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Volume 448: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2006

My right hon. Friend surely knows that the Bolton ALMO is unique, in that it is the only ALMO that is regenerating estates in both the public and private sector. Will she therefore consider extending the Bolton model to other areas with high housing demand, especially urban areas with high waiting lists? She will also know that the Bolton housing waiting list has quadrupled in recent years.

I am familiar with the Bolton at Home ALMO, which is unique in dealing with private as well as public sector housing, and is a three-star ALMO with excellent prospects for improving. My hon. Friend asks me whether the model can be extended, and I think that there is potential for extending it to other areas. He also touched on the future of ALMOs. I suggest that he is trying to get at what will happen to ALMOs after the decent homes programme has finished. My view is that it should be for local authorities, in consultation with tenants, to decide what works best for them. That will always be the yardstick by which I judge future proposals: will the proposed model make the quality of life better for the tenants or others who live in the housing stock?

Will the Secretary of State also have a look urgently at the level of ALMO debts that are accumulating throughout the country? The debt portfolio of my local council, Hammersmith and Fulham, is growing—it was projected to grow under the previous Labour administration—from about £295 million to about £500 million. Almost all of that was due to ALMO debt. Does the right hon. Lady think that that is sustainable? In only four years there has been a £200 million increase in debt.

I am happy to examine the ALMO in Hammersmith and Fulham, which the hon. Gentleman mentions. I think that the hon. Gentleman will recognise the huge additional investment that has gone not only into housing that has gone through the stock transfer process but has also gone through ALMOs to local authorities. We are consulting on ways in which it might be possible for councils that have not gone through the ALMO process to benefit from some extra flexibility, so that they can go on to build more homes and make their communities better, as well as concentrating on the decent homes programme. There is an exciting future for local authorities that want to build up their local housing strategy function and think broadly about not only how to improve the public stock but how to improve the private stock as well, and create better mixed communities.

When large construction companies go bust, a significant number of small to medium-sized enterprises that have completed their work for the large company will invariably go bust as well. SMEs, as we know, are the backbone of the construction industry and payment security is vital for them if they are to survive. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that during the review, part 2 of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 will be amended to ensure that payment uncertainty in the construction industry is brought to an end?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and one that I know she feels strongly about. I am happy to consider the issue that she raises in the course of the review.