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Public Disorder (Community Support)

Volume 531: debated on Thursday 11 August 2011

I wish to outline the steps we are taking to support and rebuild local communities after the shameful criminal activity of recent days.

Recovery Scheme

Affected local authorities will continue to be eligible for the long-standing Bellwin scheme to meet immediate and sizeable recovery costs. However, the thresholds in the existing scheme mean that most councils would only receive assistance above costs in excess of circa £l million, and we assess that many affected local authorities may not benefit.

To support local councils, I am establishing a new recovery scheme of up to £10 million, allocated to councils via Section 31 grants. Councils will be able to claim back the costs directly incurred in making areas safe, clean and clear again. This fund can also be used to support councils who use their powers to offer council tax discounts or council tax relief to those whose homes have been damaged but are still habitable.

In this extraordinary situation, my Department is also willing to meet the immediate costs of re-housing those made homeless by these disturbances. This can be done under established homelessness funding processes.

Seriously damaged domestic and business properties will be taken off the respective valuation lists, and I have strongly encouraged the Valuation Office Agency to do so as promptly as possible. This removes any liability for council tax or business rates.

High Street Support Scheme

With my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, we will provide an additional £20 million to create a new High Street Support Scheme. The flexible scheme will be aimed at supporting the specific streets and areas where businesses suffered most as a result of the disturbances. Local authorities will be able to use it to fund the proportion of hardship relief from business rates that would otherwise fall to them, and to help affected firms to get back up and running quickly, for instance if assistance is needed with business clear-up, replacement of equipment, or costs of temporary accommodation. A quarter of the cost of hardship rate relief is normally borne by local authorities and three quarters by central Government.

We will keep the steps we have taken under review. This is an evolving situation and we are working to assess the cost to affected businesses. We will announce further details of the Recovery Scheme and High Street Support Scheme next week and expect that councils will be able to make claims and receive grants quickly and easily.

In addition, any individual, home owner or small business that has suffered damage to or loss of their buildings or property as a result of rioting can seek compensation under the Riot (Damages) Act. Importantly this compensation is paid to the uninsured too. It is normally the case that claims must be received within 14 days, but to give people more time to submit these claims we will extend the period to 42 days. We will urge the police to respond helpfully and swiftly to all legitimate claims, and the Government are working closely with forces, to ensure they have the funds they need to meet the costs of the operation itself and any claims that they may receive under the Riot (Damages) Act.

It is not just for the state to support local firms affected by these criminal actions. I encourage every local resident to make an effort to shop locally in this and coming weeks and support the local high streets which are the lifeblood of our communities.

Sanctions against criminals

Crime does not pay and I want to send out a strong signal to these violent criminals.

It is already a ground for eviction in existing legislation if a tenant or a member of their family is involved in antisocial behaviour or criminal activity in their local neighbourhood. I would urge landlords to consider this provision. We welcome the decision of Hammersmith and Fulham, Greenwich, Southwark and Manchester among others to seek to evict their social tenants found guilty of rioting, and would encourage more local authorities to follow suit.

My Department is proposing to make necessary changes to housing legislation so that landlords will have even stronger powers to evict tenants who engage in serious antisocial behaviour or criminal activity such as rioting beyond the local neighbourhood. We intend to consult on this proposal immediately as part of the ongoing consultation on anti-social behaviour.

Tribute to local communities

The professionalism shown by all firefighters across the nation over the last few days has been outstanding, and I would like to thank all of them for their efforts.

Fire crews have carried out their duties in the face of shameful criminal behaviour of rioters, who have physically attacked the very people protecting their homes and communities from arson.

We all owe them all a debt of gratitude for their tireless work protecting lives and communities, and we have a fire and rescue service of which we can rightly proud.

Local councils have also risen to the challenge, leading the clear-up in their local areas and supporting those worst affected. There have been some striking examples of positive social action, uniting our communities across class, colour and creed.