This statement provides a Government response in relation to the following reports:
East Midlands Regional Committee inquiry into “Does the East Midlands get a Fair Share of Funding” published 26 March 2010 (HC 104-I, Session 2009-2010).
South East Regional Committee inquiry into “Housing in the South East” published on 7 April 2010 (HC 403, Session 2009-2010).
West Midlands Regional Committee inquiry into “Planning for the Future: Housing and Economic Development in the West Midlands” published 8 April 2010 (HC 421, Session 2009-2010).
West Midlands Regional Committee inquiry into “Making the Voice of the West Midlands heard: the Work of the Committee, and the future for the Region” published 8 April 2010 (HC 528, Session 2009-2010).
The dissolution of Parliament in April 2010 did not allow sufficient time for a formal Government response to be sent to these Committees, which following a statement made by the Leader of the House on 26 May 2010 will not be re-enacted.
The Government’s response
The Committees’ reports were written against the backcloth of the previous administration’s priorities. The creation of the coalition Government has meant that the policy context has changed significantly for some issues, which the Committees have highlighted. “The Coalition: our programme for government”, outlines the Government’s position on these and other relevant issues. As a consequence the Government do not intend to respond in detail to each of the recommendations. The Government acknowledge the reports of each of the Committees and thank the Committee members and witnesses for their contributions.
The East Midlands Regional Committee report—Does the East Midlands get a fair share of funding.
This was a cross-cutting report and key themes were:
Review departmental funding formulae, especially health and police.
Review transport funding and push for rail electrification.
Review timeliness of population statistics used in funding allocation methodology.
Encouragement of continued partnership working.
The report claimed that the East Midlands did not get its fair share of funding and the coalition is concerned about fairness. However, the Government believe that the most urgent issue facing the country is tackling the budget deficit and therefore all Government funding will be closely scrutinised and public expenditure will reduce over the next five years. The announcements in the Budget on 22 June were an important part of that process; in addition, the Government have published their proposed approach to the Spending Review 2010. The spending review, due to conclude in the autumn, will set spending limits for every Government Department for the period 2011-12 to 2014-15. To ensure that resources are prioritised within tighter budgets, Departments will be asked to prioritise their main programmes against a tough set of criteria to ensure value for money in public spending. The Government are determined to take decisions in a way that is in line with their values of freedom, fairness and responsibility. Therefore the Government will:
Deliver its guarantee that health spending will increase in real terms in each year of the Parliament, and that 0.7% of GNI will be spent on overseas aid by 2013;
Limit, as far as possible, the impact of reductions in spending on the poorest and most vulnerable in society, and on those regions heavily dependent on the public sector;
Protect, as far as possible, the spending that generates high economic returns;
Make further savings to fund the priorities set out in their programme.
As part of the spending review process the Public Expenditure Committee will ensure the Government take the time to consider collectively the effect of different options on its agreed priorities, and on different groups of society. Over the summer, the Public Expenditure Committee will test and challenge Departments’ plans, and ensure that they respond to external engagement.
The South East Regional Committee report—Housing in the South East.
The Government share the Committee’s conclusion that housing is crucial to the well-being of the economy and population of south east England. They further believe that development is necessary if it is to help people meet their aspirations to own their homes. That is why the Government intend to provide incentives for local authorities to deliver sustainable development, including for new homes and businesses.
The Government do not agree however that an appropriate level of development is best achieved through the use of Whitehall-imposed targets, a belief which underpins many of the report’s conclusions and recommendations. That is why we are taking steps to abolish regional strategies and regional housing targets. The Government believe that, rather than their prescribing the number and location of homes or requiring reviews of the green belt where there is no local desire to do so, local people in villages, towns and cities should be able to develop their own vision for the places in which they live. It is committed to working with local people to achieve this by, for example, enhancing community involvement in drawing up local plans, allowing local authorities to benefit financially when they facilitate new housing and enabling community-owned local housing trusts.
The West Midlands Regional Committee report—Planning for the Future: Housing and Economic Development in the West Midlands.
Most of the Committee’s recommendations relate to regional strategies and the Government consider that housing and planning decisions are best made at the local level. Consequently, it is returning decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils by abolishing regional strategies through the Decentralisation and Localism Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech on 25 May 2010.
The Government have a vision for a simpler more efficient and transparent planning system which will support and enable the investment, economic growth and housing that the country needs to take us out of recession. A framework of incentives will ensure communities receive a share in the benefits of housing development and not just the costs.
Future public expenditure for housing will be considered in the spending review, but the Government will provide mechanisms to bring empty homes back into use and create new Local Housing Trusts that will make it simpler for communities to provide homes for local people. They also intend to explore and promote a range of measures to meet housing needs including the promotion of shared ownership schemes and helping social tenants and others to own their own home.
The Government encourage all local authorities to share best practice in developing innovative approaches to attracting new investment in housing. It also encourages all local authorities and sub-regional partnerships to engage with their partners, residents, and other interested parties when making decisions about future plans and investment.
The West Midlands Regional Committee report—Making the Voice of the West Midlands heard: the Work of the Committee, and the future for the Region.
The Government have confirmed that they do not intend to re-establish Regional Committees. The Committee considered regional governance structures and further consideration of these issues will take place through the fundamental review of the role of Government, which will be completed as part of the spending review.