[Mr Roger Gale in the Chair] — Economic Regeneration (Glasgow)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 16th February 2011.

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Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 9:30 am, 16th February 2011

Thank you very much, Mr Gale. I am very pleased to speak here this morning. This is my first Westminster Hall debate since I was elected as a Member of Parliament at the last election, and I am pleased that the subject is my own city of Glasgow-the great city of Glasgow. I am sure that you will hear much of that this morning, Mr Gale.

Of course Glasgow is vital to the current economy of Scotland, and over the years it has also contributed a great deal to Scotland and the United Kingdom. Although Glasgow has suffered many setbacks and difficulties along the way, I argue that the city has fought to overcome them with significant success. It is important that we understand the key ingredients of that success and that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. Instead, we must deepen and enhance the processes of regeneration, so that we can benefit from them in the future.

The second city of the empire, Glasgow inspires great pride and loyalty in its people: pride in the skills and contribution made by working people to the economy, and loyalty to a city famed for its humour and resilience. By 1870, Glasgow was producing more than half of Britain's tonnage of shipping and a quarter of all the locomotives being built in the world. Of course, our interest in shipbuilding continues to this day, as I am sure Ministers know. In my constituency, Glasgow East, we had Parkhead forge, which was a powerhouse of the steel industry. It was one of the biggest steel employers in the world-at one point, it employed 30,000 people-and it made an enormous contribution to the war effort. The plant finally closed its doors in the 1980s.

I argue, with some regret, that that great contribution to Scotland's economy has not been properly recognised or rewarded over the years. There is a real sense among Glaswegians that our work and contribution was used when times were good, but that we were abandoned when change was under way, and we cannot let that happen again. As a result of that abandonment, we were left with a legacy of ill health, high poverty and mass unemployment. That situation was particularly bad during the 1980s, when unemployment soared. There was a sharp decline in public services, urban decay set in and a cycle of worklessness and hopelessness became embedded in too many communities and too many families. The next generation worked hard to tackle that legacy through economic and social regeneration. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, there were many successes along the way. As a result of economic diversification and increased investment in infrastructure, health and education, Glasgow achieved a great deal.

More than 53,000 jobs were created in the city between 2000 and 2005, which was a growth rate of 32%. Between 1998 and 2001, the city's financial services sector increased by 30%, and it is now one of Europe's largest financial centres. In 2005, more than 17,000 new jobs were created. In 2006, private sector investment in the city reached £42 billion, which represented a 22% increase in such investment within a single year. That shift in Glasgow's fortunes marked very significant progress and played a vital part in helping to change Glasgow's image of economic decline and worklessness. In doing so, it inspired confidence in the people of Glasgow, and it inspired investors to have confidence in the city. Of course, it also demonstrated that the famous Glasgow resilience pays off.

A debate about regeneration is about not only the physical aspects of a place but its people. Glasgow has had a strong sense that the process of economic regeneration and the accompanying process of cultural renaissance that it experienced in the 1980s and 1990s should benefit all its citizens and not only those who were skilled and able to make the most of those opportunities. Too often, Glasgow was characterised as a city of two halves, and there was a real push to ensure that all the people of the city benefited from any regeneration process. Glasgow's problems of ill health, poverty and deprivation were so deep-rooted that there needed to be a step change in how we tackled them. A vital ingredient was the regeneration of some of the most disadvantaged communities, a number of which are in the east end of Glasgow in my constituency. Long before the big society was ever heard of, Glasgow pioneered community development.

We are all aware of the mistakes that were made in the past when things were "done to" communities rather than "with them", particularly in relation to housing. Economic regeneration is at its best when we work with people who have experienced the problems and have a vested interest in finding the solutions, rather than when we impose top-down reforms. That is best illustrated in the housing sector. Through housing stock transfer, the city has been able to bring additional major spend into housing investment. That process not only involved tenants in a completely new way but delivered a programme of sustainable housing in Glasgow. In my previous role as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I was the Minister with responsibility for housing in different ministerial capacities, and I was substantially involved in housing stock transfer. If anyone wants to hear me talk for half an hour about housing stock transfer, I am very willing to oblige, but such talks are obviously not in great demand at the moment.

Given the challenges facing Glasgow, it is important to understand how we made progress. Glasgow city council was instrumental in building a lasting partnership with the private sector, a partnership which continues to this day. That partnership with the private sector will be the theme of my contribution to the debate, including how it is possible to get the public and private sectors to work together. My real fear is that that partnership is being jeopardised at the moment. The experience that we had in Glasgow of the partnership between public and private is relevant to the discussions of today and the priorities that we set.

In Glasgow, the private sector understood the need to invest in education and the benefits that it accrues from that investment. The private sector benefited enormously from the developments in housing and in particular from housing stock transfer. For example, the £1 billion investment by Glasgow Housing Association has seen unparalleled improvements in housing throughout the city. Perhaps the employment opportunities that arise from such housing investment are not properly understood, but in fact 4,000 people were directly employed between 2006 and 2010 as a result of the investment in housing in Glasgow. Nearly half those people were employed through community benefit clauses, which shows that public intervention works by creating sustainable employment. Of the 2,000 people who were employed through community benefit clauses, half of them were trainees or apprentices. Once again, that employment has had a real impact in the communities in which those people lived and worked.

We have experienced a bit of a jolt to the process of regeneration in Glasgow in recent years, since the Scottish National party came to power. I would argue that during that time the partnership approach to regeneration has been undermined. That is exemplified through the development of the Scottish Futures Trust. That trust was set up by the SNP Administration, and it was meant to be part of a new approach to raising private finance, allegedly for investment. However, it has failed to commission the building of a single new school, and funding for capital investment projects has fallen by £1 billion at the cost of 37,000 jobs in the construction industry.

The SNP Government have refused point blank to listen to the pleas of the business community in Glasgow, and as a result of that cut in capital investment and other cuts, the construction of school buildings has been scrapped and thousands of teachers and nurses have lost their jobs. The "Salmond slump", as it is now termed in Scotland, has also seen the cancellation of vital capital infrastructure projects such as the Glasgow airport rail link. The cancellation of GARL has meant the loss of 1,300 jobs. For the first time in a long time, Glasgow unemployment figures have begun to fall behind those of England.

There is no doubt that the decline in investment under the SNP Administration has hit Glasgow hard. In my own constituency, the number of new or refurbished schools between 1999 and 2007 was 14, so we had 14 brand new or refurbished schools in the east end of Glasgow in that time. Since the SNP came to power, not one school in my constituency has been built or refurbished-there has been no investment at all in schools. Recently Glasgow city council has had more than its fair share of budget cuts, as the council itself will confirm. There has been a 3.6% budget cut, which is the highest cut for many years and above the national average.

Glasgow is battling on, and there are still regeneration projects that matter enormously. I want to refer to two of those projects that are of great importance-first, the Commonwealth games, and secondly the Clyde Gateway. The 2014 games will be an exciting occasion, and there was great celebration in Glasgow when we won them. It is an occasion to celebrate sport in a city famed for its sporting achievements. As the Member of Parliament for the great football team of Glasgow Celtic, I expect everyone to be aware of our great expertise on the football field, and I am sure that we will inspire interest in other sports when the Commonwealth games are held. It is, however, also an opportunity to foster economic regeneration, most particularly in areas of the city that still need rejuvenation. More than 9,000 businesses entered the bidding process for affiliated contracts and subcontracts, and it is expected that the games will create 1,000 jobs and stimulate £1 billion of infrastructure investment in Glasgow, most particularly addressing our urge to ensure that the most deprived areas benefit. In the east end of Glasgow the games are of great significance, so will the Minister, in his response, focus on the games? We could perhaps learn things from the UK's experience with the Olympic games, and the UK Government could perhaps play a part in ensuring that the Commonwealth games are an important success.

The Clyde Gateway is another important development in the east end of Glasgow. It has been identified in the national planning framework as Scotland's top regeneration project. It has the target of creating 21,000 jobs and 10,000 homes over two decades. It is vital to the success of Glasgow, but recently there have been some problems with its funding. The SNP Government have taken some action to address the concerns, but the role of Scottish Enterprise has, I think, been controversial in its support of the gateway. We cannot afford to let the project slip, and some of my hon. Friends will perhaps want to make more detailed reference in their contributions to the progress, or lack thereof. Hopefully, we can particularly focus on that in the coming months, as it is key to the regeneration of Glasgow. Both the Clyde Gateway and the Commonwealth games are important to regeneration, particularly as they have a focus on and locus in addressing the issue of deprived communities, as well as having a stake in Glasgow's future.

Glasgow is, of course, facing the double whammy of a Tory-led Government-hon. Members will have expected me to move on to this topic. In debates such as this, I always want to be polite, so I will say this in the most generous personal terms, but I cannot resist making political criticisms and I hope that the Minister will take what I say in the tenor in which it is meant. We have seen some difficulties and challenges since the election of the new Government, including the cancellation of the future jobs fund, which was doing so much to tackle problems of unemployment and particularly of youth unemployment, where we were just beginning to grapple with some of the more deep-seated issues. We have seen the cuts in public expenditure, and we have heard from the Government that when cuts are made in public expenditure, the private sector will step in to fill that gap. I say assertively to the Government that that did not happen when the SNP cut expenditure. In fact, the business community put quite a different case in Glasgow, where it said that when public expenditure is used wisely, it can assist private sector development, and we have seen the details of that in Glasgow and the real success of the model.

We have also seen a raft of cuts in housing benefit, which has undermined that twin process of economic and social regeneration. I would be the first at the barricades saying that welfare reform is important, particularly because of the constituency that I represent. I was a great supporter of the welfare reforms introduced by the previous Labour Government, but how reform is done is critical. The number of people on incapacity benefit tripled under the previous Tory Government, but fell during the previous Labour one. It is concerning that this Government's welfare reforms are perhaps undermining regeneration. A particular example is the Government's decision to take away 10% of housing benefit from someone who has been on jobseeker's allowance for a year. Even if that person is doing all that is required of them and is desperately looking for work, they will still lose their benefit. That not only has a harsh impact on the family but undermines housing-led regeneration, because it affects funding for housing associations in Glasgow, which would be a desperate setback for our city. In all honesty, such a punitive, nasty cut reminds Glaswegians of the bad old days. We have had the higher education cuts that have come through the block grant, and investment in education, particularly at university level, matters so much for a skilled work force, because it enables growth in key sectors such as life sciences and finance.

Centre stage in this discussion has to be unemployment. The numbers have been creeping back up in Glasgow, particularly with the real concerns about the retraction in the economy shown in the recent growth figures. In Glasgow in December, 15 claimants were chasing every vacancy-in my constituency, the figure was 25. That is deeply worrying for those individuals, families and communities, and it has an enormous impact in the city as a whole. It is all very well telling people that they must go back to work, but there are no jobs to go to, which cuts the feet from under the policy. We cannot have welfare to work if there is no work, and it is employment and the lack of it that lies at the heart of the regeneration debate.

For generation after generation, Glasgow has experienced surges in unemployment through profound economic shifts without the right action to protect its people and to get its economy back on its feet, and it looks as though we are experiencing that yet again. I have no doubt that the Government will respond by saying that it is all the fault of the previous Government, and that there is nothing else that has to be done apart from tightening our belts. That has been said to Glaswegians before, and it is has been proved very wrong indeed, many times. I argue very strongly that the people of Glasgow understand that the banking crisis was the fundamental cause of the recent economic experiences, and there is great resentment that that sector is not being made to contribute more to the solutions. Britain's debt was among the lowest in the G7, and the Tories actually argued that we should perhaps have gone further in our plans for public expenditure. In reality, as Glasgow has shown, it is not "public sector investment bad," as if that were somehow a drag on the economy that stifles private sector development; it is both the public and private sectors working together in partnership that is good and that matters.

I will draw my remarks to a close, and I thank hon. Members for attending the debate. One of the first demands that I had when I became a Member of Parliament came from Glasgow's Evening Times, that other significant element of Glasgow life, which my hon. Friends know. The paper contacted me and insisted that my job here is to stand up for Glasgow and that I should make that one of my central claims, which is what I agreed to do-we always agree, I am sure, with the Evening Times. I will continue to do that, because it is our job here to highlight the city's strength and potential.

People have many images and stereotypes of the city of Glasgow, and I never deny the problems that we face. I have hopefully done some work to try to deal with some of our city's great difficulties, but it is also a city of great strength, promise and resource, and we have to learn from not only its problems but its great successes. I hope that the Minister will listen and will take back Glasgow's message to the Government. That message is that they should think again about cuts in housing benefit in particular and that they should support our fight for jobs, particularly as we have seen the job crisis increase. They should recognise Glasgow's contributions and work with us to support economic and social regeneration.