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House Building Projects

Volume 507: debated on Tuesday 9 March 2010

4. What account his Department takes of the effects on local employment in the construction industry in its decisions on the allocation of funding for house building projects. (320999)

9. What account his Department takes of the effects on local employment in the construction industry in its decisions on the allocation of funding for house building projects. (321004)

In September 2009 we announced that all new housing projects funded with public investment will be required to offer apprenticeships and local labour opportunities. The aim of that policy is to increase opportunities for young and unemployed people who have been particularly hard hit in the current economic climate.

I understand that, but I am sure that the Minister is aware that there are 750,000 empty homes, and that more than 200,000 construction workers are chasing 300 jobs. Does he not accept, therefore, that the Government ought to do more to bring empty homes back into use?

It is precisely because we want to do more in the housing industry that we have announced the £1.5 billion housing pledge to increase the number of homes being developed and to provide jobs in construction.

The Minister completely failed to answer the previous question. In Otley, in my constituency, we lost Lotus Construction last year, with the loss of 80 jobs—an experience common to many constituencies. Considering that on average it costs £10,000 to bring an existing property back into use, compared with £100,000 for a new social house, how can the Minister possibly say that the Government are doing enough to bring homes back into use?

We are investing money in improving existing properties, as well as in building new ones. This Government’s record in supporting the construction industry through the downturn has been absolutely first-class. This has been the first recession in which a Government have invested record amounts to keep the economy moving, protect jobs in construction and provide the skills that the industry will need in the future.

The Government have given Milton Keynes council funding to appoint an officer to start implementing the empty dwelling management order, because the Liberal Democrat-controlled council has done absolutely nothing on it for the past three years, despite the fact that I went to it with lists of empty properties that were prime candidates for the order. Does the Minister agree, however, that house building is required to meet housing need, and that empty homes, although important, are a flea bite compared with the breadth of housing need in places such as Milton Keynes?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the need to build more homes, and that is why we are investing record amounts in the house building industry. She is also absolutely right about empty homes, and I congratulate her on her work in Milton Keynes to ensure that they are brought back into use.

Will my hon. Friend welcome the programme, which will create many jobs, to bring 5,300 socially rented homes in my constituency up to and beyond the Government’s decent homes standard, with new kitchens and bathrooms, rewiring, new boilers—[Interruption.]—windows and doors, roofing, chimney repairs, repointing and insulation works? Is not that a good record for a Labour Government and a Labour council?

That is a very good record, and the Opposition were interjecting because they do not value that investment in improving homes for ordinary people. I welcome what my right hon. Friend says. Once again he has demonstrated the faultless judgment that he has exercised over a lifetime’s public service.

This is the fourth Housing Minister whom I have faced over the Dispatch Box, but I congratulate him on having, this weekend, outlasted at least his immediate predecessor, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett).

Today, the Library confirmed that house building has fallen to its lowest level, excluding the war years, since 1924, when Ramsay MacDonald became Prime Minister. Is that damning indictment of Labour housing policy a result of the record nine different Housing Ministers, or of Labour’s obstinate refusal to work alongside local people to build more homes?

What complete and utter nonsense. The answer is neither of those reasons. The level has fallen to its lowest level because—the hon. Gentleman may not have noticed this—we have just been through the most extraordinary recession that this country and the world have ever seen. That is why we have invested £1.5 billion this year and next to build 20,000 new affordable homes—investment opposed by the Opposition. Building work has started on more than 80 kickstart projects; the first homes in more than a decade are being built under the local authority new build scheme; and residents in those areas—the families who are desperate to get a home—as well as construction workers and building companies, too, want to know why the Opposition want to cut that spending this year and next and put all those jobs at risk.