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Housing (Local Authorities)

Volume 516: debated on Thursday 21 October 2010

2. What recent discussions his Department has had with representatives of voluntary organisations providing housing services for local authorities on the potential effects on that sector of future local government funding plans. (18461)

My Department has consulted widely with the voluntary sector in relation to the provision of housing services for local authorities, and we have listened carefully to the points they have raised. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we have, for example, protected the homelessness grant, providing £400 million; protected the funding for disabled facilities grant; and minimised reductions to the Supporting People programme over the spending review.

The voluntary groups in my constituency, such as Manor residents association, together in partnership with Housing Hartlepool and Hartlepool borough council, provide much-needed services such as handyman services, financial advice to tenants and tackling antisocial behaviour. Given that they derive their income from local authorities and the registered social landlord, and given yesterday’s announcement of a real-terms cut of 26% in local authority budgets and the cutting by half of the social housing budget, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the voluntary groups where they will get their money from and how these services can be maintained?

The hon. Gentleman will know the backdrop to this, which is that when he was a Minister the Government literally ran out of money, and not just money from then taxpayers but money from the future, so some steps had to be taken. Despite that, however, we have still managed to protect all those different budgets, particularly that for Supporting People, which will be very important to his local authority: it is almost certainly where those voluntary services are getting quite a lot of their funding. We also heard the Chancellor announce yesterday a £100 million transition fund. I can further tell the hon. Gentleman that I am today announcing £12.25 million for local authorities and the voluntary sector to help households affected by changes in housing benefits. There is a whole package of services there. We absolutely recognise the need to protect the most vulnerable; it is a shame that his Government did not do the same as they spent all the money.

That was very interesting from the Minister, but it is clear that yesterday the Chancellor announced devastating cuts to house building and local government funding. Is it not the case that while across Whitehall Departments average cuts are 19%, town halls up and down the country will lose 28% of their funding?

I start by welcoming the right hon. Lady to her new position and to our exchanges across the Dispatch Box.

We have already covered the backdrop. We know that the financial crisis was incredibly sharp and, as has been said, if the Opposition do not have a plan they cannot criticise the plans that have been put in place. Everybody in the country will want to know what the right hon. Lady’s plans would have been. However, as it happens, and as she mentions house building as part of her critique, let me tell her that in the 13 Labour years, there was a net gain of just 14,000 affordable homes. We will build more affordable homes in every single year of our Government than Labour did in all its 13 years put together.

I thank the Minister for his words of welcome. There may come a time when we agree across the Dispatch Box, but today is not that day. The Chancellor was right about one thing yesterday: the cuts are the Government’s choice, and their choice is to dump the cuts on local communities. I am afraid the Secretary of State and his team have failed to stand up for local councils. Can the Minister tell me how many jobs in the public, private and voluntary sectors will be lost as a result of the Secretary of State’s failure?

It is really no good not having a plan and then criticising the Government when they come up with a serious plan to rescue this country and this economy from the rocks that we were surely headed towards when the right hon. Lady was on the Government Benches. We have set out our plans in great detail, and we look forward to Her Majesty’s Opposition getting round to setting out some of theirs.