Conservatives Plan To Tackle Poverty With Enterprise Areas

David Cameron today sharpens his commitment to helping the poor by describing those left behind by rising living standards elsewhere in the population as the most urgent political problem facing Britain.

In an article for the Guardian, the Conservative leader says central government intervention is often too blunt an instrument to aid hard-to-reach families. Instead he endorses proposals published by a Tory task force today for “social enterprise zones” in run-down areas, boosted by tax relief and fewer planning constraints.

“The last generation has seen a steady rise in living standards for the many, and a relative fall in living standards for the few. Helping these ‘few’ to catch up with the rest of society should be the most urgent political priority for the British government,” Mr Cameron writes today.

He points to the admission last year by Tony Blair that Sure Start centres have failed to reach the most excluded families, and argues that the best way to reach them is through local, grassroots entrepreneurship. “Social enterprises … are not, as many on the left claim, cut-price welfare organisations, commercial wolves dressed in the sheep’s clothing of charity. They are fired by the same passion for public service which drives the statutory sector, but they deliver it in a way which is often more effective than the large and lumbering agencies of government.”

Today’s report is meant to bolster the work unveiled last month by Iain Duncan Smith’s social justice policy group. The report of the social enterprise zones task force, headed by a former special adviser, Rodney Lord, and Harriett Baldwin, a Conservative parliamentary candidate, says they should emulate the enterprise zones set up by the Thatcher government in the 1980s, which helped to revive London’s docklands as a financial centre. The zones should be nominated by local authorities and approved, partly administered and launched by a new community bank.

The report suggests tax breaks along the lines of those for venture capitalist trusts, giving them tax relief of up to 30% on investments for at least five years, plus relief on income and capital gains. The ceiling of £200,000 could also be lifted from these investments, and social enterprises allowed to invest in property.