A fourth term Labour government will invest in skills rather than buildings, enforce the responsibility to work if people can, and give local public servants more freedom to manage, according to Liam Byrne, chief secretary to the Treasury and the minister for public service reform.

He combined his outline of a shift in emphasis for Labour with a fierce attack on David Cameron’s claims of a “broken Britain” – comparing his stance to Ronald Reagan’s assault on “welfare queens” in the US in the 1970s.

Mr Reagan was determined to dismantle Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programme, Mr Byrne said, inventing the myth of a woman with 80 names and 30 addresses claiming welfare under every alias.

The myth “inspired a movement that started with a call to responsibility and ended by ignoring every cry for help,” he said – with claims of “broken Britain” and “broken communities” in practice an insult to communities hit by the sharp end of globalisation.

Such places still believe in “the great British value of playing by the rules” Mr Byrne said in a lecture to the think tank Progress.

And under a fourth Labour term “individual responsibility must be the bedrock on which we build” to help poor places, “especially the responsibility to work if you can”.

More investment must go into skills rather than buildings as it is “people, not buildings” which “regenerate a community”.

Local areas should be allowed to decide which agency leads in tackling local problems, while initiatives such as the Social Investment Wholesale Bank can help the voluntary sector raise funding.

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