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Written Statements

Volume 594: debated on Thursday 26 March 2015

Written Statements

Thursday 26 March 2015

Business, Innovation and Skills

UK Coal

As I set out in the statement to the House on 4 March, UK Coal Production Ltd (UK Coal) submitted to Government in January 2015 a request for public sector funding of £338 million to facilitate the safe and orderly closure of its two deep coal mines by 2018.

I know how important UK Coal mines are for the communities in which they are based, and that their closure will affect many people.

That is why the Government have already provided significant support to help the company in its efforts to deliver its plan for a managed closure of the mines in 2015. The Government provided a £4 million loan in September 2014, to help avert the company’s insolvency, and on 4 March 2015 I informed the House that, subject to the necessary EU clearances, the Government will meet the company’s concessionary fuel obligations to its employees, with an estimated value of £28 million. This week the House passed the necessary clauses to allow this to happen in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, and we expect Royal Assent shortly.

Having carefully considered the case for providing significant additional funding, we have concluded that committing public sector funding on the scale necessary to extend the company’s closure plan by three years is not affordable and does not represent value for money to the taxpayer. The £338 million requested approximates to a cost of more than £75,000 per UK Coal employee per year over the three-year closure plan.

The company has also recently indicated an additional funding requirement of £10 million to keep its existing managed closure plan for 2015 on track. The Government remain committed to support the company in its efforts to deliver this plan. To this end, I can confirm that the Government are willing in principle to provide additional support to help deliver the plan, subject to conditions including state aid approval and appropriate support from other stakeholders. We are working with the company to determine the amount, timing and form this additional assistance could take.

The successful delivery of the company’s existing plan is important to ensure the taxpayer avoids significant losses and liabilities that would otherwise fall to the public sector in the event of an uncontrolled insolvency. We will support those affected as appropriate, including support for staff affected to find alternative sources of employment and if necessary to retrain.

I should also like to acknowledge the ongoing support the company is receiving from its work force, customers, suppliers and creditors during this challenging period.

[HCWS497]

Land Registration Rules Committee

The commencement of the triennial review of the Land Registration Rules Committee was announced in Parliament on 11 December 2014 through a written ministerial statement. I can now announce the completion of the review.

The Land Registration Rules Committee is an advisory non-departmental public body which was established by section 127 of the Land Registration Act 2002. Its function is to advise on and assist in the making of land registration rules and land registration fee orders. These can be new rules or fee orders, as well as amendments to existing ones.

The review concludes that the functions performed by the Land Registration Rules Committee are still required and that it should be retained as an advisory non-departmental public body.

The review also examined the governance arrangements for the Land Registration Rules Committee in line with guidance on good corporate governance set out by the Cabinet Office. The review concluded that the Land Registration Rules Committee is complying with the vast majority of governance and accountability requirements which are placed on it by statute, regulation, BIS and governmental guidelines or best practice. However, the review team also identified areas where some action could usefully be taken to improve compliance further and have made recommendations to address these.

The full report of the review of the Land Registration Rules Committee can be found on the gov.uk website. Copies of the report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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Cabinet Office

Statutory Register of Consultant Lobbyists

Part 1 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 provides for a statutory register of consultant lobbyists. I have made an order to commence the provisions necessary to bring the register into effect on 1 April.

From 1 April, organisations and individuals that engage in consultant lobbying, as defined by the Act, will be required to register, disclose the names of the clients, declare whether they subscribe to a code of conduct and comply with other relevant provisions of the Act.

The register will be maintained and updated by the independent Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists.

[HCWS491]

Communities and Local Government

Homelessness

I would like to update hon. Members on measures that the coalition Government have taken to address homelessness and to reflect on progress made on this important agenda since May 2010.

This progress is framed by today’s publication of the ministerial working group on homelessness’ latest report “Addressing complex needs: Improving services for vulnerable homeless people”. Building on the commitment set out in last week’s Budget, the report affirms our aspiration to improve services and outcomes for homeless adults with complex, multiple needs in the next Parliament and beyond.

This Government’s approach to tackling homelessness has been focused on preventing homelessness, wherever possible, and ensuring those experiencing homelessness have the support they need to get back on their feet. We have invested more than £500 million to ensure that local authorities and voluntary sector partners are able to support vulnerable people. This commitment is confirmed today by £1.9 million of funding which will ensure that valuable voluntary sector organisations can continue to support homeless young people, rough sleepers and those fleeing domestic violence in 2015-16.

Our investment, backed by one of the strongest legislative safety nets in the world, ensures that no family should ever be without a roof over their heads and that vulnerable people facing a housing crisis receive support. Our policies are designed to increase local authority flexibility, test innovative new approaches and provide strategic support to front-line staff to deliver effective services.

For the first time, we prioritised concerted cross-government action to tackle homelessness, bringing together Departments across Whitehall through the ministerial working group on homelessness. Throughout this Parliament, Departments have worked together to co-ordinate action on the issues facing homeless people.

Preventing homelessness

We have maintained investment in local authority homelessness prevention services. Our £400 million has already helped authorities to prevent 730,200 households from becoming homeless since 2010.

Statutory homelessness is lower now than in 26 of the last 30 years, and around half the level it was under the last Administration.

We have also helped equip local authorities and others working on the vital homelessness front line with the skills and tools they need to support vulnerable people. We have:

invested over £2 million in the gold standard programme delivered by the National Practitioner Support Service. The programme is supporting authorities to deliver cost effective and efficient homelessness prevention services;

invested £10 million into the National Homelessness Advice Service to ensure that front-line staff are able to offer the best possible help to vulnerable people facing a wide range of housing issues;

funded umbrella organisation Homeless Link to assist local authorities and the voluntary sector to work together to improve their effectiveness and capacity to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness. Our support will ensure that this work continues into 2015-16;

helped 3,000 households remain in their homes with our £221 million mortgage rescue scheme. This has provided free advice to a further 60,000 in mortgage difficulty; and

funded St Basils, a leading youth homelessness charity, to support councils to implement a specialist youth accommodation pathway model designed to help young people to remain in the family home where it is safe to do so and offer tailored support options for those needing to leave. Our funding will allow St Basils to continue this vital work into 2015-16.

As well as investing in homelessness prevention services, this Government also delivered almost 217,000 affordable homes in England between April 2010 and September 2014. Management information indicates that we have exceeded our target of delivering 170,000 new affordable homes between 2011 and 2015—it is estimated that by 20 March 173,800 homes had been delivered, with more expected. A further £38 billion of public and private investment will help ensure 275,000 new affordable homes are provided between 2015 and 2020. This means over the next Parliament we will build more new affordable homes than during any equivalent period in the last 20 years.

Helping people off the streets

We are committed to ensuring that anyone sleeping rough receives the help they need to move off the streets so that they do not become entrenched into a street lifestyle. We have:

Driven forward the national roll-out of No Second Night Out, the Mayor of London’s approach to ensure that more rough sleepers are found quicker and given the help they need. Supported by the £20 million homelessness transition fund, No Second Night out means that rough sleepers now spend less time on the streets, with 67% of rough sleepers in key areas only spending one night out;

Overhauled rough sleeping statistics, to provide more accurate figures. Our No Second Night Out initiative actively seeks to find the “hidden homeless”; and

Commissioned the pioneering StreetLink website, app and telephone line allowing members of the public to connect rough sleepers with local support services. Since it started in December 2012 StreetLink has made 24,500 rough sleeping referrals to councils to investigate, leading to 10,500 rough sleepers being found and connected with local services of which 2,000 resulted in a specific housing outcome. Our continued support means that StreetLink will continue to operate throughout 2015-16.

The majority of rough sleepers in London are foreign nationals. We also continue to work closely with the Greater London Authority, the Home Office, local authorities and charities to tackle migrant rough sleeping. We want people to be fully aware of the reality of life in the UK before coming to England so they do not end up destitute. Therefore we need to better target and focus homelessness prevention messages in home countries.

We want to ensure that when migrants end up on the streets they are offered help to return home, where appropriate, and that homelessness services can intervene quickly so rough sleeping is not an option. Foreign nationals who do not have a right to live in the UK, or who are not fulfilling the requirements for residence should leave and we will take enforcement action against the minority who do not depart voluntarily, refuse offers of help and continue to sleep rough.

Supporting the recovery from homelessness

Alongside preventing homelessness and stepping in to support people facing a housing crisis, this Government are determined to help vulnerable people to recover and move on with their lives. To help single homeless people to recover we have:

invested £26.5 million over the course of this Parliament to support authorities to improve services for single homeless people. Our recent £8 million help for single homeless funding will support 22,000 people in 168 local authority areas through 34 local authority led projects;

ensured that hostels are genuine places of change which support rough sleepers to recover from homelessness by linking to local services to help them move towards independence. Our £42.5 million homelessness change programme has provided 1,500 new and refurbished bed spaces;

worked with the Department of Health on their recently announced £40 million of capital investment in 2015-16 and 2016-17 to deliver further hostel bed spaces and trial platform for life, a new low rent shared accommodation model for homeless young people. The Greater London Authority is matching this funding with a further £15 million in London; and

invested £13 million in Crisis’ access to the private rented sector programme to help 10,000 vulnerable single homeless find and sustain accommodation by 2016. Since the programme began in 2010,153 projects have helped 9,320 vulnerable people into accommodation with over 90% maintaining tenancies for at least six months.

We have also worked to ensure that support is in place to help statutory homeless households move on with their lives, including;

making legislative changes in the Localism Act 2011 to allow local authorities greater flexibility to move homeless families out of temporary accommodation more quickly into good-quality, suitable and settled accommodation in the private rented sector. Households now spend on average seven months less in temporary accommodation than at the start of 2010;

being clear that the long-term use of bed and breakfast accommodation for families with children is both unacceptable and unlawful;

building on the commitment set out in last week’s Budget, we will also explore options to support long-term investment in private rented accommodation for homeless families. This would help secure well managed, affordable accommodation for homeless families. It will also reduce financial pressures on local authorities by helping them to avoid placing families in expensive accommodation such as bed and breakfast;

providing £10 million to 148 areas across the country to stop the closure of domestic violence refuges, improve services in existing refuges and to grow the number of bed spaces. This will help ensure we maintain the resilient national network of refuges that work to keep victims and their children safe; and

continuing to fund Women’s Aid to run UKRefugesOnline to help those working with victims of domestic abuse find places of safety as quickly as possible.

Championing innovation and new solutions

This Government are committed to harnessing the potential offered by innovative new commissioning and delivery models to drive improved outcomes for homeless people. We have broken new ground by:

investing £5 million in the world’s first homelessness social impact bond to support a group of London’s most entrenched rough sleepers using payment by results and social investment. Funded by my Department and commissioned by the Greater London Authority, 831 persistent rough sleepers have been helped through the programme, with 88% supported away from the streets and a further 263 successfully helped into settled accommodation outside the hostel system. A significant number have been reconnected to accommodation in their home country, and projections for moves into sustained employment have been exceeded. An interim evaluation of the programme suggests that the flexibility of the payment by results contract has allowed the intensive work necessary to turn around the lives of these very vulnerable people in a way that would not have been possible in the constraints of existing service provision; and

building on this approach, we are using payment by results and social investment to help turn around the lives of 1,600 vulnerable young homeless people through the £15 million fair chance fund.

England quite rightly has a strong international reputation for the excellent services provided by our local authorities and the voluntary sector, and for the strong safety net maintained by Government. But we are not complacent. There are still too many people facing homelessness and too many people struggling to access the support they need to move towards independence.

We are determined to maintain this momentum and build on these achievements into the next Parliament and beyond. The publication of today’s ministerial working group on homelessness sets out our aspiration to drive forward improvements for homeless adults with complex, multiple needs.

Although relatively small in number, around 60,000 adults in England face a combination of homelessness, offending and substance misuse problems which lead them to repeatedly use public services in a chaotic, and costly, way and live on the very margins of society. We strongly believe that there should be a life beyond homelessness for these very vulnerable individuals. With the right support to address their needs, many could move towards independence and engage more constructively with public services.

We have today also commissioned new work to explore the root causes of homelessness and examine what more can be done to improve services in the future.

These innovative new funding and commissioning models such as payment by results and social investment offer a real opportunity to break the cycle of homelessness for this group, and we look forward to seeing progress made on this agenda in the next Parliament.

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Housing and Planning Delivery

As this Parliament draws to an end, I would like to update hon. Members on the actions that my Department has put in place since May 2010 on housing and planning, as part of our long-term economic plan. We inherited a broken housing market that has been devastated by the great recession, but we have turned the economy and housing market around.

Key achievements

I am pleased to report the following key housing achievements:

There are now 700,000 more new homes in England than at the end of 2009;

Planning permission was granted for 253,000 new homes in England in 2014 (source: DCLG analysis of Glenigan data);

The volume of all new housing construction orders has more than doubled since the first quarter of 2009 (source: Office for National Statistics);

Housing starts in England in 2014 are at their highest annual level since 2007; Over 217,000 new affordable homes have been delivered from April 2010 to September 2014

Our affordable housing programme aimed to deliver 170,000 homes from 2011 to 2015; by 20 March, we estimate that 173,800 homes have been delivered, with more expected (source: internal management information, official statistics will follow in June);

Over 204,000 households have bought or reserved a new home through Government-backed schemes in the last 5 years;

Lending to first-time buyers in 2014 is its highest annual levels, in volume and value, since 2007. Some 311,500 home loans collectively worth £45 billion were handed out to first-time buyers in 2014;

The number of mortgage repossessions fell to 4,200 in Q4 2014, the lowest since the quarterly series began in 2008 according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders; latest figures from the Bank of England show the number of cases of new mortgage arrears is at the lowest since the data series began in 2007;

The Government have released enough surplus public sector land to build over 100,000 new homes;

Council house building starts are now at a 23 year high and twice as many council homes have been built in the last 4 years than from 1997 to 2009;

There has been a fall in the numbers of empty homes by 160,000 since the end of 2009, meaning the number of empty homes in England is now at a 10 year low; and

Our action to tackle Labour’s deficit has kept mortgage rates at record lows, cutting the cost of owning a home.

Delivering a locally led planning system

This Government have reformed planning so it can deliver the homes and infrastructure people want and need, by working with, not against, local communities. Our planning reforms and the locally led planning process are delivering real results and speeding up the system. We have abolished Labour’s tiers of regional planning and unelected regional government.

The Localism Act strengthened the role of local plans. Our reforms have given local planning authorities more choice in how they develop their local plans and good progress continues to be made in bringing plans forward. 81% of councils have published a local plan. To place this in context, six years after the Labour Government’s 2004 Planning Act, by May 2010, only one in six local planning authorities had an adopted core strategy, reflecting how the tortuous regional planning process slowed down development and stymied local plan-making and local decision-making. We are working with the remaining local councils to help them deliver up to date plans. The number of planning appeals received and allowed has fallen, meaning more local decision-making.

Neighbourhood planning gives real power to local people allowing them to play a much stronger role in shaping their areas. Neighbourhood planning is proving very popular and over 1,400 communities, representing around 6 million people, have now applied for a neighbourhood area to be designated and 65 successful neighbourhood referendums have been held (with an average turn-out of 33% and an average “yes” vote of 88%). 42 neighbourhood plans are now fully in force, forming part of the statutory development plan, and giving communities real power to shape planning decisions.

Protecting the green belt and open spaces

As pledged in the coalition agreement, we have safeguarded national green belt protection and increased protection of important green spaces. We have:

Abolished the Labour Government’s top-down regional strategies which sought to delete the green belt in and around 30 towns and cities:

Introduced a new local green space planning designation, which allows councils and neighbourhood plans to give added protection to valuable local green spaces;

Published the “National Planning Policy Framework” which re-affirms green belt protection;

Given councils stronger powers to tackle ‘garden grabbing’, and stopped gardens being classified as brownfield land;

Issued new waste planning policy which strengthens protection of the green belt;

Taken a series of steps on reforming traveller policy and guidance to protect the green belt and tackle unauthorised development; and

Published planning guidance which re-affirms the importance of the green belt during local plan preparation.

Streamlining the planning system and removing unnecessary burdens

The National Planning Policy Framework reduced over a 1000 pages of national policy to around 50, written simply and clearly. The planning guidance review streamlined planning guidance and reduced it from over 7,000 pages to a simple accessible online resource. Since this was launched, there have been over 7 million page views, illustrating how we have made the planning system more accessible to local residents, local firms and local councillors.

We have reformed the community infrastructure levy to make it fairer, more flexible and transparent. Amendments to the levy coming into effect next month will help boost affordable housing delivery by extending mandatory relief from the levy to cover such housing provided by a wider range of organisations, including charitable bodies.

We have reduced unfair, disproportionate costs on small sites by introducing a 10 unit threshold below which affordable housing and tariff-style section 106 contributions should not be sought. A lower threshold of five units applies in designated rural areas. This will help cause a surge in house building by small builders. We have also reduced Section 106 burdens on empty and redundant buildings being brought back into use.

The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 introduced legislation to designate under- performing local planning authorities. This power has intentionally been rarely used: three councils have been designated in this way, and two of those designations have been lifted following improvements in their service. The policy has helped to significantly improve performance, with latest figures showing that 77% of applications for major development are being processed on time. Alongside this, we have published new data on local planning authorities’ performance in meeting their statutory duty to process smaller planning applications within eight weeks.

We have introduced a legal requirement that local planning authority requests for additional information to support planning applications must be reasonable and removed the need to submit a design and access statement with most applications. We have also introduced changes to front-load the appeals process which have reduced the time taken to process appeals from around 23 weeks to 15. Changes to the civil procedure rules have reduced the time period for submission of judicial review applications against planning decisions to six weeks. A new Planning Court is speeding up the handling of such cases.

We abolished Labour’s unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission quango and returned decision making for the biggest developments back to accountable Ministers. At the same time, we expanded the scope of the nationally significant infrastructure regime to allow the developers of certain business and commercial projects to take advantage of a fixed timetable and obtain many of the necessary non-planning consents at the same time. We reviewed the regime in 2014 which confirmed it is working well, but have built on this by further streamlining the process while still ensuring that local people continue to have their say.

We continue to augment these successful planning reforms with practical ways of removing excessive red tape, while ensuring environmental safeguards and continuing our locally led approach.

As part of our commitment to slashing red tape in the application process, a newly consolidated Development Management Procedure Order will come into force on 15 April. This will simplify and streamline the planning application process for local planning authorities, applicants, and other users of the planning system. It will also bring into force a number of important changes, including streamlining the process of statutory consultation and introduces a new “deemed discharge” of conditions to ensure that planning conditions are cleared on time so that homes granted planning permission can start on site without delay.

As well as changes in the Development Management Procedure Order, we have also introduced further measures to reduce and simplify the requirements to notify English Heritage and refer certain heritage applications to the Secretary of State. These will allow English Heritage’s resources and expertise to be focused where they can add most value, while still maintaining an effective level of protection for the historic environment.

New permitted development rights are encouraging better use of buildings and supporting town centres, the rural economy and providing much-needed homes. These include:

providing new homes in offices, shops and agricultural buildings;

supporting the establishment of state-funded schools and registered nurseries in a range of premises;

promoting a diverse and vibrant high street with a two year temporary use and freeing up the change of shops to banks; and

creating the opportunity for people to improve their homes, businesses and lives with larger extensions to homes, offices and shops.

To further deregulate the planning system, we are introducing from 15 April additional permitted development measures to provide greater planning freedom, support housing, the high streets and growth to:

allow buildings used for storage and distribution to change to homes,

support easier change of use between high street uses (excluding betting shops), and

provide greater flexibilities to support location filming, and to support retailers in the provision of click and collect services.

In addition, we will meet our red tape challenge commitment by consolidating the General Permitted Development Order and its revisions into a single new order from 15 April.

We have made provision to remove the need to apply for planning permission for short-term letting of residential properties in London, through the Deregulation Bill. We have changed planning policy to actively encourage the provision of more parking spaces, to help local shops suffering from aggressive parking enforcement, and removed planning restrictions which discouraged the sharing of under-used parking spaces.

We made further commitments in the autumn statement 2014 to speed up the end-to-end planning process and support smaller house builders. We:

will take forward measures to ensure that the principle of development need only be established once;

are speeding up section 106 negotiations through: consulting on introducing tighter timescales for agreements and a new dispute resolution process; and revising guidance including seeking improved transparency on the use of section 106 funds;

are keeping the speed of decisions on major applications under review, with the minimum performance threshold increasing to 50% of major decisions on time; and

will work with industry and local planning authorities to test whether more can be done to support the approval of small sites in the planning system.

Furthermore, following the Budget 2015, we have published a consultation document on technical improvements to the compulsory purchase system to make it clearer, faster and fairer, together with updated guidance for comment.

We have also continued to ensure environmental safeguards. We have:

Changed planning guidance to make it clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the views of local communities should be listened to;

Reformed the domestic implementation of the European environmental impact assessment regime, removing unnecessary gold-plating, reducing costs and providing more certainty for all interested parties. These changes do not affect the strong environmental protections set out in the National Planning Policy Framework;

Strengthened existing planning policy by making it clear that from 6 April sustainable drainage systems should be provided in major new developments wherever this is appropriate.

Consolidating the complex web of housing standards

As outlined in my written statement yesterday, we have completed a major review of the plethora of technical standards currently applied to new housing by local planning authorities. We have removed duplication and contradiction and rationalised technical standards into a simpler, clearer set. Standards will continue to promote essential quality, sustainability and accessibility outcomes and span water efficiency, access, energy, security and space, and a new nationally described space standard. This new system will save around £100 million per annum for both developers and councils, freeing up resources to promote growth.

Building more affordable housing

As outlined above, we have beaten our affordable housing targets for this Parliament, bringing in £19.5 billion of public and private investment in affordable housing from 2011 to 2015. A further £38 billion public and private investment will help ensure 275,000 new affordable homes delivered between 2015 and 2020. This means over the next Parliament we will build more new affordable homes than during any equivalent period in the last twenty years.

But we have also given housing associations the tools they need to borrow and build more homes including the launch of our new £400 million Rent to Buy scheme—known as the London Housing Bank in Greater London— which will deliver affordable homes through a recoverable fund. In addition, we have also introduced the up to £3.5 billion Affordable Housing Guarantee Scheme which utilises the Government’s hard won fiscal credibility to deliver more affordable housing by making debt cheaper for affordable housing providers. In March 2015, a £194 million bond issuance achieved an all-in price of 2.92%, becoming the first bond in the sector to break the 3% barrier, and set a new record for the cheapest ever housing association bond and the cheapest debt of any kind for 27 years in the sector. To date, 35 registered providers have taken advantage of the cheap funding available which will enable them to deliver over 11,000 new additional affordable homes.

Following the autumn statement 2014, we published a consultation on a range of possible proposals to streamline the process for selling on shared ownership properties. The consultation closed on 28 February. The Government announced in the Budget, that following the consultation, the Homes and Communities Agency will amend guidance and model leases to help streamline the sales process for shared ownership properties which have staircased to outright ownership. Shared ownership is an integral part of the Affordable Homes Programme. Since 2010, around 30,000 new shared ownership homes have been delivered. This Government will also undertake a wider review of shared ownership in the summer.

The Right to Buy Scheme—including preserved Right to Buy—allowing eligible social tenants to buy their homes at a discount, has achieved over 40,000 council and housing association sales since April 2010. Over 33,000 of these sales have been achieved since the discounts were increased in April 2012.

We have made it easier than ever for people who can afford it to navigate through the process of buying their own home thanks to the new Right to Buy Agent Service. The service has responded to queries from over 33,000 tenants since its launch on 5 August 2014.

The reinvigorated Right to Buy ensures, for the first time, that the receipts from additional council sales, that is those over what was forecast prior to the change, are reinvested in helping to fund new affordable homes for rent nationally. A total of over £1.7 billion has been generated in Right to Buy receipts since April 2012. Of this about £730 million has been received by councils to be re-invested in house building—which in turn is expected to lever in a further £1.7 billion in investments in new stock over the next two years.

Building a new generation of council housing

In 2012, the coalition Government reformed the council house finance system, introducing self- financing for those local authorities that still own and manage their own housing. This system of self-financing has given local authorities greater freedoms and flexibilities to manage their housing and many are now starting to use those freedoms to build new council housing.

To further increase the supply of housing locally, we have allocated over £222 million of additional Housing Revenue Account borrowing to help 36 local authorities that need additional borrowing and will help to deliver over 3,000 new affordable homes quickly.

Over 90,000 social housing tenants across England are benefiting from the government’s Tenant Empowerment Programme which supports social housing tenants to engage in, manage or control local services by working together. We have allocated £1 million for 2015-16 to continue to help to create strong communities and to support social tenants to take control of their housing services.

The Government are working with Keith House and Natalie Elphicke to implement a Housing Finance Institute, as recommended by their review of the role of local authorities in housing supply in conjunction with the Local Government Association and businesses.

From April 2015, councils will be required to publish the most recent valuation of their social housing stock, annually to ensure it is being put to best use. The information will be published by postcode, indicating how much their stock is worth, how much is occupied and how much is standing empty.

The move will give people the information they need to ask questions of how their council is managing stock, and how selling more expensive vacant properties could provide the funds for councils to build more homes and reduce waiting times.

Championing home ownership

The Help to Buy programmes have been actively supporting home ownership and new house building across all parts of the country, especially outside London.

Since the start of Help to Buy in March 2012, over 88,000 people across the UK (over 81,000 in England) have purchased a home through the three schemes—Equity Loan, Mortgage Guarantee and NewBuy—allowing people to buy with a 5% deposit.

The Help to Buy: Equity Loan scheme is designed to support 74,000 families over first three years. The scheme was, in Budget 2014, extended to 2020 to help a further 120,000 families buy a new home—194,000 in total—and provides more certainty to housing developers to invest in building more homes. The scheme is targeted on new build only and directly increases housing supply.

These show that there were 42,753 completed Equity Loan sales across England to January 2015. In total, over 54,000 families have reserved a new-build home since the scheme began.

The Help to Buy: NewBuy scheme, launched in March 2012, has also supported a further 5,588 households to purchase new build homes to 31 December 2014.

Since October 2013, the Help to Buy: Mortgage Guarantee scheme has provided up to £12 billion of Government guarantees to support people to buy with a 5% deposit. 40,079 (32,989 in England) families have been supported by the scheme so far.

At Budget 2015, we announced the Help to Buy: ISA which provides a 25% bonus on a final savings balance to contribute towards a first home, including the purchase of a Help to Buy home, with the Government contributing 25% of the amount saved—paying up to a maximum of £3,000 on savings of £12,000. We intend the scheme to be launched to first time buyers in autumn following Government consultation with industry experts.

We abolished Labour’s expensive and un-trusted home information packs, cutting the cost of moving home.

We have reformed stamp duty to cut the costs of purchasing all but the most expensive homes. By getting rid of the old system with one more like income tax, we have cut stamp duty for 98% of those who would have paid it. If you buy an average priced home of £275,000, you now pay £4,500 less in tax.

But the challenges facing young first time buyers remain significant and we want to do even more. This Government are determined to help young, hardworking people fulfil their aspirations of owning their own home. Too many have found themselves frozen out of the housing market and denied the opportunities their parents had to get started in their own homes.

Earlier this month, we announced an important new national starter homes exception site planning policy to make it easier for developers to gain planning permission for a new generation of starter homes on under-used commercial and industrial land not currently identified for housing. These starter homes will be offered exclusively to young first time buyers at a 20% discount below their open market value, with the requirement to pay section 106 affordable housing and tariff-style contributions removed to help finance this discount. We will also seek to exempt starter homes from the community infrastructure levy in the next Parliament.

We recognise that new homes should be of high quality and good design, and discounted starter homes should be no exception to this. This week we are publishing an initial set of starter homes exemplars - the outcome of early work by this Government’s Design Advisory Panel—to demonstrate high quality design and to encourage debate, and to be a first step in developing an agreed approach to deliver new, attractive starter homes that can meet the demands of modern life and stand the test of time. The Prime Minister has announced Conservative Party proposals to extend the starter homes programme further to 200,000 new homes.

Creating a better and bigger private rented sector

The Government are delivering on its commitment to kick-start a new market for institutional investment in the private rented sector. The Government’s Private Rented Sector Taskforce has been instrumental in building the market and has helped to generate aspirations to invest over £10 billion of domestic and foreign investment in the UK private rented sector.

Harnessing this momentum, the £1 billion Build to Rent Fund is providing development phase finance to large-scale private rented sector developments. The fund is supporting new high- quality developments purpose built for private rent and is on track to create up to 10,000 new homes. There has been immense appetite for the fund and we are making steady progress with 14 deals in contract worth £230 million and delivering over 3,000 homes for private rent. We estimate that the fund will this year be committed in full.

In order to encourage and support long-term investment in new private rented sector developments, like those created via the Build to Rent Fund, this Government are implementing a Private Rented Sector Housing Debt Guarantee Scheme. The Government have now awarded the licence for the Private Rented Sector Housing Guarantee Scheme to PRS Operations Ltd, a subsidiary of Venn Partners LLP. The guarantee uses the UK Government’s hard-earned fiscal credibility facilitate a stream of investment in new build private rented sector homes across the UK. The guarantee will be available for up to £3.5 billion of debt (plus a potential share of an additional £3 billion held in reserve). We expect the scheme to approve its first borrowers in Spring 2015.

The coalition Government have not jeopardised investment in the sector by increasing red tape and unnecessary regulation. Instead we want to drive up standards in the sector and improve the level of professionalism among landlords. We have:

Published “How to Rent”, an accessible guide with clear advice for tenants on their rights and responsibilities with advice on what to do if something goes wrong;

Issued a Model Tenancy Agreement which sets out a fair balance between the rights and responsibilities of the tenant and landlord and which can be used for longer tenancy arrangements, helping to reduce voids and letting agency fees;

Rejected calls for statist rent controls, which would destroy investment in new and existing rented properties, reduce supply and ultimately force up rents;

Introduced a new code of practice in September 2014 to improve the sector’s professionalism, so all landlords and agents understand what they should deliver;

Required all letting agents and property managers to belong to one of the three government- approved redress scheme. This will offer a clear and simple route for landlords and tenants to pursue complaints about their agent and where complaints are upheld they could receive compensation;

Ensured full transparency on letting agents’ fees. Transparency will encourage competition on fee levels and enable choice on service provided not just cost. We have considered but ruled out a ban on fees, as this will simply increase rents for tenants;

Reformed selective licensing schemes, giving councils more discretion to target action against by rogue landlords. At the same time, the new measures put tighter checks and balances on the introduction of blanket licensing, which increases costs on responsible landlords and drives up tenants’ rents;

Protected tenants against retaliatory eviction where they have a legitimate complaint and made the eviction process more straightforward in appropriate circumstances; and

Requiring landlords to install smoke alarms on every floor of their property, and test them at the start of every tenancy. Landlords would also need to install carbon monoxide alarms in high risk rooms - such as those where a solid fuel heating system is installed.

We believe the action we have taken strikes the right balance to ensure high standards, while avoiding excessive red tape which would reduce supply and force up rents.

Tackling homelessness and rough sleeping

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), is today publishing a written statement in parallel outlining this Government’s action to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.

Providing infrastructure and development finance

The Growing Places Fund is providing £730 million to deliver the infrastructure needed to unlock stalled schemes that will promote economic growth, create jobs, build homes and support businesses in England. Local enterprise partnerships have used this funding to leverage £2.8 billion of extra investment including £1.8 billion from private sector organisations. The Growing Places Fund is supporting 323 projects across the country and 194 projects of these projects are underway—with local enterprise partnerships expecting these projects to create or support 2,500 businesses, over 150,000 jobs and deliver 69,500 housing units.

In July 2014 we announced Growth Deals with 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships which included over £6 billion of capital funding from the £12 billion Local Growth Fund for infrastructure/growth projects. In January this year, we confirmed an additional £1 billion from the Local Growth Fund for further Growth Deals with local enterprise partnerships. Local enterprise partnerships came forward with investment plans that combined better transport with more homes, recognising the importance of housing to their local economy. Over the lifetime of growth deals—six years from 2015 to 2021—the investment will unlock the land or finance that will support the delivery of more than 150,000 homes, just from the projects that will start in 2015-16.

We have taken a series of steps to get stalled sites building, steadily reducing the number of permissions were “on hold/shelved” across England from 90,331 in September 2011 to 34,000 by March 2015. This is at a time when the number of planning permissions has soared.

The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 introduced legislation unblocking stalled sites for development and reconsideration of unrealistic section 106 agreements: such unviable requirements mean no housing, no regeneration and no community benefits. Alongside this, the £3 million site delivery fund and the reform of planning rules are helping to tackle planning-related barriers that inhibit permitted schemes from starting on site.

We are investing £1.5 billion between 2013 and 2020 through our large sites programme to unlock or accelerate development on large housing sites that are struggling to move forward. It is expected that 100,000 homes will have been unlocked by the end of March 2015 through long-term loans for infrastructure, capacity funding and brokerage.

A further 200,000 homes could be unlocked or accelerated on the sites we have shortlisted for investment alongside the wider planning and technical support, capacity funding and brokerage on offer. In addition, the £50 million Local Growth Fund (Housing Infrastructure) (2015-16) is designed to help speed up and restart housing developments between 250 and 1,499 units supported by local enterprise partnerships.

Over 12,000 homes have been started on smaller sites through our £500 million Get Britain Building programme.

We are also providing £525 million through the Builders Finance Fund (over the period 2015-16 to 2016-17) to provide development finance to unlock stalled small housing sites. A shortlist of 165 small housing schemes was announced on 8 September with the first contract now in place and housing starts well underway with many more to come over the next few months. The Builders Finance Fund has been opened up to support schemes as small as five units in size by small and medium-sized enterprises and very small building firms.

At Budget 2015 we designated 20 housing zones outside London to kick-start development on brownfield sites and are continuing to work with other eight shortlisted areas. In total these have the potential to deliver up to 45,000 new homes. Combined with housing zones in london, this could support the delivery of up to 95,000 homes.

We are creating an urban development corporation for the Ebbsfleet area to accelerate the construction of a locally led garden-city style development which will unlock up to 15,000 homes. Following Royal Assent to the Deregulation Bill today, we will lay statutory instruments creating the corporation and conferring planning powers on it. The corporation would be operational in April 2015 and have planning powers in July 2015.

Last week, we announced the five independent board members who will serve on the board of the corporation, under the chairmanship of Michael Cassidy CBE, and I can now announce that Robin Cooper, currently Deputy Chief Executive of Medway Council, is to be appointed as Chief Executive and ex-officio board member. I can also announce that Cllr Paul Carter CBE (Leader of Kent County Council), Cllr Jeremy Kite MBE (Leader of Dartford Borough Council) and, subject to ratification, Cllr John Burden (Leader of Gravesham Borough Council) will be appointed to serve on the corporation’s board.

We will shortly consult on a specification to deliver a masterplan at Ebbsfleet and have asked the corporation to work with the Government by the spending review on a prioritised list of infrastructure needs for Ebbsfleet.

A new Estate Regeneration Fund of £150 million of recoverable investment announced at Budget 2014 will help kick-start and accelerate the regeneration of some of our most deprived estates. Following the bidding round, Grahame Park, Blackwall Reach, Aylesbury Estate and New Union Wharf regeneration projects have all now been approved for funding, subject to due diligence and contract negotiations.

We continue to work with the Greater London Authority, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and developers to unlock Barking Riverside, to support the construction of up to 11,000 homes. Transport for London will shortly launch the next public consultation on the proposed route of the railway extension. We are also working with the Greater London Authority to support the regeneration of Brent Cross, which could deliver 7,500 homes. We are also devolving responsibility for delivery of housing zones and the London Housing Bank to the Greater London Authority, giving them a leading role in unlocking housing supply and delivering more affordable housing. The legal agreement to support these programmes will be signed this week.

We announced in November the intention to devolve responsibility for a Housing Investment Fund to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, as part of the agreement for an elected Mayor, The intention is that the legal agreement to support this Housing Investment Fund will be signed this week.

The Government intend that the public sector will master plan and lead development of 8,500 homes on the Northstowe site near Cambridge. The Government expect that three quarters of the homes started on the public-sector owned site by 2020 will be built under direct contract with builders, with the rest in that period delivered through serviced plots in line with the public sector’s master plan.

We support Bicester’s ambitions to become a garden town, and will make capacity funding available to support its proposals. We will also work with Bicester on helping to meet its infrastructure needs, including through the potential for recoverable government investment, subject to a business case. The Government will also provide capacity funding to Basingstoke and North Northants to support their proposals for development on garden town principles.

Promoting self-build and custom-build

We are actively supporting the self-build and custom-build sectors, helping people design and build their own home, and we have exempted self-build from the community infrastructure levy. The £30 million investment fund for Custom Build Homes has so far £6 million of projects in contract.

We have exempted self-builders from community infrastructure levy and section 106 tariff charges.

We consulted in autumn 2014 on a new “Right to Build” to give self and custom builders a right to a plot of land from local authorities and have been working with 11 councils to test how the Right to Build will work in practice. The consultation highlighted that there was strong support for the Right to Build among self and custom builders; and we have worked closely with the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) to ensure that his Government-supported Self-build and Custom House building Private Members’ Bill has successfully passed through Parliament, putting in place legislation for the first key part of the Right, the establishment of local custom build registers. In addition we have announced a new £150 million investment fund to help provide up to 10,000 serviced building plots.

Getting empty and redundant land and property back into use

Brownfield land that is suitable for housing has a vital role to play in meeting the need for new homes. The National Planning Policy Framework makes clear that planning should encourage the effective use of land by re-using brownfield land provided that it is not of high environmental value, and that councils can set locally appropriate targets for using brownfield land. We estimate up to 200,000 homes could be built on such land with local planning authorities challenged to have permissions in place on more than 90% of brownfield land suitable for new homes by 2020.

We are committed to supporting councils in their drive to deliver on this goal and have given them the opportunity to bid for a share of £4.4 million funding to develop local development orders for housing on brownfield land. Awards to a further nine councils have just been agreed.

We have delivered a comprehensive package of policies to help get empty homes and buildings back into use and successfully reduced the number of empty homes to their lowest level since records began. We have:

Provided over £200 million to fund innovative schemes run by community groups, councils and housing associations up and down the country to bring empty properties back into use. So far, our funding has enabled local groups to create almost 6,000 new homes from empty property—providing apprenticeship and training opportunities as well as more homes and better neighbourhoods for local people - with the potential to deliver more.

Rewarded councils for bringing 100,000 empty homes back into use through the New Homes Bonus;

Given councils new powers to remove council tax subsidies to empty homes, and use the funds to keep the overall rate of council tax down. We have also changed tax rules to discourage the use of corporate envelopes to invest in high value housing which may be left empty or underused to avoid paying tax;

Cancelled the Labour Government’s Pathfinder programme which sought to demolish homes, instead of focusing on refurbishment and getting empty homes into use; and revoked associated pro-demolition guidance from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister;

Taken forward the best practice recommendations produced by our independent empty homes adviser, George Clarke—such as refurbishment and upgrading of existing homes should be the first and preferred option, and that demolition of existing homes should be the last option after all forms of market testing and options for refurbishment are exhausted; we have embedded these principles in our housing programme funding schemes;

Reformed community infrastructure levy regulations to provide an increased incentive for brownfield development, extending exemptions for empty buildings being brought back into use. We have reduced Section 106 burdens on vacant buildings being returned to use.

Introduced the Right to Contest, building on our existing Community Right to Reclaim Land, which lets communities ask that under-used or unused land owned by public bodies is brought back into beneficial use. This new right applies to central Government sites currently in use, but not vital for operations.

Amended national planning policy through the National Planning Policy Framework to encourage councils to bring back empty properties back into use;

Funded a new business rates reoccupation relief to help bring empty shops back into use; and

Reformed permitted development rights in a number of ways to free up the planning system and facilitate the conversion of redundant and under-used non-residential buildings into new homes.

The Government have already released enough surplus public sector land to build over 100,000 new homes. We are committed to releasing land with capacity for up to 150,000 homes between 2015 and 2020 and will look to set departmental contributions by the Spending Round.

Conclusion

There is still more to do, but I hope this illustrates how this Government have delivered and cleaned up Labour’s mess. Our long-term economic plan is building more houses, giving more power to local communities, and helping people move onto and up the housing ladder.

[HCWS509]

Local Government Delivery

As this Parliament draws to an end, I would like to update hon. Members on the actions that my Department has put in place since May 2010 on local government, and what we have done on the coalition agreement’s pledge to deliver a “fundamental shift of power from Westminster to people”, “to promote decentralisation and democratic engagement”, and to give “new powers to local councils, communities, neighbourhoods and individuals”. I hope to have ensured a particular Conservative flavour to these reforms over the last five years.

Protecting families from unfair taxes

The Labour Government increased taxes by stealth, forcing councils to hike council tax and charges. We have stood up for hard-working people:

Provided additional funding to local councils to freeze council tax. Council taxes have fallen by over 11% in real terms over the last five years. This saved £1,059 on the average band D bills in England.

Given local residents a new legal power to veto excessive council tax rises, via local referendums, being introduced via the Localism Act. By contrast, in Labour-run Wales where there is no freeze or referendum check, council tax bills have soared.

Scrapped Labour’s plans for an expensive and intrusive council tax revaluation in England which would have meant soaring bills for millions of families and pensioners, and reined back the Labour Government’s intrusive Big Brother property database and powers of entry snooping powers. We have opposed calls for a new tax on family homes.

Abolished council tax—through 100% tax relief—for military personnel serving on operations overseas.

Removed the unfair council tax surcharge on family annexes by introducing a new national discount, to help support extended families.

Changed council tax rules to give local taxpayers a new legal right to pay their yearly bills over 12 monthly instalments rather than 10, should they wish, helping those on fixed incomes like pensioners in particular.

Scrapped Labour’s plans for new bin taxes on family homes, which would have harmed the local environment by fuelling fly-tipping and backyard burning, taken action to stop both the levying of “backdoor bin charging” for the collection of household waste and new “tip taxes”, and scrapped the levying of unfair and arbitrary bin fines on families.

Rejected the Labour policy of encouraging higher parking charges and aggressive parking enforcement, and taken a series of measures to stop parking charges being used as a stealth tax, including introducing new grace periods and stopping the industrial use of CCTV spy cars.

Centrally funded council tax relief for the victims of floods.

Helping local firms and shops with their business rates

As part of our long-term economic plan, we have helped local shops and local firms with their business rates, complementing the Government’s other cuts to national insurance and corporation tax. We have:

Doubled small business rate relief scheme, to help the occupiers of 600,000 properties. From October 2010 to April 2016, small firms are receiving 100% rate relief (i.e. pay no business rates at all) on properties up to £6,000 rateable value, and a tapered rate relief from £6,000 to £12,000. An estimated 400,000 small firms are now paying no rates at all as a result, and a further 200,000 firms are benefiting from the lower rate relief.

Introduced a new discount on business rates for retail premises—with a rateable value of up to £50,000—worth £1,000 in 2014-15 and £1,500 in 2015-16. This is helping 200,000 firms.

Tackled Labour’s hikes in business rates which cut back empty property relief. We introduced a new reoccupation relief to bring empty shops back into use. This is providing 50% rate relief for 18 months for firms who move into retail premises that have been empty for a year of more. We are exempting empty new build property from business rates; this will help promote development and regeneration.

Allowed firms to spread their business rate bills over 12 monthly payments, helping them with their cash flow.

Centrally funded business rate relief for the victims of floods.

Maintained the Government’s commitment to the annual retail price index (RPI) cap, meaning there has been no real terms increase in annual business rates. In 2014-15 and in 2015-16, business rates have been capped at 2%, helping 1.3 million ratepayers.

Scrapped Labour’s ports tax—stopping retrospective business rates on firms in ports that threatened the whole export and manufacturing sector. £175 million of unfair rate demands have been cleared.

Made it easier for small firms to get small business rate relief to which they are entitled. Our changes in Localism Act ensure all eligible ratepayers can automatically receive the small business multiplier, and we have removed the legal red tape requiring ratepayers to fill in paperwork to claim the relief. Small business rate relief has also been extended to including small firms taking on an additional second property—for up to a year—helping them expand.

Given local councils new powers via the Localism Act to levy local business rate discounts, for example, to support local shops, community pubs, new business parks or vital local facilities. Under the local retention of business rates, central Government funds 50% of any local discount granted.

Taken action to speed up business rate appeals, with a series of practical reforms and measures to tackle the previous backlog unresolved cases inherited from Labour’s last revaluation.

Ensured that no new supplementary business rate can be imposed without a backing of local firms in a referendum, via the Localism Act. The supplementary rate introduced by the Labour Government allowed extra business rates to be imposed in some cases without the support of businesses.

Rewarded councils for promoting local economic growth, by allowing them to keep the funds from locally raised business rates, rather than it being snatched back by Whitehall, through the Local Government Finance Act 2012. These reforms have been estimated to increase economic growth by £10 billion over seven years.

Given councils the freedom to borrow against those extra business rates from additional new developments and infrastructure—so-called tax incremental funding—to help make such developments go ahead.

Introduced 24 new enterprise zones across the country. Businesses in these zones will benefit from a 100% business rate discount worth up to £275,000 over a five-year period for firms who move into a zone over the course of this Parliament. All business rate growth within the zone will be retained and shared by the local enterprise partnership area for at least 25 years to help support local growth and investment.

Postponed the business rates revaluation in England to 2017, which will prevent up to 800,000 firms from facing big hikes in their business rates bills—whereas only 300,000 would see a fall.

Scrapped Labour’s plans for penalty business rates to be imposed on parking space at local supermarkets which would have forced up the cost of a family’s local shop.

Cutting red tape in local government

Abolished Labour’s unnecessary comprehensive area assessment inspection regime and scrapped the Audit Commission—a quango which became a creature of the Whitehall state under Labour. Replacing this with a localised audit regime will save £1.35 billion for taxpayers (over 10 years) and reduce the burden of unnecessary inspection on local councils. We have also abolished the interfering Tenants Services Authority.

Scrapped Labour’s local area agreements, removing 4,700 top-down and bureaucratic Whitehall targets from local councils and abolished the Whitehall red tape of national indicator set, place surveys and local development framework monitoring.

Cut back on the thousands of pieces of data that councils must report to a proliferation of departments and quangos, introducing instead a single, simple and transparent list for data collection reporting requirements for councils across all of Government.

Abolished the Labour Government’s local government two-tier code that pushed up councils’ costs and hindered the voluntary and independent sector from delivering better value for money.

Significantly reduced the ring-fencing of local government grants, giving councils power and discretion to focus their resources on front-line services.

Allowed councils to embrace the 21st century, by removing century-old red tape that prevented from parish councils from using internet and telephone banking; and we have allowed councils to issue agendas and papers electronically.

Promoting local democracy and accountability

Localism should go hand in hand with greater local transparency, local accountability and robust democratic scrutiny. We have:

Worked with councils to deliver a new era of town hall transparency, with town halls to publish online their spending, contracts, tenders, senior pay and property assets through a new transparency code. We have enhanced citizens’ rights to inspect council accounts, creating a new army of “armchair auditors”.

Ensured greater transparency on councillors’ interests, including requiring councillors to declare trade union funding and pecuinary interests.

Abolished the Standards Board, which fuelled petty and malicious complaints against councillors and discouraged freedom of speech.

Made it easier to create new town and parish councils, to help decentralise power down.

Allowed councils to return to the committee system if they wish, which many have done.

Introduced new guidelines to ensure elected councillors can approve or veto six-figure salaries in local government in the public glare of full council, and stop practices like “double dipping” which rip off the taxpayer.

Given stronger rights to “citizen journalists” to report, blog, film or tweet from council meetings.

Introduced tougher controls on unfair competition by local authority newspapers and taken action to stop the corrosive and wasteful practice of councils and quangos hiring lobbyists to lobby Government.

Scrapped Labour’s expensive and time-consuming top-down imposition of unitary local government restructuring.

Are taking forward proposals to remove the ‘volunteering tax’ on councillors through data protection registration fees; we would also have reformed the rules on travel expenses for councillors had the Opposition not just blocked this in this week’s wash up.

Introduced new community rights for people to run local services, protect community assets and safeguard valuable green spaces.

Tackled the serious and rare cases of systematic failure in local government, sending in Commissioners to turn around dysfunctional governance in Doncaster; to tackle alleged corruption and maladministration in Tower Hamlets; and to protect vulnerable children in Rotherham.

Supporting front-line services

We have had to pay off Labour’s deficit, but local government services have risen to the challenge, and residents’ satisfaction with local services has been maintained.

Even with the savings that have been made to date, public satisfaction with services has been maintained and English local government still expects to spend over £115 billion in the current financial year.

Net current expenditure by councils—excluding education due to the shift to academy funding—has risen in cash terms under this Government, moving from £70.9 billion in 2008-9 to an expected £78.9 billion in 2014-15.

We ensured that savings in local authority funding were applied in a fair and sustainable way, to north and south, shire and city, rural and urban England, with the average spending power per dwelling for the 10% most deprived authorities still around 40% more than for the least deprived 10%.

We are pushing forward with plans to join up public services, and allow councils to pool resources across the public sector to tackle social problems—through new Community Budgets and Troubled Families.

As of the end of February, the troubled families programme had already turned around the lives of over 105,000 families and over 10,000 of these families include an adult who is off benefits and in sustained work. The programme is firmly on track to achieve its goal of turning round 120,000 families by May 2015, having already achieved 90% of this. A recent report of the work of seven exemplar areas showed the average reactive cost of families in the year before entering the programme was £26,200, with the average gross fiscal benefits achieved in the year following totalling £11,200 per family.

We have supported front-line services and sensible savings through our guidance, 50 ways to save. Our weekly collections support scheme has shown how councils can increase recycling and delivering savings without cutting the frequency of the service. We have actively supported weekly bin collections, which have disappeared in Labour-run Wales.

Scrapped regional government

We have championed England’s long-standing tiers of local government, and supported natural economic areas, as opposed to the arbitrary and distant government regions. We have:

Abolished the unelected regional assemblies and revoked their top-down regional strategies.

Replaced the distant and unaccountable regional development agencies with 39 new local enterprise partnerships of local firms and councils working together.

Closed all the unelected government offices for the regions—they are agents of Whitehall which interfere with local councils. This has saved £420 million over the spending review.

Stopped the forced regionalisation of the fire service, and stopped Labour’s botched FireControl project—a project which wasted almost half a billion pounds.

Tackled the waste and inefficiency of pan-national Euro regions in the EU’s INTERREG programme.

Empowering local councils to stand tall

We have given new freedoms to councils to help champion their areas. We have:

Granted councils a general power of competence via the Localism Act, allowing councils greater flexibility to work together, undertake joint ventures and improve local services.

Allowed councils to keep the funds from locally raised business rates—via the Local Government Finance Act 2012. Overall, councils get to keep 50% of all business rates revenue and growth, giving them a real incentive to go for growth and encourage enterprise and job creation. These reforms are estimated to give a £10 billion boost to economic growth over seven years.

Ensured 70% of local authority income is now raised locally.

Localised council tax support, so councils are rewarded for getting people off the dole and welfare dependency and back into work.

Reformed the housing revenue account via the Localism Act to give councils greater autonomy and freedom to run their own council housing budgets.

Give councils stronger powers on licensing to tackle the alcohol-fuelled violence that plagues local high streets at night, and allow councils to recover fully all the costs of licensing so council taxpayers are not left with the bill.

Strengthening local councils’ influence over the NHS by creating executive health and wellbeing boards to agree NHS commissioning plans, giving councils a lead role in public health, and ensuring more joint working between the NHS and social care. The better care fund from this next month joins up health and social care spending, with further integration being piloted in Greater Manchester.

Rolled out neighbourhood community budgets (allowing public services to be managed at a neighbourhood level) and whole-place community budgets (pooling local public services in an area)—including action on troubled families

Championed 39 growth deals, 24 enterprise zones, the £12 billion local growth fund and 28 city deals.

Championing common sense, not political correctness

We have stood up for British values of common sense. We have:

Allowed councils to disregard a challenge by aggressive secularists to stop the long-standing practice of prayers at meetings, thanks to the Localism Act and the new Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill.

Issued guidance to stop the gold-plating of equality rules, and challenge the practice of local residents filling out intrusive questionnaires about their sexuality and religion in order to get out a library book or make a planning application.

Supported the royal wedding, diamond jubilee and VE day by cutting Whitehall and municipal red tape on holding street parties, and introduced new laws to cut “elf and safety” red tape on community events.

Backed British values and identity, flying the United Kingdom’s national and traditional county flags, and recognising England’s traditional boroughs, towns, cities and counties.

Revoked John Prescott’s 200 page planning guidance on equality and diversity in planning, which undermined the sense of fair play in the planning system by suggested special treatment for certain groups.

Supported teaching the English language rather than translating documents into foreign languages, and promoted a more integrated society, better equipped to reject extremism. We have championed united communities and British values.

Delivering on housing and planning

I am also laying a written ministerial statement in parallel outlining what we have done on housing and planning, including introducing a locally led planning system and abolishing top-down regional planning.

Conclusion

There is more to do to decentralise power, empower local communities and strengthen civic pride. But I believe we have transformed local democracy for the better—more efficient, more responsive and more innovative than before; we have delivered on the aspiration set out in the coalition agreement five years ago.

[HCWS510]

Culture, Media and Sport

First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund

I am today publishing the list of successful bidders to the third round of the first world war centenary cathedral repairs fund.

The £20 million fund, which was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Budget 2014, enables cathedrals to undertake urgent repair work. Cathedrals are powerful symbols of Britain's shared history and are especially important as the nation comes together to commemorate the centenary of the first world war.

Decisions on funding allocations are taken by an expert panel, which considers the grant applications against the published criteria for the scheme and decides which cathedrals should receive funding. The panel is chaired by Sir Paul Ruddock and includes senior figures from English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Church of England and the Catholic Church, as well as church architects, architectural historians and grant-giving experts.

I am pleased to confirm that the panel has decided to allocate funding of almost £6.9 million to 31 cathedrals in the third round. These are as follows:

Results of the meeting of the expert panel, 23 February 2015

Cathedral

Denomination

Project

Award

Birmingham

CofE

Internal restoration and replacement of dangerous wiring and obsolete lighting system

£500,000

Chester

CofE

Complete restoration of cloisters

£274,752

Coventry

CofE

Surface fixing of westmorland slate to the cathedral exterior (Chapel of Unity) and repointing

£80,364

Derby

CofE

Reroofing the Song School and adjacent roofs

£124,181

Durham

CofE

Repair and conservation of central tower upper parapet

£568,651

Ely

CofE

Replacement of defective electrical cable to north side of cathedral

£150,000

Exeter

CofE

Essential repair work, recording and conservation of east end

£275,000

Gloucester

CofE

Conservation of masonry and glazing of Lady Chapel

£185,415

Guildford

CofE

Reroofing and repair of tower and transepts to prevent water ingress

£500,000

Lichfield

CofE

Essential relighting and rewiring

£800,000

Liverpool Metropolitan

RC

Repair to lantern glazing, and east and west entrances

£191,168

Norwich

CofE

Repair of three roofs

£88,620

Norwich

RC

Urgent roof releading

£179,900

Nottingham

RC

Improvement of drainage

£140,000

Peterborough

CofE

Repairs to the tesserae Presbytery floor

£200,000

Plymouth

RC

Replacement of rainwater goods and associated repairs, conservation of west window and repointing of clerestory walls

£398,496

Portsmouth

CofE

Removal of cement pointing and completion of lime mortar pointing

£86,053

Portsmouth RC

RC

External masonry repairs

£79,800

Ripon

CofE

Urgent repairs to the glazing of 35 windows

£19,208

Salisbury

CofE

External repair and conservation of elevations

£150,000

Sheffield

CofE

To replace lighting in two contiguous chapels

£65,077

Shrewsbury

RC

Disabled access for front porch

£280,866

Southwark

CofE

New rainwater disposal arrangements

£12,765

St Edmundsbury

CofE

Reroofing and repairs to North Aisle to prevent water ingress and stone falls

£300,000

St Paul’s

CofE

Rectifying water penetration of the Stone Gallery

£200,000

Wakefield

CofE

Conservation and repair of three east end stained glass windows

£72,000

Wells

CofE

Masonry and structural repairs to the North Quire

£160,000

Westminster

RC

Re-covering of chancel roof

£100,000

Winchester

CofE

Replacement of lighting and wiring system

£500,000

Worcester

CofE

Urgent repairs to roof and rainwater goods

£116,440

York Minster

CofE

Fabric repairs to the Camera Cantorum and urgent window repairs

£100,000

Total: £6,898,396

[HCWS505]

Deputy Prime Minister

Succession to the Crown Act 2013

Today the provisions of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 come into force.

The Act removes the male bias in the line of succession, ending the system of male heirs automatically inheriting the throne over female heirs and removing this historical discrimination against women. The Act also ends another long-standing piece of discrimination, the bar on anyone who marries a Roman Catholic from becoming monarch, and replaces the outdated Royal Marriages Act 1772 such that only the first six in line to the throne need consent of the monarch to marry.

These changes were agreed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth, Australia, in October 2011. This Government have worked closely with the 15 other countries where the Queen is Head of State to make the necessary arrangements to give effect to the changes. Today these changes have come into effect across every realm.

During the passage of the legislation the Advocate General undertook to update Parliament as to how each realm had given effect to the changes to royal succession. Six realms in addition to the United Kingdom chose to legislate for the changes: Australia, Barbados, Canada, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. Nine realms concluded that the legislation was not necessary: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, St Lucia, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.

The Act reflects this Government’s emphasis on equality by removing centuries of discrimination on both religious and gender grounds. The Act puts in place succession laws that are fit for the 21st century and for a modern constitutional monarchy.

[HCWS490]

Section 155 of the Politicical Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000

As required under section 155 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA), this statement confirms that the Government will not be making an order during the course of this Parliament to uplift certain sums and reporting thresholds for donations and loans to political parties, third party campaigners and others in line with inflation.

PPERA allows the Secretary of State or Lord President of the Council to amend the majority of the sums and reporting thresholds contained in the Act. This can be done either in line with an increase in inflation or to give effect to a recommendation made by the Electoral Commission.

This Government do not intend to amend the existing thresholds on this occasion as the current thresholds are well known and changes shortly before the General Election could lead to confusion. It is important that political parties and campaigners are transparent about their expenditure and income, and disclose these in line with the rules. The sums will, however, be reviewed in the next Parliament, in line with the Government's statutory requirement to do so.

In line with the provisions of PPERA, in each Parliament, where the Secretary of State or Lord President of the Council declines to amend the sums contained in Part 4, Part 4A, Schedule 11, section 95B(6), Schedule 11 A, Schedule 15 and Schedule 19A of the Act in line with inflation, a statement must be made to Parliament explaining why. These specific provisions set the reporting thresholds and other sums that apply to donations and loans to political parties, third parties and others. The majority of these sums were previously raised from the levels set in PPERA by the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009. The sums in section 95B(6) and Schedule 11A were introduced by the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014.

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Parliamentary Boundary Commissions

I am pleased to announce the completion of the triennial review of the four Parliamentary Boundary Commissions and publication of the final report. The triennial review was conducted in accordance with Government guidance for reviewing NDPBs. Stage 1 of the review considered whether there continues to be a need for the function, which the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions currently undertake, and whether the function could be more effectively delivered through a vehicle other than an NDPB. Stage 2 of the review scrutinised the current governance arrangements of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions to ascertain whether they comply with the principles of good governance. The review concluded that there continues to be a need to provide the functions of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions and that this should be done at arm’s length from Government, via a non-departmental public body. The review has made a number of recommendations for change and improvements in the functions, delivery and governance arrangements, which we will now pursue. I am grateful to all those who contributed to the review.

Attachments are available at http://www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements/

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Defence

Iraq Update/Training the Syrian Moderate Opposition

Since the last written update on 13 October 2014, Official Report, column 9WS, UK military activity to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL has continued. The UK continues to be the second largest contributor to the coalition airstrike campaign. Our Tornado aircraft and Reaper Remotely Piloted Air Systems have conducted 199 strikes up to 26 March 2015 and continue to gather vital intelligence alongside other assets like the Rivet Joint. The UK will also be deploying two Sentinel aircraft to provide further intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support. Voyager has played a vital role refuelling UK and coalition aircraft, our C130 transport aircraft have continued to deliver essential equipment and resupplies and E3-D Sentry aircraft enhance the coalition’s capacity to provide airborne command and control. There are now over 630 UK personnel directly contributing to the Coalition with around 150 UK personnel in Iraq.

Within the coalition’s training programme to build the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces, the UK is co-ordinating Coalition counter-IED training with a small planning team in Baghdad and some 30 military trainers based in Erbil. The UK has trained over 1,100 Iraqi forces in infantry skills and in the use of the UK-gifted heavy machine guns.

As the Prime Minister has stated, ISIL needs to be defeated in Syria as well as Iraq. In Syria, coalition airstrikes have supported the liberation of Kobane and have disrupted ISIL’s resources and their ability to direct activity in Iraq. However, as with Iraq, the answer against ISIL ultimately lies with local forces, rather than air strikes. I refer to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary’s statement in the House on 16 Oct 2014, Official Report, column 470, that indicated we have been working with Coalition allies to look at how the UK can support the US-led programme to train the moderate Syrian opposition. This programme aims to train and equip thousands of screened members of the opposition over the next three years in regional training centres outside Syria. These forces will initially focus on defending Syrian communities against ISIL’s brutal attacks but will subsequently go on the offensive against ISIL. They will also help to promote the conditions for a political settlement to the conflict in Syria. The UK contribution will include around 75 trainers and headquarters staff. They will provide instruction in the use of small arms, infantry tactics and medical skills. Training is expected to begin in the next few weeks.

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Education

Condition Improvement Fund

Today I am announcing the outcome of the Condition Improvement Fund 2015-16, which provides funding for the improvement and expansion of existing academy and sixth-form college buildings. The Condition Improvement Fund replaces the Academies Capital Maintenance Fund and the Building Condition Improvement Fund for sixth-form colleges.

I am announcing funding for £367 million for 1,366 projects across 1,089 academies and sixth-form colleges, which will help to ensure that children across the country can enjoy school and sixth-form college buildings which are safe, good quality and fit for learning. We have also invited 79 projects that demonstrated a high project need and overall were not successful in this year’s bidding round to submit a revised application, which we will consider ahead of the full 2016-17 bidding round. Ensuring that there is a good local school place for every child, and that every child can benefit from a learning environment which is safe and fit for purpose, no matter where they live, are key priorities for this Government.

This follows on from the announcement my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and I made recently of over £6 billion of new investment to improve the condition of the school estate over the coming years. This Government have invested £18 billion in the education estate during this Parliament to provide new places and to help to ensure pupils will see their learning environments transformed. We know that being taught in school buildings in poor condition can have an adverse effect on pupils and staff and it is important that we continue to invest in improving our estate.

Details of today’s announcement are being sent to those receiving funding and a list of successful projects will be published on gov.uk. Copies will be placed in the Library of the House.

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Attachments can be viewed at www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Science Advisory Council/Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment

Today I am publishing the reports of the triennial reviews of DEFRA’s Science Advisory Council (SAC) and the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE), which were jointly launched on 25 March 2014. Triennial reviews of non-departmental public bodies are part of the Government’s commitment to ensuring accountability in public life.

DEFRA’s SAC was established administratively in 2004 to challenge and support DEFRA’s chief scientific adviser (CSA) in independently assuring the evidence underpinning DEFRA policies and ensuring commissioned evidence meets DEFRA’s needs.

ACRE is a statutory advisory committee appointed under section 124 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. It advises the UK Government and the devolved Administrations on risks to human health and the environment from the release and marketing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The SAC review found a high level of support for the SAC’s overall function. All respondents who commented during the review agreed that an evidence-based Department needs independent scientific advice. This view is shared by DEFRA’s chief scientific adviser (CSA) and the Government CSA.

The review concluded that SAC’s overarching function is right, and essential to ensuring public trust in DEFRA’s policy process. To improve delivery of this function, the review recommended that:

SAC should focus at a high level, across all aspects of DEFRA’s evidence, not on the detail of specific evidence questions.

SAC’s role and remit should be more tightly and clearly defined focusing on advising and supporting the Department on an effective and efficient strategy for obtaining and using evidence and scientific advice; and overseeing and assuring evidence use.

SAC’s profile within the Department should be raised, and links with the devolved Administrations strengthened.

The review considered alternative models for delivery but concluded that an advisory NPDB is the most appropriate form to deliver SAC’s functions, as it is the only model which can deliver these functions independently and transparently, with the right governance and level of expertise.

The review of governance arrangements has found that they are appropriate to the size and functions of an advisory NDPB, however the governance structure should include a formal process to assess the SAC’s overall performance.

The ACRE review concludes that the committee is important in underpinning the Government’s policy of ensuring that GM technology is used in a safe and responsible way and therefore it is necessary for its functions to continue. Following consideration of stakeholder views, the review concludes that ACRE is effective and delivers a high-quality service and, following consideration of alternative models, it remains appropriate for ACRE to remain as an advisory NDPB.

Both SAC and ACRE meet the Cabinet Office principles of good corporate governance.

The review team worked closely with SAC and ACRE members throughout and are grateful for the invaluable support and information they provided.

The full report of the reviews of SAC and ACRE can be found on the gov.uk website, and copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Ministerial Correction

I wish to make a correction to the verbal statement I made in response to a point made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) on 17 March 2015, Official Report, column 727. The review of Shaker Aamer’s case currently being undertaken is not a judicial process, but an inter-agency review carried out by six US Government Departments.

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Overseas Scholarship Schemes

On 8 January, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development announced that they were to conduct a review of the Government’s overseas scholarship schemes. The review’s aims were to build on the triennial reviews of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission and the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission, and examine those schemes together with the Chevening scholarship programme to assess:

Whether there was scope for further efficiencies and synergies across the schemes;

If so, what alterations in structure, administration or delivery might realise those improvements;

The extent to which efficiencies have already been put in place in recent years.

The review is now complete, and copies are available in the Libraries of both Houses. Its main recommendation is that the three schemes should continue, but should sit side by side in a single FCO-sponsored NDPB, as a UK Government Scholarship Commission responsible for advising on and implementing UK Government scholarship strategy.

We endorse the review’s recommendations on the direction of travel: bringing better alignment of overall scholarships strategy, funding, partnership development, and alumni engagement, between the three programmes. We agree in principle to the main recommendations but recognise that there are legitimate questions about how best this alignment should be implemented while respecting the individual character of each scheme.

We therefore propose that further work should be undertaken, bringing all parties together to look more closely at the detail of the governance options that will protect the brands and objectives of each scheme.

The outcome of this second phase of the review will be completed in August and published and placed in the Libraries of both Houses in September 2015.

Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements

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Health

Advisory Non-departmental Public Bodies

The Department of Health has completed its triennial reviews of the British Pharmacopoeia Commission (BPC), the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM), the Administration of Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee (ARSAC), and the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), and is today publishing the associated review reports.

The four reviews, which each commenced on 30 October 2014, consulted with a wide range of stakeholders. Their key conclusions were that all these bodies perform necessary functions and should continue to operate as advisory non-department public bodies. The review reports each contain several further recommendations, intended to further improve performance, governance and efficiency.

Copies of the four reports can be found at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2015-03-26/HCWS500/

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Leader of the House

Legislation in the 2014-15 Session of Parliament

Following the conclusion of business in the House today, I expect Parliament to be prorogued prior to dissolution on 30 March under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. Subject to proceedings, 34 Bills will have received Royal Assent in the 2014-2015 Session.

Government Bills

Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance)

Childcare Payments

Consumer Rights

Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland)

Counter-Terrorism and Security

Criminal Justice and Courts

Data Retention and Investigatory Powers

Deregulation

Finance

Finance (No.2)

House of Commons Commission

Infrastructure

Lords Spiritual (Women)

Modern Slavery

Pension Schemes

Recall of MPs

National Insurance Contributions

Serious Crime

Small Business, Enterprise and Employment

Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism

Stamp Duty Land Tax

Taxation of Pensions

Wales

Law Commission Bills taken forward by the Government

Insurance

Private Members’ Bills

Control of Horses

Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality)

Health Service Commissioner for England (Complaint Handling)

House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension)

International Development (Official Development Assistance Target)

Local Government (Religious etc. Observances)

Local Government (Review of Decisions)

Mutuals’ Deferred Shares

Self-build and Custom Housebuilding

Specialist Printing Equipment and Materials (Offences)

Hybrid Bills

The High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill will carry over into the next Parliament

Prime Minister

Machinery of Government change: Architecture Policy

This written ministerial statement confirms that responsibility for promoting high quality design in the built environment will transfer from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the Department for Communities and Local Government. This change will be effective immediately.

[HCWS503]

Electoral Commission Committee

Electoral Commission/Local Government Boundary Commission England: Estimates

(Representing The Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission): The Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission is established under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Act (PPERA) 2000. Under paragraph 14 of schedule 1 to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and paragraph 11 of schedule 1 to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 the Committee must review the Electoral Commission’s and Local Government Boundary Commission for England’s (LGBCE) estimates and decide whether it is satisfied that the estimates are consistent with the economical, efficient and effective discharge by the bodies with their functions.

The Committee has approved the Electoral Commission and LGBCE draft estimates without modification. In coming to its decisions the Committee has a statutory obligation to consider advice provided to it by HM Treasury and reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General on his examinations into the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which the Electoral Commission and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England have used their resources. The Committee is publishing those reports on its web pages at www.parliament.uk.

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Transport

Motoring Agencies Business Plans 2015-16

I am pleased to announce the publication of the 2015-16 business plans for the Department for Transport’s motoring executive agencies—the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA).

The business plans set out:

the services each agency will deliver and any significant changes they plan to make;

the resources they require; and,

the key performance indicators (KPIs) by which their performance will be assessed.

These plans allow service users and members of the public to assess how the agencies are performing in operating their key services, managing reforms and the agency finances.

The business plans will be available electronically on gov.uk and copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Attachments are available at: http://www.parliament.uk /business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2015-03-26/HCWS496/

[HCWS496]

Cycling Delivery Plan

I am today publishing the Government response to the informal consultation on the draft cycling delivery plan which sought views from interested parties on its content.

On 16 October 2014, I launched an informal consultation on a draft cycling delivery plan which set out how the Prime Minister’s ambition to “kick-start a cycling revolution” would be achieved over the next 10 years as well as our plans to increase walking.

The consultation, which was extended to a six-week period in total due to the high level of interest, sought general views on the content of the draft Delivery Plan via email, webchats and seven dedicated regional engagement events. Over 1,000 informal comments to the consultation were received from cycling and walking campaign groups, local government, transport and planning bodies and professionals, business, members of the public and others.

We received a wide range of comments, in particular, around the lack of a firm long-term funding commitment which was considered central to implementing aspirations and actions in the draft delivery plan. A further five common themes also arose during the consultation, including calls to give walking greater prominence, defining “cycle-proofing”, securing the future funding of the bikeability cycle training scheme, creating national standards for the design of cycling and walking infrastructure and providing greater clarity on the proposed call to action to local authorities to work in partnership with Government to increase local-level cycling and walking.

The Government response sets out our position on each of these matters and most notably makes clear our commitment to cycling and walking in the long term by placing a duty in the recently passed Infrastructure Act 2015 requiring Government to produce a cycling and walking investment strategy. The new duty requires us to put in place a strategy for England, which, among other things, must set out the financial resources which Government will make available towards meeting our cycling and walking objectives. This move has been warmly welcomed by our stakeholders.

Government are now considering how best to develop a long-term infrastructure programme for cycling and walking, drawing upon expert advice from cycling and walking stakeholders including the Active Travel Consortium.

It is also important to note that through the duties confirmed in the Infrastructure Act 2015, Government will be held to account by Parliament.

I will be placing a copy of this statement and the Government response to the consultation on the draft cycling delivery plan in the Libraries of both Houses.

Attachments are available at http://www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements

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Maritime and Coastguard Agency

I am pleased to announce the publication of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) business plan for 2015-16.

The business plan sets out:

the services that the agency will deliver and any significant changes it plans to make;

the resources the agency requires; and,

the key performance indicators (KPIs) by which the agency’s performance will be assessed.

This plan will allow service users and members of the public to assess how the MCA is performing in delivering its key services, managing reforms and finances.

The Business Plan will be available electronically on gov.uk and copies will be placed in the libraries of both Houses.

Attachments are available at http://www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements

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Traffic Commissioners

The triennial review of the traffic commissioners was conducted in accordance with Cabinet Office guidance on reviews of non-departmental public bodies in late 2014 and early 2015 available at: https://www.gov.uk/public-bodies-reform

The review is formed of two parts:

Phase 1—undertaken by the Department but with oversight by an independent industry figure.

Phase 2—undertaken by an external consultancy (JMP Partners) which included extensive consultation with industry and key stakeholders.

The key conclusion is that the primary function of the commissioners is still necessary and that this is best delivered through the commissioners as non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs).

The review also identified a number of measures which, if implemented, should improve the bodies’ governance transparency and accountability. The Department for Transport will be taking these recommended measures forward over the coming months. The report includes a number of representations from industry. The Department will evaluate these and develop a timetable for taking them forward.

The Department will continue to work closely with the traffic commissioners to ensure their processes and working structures leave them equipped to fulfil their important function.

I would like to thank those stakeholders who were involved during the course of the review.

The final report of this triennial review can be found on gov.uk and I have made available copies in the Libraries of both Houses.

Attachments can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2015-03-26/HCWS506/

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