HC Deb 19 July 1988 vol 137 cc551-2W
Mr. Tim Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to address the problems in the most disadvantaged areas of Belfast; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Tom King

Considerable progress has been made in tackling many of the social and economic problems in Belfast, particularly in improving housing conditions and reviving the city centre. However there remain a number of areas, involving both the Protestant and Catholic communities, which are characterised by very high levels of unemployment, low levels of skill, poor educational achievement and a depressing physical environment.

I intend now to enhance the programme of action for these areas. This will be aimed at stimulating greater economic activity, reinforcing local enterprise, improving the quality of the environment, and equipping the people of these areas to compete successfully for available employment. I have asked the Minister who is responsible for the environment in Northern Ireland, who has special responsibility for Belfast, to take this work forward in conjunction with public agencies, the private sector and the voluntary sector.

I shall be reviewing, in the context of the 1988 public expenditure survey, the overall level of resources which can be made available for this programme. I am already providing significant public investment, and I have allocated a further £10 million for expenditure on projects in the financial year ending 31 March 1989.

The success of this programme depends not only on the public sector or on public resources, but on the active co-operation of the private and voluntary sectors. Responsible local people and bodies can make a significant contribution, with the help of the public agencies, in improving social and economic conditions. Yet, however much all people of goodwill in the local communities, the churches, the public and voluntary bodies try to do to revive the areas of greatest deprivation, it is the blight of terrorism that undermines the spirit, destroys hope, drives out initiative, instils fear and turns away opportunities for investment. The Government can play their part supported by all those who wish to see better times for the people of Belfast but it is an end to terrorism that would do most to bring back confidence, jobs, self-esteem and opportunities.

I am today placing in the Library papers which provide further background to this initiative.