but Scottish Enterprise, Communities Scotland and other public agencies, such as local authorities and the health boards. Indeed, as we saw yesterday, the local colleges are important in this regard. Skills are at the heart of what we are trying to do and, in many instances, the renewal of colleges' estates across Scotland can place them at the heart of the opportunities for redevelopment.

I would like to ensure that we do not cut corners or downgrade the investment. We must lift our sights and have quality new investment and quality new proposals as a result of this regeneration initiative.

It was like a breath of fresh air to get to Euan Robson's speech. It was uplifting to hear that the Borders has benefited from regeneration projects. It is important to emphasise that regeneration should be happening throughout Scotland, whether in the Borders, the Highlands or indeed in my city, Aberdeen, where there are big opportunities for regeneration, such as the waterfront project in Torry.

Yesterday, I saw the opportunities in Inverclyde. I believe that there is a huge opportunity to get things right for that area, which will have an immense impact on the communities and the people of Inverclyde. Karen Whitefield spoke appropriately and passionately about the improvements that have been, and continue to be, delivered at Petersburn.

Sandra White, sadly, took us back to the "It's Scotland's oil" debates of the 1970s. The SNP always likes to take us back to that time because it is the last time that the SNP had electoral success. [Interruption.] I remind Christine Grahame that that was 30 years ago or more.

Susan Deacon made a very good contribution and reminded us of the progress that has been made. There has been big progress already.

Some £20 million has been invested in Craigmillar, Raploch and Clydebank through the three pathfinder urban regeneration companies. Much is made of the importance of urban regeneration companies. I do not say that they are essential, but they make a big and important difference. They assist with the dealings with the private sector and the co-ordination of the public sector contribution and the approach has worked successfully both in Scotland and in other parts of the UK. I agree with Susan Deacon's points on geographic issues and her points on leadership, which is crucial.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

I positively and constructively ask the minister what talks he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding the planning gain supplement. Is the minister in favour of the proposal?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

My officials have been discussing the matter with the Treasury and the Executive will make representations on it soon.

Much of the debate was backward looking, but Patrick Harvie made a good speech and took us to the future. In what is now an unusual step for the Green party, he criticised the SNP's amendment. There was much tutting and muttering at that point, especially from Linda Fabiani, but Alex Neil did not look surprised. Indeed, given what he said in his speech, he probably agreed with Patrick Harvie's point. It is clear that Alex Neil delegated the drafting of today's SNP amendment to Christine Grahame and that he felt uncomfortable with its retrospective negativity throughout.

I have already touched on joined-up working between ministers and departments, but Donald Gorrie's point about that is exactly right. I agree that we should not take a top-down approach to regeneration. Regeneration should be about a new form of localism and involvement at the community level. If there is to be regeneration, we must encourage local initiative and help people rather than just helping buildings and corporations.

Margaret Jamieson made a good speech, but it is sad that, at that point, the strength of commitment to regeneration in the chamber was demonstrated by the fact that the SNP had only two members present and the Tories had only one. It is always important to reflect one's commitment to issues by being present when they are debated in the chamber. We are criticised for not bringing forward debates on important issues. When they are debated, members should take the opportunity to be in the chamber.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

The reason why we were short this afternoon is that, due to pressures on debating time, I agreed to withdraw from the debate. It is totally inappropriate for the minister to make snide comments of that nature without knowing the facts.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

The member's excuse is now on the record.

Frances Curran gave one of her typically cheerful contributions. In it, she told us that she agrees with Prince Charles. She then accused the Executive of paternalism and interference in people's lives. That was from the Trotskyists—I rest my case.

Thank goodness for Duncan McNeil

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I will take no more interventions.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I am about to end.

All that I have to say is thank goodness for Duncan McNeil. He took the fight to Christine Grahame and introduced much-needed balance to the negativity. He was right to be positive about the new urban regeneration corporation for Inverclyde and the wide and strong support for its launch in his area yesterday.

Murdo Fraser complained about a lack of time; I am running out of time—

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I am about to cut my remarks dramatically short. I hoped that Murdo Fraser would understand one simple point: the reasons for much, but not all, of the decline, decay and depression around Scotland were the Tories' policies throughout 18 damaging years. That is why we need regeneration, which the Conservatives will never properly understand.

As I suggested, Alex Neil made a good speech. I agreed with much of what he said and it is a pity that the SNP amendment did not reflect that. Investment is crucial and we want to lever in more private sector investment. That is at the heart of the policy statement, which I ask members to support.