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Time for actiontask forces get to the heart of the matter;Inner Cities

* The social exclusion unit -Tony Blair's pet project - has powers to act between governmental departments, encouraging them to tackle poverty together.

The unit, which draws on a team of ministers from seven government departments - including education, social security and the Home Office - reports directly to the Prime Minister and works closely with the Downing Street policy unit.

Its ministers and officials view improving educational standards as central to the alleviation of poverty. It has been looking at ways of identifying teenagers who are at risk of becoming single mothers; at proposals to give new powers to the police and courts to tackle truancy; and at compulsory parenting classes.

* The Urban Task force, chaired by the architect Lord Rogers of Riverside, was set up last summer to encourage people to move back to the cities, areas of which have been blighted by the exodus to the suburbs and countryside.

If successful, struggling schools could be brought back to life by increased pupil numbers. The task force is due to report this summer on proposals for towns and cities in England. Its ideas will be taken into account in the Urban white paper, due to be published by the end of the year.

* Twenty-five education action zones have been set up and more will follow next year. They are intended to bring in business cash and innovation, with the private sector adding pound;250,000 a year to the state's pound;750,000.

* The Government has invested pound;350 million in its Excellence in Cities programme. This promises mentors for schoolchildren who need extra help as well as masterclasses to exploit the talents of Britain's brightest pupils. It is proposed to run summer schools in science, the arts, humanities and social science.

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