Urban Deprivation

– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 17th December 2002.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North 11:00 am, 17th December 2002

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to introduce today's debate. When the angels ask me to recall the thrill of my parliamentary contributions, I will have to reveal that they have focused disproportionately on such issues as tax credits, housing benefit, the implementation of the social fund and local government finance. I suspect that even St. Peter would be stunned into torpor to listen to them, but, at the risk of sounding pompous, I should say that such issues are the meat and drink of people's experience of government, particularly the experience of the poor.

My comments today will touch on important aspects of the quality of services that people receive from central Government through local agencies. I have three main points. First, I shall discuss the distribution of local authority grants in the light of the recent grant review and settlement. Secondly, I shall focus on the index of multiple deprivation—the means by which the Government distribute resources for special projects aimed at deprived areas. Thirdly, I shall talk about the census and what it can tell us about the measurement of people's needs in urban communities.

The vast majority of resources distributed to areas of deprivation are mainstreamed through the resources made available to local government, health authorities, regional development agencies and so forth. The mainstreaming grants are the most important.

Last week saw the results of the review of local government finance and the distribution of grants to local authorities across England. The review process was controversial because it went back to basics in examining the measurements of need and the allocation of resources. Much disquiet was caused, especially in London and in urban authorities in other parts of the country, about how the indicators were determined and the different weightings across the country. The review was, rightly, seen as influencing the amount of resources available to local government for social services, education and other vital services.

London local authorities across the board did better than had been feared. Some—Brent, Tower Hamlets and Newham, which have high levels of deprivation—did well, and I am delighted that they received a generous settlement. Nevertheless, it is clear—analysis continues in town halls throughout the country—that next year some local authorities, particularly those on the floor, will face a tough year as a result of their budget settlements. Welcome though the floor is, and however much better it might be than what was expected earlier in the year, I fear that exceptional costs and needs pressures in London and other urban authorities have not been fully recognised. The debate will continue—the recent review has not fully settled the issue.

Population mobility and turnover are a concern for urban authorities throughout the United Kingdom, particularly those in London. High population turnover in the cities places particular pressure on schools, social services and environmental services, but the Government have not yet recognised the extent of that pressure. I had hoped that this year the Government would decide in favour of a special grant to help authorities with high population turnover, especially of pupils in schools, but they have given no indication that they will and no such decision emerged from the recent settlement. Will the Minister tell us today, or at a later stage, whether the debate on meeting the needs of communities with high population turnover is continuing? That population trend appears to be accelerating in urban communities, and it will need further discussion.

The main issue that I will address this morning is the index of multiple deprivation. Many London local authorities are ranked lower in the 2000 index of multiple deprivation than in its 1998 predecessor. Of the seven authorities nationally that dropped out of the 50 most deprived across all the domains, four were London authorities. Most large metropolitan authorities are ranked as less deprived in the 2000 index and, in general, non-urban shire authorities are ranked as more deprived compared with 1998.

Those changes in ranking affected the funding allocated to London boroughs. A rough estimate shows that if the previous index had been in force, London would have benefited from £125 million more in neighbourhood renewal funding and £125 million of housing funding through the general housing needs index. The Minister will be aware that housing pressures are the single most acute issue facing central London and probably London as a whole.

The current review should be taken as an opportunity to ensure that the resources intended to tackle deprivation are focused on areas where need is greatest and where investment will do the most good. There are three areas in which I hope that the Minister will be able to accept my representations and those of other Members of Parliament and organisations such as the Association of London Government and the Greater London Authority. I am sure that many of those organisations will make formal submissions to the review.

The first such area comprises crime, social order and the physical environment. It is essential that issues of crime and social order are included in any future index. The Association of London Government is confident that we now have the means to compare ward-based crime rates, taking account of population numbers and characteristics, and risk levels. There can be no question that the quality of life enjoyed by residents in a particular neighbourhood is closely related to their experience of crime and antisocial behaviour. I therefore urge the Government to use such an indicator in the review.

Similarly, perceptions of physical danger or squalor in a neighbourhood powerfully influence its desirability and, therefore, the potential for ensuring a healthy and viable social mix in that area in future. I urge the Government to incorporate indicators on road traffic accidents—which are, as we know, closely correlated with poverty—and levels of air pollution. Those indicators are easy to measure and would be recognised as meaningful.

The second issue—I know that other hon. Members want to address this in more detail, so I will skirt over it—is the measurement of access to services other than in a strictly geographical way. In recent years, one of the IMD indicators that have caused most concern to representatives of urban authorities in the distribution of local government resources is the scarcity indicator. I grew up in a village, and the last bus home left town at 6.25 pm, so I am conscious of the fact that rural isolation can also be equated with poverty and deprivation. That issue needs to be tackled.

There are, however, perverse consequences of using scarcity indicators, which may count a long and sweeping driveway as a measure of deprivation. Families growing up in 18 and 20-storey tower blocks may be seen to be relatively less deprived as a consequence of the range in the scarcity and density indicator.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Lady makes a thoughtful speech about the indicators. One can have as many indicators as one wants, but at the end of the day, there must be the political will to make sure things actually happen. It seems to me that there is stagnation in London caused by the Mayor: he has produced a huge spatial plan, but it seems that very little has happened since. Would the hon. Lady care to comment on what has been positively done for her constituency, or for London as a whole, since the Mayor produced that plan?

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

Thanks to the Mayor's commitment to increasing the provision of affordable housing in private sector housing developments, my constituents and those in the borough of Westminster have benefited considerably compared with the previous efforts of the council in securing affordable housing units or putting additional investment into the affordable housing fund. In that way alone the work that the Mayor has done has been of considerable value on a measure that is dearer to the hearts of my constituents than almost any other.

The London plan is the most ambitious and comprehensive review of the needs of London for generations. Of course, the consultation is taking time—many people have an opinion about it, and I am not going to sign up to every dot and comma. It covers such a wide range of issues that a debate is right and proper, but at least we have a sweeping and panoramic vision of how we want the future of London to develop. It would be most unwise of Mr. Clifton-Brown to dismiss it.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

Addressing that point, I agree that there is great vision in the London plan. It has to be said, however, that Mr. Livingstone is not a man with the capacity to deliver on that vision. We all know that, as does anyone sensible in politics.

The main problem with the suggestion about affordable housing is that private developers will be dissuaded from carrying out any development at all. That is one our concerns. We all want to see more key workers housed in central London, which is a policy of the two Conservative authorities based in the hon. Lady's constituency. There is no question about that, but the real concern is that developers would be dissuaded by such a hard and fast set rule. At the end of the day, the most vulnerable in society would lose out if such policies were put in place without flexibility.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

The most vulnerable people in society have lost out by the thousand on housing opportunities as a consequence of the planning and housing policies adopted by Westminster city council over the years. One only has to look at the borough represented most ably by my hon. Friend Mr. Coleman to know what a local authority can do when it negotiates hard with developers.

Hammersmith and Fulham council has an excellent record of achieving affordable housing in its development and we have had no indication that private sector developers are refusing to enter into any form of negotiation with that council. Westminster council in particular has failed to make use of its opportunities over the years: it is sitting on some of the highest value land in Britain, and people in housing need have been the losers. I am sympathetic with much of what Mr. Field says—I know that he is concerned for his constituents—but I am afraid that that is absolute nonsense.

On measurement of access to services, I ask the Minister to review again the issue of scarcity versus density, and to accept the fact that road distance is of very limited value as a deprivation measure. We need to incorporate other barriers to access to services, of which the use of minority languages would be a very good measure. Where 170 different languages are spoken—as in London—and there is little recognition of the additional cost pressures that that places on services outside education, it is essential that we take such indicators into consideration.

The third issue is housing costs and affordability. That affects the index of multiple deprivation and the allocation of Government resources to local authorities. I am concerned about the possibility that the new index will use working families tax credit as an indicator of urban poverty. That measure discriminates against London, and its use may already have cost us between £15 million and £18 million in grant allocation. London as a region has a relatively low take-up of working families tax credit, due largely to the high cost barriers to entering work—child care and housing costs—and a skills mismatch.

Housing costs have a massive impact on disposable income. Any measures that exclude property issues will fail to reflect poverty levels. One option in the review is to use households that claim working families tax credit and that have incomes below 60 per cent. of the median before housing costs, but that will seriously distort comparisons between regions. In many cases, households in London appear above the median solely because of differences in housing benefit, yet that tells us nothing at all about their disposable income or quality of life.

I also ask the Minister to reject proposals to exclude lone parents from the employment domain. New research from the Greater London Authority shows that 90 per cent. of lone parents interviewed expressed a desire to work, with more than half citing lack of affordable or suitable child care as the barrier. There is no case for excluding such lone parents on the grounds that they may not wish to be available for work. London has the highest percentage in England of children living in households that are dependent on income support, and what that means must be properly recognised.

I ask the Minister to take time to study the recent report "London Divided". It shows that despite the progress that has been made and the excellent and innovative schemes that are in place to reduce poverty—from sure start to the children's fund, from the new deal to youth inclusion programmes—poverty in inner London remains staggeringly high. One quarter of London children are held to be living in poverty before housing costs are taken into account, rising to 41 per cent. if such costs are taken into account. Thank God for the working families tax credit. It is an important and valuable tool, but to use it as an indicator of poverty would be to do an injustice to urban authorities and to London in particular.

Finally, let me mention the census. On the back of last year's census, and more generally, concern is increasing about the accuracy of data sources relating to numbers and needs in an increasingly mobile, multi-ethnic population. At the risk of being accused of special pleading, I must say that I am completely confident that the census has not given us a complete picture of the population in central London, whether its final figures show a plus or a minus compared with previous estimates. The same is likely to be true of several other urban areas. Inner-city populations are becoming harder to track and count, and that has massive implications, not only for head counts and capitation-based allocations, but for the measurement of deprivation. The Office for National Statistics may be doing a brilliant job in 96 per cent. of the country, but it would be unwise of anyone to be too confident about the accuracy of its figures on the inner city. The time is ripe for an overhaul of the processes by which we measure numbers and needs in an urban context. I ask the Minister to consider that point.

Sources of funding available to my constituency under the index of urban deprivation have been immensely valuable. We have benefited from the urban renewal fund, the neighbourhood nurseries initiative and neighbourhood warden schemes. Many projects have made a distinct contribution to improving the quality of life for my residents, but I am very concerned that, as a result of a combination of the census and possible changes to the indicators in the review, urban communities in Paddington and north Kensington, across London and in other urban authorities will not continue to benefit from such sources of funding. We must choose the right package of indicators to reflect most accurately the reality of urban poverty and urban deprivation.

As London's needs become more intensely concentrated, complex and turbulent, resources available through the index of multiple deprivation become more important than ever. I hope that the Government will listen to representations and address the concerns so that we can do still more to tackle the pressures that bear down on our cities, and on London in particular.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 11:18 am, 17th December 2002

I congratulate Ms Buck on securing this important debate. As one or two colleagues may have gathered, notwithstanding the little spat we had a moment or two ago, we work well together—at least that is my side of the story—on several Westminster-related issues.

I believe that we are both glad to see that in the comprehensive performance assessments not only Westminster but also Kensington and Chelsea were rated excellent councils. A neighbouring borough, Hammersmith and Fulham, had an excellent rating as well. It says much for the dedication of councillors and many council officers and employees in central London that we are able to achieve such excellence, particularly in social services, which is always a most difficult side of things, in the difficult circumstances to which the hon. Lady alluded.

One of the first things that I did when I entered Parliament about 18 months ago was to visit the two local hospitals in my patch: Barts in the City of London and St. Mary's in Paddington. When I asked about the bed-blocking problems that I had heard of from so many other parliamentary colleagues, the hospital officials said that they did not have such problems. That is very much a tribute to the work that is done for the most vulnerable in our society.

My constituency, like the hon. Lady's, is diverse. If people walk through the leafy streets of St. John's Wood in her constituency, or through the more deprived parts of Bayswater and Pimlico, they would not necessarily assume that they were in, respectively, a constituency that was a relatively safe Labour seat, and one that was a relatively safe Conservative seat. That is true throughout London. The Minister represents Hornsey and Wood Green, which includes lush bits of Fortis Green and Muswell Hill that do not appear to be deprived but, around almost every corner, great problems exist. That applies to suburban areas as well to inner London.

I shall say a few words about the local government finance settlement, touch on the census, which was mentioned by the hon. Lady, and wind up with a few thoughts on deprivation.

There is no doubt that there is abject poverty in central London. Even in my constituency, more than 75 per cent. of housing is social housing in several wards. There are also the many problems that arise from having a large number of asylum seekers and other immigration issues. As the hon. Lady said, a factor that is taken far too little into account is mobility. The most recent figures for 2000 showed that turnover in Cities of London and Westminster was the largest single turnover in any seat—23 per cent. It is probably the same 23 per cent. who move year on year; the entire population does not change over a four-year period. None the less, that puts major pressures on schools, hospitals and social services.

It was therefore disappointing that, in the financial settlement, the social services of several inner London authorities saw a slash in finances that will have an impact if the 3.5 per cent. floor in increases are lifted next year, or at any point in the near future, without considering financing. The settlement runs the risk of penalising excellent, well run councils, and I am not making a narrow party political point, because that is as true for Labour councils as for Conservative ones.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that perhaps the entire reason why Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster are at the floor—we have yet to complete analysis on that—is because of the problem with population measurement and the census, rather than with using indicators that have been chosen, as he implied, to penalise these authorities?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

That is fair. In a moment, I shall move on to the environmental, protective and cultural services HEPCSH basket because that has a strong impact, particularly in southern Westminster.

It would be wrong to defend the old standard spending assessment system; it was arcane to put it mildly. However, there is a worry that we are replacing it with another grant distribution system that is equally perverse and lacks transparency. Local government finance is not easy at the best of times so we need either a relatively clear process or a recognition that clarity will not be achieved. To call the new system transparent, when it has arcane rules, is not helpful.

On EPCS, strong arguments exist for treating several central London authorities as sui generis. The business rate for Westminster alone amounts to about £860 million annually, which goes into Government funds and from which Westminster is able to call on about £72.5 million. I appreciate that that may not be a fair comparison, but it suggests that Westminster should be treated differently.

On the cost of street cleansing, the most recent contract that has been signed for Westminster amounts to a 60 per cent. increase on the previous contract. The rate of inflation for cleansing contracts is clearly greater than the average rate of inflation. Westminster does a good job in that area—a number of colleagues say that when they walk across the road they feel that there is a greater risk of a Westminster city council cleansing van knocking them down than of cars or cyclists doing so. Westminster makes an important contribution to the UK as a whole. Central London is a showcase to overseas investors and visitors, and there are vast numbers of non-residents. We need to ensure that the quality of our streets is sufficiently high.

As has been mentioned, the performance of social services in central London is high. However, the budget is at risk, and I hope that central Government will think about ring-fencing it. Many people assume that the City of London, which is part of my constituency, must be a wealthy area because of the riverside developments of recent years and the Barbican, which was not a wealthy area when it was built. The Barbican originally contained much social housing, although the right to buy means that relatively little of it remains. In my patch, there is also Petticoat square and the Mansell street estate, which is more like Tower Hamlets than the City of London. It is important that we do not assume that relatively wealthy areas are taken care of, because the most vulnerable will fall through the hole if they are not catered for.

It has been estimated that 60,000 people were "lost" in the Westminster census. I moved into Westminster in April 2000, and on three occasions I tried to obtain a census form, but I could not manage to do so. I have never completed a census form, and I know that many people who live near me in Belgravia have experienced the same difficulty. I reiterate the concern of the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North that we need to give that matter some serious thought. That point applies not only to Westminster but to several other inner London boroughs, and at last week's Prime Minister's Question Time, Mr. Stringer also expressed similar concerns. I hope that the Government will examine the matter. If the census figures are not right an important knock-on effect, which will affect funding for the most vulnerable in the years ahead, will clearly come into play.

The Office for National Statistics seems to totter from one disaster to another. It overvalued pension funds in February, double-counted contributions in October, and now faces concerns about the census. It is high time that it was subject to an independent investigation, and I hope that the Minister can provide some pointers to such an investigation when she replies.

I shall say a few words about asylum seekers in central London. I do so with a slightly heavy heart because, like the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North, I have foreign blood in my veins. My mother had sought asylum twice by the age of 15. She was born in a part of Germany that is now in Poland, and fled with her family in the immediate aftermath of the second world war and then again in 1954. I do not therefore have a hard-and-fast view on asylum seekers, although I personally believe that we should encourage more economic migrants into this country.

We should welcome people who want to abide by our laws and make a contribution to our society by integrating with it and assimilating into it. On the issue of assimilation and the indigenous population, the population is not static and the common norms of today will be different from those that will exist in 20 or 30 years' time, and there is no doubt that waves of immigrants will play a part in that. Members who represent central London constituencies are weighed down by the amount of work that we have to do on behalf of asylum seekers or people requiring immigration advice. Many of them are not constituents in the sense that they do not count towards the, say, 73,000 people on our electoral rolls, but none the less they require significant assistance.

I have been concerned by events in Sangatte. In essence, the French Government blackmailed us into allowing the Sangatte refugees to come in. Although many of them have work permits, there is a fear that they have been dumped in central London. Three of four tranches of them have come into my constituency in the past 10 days. The matter, which has not been well thought through, is a further hammer blow to central London after the local government financial settlement, and I hope that the Minister will assure us—I appreciate that the asylum issue is not entirely in her hands—that the costs will be fully underwritten. In so far as central London authorities have to pay the bill for arrivals from Sangatte, who are going to play a part in our society and be living in hostels for the homeless or bed and breakfasts for a time, the costs should be properly underwritten and taken into account in the consideration of future financial settlements.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

The issue of immigrants, asylum seekers and those who are justified in coming here on work permits, visas and so forth is a difficult one that we do not discuss enough. Does my hon. Friend agree that whatever the rights or wrongs of the situation, there should be a proper system of measuring what is going on so that resources can be allocated properly to deal with the problem?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

That is the nub of my point. My personal view—not my party's—is that we should pull out of most of the conventions of which we are members and look to take more economic refugees or migrants. Many of our so-called European partners have taken a parochial and nationalistic approach that has not assisted us in any way. My hon. Friend is right to say that proper measurement is required, not least because the most vulnerable among the indigenous population will suffer most if resources do not trickle down to those areas that have a disproportionate burden in dealing with asylum seekers.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

Although I am convinced that the census was inaccurate—the hon. Gentleman kindly told us that he did not complete his census form—we would be on dangerous ground if we equated that entirely with asylum seeking and migration, as he and others have attempted to do. When I raised the issue last year, my local authorities told me that there was a greater likelihood of non-participation in the census in the more prosperous multi-occupancy in the south of the borough than in the deprived and multi-ethnic north.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. I deplore over-long interventions, but as it is the hon. Lady's debate I have showed discretion.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

Many of us deplore over-long speeches, Sir Nicholas.

I am sorry if I was in any way misconstrued. I was simply making a narrow point about deprivation in relation to the asylum issue, not trying to link it with the census. I suspect that there are not many asylum seekers in the vicinity of Belgravia who did not fill in their census forms for that reason.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West 11:32 am, 17th December 2002

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck on securing the debate, which is an extremely rare one on the subject of urban deprivation. If the title of the debate had been "Rural Deprivation", the Chamber would be full of Members making heart-rending cries about problems in rural areas—as they are of course entitled to do, as there are difficulties in those areas. Speaking, like many hon. Members, for a constituency that is partly rural and partly urban, I know about those difficulties.

Policies in the Welsh Assembly and in this Parliament have been hopelessly distorted by the vigorous hallelujah chorus of complaints from rural areas. That has resulted in policies that irrationally devote money to rural areas at the great expense of urban areas. I shall give a simple example. My constituency has three of the most deprived wards in the top 50 in Wales. Although we are in that position, we do not get a single penny of objective 1 money, whereas two areas, Ceredigion and Conwy, which do not have a single ward in the top 100 most deprived wards in Wales, get full objective 1 funding. The reason for that is rurality and the exaggerated picture that has been presented by the campaign led partly by Mr. Clifton-Brown, who is not known as an advocate for exposing urban deprivation.

I speak with a little more force today, having yesterday evening run the gauntlet of a blocked Westminster bridge between the serried ranks of police vehicles and mounted police and the lines of rural rabble who were threatening, violent and abusive. They were, I understand, organised by the Countryside Alliance. It is a great tribute to the police in London that, after I quoted Sessional Orders to them, they got me through the lines of protestors who were, I understand, trying to persuade me and others to vote their way at the end of the debate. Nothing could be more counterproductive.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced parliamentarian, but his comments are not relevant to the debate. I should be obliged if he would direct his comments to urban deprivation.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

Indeed I will, Sir Nicholas. The reason for the lack of cash going to urban areas is the excessive amounts that are being given to rural areas. I shall give an example from my constituency, which has suffered very badly from job losses during the past 12 months. For the first time since 1789, no iron will be manufactured in Gwent. An area of urban life has gone; it is dead and finished for ever. It is not only the jobs that have gone, but the skills that have existed there for more than two centuries. There was no letter from Mr. Angry of Highgrove to the Prime Minister complaining that a precious, unique way of life has died. The businesses that have been affected by the loss of steel jobs receive no compensation and some small businesses have gone to the wall. Extraordinarily, businesses that were affected by the foot and mouth outbreak—there are a number in my constituency because they do business in rural areas although they are located in an urban area—received generous compensation amounting sometimes to tens of thousands of pounds, because they made a loss.

Urban areas have been deprived and discriminated against, but all the arguments, including the one advanced last week by the Countryside Agency—there is no urban agency—tell us that one in five country dwellers lives below the poverty line. That is regrettable, but one in four urban dwellers lives below the poverty line. The Government have just announced a policy for spending more than £500 million to keep rural post offices open and more than £100 million to close down urban post offices. My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North mentioned a deprived person living in a remote area down a drive a mile long. I agree with her entirely that there is urban isolation for people who live at the top of multi-storey blocks of flats. There is deprivation of community if the local post office on a council estate closes down and people do not see or have contact with their neighbours. Those losses are at least as damaging as those suffered in rural areas.

I have a list of statistics with which I shall not burden the Chamber, but in every example between urban and rural areas the priorities are wrong. The most deprived areas and those with the highest crime rate and the poorest schools, in which life expectation and every other factor that can be applied is poorest, are in urban areas. Yet for the past 50 years Governments have shelled out huge sums of money to compensate rural areas, and that money often comes at the expense of urban areas.

During a debate last week the Government announced an extra £500 million to implement the Currie report. It was not received with any enthusiasm by the Opposition, including Mr. Clifton-Brown, who is speaking for the Opposition, and one hon. Member who complained about the lack of excitement and leadership. I would dearly like the Government to give £500 million to the steel, aluminium or other industries that have suffered grievously with resulting job losses. We put up with the fact that there was no excitement in the announcement or leadership, but that distortion in policies is continuing. That is partly due to the extraordinary propaganda exercise that is being mounted from Buckingham palace down to the various alliances and countryside agencies, many of which are funded by Government money. As a result of their constant, unrelenting complaints, our urban areas are being deprived, with obvious results for all to see.

Although almost unlimited sums have been given to urban areas for their problems, particularly during the past year, we must remember that every urban-dwelling family, often living in very poor conditions, is contributing £16 per week to one rural industry. There is a lack of funding in all urban areas, and poor priorities that are based not on reality but on the power of propaganda.

It is understandable that there is distortion in the reporting in the popular press: I do not know of any newspaper editor who does not live in a rural area, and I do not think that any would live in a deprived urban area.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

On a point of order, Sir Nicholas. Is it in order for an hon. Member to impugn Her Majesty and the Prince of Wales in the way that the hon. Gentleman has done in a debate on urban deprivation? It seems to me that he is straying a long way from the subject.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I have listened with some concern to the remarks of Paul Flynn. I did not intervene, in the hope that he would not continue with such remarks. I hope that he has heard the point of order that has been raised and understands my discomfort, in the Chair, at some of his remarks.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

The people to whom I have referred are victims of their own environment, as rural billionaires, and I do not lay any criticism—

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman, because of his experience in the House and the respect that I have for him, not to continue with the remarks that he is making. As I have said, I think that the House could be placed in an awkward position.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

I shall respect what you say, Sir Nicholas.

To reinforce my remarks, I point out that every calculation and every comparison between urban and rural areas shows rural areas to be better off. About 41 per cent. of rural households have two or more cars, compared with 26 per cent. in urban areas. Rural business growth is currently higher than urban business growth. The Government have allocated an additional £30 million to rural policing when, on every comparison of crime between urban and rural areas, it is urban areas that should have that extra policing. The standardised mortality ratio is 92.5 in rural areas and 99.7 in urban areas. About 45 per cent. of starting jobs gained under the new deal are in rural areas, compared with only 43 per cent. in urban areas. About 4 per cent. of households in rural areas have been burgled, compared with 10 per cent. in inner city areas. I believe that part of that distortion is evidenced in this House, where urban deprivation is not regarded as an issue of any importance, although it is a problem of gigantic proportions.

Photo of Mr Iain Coleman Mr Iain Coleman Labour, Hammersmith and Fulham 11:43 am, 17th December 2002

I shall be brief, because I am aware that other hon. Members wish to catch your eye, Sir Nicholas.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck on securing today's important debate. I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss the index of local deprivation, especially now that the contract to review the 2000 index of deprivation has been let by the neighbourhood renewal unit.

When the 2000 index of deprivation was published, it was seen that my local authority, the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, had fallen from being the 18th most deprived borough in the country to 68th in the list. That has had a very serious impact both on the amount of regeneration funds available to the borough and on mainstream funding in general, especially the amount of capital funding that the authority has been granted. Given that effect, the financial position of the council will be seriously affected by the outcome of the review and therefore that review is extremely important to my borough.

The allocation of the neighbourhood renewal funds transitional protection, which has been provided for the last three years to those localities that were in the top 50 in the 1998 index but dropped out, has also seriously affected my authority—although I am grateful for the transitional protection. Under the arrangement, the seven boroughs that benefit from transitional protection, which include Hammersmith and Fulham, still qualify for neighbourhood renewal funding. However, that funding is calculated using a standard amount per head of population in those wards in the authority that are among the most deprived 10 per cent. of all wards nationally. In the 1998 index for local deprivation—I am talking about the previous arrangement—Hammersmith and Fulham had 13 wards in the poorest 10 per cent. nationally. By 2000, the number had fallen to two wards. The practical effect of that has been that the borough was allocated £2.3 million for next year, whereas if the previous index of local deprivation still applied, the council would have been allocated more than £13 million.

Hammersmith and Fulham has received £17 million less in housing capital, despite the transitional relief, as a result of the changes made to the index. In 2004, that transitional relief will end and the impact of ID 2000—the indices of deprivation published in 2000—will inevitably worsen. The borough's situation is very serious and I am pleased that the Government have now acted to review the 2000 index.

I will focus on the geographical access to services domain and the potential impact of a crime domain. There is no justification at all for the use of the geographical access to services domain. The researchers responsible for the calculation of the index claim that the majority of authorities support the domain in practice, but the reality is that the authorities that support the domain are predominantly rural and have very small populations. As far as I am aware, no such measure has ever been used anywhere else in the world to measure deprivation—in fact, there is evidence of the opposite measure being used. For example, I am told that in the calculation of the European Union 50 cities audit, high population density was used as a measure of deprivation.

The indicator measures the distance to key services for those persons and households living on income support. The number of people affected seems to be irrelevant. I am advised that in Chenies in the Chilterns, one of the most deprived wards on the domain, there are fewer than five people on income support, and it is possible that there is only one person on income support. It seems nonsensical to suggest that Chenies is more deprived than other wards because the one person who is on income support has to travel further to the post office. Compare Chenies with a ward in Birmingham, Sparkbrook that has 4,655 households on income support. Of the 10 most deprived wards on the domain, only two have more than 30 families living on income support.

The indicator measures the distance to key services as the crow flies—that is the only measure of access to services that is calculated as part of the domain. No consideration is given to waiting times, the quality of the service or any other factor that may be important in determining access to services.

At the time that the index was published in 2000, the academics who produced it said that the domain made very little difference to the overall result, yet they have consistently refused to support that view. I call on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to publish the data. Like other hon. Members, I would like to see what the index would look like without the domain included—then, we could all see what effect it has had.

The Minister with responsibility for local government at the time of the publication of the index, my right hon. Friend Ms Armstrong, recognised that there was a clear gap because there was no crime domain. I believe that all the experts working in the field recognise that a crime domain is essential to any meaningful measure of deprivation. The absence of a crime domain fundamentally undermines the credibility of the index, so I am pleased that the basic crime data are now available for the whole country. I congratulate the Association of London Government and Greater London Enterprise Ltd., because they worked closely with two recognised experts in the field at the universities of Manchester and of Liverpool to identify robust methods of modelling that extend down to ward level. I very much hope that the Minister will confirm today that a crime domain will be included as an integral part of the review of the 2000 index.

There is no doubt that the index has a substantial effect on the funding of local authorities, particularly in London and other metropolitan and urban areas. I understand that the first report of the research team that carried out the work has just been published for consultation. I am advised that the deadline for comments is 15 January 2003. I hope that the review of the index, when published, will accept that anomalies inadvertently crept into the index that was published in 2000, and that appropriate changes will be made, so that the index can once again stand as a genuine and proper measure of deprivation.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his succinct speech.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Whip 11:51 am, 17th December 2002

I congratulate Ms Buck on securing the debate. She may not be aware that back in 1983, after encouragement from the then Prime Minister, I cut my political teeth in her constituency. At that time it clearly contained both affluence and very high levels of deprivation, and I doubt that it has changed much since. As a councillor in Hackney in the late 1980s, I had first-hand experience of similar levels of deprivation.

I have much sympathy with many of the points that the hon. Lady made. For example, she touched on the index of multiple deprivation and the ways in which, when being updated, as is happening now, it could be modified to include factors such as crime. I could add poor physical environment, to which I think she referred, and concerns about accessibility.

I shall echo one of the points, and not necessarily the whole range, made by Paul Flynn, who spoke of the concern about post office closures in urban areas. Like other hon. Members, I have had difficulty identifying precisely what those proposals mean to each of our constituencies. That information has not been forthcoming and I have no idea which, if any, of the post offices in my constituency might be on the hit list, if such a thing exists.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one difficulty with the reinvention programme that is being put into place is that urban post offices have been systematically closed in the last three or four years? It is not clear whether those closures will count towards the reinvention programme or whether it will be a reinvention programme involving 3,000 losses as of the beginning of next year.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Whip

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important intervention. Clearly, we need to know what the baseline is so that we know the overall number of closures that we face.

Other hon. Members gave statistics relating to London in particular, but it is worth reeling off a few more. London paid at least £10 billion and possibly as much as £20 billion more in tax than it received in public spending. We all know that London is a city of extremes, with the highest percentages of both high disposable income households and low disposable income households. Hon. Members referred to the level of deprivation in individual wards. London has two thirds of the most deprived local authority housing estates and three of the five most deprived boroughs in England. A series of other statistics confirm the level of deprivation in London.

I shall consider three or four key points relating to funding, the first of which is whether funding is sufficient to make a difference. The obvious answer is that we do not know whether it is, because, historically, the take-up of available grants has been limited.

I hope that the Minister will explain how the Government intend to ensure a much higher take-up in future. If she replies that take-up is 100 per cent., we are clearly still failing to deal with fundamental issues such as homelessness in London, which in the third quarter of this year stood at 49,850—a 3.4 per cent. increase on the previous quarter. So far as I can tell, it is the highest figure since 1986, perhaps the highest since records were started. We know that it has a heavy knock-on impact on other services, such as the NHS. It is estimated that homeless people using accident and emergency departments as their GP surgery costs the NHS an extra £1 million a year.

Hon. Members will know that there are about 750,000 empty homes and 200,000 homeless households in England and Wales. Each region has sufficient empty homes to meet the demand. It is not true that all the properties are up in the north and all the demand in the south—the north does have relatively more empty properties, but there are enough in the south to accommodate the homeless households. One has to assume that funding remains insufficient because major problems such as homelessness are still a problem. London should not rule out extra funding to improve its deprived urban areas. I am sure that the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North supports London's Olympic bid as a means of bringing in an extra £1 billion of private investment, which would be targeted at the more deprived areas of east London.

Having examined whether funding is sufficient, we should move on to examine whether it is reaching the parts that other resources cannot reach. I apologise for using a local constituency example, but I know most about the northern wards in the London borough of Sutton—St. Helier, Wandle Valley and The Wrythe—which are comparable to the 20 per cent. worst wards nationally. The local authority estimates that Durand close, an estate in the Wrythe ward, requires about £30 million to regenerate. Various activities go on around the estate—neighbourhood wardens and nursery facilities, for example, and Learndirect has recently set up an outpost close by—but because it exists at the sub-ward level, it is not picked up by any of the usual indices. I have drawn attention to that problem before, so will the Minister say what progress has been made on producing statistics that recognise the sub-ward level? I have provided one example, but I suspect that every Member here today could identify many similar pockets of deprivation in their constituencies, which should appear on the Government's radar.

Another crucial issue is how easy it is to access the available funding. I am aware of long-standing complaints about the complexity of too many funding streams, which require significant management time to deal with. The Government have started to examine rationalisation, but I hope that the Minister can tell us more about their plans to make it easier for local authorities to access available funds. If there were enough funding and people could access it, would that be sufficient to regenerate our deprived areas? The Government need to consider other areas, such as the urban task force's identification of the need for a single remediation permit. Such a permit would facilitate the regeneration of brownfield sites by co-ordinating pollution prevention and control and tying in everything that needs to be done to deal with water pollution and contaminated land.

There is another area where more work is needed, even with sufficient funding. I am sure that the Minister has seen the latest news from Urban Forum, which has identified the need for the much greater involvement of community and voluntary groups to make the best use of available funding. The main recommendation of its latest report is that the Government need to invest in community and voluntary groups with as much passion and belief as they invest in business support and public services.

How do we make private funding available for business? I am sure that the Minister is familiar with the community development finance institutions that were set up specifically to lend in deprived areas and under-served markets, especially in ethnic minority communities, where it is difficult to get access to mainstream finance. Will the Minister set out what support the Government can give that sector?

Unfortunately, I do not have time to touch on issues such as policing and the resources for policing, the role that public transport can play in regenerating areas, or the role that the tram could play in regenerating the St. Helier estate in my constituency by extending to Tooting.

This has been a well informed and non-partisan debate. There is clearly much regeneration in London, as in other cities such as Manchester and Birmingham. That is welcome, but extremes of wealth and poverty are still visible. The real test of the Government and their funding strategy will be whether they can provide funding for much smaller pockets of deprivation in our constituencies, as well as regenerating the larger and more visible areas of deprivation.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 12:02 pm, 17th December 2002

I am grateful to you for allowing me to catch your eye, Mr. O'Hara.

I congratulate Ms Buck on choosing a subject that is not debated enough in the House, and on making a constructive and worthwhile contribution. The hon. Lady's complex speech may, perhaps, be summed up in one sentence: poverty in London remains staggeringly high. I believe that that is the case. It is an indictment of us all in the House, and we need to stiffen our political resolve to do better to solve the problems of our inner cities. To deal with a point made by Paul Flynn, that means treating the problem as an holistic whole. It does not mean setting the countryside against the cities; it means trying to produce a constructive solution for the whole country.

I am pleased to see the Minister in her place. I had very satisfactory meetings with her in her previous guise as the Minister with responsibilities for immigration. She was extremely helpful on several occasions.

My hon. Friend Mr. Field touched on a key point. Other hon. Members touched on the Government's new index and how, paradoxically, the new measurements are making some of our most deprived areas, especially in London, worse off than they would have been under the old system. That is clearly unacceptable. I am sure that the Minister has listened carefully to what hon. Members had to say about that. Representations must be made by 15 January 2003, and I am sure that the Government must be thinking carefully about the matter to ensure that the transitional arrangements up to 2004 are satisfactory. We will put in place a robust system to deal with the situation after 2004.

If we are to solve the problems of inner cities, we need to treat them holistically and to plan on a much longer-term basis than at present. At the moment, we seem to be operating almost on a fire-brigade basis; we deal with desperate problems as they come along instead of having more strategic planning for the future. Although I was critical of the Mayor's spatial plan, it is a good initiative, but only if we start to make progress on implementing it. I should have preferred such a huge document to contain a progress schedule of what the Mayor would expect to have achieved by each year end, so that his expectations could be measured against the reality.

My hon. Friend has an interesting point: how do we measure accurately what is going on in inner cities, especially one that is as complex as London? The homeless charity Crisis, which used to be called Crisis at Christmas, has estimated that there are up to 400,000 hidden homeless in this country. If that is so, there are more homeless people than ever before, but we simply do not know whether it is so.

I asked Lord Falconer, when he was a Minister with housing responsibilities, to introduce a system that would come up with some robust numbers and information. If the debate achieves nothing else—this is not a political matter—I hope that it will lead to the adoption of such a system if we think that the census, of which there is increasing criticism, is unreliable. I do not necessarily blame the Office for National Statistics, as it is difficult to get people to complete forms, especially if they do not want to be seen to be living where they are. There are a number of reasons why people—not least my hon. Friend—adopt that attitude. I do not know his reasons for not filling in his census form; perhaps he will tell us. This is a serious problem because we cannot devote resources to problems if we do not have accurate figures. My most serious point for the Minister is to ask whether a system can be put in place accurately to measure the extent of the problem.

With the exception of London, there is a flight from major cities—such as Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester. There is a flight into London, especially during the working day, but the more we improve transport systems, which we desperately need to do, the more people will commute longer and longer distances in order to work in London. We must try to overcome that problem by planning, which has a huge part to play in urban regeneration. We shall address the problem in more detail when considering the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill this afternoon.

We must start thinking out of the box in relation to our planning problems and try to secure developments so that people can live closer to where they work and to where they send their children to school. If we started thinking in such ways, we could solve many problems, including that of traffic congestion. In many parts of London, from 8 am until 9.30 am, and again at 3.30 pm until 4.30 pm, the roads are completely clogged by cars containing one parent taking one child to one school. If there were a system to ensure that the streets were safe so that people could walk their children to school, we could start to solve some of the problems of traffic congestion. If we started to use all the money that the Government have in an integrated way, we could begin to solve some of our problems.

My second most important point is about various Government budgets. I do not mean just the inner-city regeneration budgets—Tom Brake is absolutely right; the regeneration budgets are far too fragmented. People do not know what they are for, and they are underspent at the year end. We are not getting the money from Europe that we should because we are too timid at claiming it, going outside the box and taking a risk. Surely it is better to try to get the funding, even if it is disallowed at the end of the day and the Government have to make it up. We should be pushing the barriers in Europe to get as much funding for our inner cities as we possibly can.

The Government could do far better for inner cities by employing joined-up thinking. They should use all their budgets in a joined-up, holistic way because there are many overlaps. The social services budget overlaps with the health budget, which overlaps with the education budget, which overlaps with the crime and Home Office budgets. Too many civil servants are locked in their Departments and will not think outside the box because they deal only with their own Departments. Somehow we must get a system to improve co-ordinated thinking throughout the Government. If the Cabinet Office is the vehicle for that, it is not working; we must to do better.

There are many problems that we could begin to solve. Many people have said to me, "What is the hon. Member for Cotswold doing talking about urban regeneration?" I have been the party spokesman on the subject for three years, and during that time I have taken a great interest in the subject, which has taken me to some of the most deprived areas in the country. I have visited deprived areas in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham and Coventry. I have begun carefully to learn from some of the experts to whom I have listened, and I have begun to see some of the problems and some of the solutions.

The former hon. Member for Henley, Lord Heseltine, is not flavour of the month in my party, but during the 1980s the Conservative party carried out some of the most imaginative inner-city regeneration that has ever been seen in this country. He encouraged the public, private and voluntary sectors to work together and to think in innovative ways about how problems in our inner cities could be overcome; we should encourage more of that. We should encourage innovation, and the people with the energy to innovate, through Government funding and the bidding system.

I came across a very interesting quote from the former hon. Member for Henley:

"I accepted that it was possible to prop up these communities by increasing the flow of public money, but that didn't address the fundamental issue of concentrated poverty. We needed to attack the root causes of the problem. The teenagers with the skills, the young would-be homeowners, the aspiring entrepreneurs, the strong, all those with the resources to choose, had to be persuaded to stay".

As I said earlier, we must persuade people to stay in our big cities. If they leave, areas become run-down and the entire system starts to fall down. People must be encouraged to stay by making their areas vibrant places in which to live, where people will want to stay.

The former hon. Member for Henley continued:

"even to come back, live and invest—close to the areas of deprivation."

If we do not get all sectors investing in our inner cities, we shall never solve our severe problems. He added:

"It was necessary to tackle the infrastructure's problems, to improve dramatically the quality of the public services and to create an environment to persuade people that it was in their own interests to live and work there. In other words, one had to enable these communities to compete for their place in the sun."

Everybody must be involved. People need to be imaginative in bidding for Government money, coming up with community schemes and working together rather than arguing with one another.

I pledge that the Opposition will, if we can, help the Government to improve urban regeneration. It is unacceptable that we have some of the worst problems in Europe, but are one of the most prosperous countries in Europe. We must come up with more imaginative solutions: I have begun to open the box this morning; I ask the Minister to do the same. Let us get Ministers, the Government and civil servants all thinking more imaginatively, and surely together we can all come up with solutions to some dreadful problems.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 12:14 pm, 17th December 2002

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend Ms Buck on her choice of subject and on the thoughtful way in which she introduced the debate. I have enjoyed the debate, which has been of a high standard, featuring excellent contributions by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I thank Mr. Clifton-Brown for his kind remarks. Whatever disagreements we may have on the detail of policy, nobody could doubt his passion and commitment to the agenda. Equally, nobody could doubt the passion and commitment shown by my hon. Friend in her work over the years, during which she has tirelessly raised the subject time and again. I shall try to deal with the important points that were raised during the debate.

Far too many people who live in our deprived urban areas suffer a double blow in that not only do they live in such areas, but the highest standards of public services are not available to them. The Government's programme of regeneration is about not only the new deal for communities, vital though that is, and other programmes such as neighbourhood management—on which my hon. Friend is keen—and neighbourhood wardens, but about how we use, or bend, mainstream programmes to ensure that services deliver for people. That is why one of my key objectives is to ensure that other Departments deliver on their floor targets. That may be one of the most bureaucratic official phrases ever invented, but it is an exciting concept. Floor targets are the social equivalent of the minimum wage. They set a minimum level below which standards should not be able to drop. That is every bit as important as all the programmes that we have. I point out to the hon. Member for Cotswold that it provides the joined-up approach to the mainstreaming of those programmes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North painted an accurate portrait of London as a place of absolute contrasts. Mr. Field spoke about affluent areas sitting side by side with much poorer areas, mentioning my constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green. As I am sure that he would agree, the picture is even more complex than that. My hon. Friend Mr. Coleman talked about pockets of deprivation at sub-ward level. I could point to places in the most affluent areas of my constituency where a couple of extremely affluent houses will be next to a house in multiple occupation with acute levels of deprivation. That is what creates an acute situation in London. Of course, it is not confined to London, but is found in other areas as well.

Over several decades, successive Governments have failed too many communities, leaving a legacy of decline and despair in parts of our urban areas, and we know that we have a huge amount to do to turn matters round. In January, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will announce his plan for sustainable communities, aiming to create and maintain thriving communities in the long term.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

Will the Minister comment on one of today's most intractable problems? She mentioned mixed estates. Does she agree that mixed estates are better than the current trend of sending those who fall below the norms of acceptable behaviour—antisocial people—back to the same estates, which will then become the new sink estates? We must think carefully about that problem.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Some recent housing developments show encouraging trends in the other direction. I visited a housing development in the Thames gateway not long ago and was interested to see that it was a complete mixture of owner-occupied housing, rented housing and shared accommodation, side by side. I accept that we need to get away from the ghetto approach that was sometimes seen in the past. People are not designed to live in neat boxes, and planners and others should not categorise them as if they were.

As I was saying, we know how poverty and prosperity can live side by side. Areas in my hon. Friend's constituency have severe pockets of poverty. Golborne ward in north Kensington is in the most deprived 10 per cent. of English wards, whereas Hamilton Terrace ward in St John's Wood is in the least deprived 25 per cent. Such differences create huge issues for us all to deal with.

There has rightly been much concentration on the index of deprivation. I am extremely glad that we have had such a good debate on that, so soon after the publication of the first stage of consultation. We are consulting on options for updating the indices of deprivation 2000, to ensure that they remain a robust and up-to-date instrument for identifying deprived areas. We hope that that will meet the commitment made when the index was published in 2000, and we will look to update and revise it as substantial new data on small areas come on stream. We have also taken the opportunity to consider issues and debates that have emerged since publishing the indices, and whether refinements to the methodology are required.

A key task will be to assess whether we can develop indices for areas smaller than wards so that we are better able to identify pockets of deprivation. Several hon. Members have mentioned that, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham and Tom Brake. Other issues under consideration are revisiting previous attempts to include indicators on crime and physical environment and taking advantage of better data in existing domains. Reference has been made to those.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time. I shall try not to ask her to do so again.

The Minister has touched on a serious problem, which other hon. Members also mentioned. If, increasingly, we cannot rely on census data because people have not completed the forms, and we simply do not know how many people there are in an area, how will the index of deprivation be measured? I am very concerned about that, because if we cannot measure such things properly, we cannot divert the resources that are necessary to deal with them.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I understand the remarks that have been made about census data. My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North dealt with the matter in some detail. She also mentioned the implications of population turnover. Given my experience in my own borough and constituency, I listened to her on that with heartfelt sympathy. We want to hear more about that matter from my hon. Friend, who has considerable expertise there, and all other hon. Members, and I hope that we will be able to have robust consultation on it.

The updating project is divided into three stages with extensive periods of consultation. The stage 1 report is already out for consultation. It sets out preliminary proposals for updating the indices, and deals with some points that have been raised during the debate. Stage 2 will result in a blueprint of our proposals for updating the indices; that will be subject to further consultation, lasting until early May 2003. The index will then be updated and published in summer 2003. We are therefore giving considerable time to dealing with updating. I am convinced that we must get it right, and I want to hear from the widest possible number of colleagues, as well as from those outside the House.

I shall deal briefly with the points that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham asked me about publication material. Throughout the process, I shall endeavour to publish as much material and data as I can. My hon. Friend Paul Flynn raised the question of urban post offices. An announcement about the post office fund for urban areas will shortly be made. I hope that it will bring comfort to my hon. Friend.

The hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington and for Cotswold, as well as others, referred to homelessness. It is a subject dear to my heart, but difficult to go into it at length now. If we are to eradicate poverty and deprivation in London and other urban areas, we must tackle homelessness and, in particular, the problem of families with children living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. That is why we have set ourselves challenging targets, and why I announced a couple of weeks ago that I would be consulting in the new year to ascertain how we can give the targets statutory bite.

Last week, we announced additional money for the country—£7 million—for refuge accommodation. In addition, £1 million from the homelessness budget was matched by another £1 million from Comic Relief—its largest ever domestic donation, so many thanks to it—for setting up a national helpline. I refer to domestic violence in the context of homelessness because we know from figures that we are collating that, although it varies from region to region, women and children fleeing violent partners account for 16 per cent. of homelessness nationally. The connection is clear and the problem needs a joined-up approach. I take the point about more research on homelessness having to be done. We are committed to doing that.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington mentioned initiatives, including a review of area-based ones. He will know that we have made significant reductions in the number of such initiatives. I continue to keep a wary eye on new initiatives, which must pass strict tests. A great deal of work is happening locally. In Bolton, a local authority is putting its regeneration initiatives together to see what extra results can be gained.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned access to finance. That is an area huge enough to have a debate of its own. He was right to mention business funding, particularly access to business by black and minority ethnic communities. I hope that we shall return to that subject in detail.

This has been an extremely important debate. We have not dealt much with the new deal for communities, which I believe will significantly change the 39 areas to which it will apply over a long period. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham, who is the chair of the north Fulham NDC partnership. The neighbourhood renewal fund will kick-start mainstream programmes and bring the integrated funding for which so many hon. Members have asked. I am pleased to have made my contribution to this important area of policy, and to have listened to so many good contributions.