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Local Authority Powers

Volume 519: debated on Thursday 25 November 2010

In six months, the coalition Government have ended the ring-fencing of all but two revenue grants, simplified over 90 separate funding streams for local government to fewer than 10, scrapped comprehensive area assessments and abolished 4,700 central targets on local government. The localism Bill will give many more new powers to local councils, including a general power of competence. This Government are reversing decades of top-down control, which has led to Britain being one of most centralised countries on the planet.

The Minister may be aware that, in responding to his Department’s recent paper on proposed changes to social tenancies, Councillor Richard Kemp, leader of the Liberal Democrats in local government, described the proposals as “an irrelevant fantasy” and added:

“No council with any sense of the realities on the ground is going to be interested in this”.

Does the Minister—and, perhaps more interestingly, do his coalition partners—agree?

The consultation my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government has launched has been well received across the sector because it introduces a right, not an obligation, and when we have a homelessness crisis, I think it is right to give registered social landlords more flexibility than they currently have in allocating to homeless tenants.

Like many other local authorities, South Lakeland district council would desperately love the autonomy to be able to scrap the second-home council tax subsidy, which costs the council tax payer in South Lakeland £1.25 million every year. At this time of hardship, difficulty and restraint, is it not time to look again at whether we should give a 10% subsidy to those who can afford it the most?

We have made a lot of progress already. My hon. Friend is right that localism involves there being greater control of resources locally. A further set of measures will be considered in a review that will start in January, and I will make sure that his proposal is considered in that.

The Minister for Housing and Local Government was not in the House on Monday to answer questions on the housing consultation paper so, while we are on the subject of devolving powers, may I ask his colleague about this? The Government have repeatedly said that they will not allow social landlords to change the rights of existing tenants, yet question 13 of that consultation leaves the door wide open for them to do exactly that in the future. Can this Minister give the House a personal guarantee that the Government will not now or in the future permit changes to the rights of existing social tenants?