I would like to update hon. Members on the main items of business undertaken by my Department since the House rose for the Christmas recess.
Troubled Families programme
We published the latest quarterly returns submitted to the Department from local authorities on progress with the Government’s Troubled Families programme.
These new figures show that the programme has now helped turn around the lives of over 85,000 of the hardest to help households.
Councils and social services departments are now actively working with 99% of the families the Prime Minister pledged to support—and councils have had payments-by-results for two thirds of these.
This means that in 85,303 troubled families in England: children have been back in school for a year when they were previously truant or excluded; youth crime and anti-social behaviour has been significantly cut across the whole family; or an adult in the home has moved off benefits and into work for three months or more.
The success of the programme means that a second wave of councils are now beginning work with more families ahead of schedule, and up to 40,000 additional families can begin to be helped by dedicated workers in this financial year in the highest-performing areas.
The Troubled Families programme demonstrates exactly what our long-term economic plan means for people—that is, new opportunities for families to turn their lives around and make something of themselves; more economic security for local communities blighted by worklessness; and more economic stability for taxpayers, as we reduce the bills for social failure and get this country living within its means.
Government action on anti-Semitism
We published a new Government report highlighting the significant progress this Government have made in partnership with the community in tackling anti-Semitism.
The report outlines the actions undertaken across a number of areas: improving the collection of anti-Semitic hate crime data; fighting cyberhate crime; extending Holocaust education and remembrance; and addressing antisemitism internationally.
It also acts as our final report on the original 35 recommendations made by the all-party parliamentary inquiry into antisemitism. We consider we have addressed all the recommendations to Government.
This underlines how the Government have done much to establish Britain as a safer place for Jewish people. Levels of anti-Semitism in the UK are significantly lower than in other Western European countries.
However, this summer’s sharp increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents reinforced both the need for increased vigilance and also the need to reassure the public that those who commit hate crimes will be punished with the full force of the law.
This commitment must be replicated wholeheartedly by councils who should use their position of authority to actively reduce tensions, not stir them up.
Councils to help get Britain building
We announced the second round of funding via the housing revenue account borrowing programme. This means that 21 councils will be able to additionally borrow almost £100 million over the next two years to deliver more than 1,300 new affordable homes and support local growth.
This comes only a matter of months after 22 councils received approval to borrow £122 million to build more than 1,700 affordable homes in their areas—and takes the total to £222 million of Government investment to deliver over 3,000 affordable homes.
This is on top of the wider efforts we are making, with house building a central part of the Government’s long-term economic plan: since 2010 over half a million new homes have been delivered, including more than 200,000 affordable homes. House building levels are now at their highest since 2007 and climbing with council housing starts at a 23-year high.
Planning reforms put power back in the hands of local residents
We are seeing a genuine neighbourhood planning movement with communities in almost two-thirds of local authorities already using these powers to shape what gets built where in their local area. This means more than 5 million people now live in a neighbourhood planning area and so far there have been some great proposals from renovating disused buildings to creating new community orchards and playing fields. But agreeing an area for a neighbourhood plan to cover takes an average of 19 weeks.
We are bringing in new measures that will cut weeks off this process—giving councils just 13 weeks to consider a community’s application to create a neighbourhood area, or eight weeks where it follows a parish boundary.
This will encourage even more communities to have a greater say over the future development of their area.
New guide will better connect our new homes to vital services
We have published a new practical guide which will, for the first time, offer a clear code of practice setting out how utility companies and developers should work together when building a new housing development. This is a significant step in speeding up the process of getting new developments connected to gas, water and electricity, as part of push to help hardworking people get into their new homes sooner.
It will also drive up the performance of utilities companies across the board by providing a clear set of standards and making it crystal clear how developers and companies should be working together to make sure more developments are completed on time and on budget.
New measures to reduce red tape for house builders and reforms to help protect tenants
We have published the Department’s latest half-yearly statement of new regulation, which details all regulation, including EU measures, which are expected to come into force between 1 January and 30 June 2015, as well as all regulations to be removed.
The Department has made considerable progress in slashing red tape and saving business money, especially through the Housing Standards Review which is estimated to save business around £100 million per year while ensuring that homes are still built to demanding quality, access and sustainability standards.
It is important to recognise the achievements of not only deregulation but better regulation which will provide great benefits to businesses and individual citizens. The Department will reduce the time to qualify for right to buy from five to three years, allowing social housing tenants to become homeowners quicker and enhance the transparency of letting agents’ fees. However, there is still more to be done and in 2015 the Department will continue to deliver further reforms to cut red tape, save business money and promote economic growth.
Councils urged to boost access to free-to-use cash machines on high streets
We have issued advice to councils, to ensure they use their local business rate discount powers to ensure better access to cash machines in all areas and on our high streets.
Companies who install and operate cash machines generally pay business rates to the local authority for each machine. Small convenience stores can however struggle with this despite there being help available from Government that reduces costs by offering business rates discounts to these firms.
Councils opting to provide a local discount on rates can incentivise shops and cash point providers to install new machines and remove charges on pay-to-use machines —and with over half of all payments in the UK still made with cash, we are clear that people should not have to pay through the nose to access their money.
This is one of a range of measures the Government have taken to support local businesses and help rejuvenate high streets and town centres. Others include: a 50% business rates discount for 18 months for new businesses setting up in stores vacant for a more than a year; and
a cut in business rates for small shops, a new £1,500 retail discount and doubling small business rate relief—which is helping an estimated half a million small firms.
Councils and media invited to bring statutory notices into 21st century
Statutory notices are an important way of ensuring local residents are informed of decisions that affect their property and lives—but public bodies must do more than just provide an obscure notice in the depths of a council’s website.
That is why we have invited councils, local newspapers and others to take part in piloting ways of improving the provision of essential information to the public, using new technology and innovation to bring municipal statutory notices into the 21st century.
A plain English guide to planning
Since 2010 this Government have introduced wide ranging reforms of the planning system, which include:
the National Planning Policy Framework (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-planning-policy-framework-2)--which replaced over 1,000 pages of disparate policy with one 50 page, clearly-written document;
safeguarding the green belt, giving councils new powers to protect assets of community value, preventing garden grabbing and protecting valuable open green spaces;
the introduction of Neighbourhood Plans (https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/giving-communities-more-power-in-planning-local-development/supporting-pages/neighbourhood-planning),devolving planning power to local people;
an overhaul of the Local Plan (https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/giving-communities-more-power-in-planning-local-development/supporting-pages/local-plans) making process, giving local planning authorities more choice in how they are developed, and ensuring the process is more transparent.
Yesterday we published a new plain English guide so anyone looking to have a say over the future development of their local area will have all the information they need at their fingertips.
The guide makes clear how England’s planning system works, and highlights the opportunities for people to get involved in the debate over what gets built in their neighbourhood.
A separate guide also published yesterday explains how the planning system works for anyone looking to set up a free school.
I am placing in the Library of the House copies of the press notices and documents associated with these announcements.