'Thugs and winos' target of Labour policy on cities

Click to follow
A COMMITMENT to recapture public spaces in the inner cities from 'winos, thugs and Tory indifference' was made yesterday by Jack Straw, the Labour spokesman on environment.

Launching a Labour policy review on the inner cities, he told the meeting of Labour MPs, council leaders and voluntary groups at the Commons that the Tories saw the inner cities as 'trouble spots which need to be pacified rather than communities which need to be rebuilt'.

The Tories wanted to abandon public space - the heart of British cities - to a privatised world, Mr Straw said.

'It is public space where people can freely and safely walk about that is of profound importance to how our towns and cities feel . . . the Tories do not care about them which is why they are increasingly dilapidated, dirty and dangerous,' Mr Straw said.

A Labour survey, Sinking our Cities, warned that 33,973 jobs could be lost with the run-down of the Urban Programme.

Michael Howard, Secretary of State for Environment, denied he was scrapping it, but the grants are being switched to the City Challenge for which councils bid in competition with each other. He told Mr Straw in a letter that total resources for the two programmes would rise from pounds 319m in 1992-93 to pounds 408m in 1993-94. A further pounds 20m from the Urban Programme would be used to form an Urban Parntership Fund for 1993-94.

But the Labour survey said some councils, including Sheffield and Plymouth, had lost Urban Programme and City Challenge funding. Mr Straw said the Government's decision to run down the Urban Programme was motivated by a 'pathological mistrust of local government'. That had led to the 'phenomenon of quango government' and the 'unelected state'. Directly-appointed non-governmental organisations were running budgets totalling pounds 42bn, he said. 'The unelected state now spends more than elected local authorities. The Urban Regeneration Agency will be another string to the bow of the unelected state.'

In London, the councils of Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Newham had been 'muscled out' by the Docklands Development Corporation, creating 'a collection of huge, ghostly, empty buildings with very few people working there and very few local jobs created. Docklands looks more like a movie set for a science fiction film than a living, working community,' Mr Straw said.

Keith Vaz, the Labour spokesman on the inner cities, accused the Tories of failing to fulfil the pledge by Baroness Thatcher to tackle the problems of the inner cities. He said the inner cities were facing a crisis of unemployment, bad housing and poor transport which was now beginning to hit the surburbs.

'With the scrapping of the Urban Programme and the third round of the City Challenge, the Tories' much-vaunted inner city initiatives are in tatters,' Mr Vaz said.

School bands and choirs are to be asked to seek sponsorship to cut costs, Glamorgan County Council decided yesterday after being forced by capping to cut its budget by pounds 8m.