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Communities and Local Government

Volume 624: debated on Monday 24 April 2017

The Secretary of State was asked—

Rough Sleeping

One person sleeping on the streets is one too many, which is why we committed ourselves to spending more than £550 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in England. That includes supporting 84 projects through our £50 million homelessness prevention programme, an end-to-end approach to tackling homelessness and rough sleeping.

Since joining the House in 2010, I have seen with my own eyes the incredible increase in the number of people sleeping rough on our streets. I have seen it in my constituency and in places that I have visited around the country, and, indeed, I see it on the doorsteps of Westminster itself when we arrive and leave for votes. Can the Secretary of State tell me what changed in 2010?

The hon. Gentleman may know that the number of statutory homelessness acceptances is below its peak—less than half its peak in 2003—but of course there is much more to be done, especially, as he pointed out, when it comes to rough sleeping. I have seen it as well: I have seen it throughout the country, and I have seen it here at Westminster. As he may also know, I said a great deal about this issue at the Crisis 50th anniversary conference. I said, for instance:

“Ending rough sleeping is within our gift. It is something we can do. It is something we must do. And, working together, it is something we are going to do.”

Many people fear that the general election may result in a delay in the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Bill. Will the Secretary of State tell us what progress has been made so far? Given that the Bill has cross- party support, can the work not continue during the election period?

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on all the work that he did to present that Bill and to get it through Parliament. It has still to complete one final parliamentary stage—about which we are very confident—but we have already started work with local authorities to ensure that it comes into force straight away.

In my home borough of Westminster—which includes Westminster station, where, as has been mentioned, we see rough sleepers—the level of rough sleeping has soared. The Westminster council area alone contains a third of all the rough sleepers in London. The council has just cut—indeed slashed—its rough sleeping budget. Does the Secretary of State believe that that will help or hinder efforts to reduce rough sleeping?

We are providing more funds for councils throughout the country, including Westminster council, to combat rough sleeping. For example, we have provided £100 million to deliver 2,000 independent living units, as well as a £20 million rough sleeping grant. However, as I said earlier, I want to do more, and the Government are determined to do more. A few weeks ago, I went to Finland to see what it has done for itself with the Housing First project. I think that we can learn lessons from others, and make sure that we do more at home.

Since 2015 I have led a range of homelessness roundtables in Bath, bringing together charities such as the Genesis Trust, Developing Health & Independence and Julian House, all of which have received Government funding. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the integration of services is critical to solving this problem, and that residents of Bath should back my plan in order to help to solve it?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend, and I commend the work that he has done locally, which is very well known, in trying to bring those services together. I am pleased to be able to tell him that Swindon, Wiltshire, Bath and North Somerset councils will benefit from some £259,000 in rough sleeping grant to help promote integration.

The scale of rough sleeping and homelessness in Britain today shames us all. In a country as decent and well off as ours, it is not inevitable. However, the level has more than doubled since 2010 as a direct result of decisions made by Conservative Ministers.

There are very few simple rules in politics, but this is one: with a Labour Government homelessness falls, and under the Tories it goes up. On 8 June, people will ask themselves, “Do we really want more of the same?” Let me say to the Secretary of State that, with a new national mission, he need not go to Finland. Will he, before the election, commit his party to matching our Labour commitment and backing our Labour plans to end rough sleeping by the end of the next Parliament?

I know the right hon. Gentleman, and I know that he cares deeply about this issue, as do Conservative Members. He should not play party politics with it, because it is a very serious issue that unites everyone in the House. We all want to see an end to rough sleeping, but he knows as well as I do that its causes are complex. They are not just economic; there are mental health problems, and addiction problems. We do have lessons to learn from abroad, but I am sure that if the right hon. Gentleman works with us—if we work together—we can all unite in ending rough sleeping for good.

This is precisely about politics: it is precisely about the political decisions made over the last seven years that have made the causes of homelessness so much worse. Rapidly rising homelessness is just the tip of the iceberg on seven years of failure on housing: rough sleeping doubled, home ownership down, house building falling, private renters ignored, housing benefits bills ballooning, and now the lowest level of new affordable homes to rent and buy for 24 years. No wonder Labour is ahead in the polls on housing. After seven years of failure, the Tories have no plan to fix the housing crisis. Is that not why people now desperately need a new deal on housing led by a new Labour Government?

I thought that if anyone was going to raise the opinion polls today, it would be a Conservative Member, but the right hon. Gentleman continues to surprise us all. I say to him again: let us work together on rough sleeping. It is very easy for Labour to make a commitment to end rough sleeping without having any plans, any initiative, or anything in hand to show what they would actually do about it. We have got the ideas, and we have new ideas, for example the Housing First concept which we are trialling already—right now—in Liverpool. The right hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to work with us if he really means it.

Small Businesses

We have doubled the level of small business rate relief to 100% and made it permanent. This means that around 600,000 small businesses will pay no business rates at all. At Budget, we also announced a £300 million discretionary fund so that councils can provide additional support to businesses facing increased bills.

York’s economy is being damaged by sharp business rate increases due to the revaluations. While the exemption from paying the full business rates has risen from £12,000 to £15,000, business rate increases have rocketed far beyond that in York. This is totally unfair, and small businesses in the city, previously exempt, are now desperate. Some are facing a 600% increase in their rateable value, including The Slip Inn, and no one knows how the new relief funds will even be distributed—total chaos! Can the Secretary of State say why the business rate burden is falling harder on smaller businesses and if he will urgently review the exemption level?

Overall, businesses in the north have seen on average a fall through the revaluation process.

The hon. Lady talks about York. Since 2010 York has had a 74% fall in unemployment. That is because York has a Conservative-led council working with a Conservative Government. If the Labour party gets its anti-business agenda and hikes up taxes on businesses throughout the country, we know what the result will be.

Is the Secretary of State aware that many Labour-controlled councils are still pursuing anti-car policies? Will he remind them of recommendation 9 of the Mary Portas retail review, which stated that free and available but controlled parking should be made available to high street shoppers?

As always, my right hon. Friend makes a very good point about anti-car policies coming from Labour councils. Where councils have worked with businesses and taken a pro-car policy, especially on parking, that has helped local businesses, and Labour can learn a lesson from that.

Given the great concern expressed by small businesses up and down the country about their ability to pay the business rate rises, I am going to give the Secretary of State another chance. What reassurance can he give small business owners who are concerned about the impact of rate rises that they will not be paying higher rates over the next few years than online and large retailers such as Sports Direct?

I can tell the hon. Lady two things. First, I point her to the package my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced at the Budget: £435 million of additional help for small businesses with rates, including the £300 million discretionary fund, for which there will be absolutely no delay because of the general election. It is going ahead exactly as planned. Indeed, the Government have already confirmed the final allocations for all local authorities, and local authorities are free to start using that scheme and helping local businesses.

Secondly, I point the hon. Lady to what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in the Budget speech. He said that

“in the medium term…we have to find a better way of taxing the digital part of the economy—the part that does not use bricks and mortar”—[Official Report, 8 March 2017; Vol. 622, c. 812.],

and that we also need to look at the frequency of the revaluation process.

Many small businesses in Bury will see a fall in their business rates as a result of the revaluation, but because of phasing it will be some years before they receive the full benefit. Will my right hon. Friend look again at what can be done to speed up the introduction so that they can feel the full benefit sooner?

We have also put in place the transitional relief scheme, which is worth more than £3 billion and will help businesses across the country, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency. That will certainly speed up the introduction.

During the last Communities and Local Government questions, I asked the Secretary of State to engage with me and with councillors on Belfast City Council to determine how best we could grow business there through a city deal. He kindly agreed to do this, but sadly events have overtaken our arrangements. Given the commitment that he has made to spreading city deals throughout the devolved regions, will he assure us that he would like to see that theme continuing in the Department for Communities and Local Government?

Supported Housing

3. What estimate he has made of levels of funding for supported housing in each of the next five years. (909761)

In September 2016, we announced the extension of the local housing allowance exemption for supported housing until April 2019. We have recently consulted on a reformed funding model for supported housing. We are not doing this to save money; we want to get the right model to deliver improvements in quality and in value for money.

Telford has some excellent supported housing schemes, many of which I have visited, including Rose Manor in Ketley and Vicarage Grove in Dawley. However, supported housing costs can often be higher than the local housing allowance rate. How will the Government’s reforms address that concern?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Last September, we announced that we would devolve funding to local authorities so that providers could, when necessary, reflect the higher average costs of supported accommodation. This would give local authorities an enhanced role in commissioning supported housing in their area.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the Select Committee inquiry into funding proposals for supported housing. Will he give me an assurance that he will reflect carefully on the overwhelming evidence that we have received, which shows that the local housing allowance rates are not an appropriate basis on which to devise a funding scheme for supported housing?

I can tell the Chair of the Select Committee that the Government hugely value the role that supported housing plays in helping vulnerable people. I take seriously what the Committee has to say, and I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), has given evidence to its inquiry. I will look at this matter carefully, because I want to ensure that the final model incentivises providers to continue to provide this important type of housing.

I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to the supported housing project and the extra moneys that have been devolved to local authorities for that purpose. However, the local housing allowance cap significantly favours London over the regions. For example, 99% of tenancies in my region will require a top-up from the fund, whereas only 3% of tenancies in London will do so. Would the Secretary of State be prepared to look again at this matter, to ensure that we have a system of supported housing that works for everyone?

I know that my hon. Friend takes a strong interest in these matters, including in his role as a member of the Select Committee. I have listened to him carefully, and others made a similar point during the consultation process. I can assure him that we will look at all the responses carefully and ensure that the final system works for everyone.

The Select Committee inquiry has received evidence that the Government’s approach to supported housing is causing many providers to put new schemes on hold and resulting in some pulling out of providing supported housing altogether. When will the Secretary of State accept that his policy is damaging the provision of housing for our most vulnerable residents, and when will he commit to providing the funding and certainty that the sector needs if it is to provide the supported homes that we need?

It is important that we take a careful look at this policy, precisely because we all want to see a sustainable model that will result in providers providing enough of this type of home. That is exactly what this policy is designed to do, and when we come out with the final policy, that is what it will achieve.

Assured Shorthold Tenancies

On 18 April, 20 leading members of the British Property Federation pledged to offer three-year tenancies in build-for-rent developments, and leading housing associations have made a similar pledge. We hope that will encourage a shift in the market towards more landlords offering longer tenancies.

Thousands of renters in Colchester and across the country will welcome that news, but does the Minister agree that landlords are only half the issue? In fact, getting mortgage lenders, 50% of which at the moment do not lend on more than a year’s assured shorthold tenancy, to change that policy will be the key to unlocking longer tenancies for the future.

My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of security for people in the private rented sector, and he is also right to identify the issue of lending. Since the Government introduced their model tenancy agreement, which has appropriate break clauses, there is no longer any impediment to landlord customers submitting longer tenancies. The majority now permit tenancies of up to two to three years.

If the Minister had visited Cambridge recently, he would have seen the manifestation of the housing crisis in the number of people sleeping on the streets, which so depresses residents and those people. When I recently visited Wintercomfort, one of the leading charities, it told me that landlords are increasingly unwilling to let to people on housing benefit because of insecure employment. Does he agree that cracking down on insecure employment would help us to tackle the housing crisis?

I had the opportunity to visit Cambridge very recently, and I share the hon. Gentleman’s diagnosis of the problem: we desperately need to build more homes in this country to give people more choice. He is also right about our employment market, but it is the policies of this Government that have driven record levels of employment, and it is the national living wage that is increasing people’s spending power.

Both landlords and tenants often mistakenly believe that a tenancy has to be six months or a year renewable, when of course there is no legal impediment to people having longer tenancies, and in some cases they do. One reason why longer tenancies do not happen is that landlords often find it difficult to recover possession if they need to occupy the house themselves or if the tenant fails to pay their rent. Will the Minister consider encouraging landlords to provide longer tenancies by making it easier for them to recover occupation?

My hon. Friend is right that we need to ensure that, when a tenant behaves antisocially or is in rent arrears, landlords can regain possession, but the fundamental pressure we face at the moment is in giving the increasing number of families in the private rented sector the security they need. Reforming our housing market, increasing supply and bringing in these new build-to-rent schemes that will offer longer tenancies is a key reform.

Labour councils like Newham, Redbridge, Greenwich and my own borough of Hammersmith and Fulham are doing a fantastic job of cracking down on rogue landlords. If the Minister actually cares about private tenants, why is he blocking borough-wide private sector licensing schemes? Is his party still the slum landlord’s friend?

The suggestion that Conservative Members do not care about these issues is as ridiculous as it is insulting. The work of Labour councils to which the shadow Minister refers is often being funded by this Government. He is factually wrong to suggest that this Government are blocking borough-wide selective licensing, and I point out the many reforms that we are introducing—we are banning letting agent fees and insisting on client money protection—that were not in place when the shadow Housing Minister, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), was running this Department.

Supported Housing

We are committed to protecting and boosting the supply of supported housing, and since 2011 we have delivered 23,000 new supported homes in England. My hon. Friend will know that we recently consulted on a reformed funding model, and we are now keen to press on with that reform as soon as possible.

I will probe a little further on emergency short-term accommodation, such as women’s refuges. Does the Secretary of State agree that a totally separate funding stream is essential to honouring our ambition that no victim be turned away from accessing critical support services by 2020?

My hon. Friend highlights an important point. We have been working with the sector to develop options to ensure that providers of short-term accommodation continue to receive the appropriate funding. That might be through a different funding mechanism from the one we have today, but it is vital that supported housing receives the protection it deserves, and it will.

The Secretary of State knows that he has let down elderly people in this country. It is not just supported housing or funding but the fact that, in constituencies such as mine, we have a magic wand whereby suddenly student accommodation rises like daisies in the spring. But when it comes to accommodation for elderly people who desperately need it, because we have an ageing population, he has got nowhere in what he has achieved.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman just missed what I said: since 2011, 23,000 units of specialised and general housing have been delivered for vulnerable people, and we have provided another £400 million for specialist homes throughout the country. That kind of action makes results, and he should welcome it.

In evidence to a joint Select Committee inquiry, David Orr of the National Housing Federation said that the local housing allowance was

“not a competent starting point”

for a funding model. Is the Secretary of State wedded to LHA as a starting point, or is he considering some other option?

We have just had a consultation on supported housing, which is now closed. We received a number of representations and we want to consider them carefully, but whatever the final model is, it will be designed to be sustainable for the long term and provide the supported housing we need.

I look forward to hearing the Government’s response on that, and it would be useful to get a date on that issue. On the different types of supported accommodation being consulted on, does the Secretary of State recognise that placing an arbitrary limit on the length of time somebody is in short-term accommodation could have a detrimental effect on their life chances thereafter if they are forced to leave that supported accommodation too soon? Will he allow flexibility in the system, so that organisations such as Emmaus and Blue Triangle in my constituency can keep people for as long as they need to be there?

As part of the review and the response to the consultation, we are considering exactly the point the hon. Lady raises: the terms of access to short-term accommodation.

Social Housing Rent Arrears

6. What estimate he has made of the number of social housing households in rent arrears in England. (909764)

In 2015-16, about 685,000 socially renting households were either in arrears or had been in the previous 12 months, which represents 25% of households in that sector.

That seems a huge number: nearly a quarter of people in social housing in rent arrears. In one ward of my constituency, nearly half of our social housing tenants—46% of them—are in rent arrears. One single mum has seen her rent jump from £8 to £70 a week because of the benefit cap, and the bedroom tax is still wreaking devastation. Is this not a damning indictment of seven years of Tory assault on Britain’s struggling families?

In 2011-12, the first year in which the data were collected, the figure was 23.5%, so the current figure is similar to what we inherited from the Labour Government. On the benefit cap, Conservative Members believe very clearly that it is completely wrong for out-of-work households to receive support far in excess of that which their working neighbours earn when they go out to work. Discretionary housing payments are in order and the level is actually falling—in 2013-14, we were talking about 30% of households—so the figure is moving in the right direction, and the hon. Lady is wrong to oppose the fundamental welfare reforms we need to make sure that the system is fair.

Those tenants in the social housing sector who do not keep up with their rent payments are, of course, in danger of becoming homeless. Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to councils such as Kettering Borough Council, of which I am a member, that make it an absolute priority to help people in those situations and stop them becoming homeless in the first place? In the first five months of this year, Kettering Borough Council has helped 78 households stay in their current accommodation.

I am happy to pay tribute to the work that Kettering Borough Council has done, and I reassure my hon. Friend that the Ministry of Justice’s protocol for social landlords stresses the value of preventive measures in respect of rent arrears and advises landlords to deploy alternatives to eviction wherever possible.

Has the Minister had discussions with his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about universal credit and the impact it is having on many of my constituents who are not being paid for weeks and sometimes months on end and are therefore going into arrears? That is in addition to being hit by the bedroom tax and other benefit changes. Has he had these discussions, or will he do so, because what is going on in my constituency is a disgrace?

We have had discussions with DWP colleagues, and I make two brief points to the hon. Gentleman. First, universal credit advances are available for new claims, and those should be taken up. Secondly, DWP research shows that after four months the proportion of universal credit claimants who were in arrears at the start of their claims had fallen by a third. So there is an initial problem, and the advance claims are there to cope with that, but over time the situation is improving.

One in three people in Northern Ireland, and a lesser number on the UK mainland, are just a pay cheque away from homelessness. What steps have been taken to help those who are on the cusp of homelessness due to the benefits system to hold on to their tenancies?

The Government have significantly increased the discretionary housing payments that are available to local authorities to assist those affected by welfare reform changes. The whole emphasis of the policy on which the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), is working is to try to shift the approach to emphasise prevention. That way, we will prevent people from becoming statutorily homeless in the first place, rather than just providing help at the point of crisis.

Parking Reform

7. What assessment his Department has made of the implications for his policies of the consultation of May 2015 entitled “Parking reform: tackling unfair practices”. (909766)

The Government are committed to reforming unfair parking practices. We have already taken steps to tackle rogue and unfair practices by private parking operators, including by banning wheel clamping and towing. The Department published a summary of the responses to its discussion paper on private parking in 2016, and I am considering the points that were raised.

I thank the Minister for his response. In Lewes in my constituency, the discrepancy between parking on public and private land is causing huge problems and hefty fines for drivers. I am thinking particularly of the area in the town centre behind Laura Ashley, where if someone stops for two minutes they will receive a £60 penalty. Will the Minister bring forward the recommendations from the consultation to end such unfair practice?

My hon. Friend is a strong campaigner for her constituents and raises an important point: people need clarity on where they can and cannot park. I recognise the anger felt by her constituents, and we will certainly look carefully at what she says, as we prepare our response to the consultation.


8. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of (a) the community right to bid scheme and (b) other Government initiatives to protect and support local pubs. (909767)

So far, 2,000 pubs have been listed as assets of community value. That listing provides communities with the time to bid for a pub if it comes on to the market. We are supporting the process further, with £3.6 million, through the “More than a pub” programme.

The Northumberland Arms in Marple Bridge is a much-loved local pub, and members of the local community hope to reopen it using the community right-to-bid scheme. Will my hon. Friend the Minister lend every possible support to their effort and consider joining us for a celebratory pint when it reopens? Indeed, we could make it a double celebration, should the good people of Marple Bridge see fit to return me to the House.

It is unthinkable that the people of Hazel Grove will not return my hon. Friend to the House, given his work on their behalf these past two and a bit years. I would be delighted to join him, with the whole ministerial team, to celebrate the community pub he mentions—so long as he is buying the pints, of course.

The Minister has failed to mention what my office has been told by the Department, which is that the Neighbourhood Planning Bill is set to fall, so the change to pub protection it contains will not be made. Will he assure the House that that is not the case? That wonderful decision was supported on both sides of the House, and we need to make sure that the change goes through.

My understanding is that we hope to complete the passage of that legislation before the Dissolution of Parliament. The change the hon. Gentleman refers to has been broadly welcomed by very many people, including, of course, the hon. Gentleman, who campaigned for it.

Affordable Homes

9. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of affordable homes to (a) rent and (b) buy since 2010. (909768)

Since April 2010, we have delivered on average more than 50,800 affordable homes per years, 36,300 of which were affordable homes for rent. Under the previous Government, the annual average was only 42,900, of which only 28,700 were homes for rent.

I am expecting several Members of Parliament and Ministers to visit Delyn constituency in the next few weeks. Will the Minister come with me to Flint, where he will see a Labour council building council houses for rent? This social housing is supported by the Welsh Assembly, with more than 600 in one constituency alone. Why can he not match that in England?

As I just said and contrary to what the shadow Housing Minister said, higher levels of affordable housing are being delivered under this Government than were delivered under the previous Labour Government. Nevertheless, if the right hon. Gentleman’s local council is delivering new council homes, I am glad to hear it. We want more homes of every kind. In Croydon, it was a Conservative council that started to build council housing again, after a Labour council had failed to do so.

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that almost 2,000 new houses are currently being built in Crawley’s Forge Wood neighbourhood? There is a complete mix of units, including council, social-rented and low-cost housing.

I warmly welcome what my hon. Friend has to say and his support for building the homes that we so desperately need in this country. Contrary to what we often hear from the shadow Front-Bench team, there is a widespread consensus across the country that we desperately need to build more homes of every kind to tackle the housing crisis that has been building in this country for the past 30 or 40 years.

18. The right-to-buy scheme has led to a devastating erosion of social housing stock, with 40% of ex-council houses now in the hands of private landlords. With public money going straight into the pockets of those landlords, will the Secretary of State tell the House how much the right-to-buy scheme has cost the public purse? (909777)

The right-to-buy scheme has helped nearly 2 million hard-working people own their own home in this country. Since we reinvigorated the right-to-buy scheme in 2012, we have made it a condition that, for each home that is sold, we replace it with a new affordable home. That is the right policy as we help people who have the aspiration to buy their home, but we also make sure that the rented homes are replaced. That is what people will get from a Conservative Government.

Luton’s housing waiting list is now three times higher than it was in the 1970s, when I was vice-chair of the council’s housing committee. The housing stock has halved in that time from compulsory sales. Is it not the truth that only a Labour Government led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) will save Britain’s housing situation and make sure that people in Luton can have a decent home?

People can look back at the record of the last Labour Government—how many council homes were built between 1997 and 2010? What level of house building did we inherit from the Labour Government in 2010? The truth is that house building in this country has been increasing under this Government. Certainly, there is still further to go, but we are the party that is committed to building more homes for people to buy, more homes for people to rent privately and more affordable homes for people to rent. If we want a solution to the housing crisis, this is the party that is offering it.

Housing Market

10. What discussions he has had with the housing association sector on rent-setting policy post-2020 since the publication of “Fixing our broken housing market” on 7 February 2017. (909769)

My Department regularly meets housing associations to discuss how we can help keep rents affordable and increase the supply of new homes. Our housing White Paper has been welcomed by the sector and we look forward to many more productive discussions in the coming years.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Indeed, the housing White Paper has been welcomed by housing associations. Does he agree that the future rent policy should not only guarantee affordability, but offer long-term certainty for housing associations, so that they do deliver the homes that we need?

Yes, I do agree with my hon. Friend. It is an excellent point. Housing associations currently account for roughly a third of total housing supply, and we do want a situation in which they can borrow even more against that future income to build even more homes. That is something that it is in the housing White Paper, and we intend to build on it.

Adult Social Care Funding

Adult social care funding is distributed according to the relative need of the different areas using a well-established formula. Most of the £4.5 billion funding for social care announced at the 2015 spending review and in the spring Budget takes into account councils’ ability to raise money through the social care precept.

I thank the Minister for his response, but I am sorry to say that he is wrong. The formula is broken. South Tyneside Council is the third hardest hit council in the country with a low council tax base, demand for adult social care higher than average and hospital services under threat from this Government’s forced sustainability and transformation plans. Is it not true that this Government, who created the social care crisis, cannot solve it and our constituents are suffering as a result?

The hon. Lady’s assessment is completely wrong. Councils will have access to £9.25 billion of extra funding over the next three years. On the money that is coming directly from the Government, it absolutely takes into account a local area’s ability to raise council tax, so areas such as that of the hon. Lady will receive more in funding from the Government than some other areas. She does not have any reason to talk about council tax because it doubled during the Labour Government. Since 2010, it has gone down by 9%.

The Minister’s answer on the former point is absolutely right, but does he also accept that another variable, perhaps of greater practical concern, is the variation in the willingness of the health sector to work jointly with local authorities to maximise the integration of the funds? Local authorities are well used to joint working and democratic accountability, but I am afraid that there is not often the same history in clinical commissioning groups and other health institutions. What will he do about that in a future new Government?

I have great respect for my hon. Friend, who has considerable knowledge in this area. He is absolutely right: we need to ensure that health and social care works far more collegiately and that harder work is done to ensure that services are integrated. We are determined to do that at a national level with this Department working with the Department of Health, and it is what we expect to see delivered at a local level for local people.

21. As the Minister has recognised, the social care precept means that funding available for social care is increasingly dependent on a local authority’s tax base. In 2017-18, the precept will generate £9 million in additional funding in Sheffield, compared with more than £31 million for Surrey. Does the Minister think that that is fair? (909781)

The hon. Gentleman should look at the allocations for the £4.5 billion of social care funding coming to local authorities directly from the Government. That absolutely takes into account the fact that certain places can raise far more in council tax and from the social care precept than areas such as his own. That is reflected in the allocations, and I wish that he would recognise that.

Many care homes up and down the country are reliant on care workers from the EU; estimates suggest that there are about 100,000 workers. What meetings does the Secretary of State have with the care sector to reassure them that, when Britain leaves the EU, care homes will be adequately staffed with appropriately trained care workers?

The hon. Lady makes a very important point and I can reassure her that my hon. Friend the Minister who is responsible for these matters in the Department of Health has met care providers, as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and as have I. This is an extremely important situation and we must ensure that we have enough care workers to support the most vulnerable in our society.

Northern Powerhouse

The northern powerhouse is central to our plans for an economy that works for all. During these past few months, we have published the northern powerhouse strategy, launched the second northern powerhouse investment portfolio, allocated more than £500 million of local growth investment, launched the £400 million northern powerhouse investment fund, committed tens of millions to cultural investment in the north and, of course, supported 17 enterprise zones across the north that are in turn providing employment for 9,000 people.

With regional growth fund money and local enterprise partnership funding helping local businesses in my Colne Valley constituency achieve record levels of employment, will the Minister ensure that the northern powerhouse investment fund builds on that success and that we power the powerhouse for many years to come?

Absolutely. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he does in promoting the local economy. In total, the Leeds city region, which includes his area, has received £694 million of Government funding for local growth funds and the new £400 million investment fund is there specifically to support small and medium-sized businesses across the north that want to grow and expand.

The north-east should be the powerhouse for our country’s manufacturing and exporting renaissance, with a workforce who take pride in making and building things. Why, then, do the so-called industrial strategy and the so-called northern powerhouse do so little to invest in the jobs and infrastructure that the north-east needs?

One of the reasons people in the north of England have lost their faith in the Labour party is that it never has anything positive to say about the north of England. All Labour does is talk down the north and talk down people. Look at what is actually happening in the north-east: £379 million of direct Government investment in the north-east and record employment levels. The hon. Lady might not want to talk up Newcastle, but I will, because it is leading this country’s economic recovery.

On that note, Lancashire County Council has continually blocked an enterprise zone and business park in Morecambe and Lunesdale. Since the M6 link road opened up, we have been crying out for that. The Secretary of State himself has come down to see it. Would the Minister like to come during the election campaign and listen to the businesses that want that enterprise zone or business park?

I would be delighted to take up that invitation. I plan to visit many constituencies across the north during the election period, and I will of course visit my hon. Friend’s constituency. The Secretary of State has already visited. Enterprise zones have made a real difference to the economy of the north and, as I said, 9,000 jobs have been provided in them, so I will certainly visit.

The Manchester Evening News reported at the weekend pressure from Conservative Back Benchers to scrap HS2 to fund the Brexit bill. Will the Minister confirm that HS2 to Manchester will go ahead, to time and to the budget that has been outlined?

There has been no change to the Government’s policy on HS2. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, in addition, there is £13 billion of other investment. Over the next two years, particularly on the trans-Pennine line, there will be new rail, new carriages and new services—a whole new passenger experience. There will be over £2 billion of investment in that important transpennine route under the Government. The northern rail franchise will operate on an improvement basis, unlike the no-improvement basis when it was run by the Labour party.

Local Housing Provision

15. What plans he has to introduce an alternative method of estimating the number of homes a local area may need. (909774)

16. What plans he has to introduce an alternative method of estimating the number of homes a local area may need. (909775)

It is essential that local plans start with an honest assessment of housing need in the area. As we set out in our housing White Paper, we will introduce a standardised approach to assessing housing need to ensure that that is the case.

The methodology used by Leeds City Council has brought about an excessive 70,000 housing target, which has threatened swathes of green-belt and greenfield sites in my constituency. If the alternative method proves my community’s suspicion that the target is excessive, will that override the current target and help to save these important green lungs in my constituency?

The methodology will reveal the real level of housing need in Leeds. Local authorities across the country choose to build more homes than are needed because they have an ambition to grow. There is a legitimate debate to be had about that, but my hon. Friend’s constituents should have a clear understanding of what the relevant need is. I should add that the housing White Paper makes it clear that green-belt land should be released only in exceptional circumstances when all other options for meeting housing need have been explored.

Pendle has lots of brownfield sites, and many homes that have been granted planning permission have not yet been built because of the depressed property market, leading to low demand. How can we ensure that low demand in areas such as Pendle is better reflected in housing targets?

That is exactly the purpose of the new methodology that we plan to introduce. The level of housing need for which we plan should reflect the real market demand for housing in an area.

Park Homes

In the past year, we have received representations from park home residents as well as members of the all-party parliamentary group. Our call for evidence reviewing the legislation was published on 12 April, and addressed key concerns, including charges, site management and harassment.

Will the Minister remove the temptation that prompts those park owners who have neither the social nor managerial skills to make a success of it to maximise sales revenue commission by bullying residents to secure a higher turnover of residents?

Bullying and harassment are not acceptable in any form, which is why we introduced the Mobile Homes Act 2013, which gives local authorities greater power. We shall obviously listen to the response to the call for evidence to see whether further action is required to stop the kind of behaviour that my right hon. Friend described.

Construction Industry

Our White Paper sets out measures to increase the use of modern methods of construction in house building. Those methods offer a huge opportunity, both to speed up the building of homes and to improve the quality of the build.

Cornwall council recently granted planning approval for a garden village at West Carclaze in St Austell. The vision for the development is to build the highest-quality sustainable homes with modern construction methods. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that the site developers are held to that vision, and what support can he give to ensure that that happens?

My hon. Friend is an outstanding advocate for his community. I would be very happy to meet him to talk about how the Government can assist with the infrastructure required and the mix of housing as the proposed scheme goes through the planning process.

The Rushden Lakes development in my constituency is being built using modern construction methods and is creating hundreds of jobs. An extension to it, approved unanimously by East Northamptonshire Council, was submitted to the Secretary of State for approval on 4 April. The council is concerned that the general election might mean that there is not enough time to approve the extension. What is the position on that?

The Government are now in purdah, so further decisions cannot be taken. The new Government can obviously look at this issue straight away. It is to the credit of my hon. Friend and his council that their part of the country is determined to build the homes that we so desperately need.

High Streets

We are supporting our high streets to thrive as consumer habits change. We have introduced the biggest ever cut in business rates, worth £6.6 billion, and launched the high street pledge and digital high street pilot in Gloucestershire. We are also celebrating our high streets through the hugely successful Great British High Street awards, which Members on both sides of the House supported.

Although Lincoln’s Sincil Street—a much treasured traditional shopping area just off our High Street—is full of first-class independent shops, they are all losing customers by the day due to large-scale regeneration works. I, and many others, believe that the valuation office should reduce business rates for the shops directly affected during this period, and that their landlord, the Lincolnshire Co-op, should discount their rent, especially as it has caused the shortfall. What does my right hon. Friend—sorry, my hon. Friend—think the valuation office should do?

I am sure it is just a matter of time.

Businesses are fully entitled to make a case for a temporary reduction in their rateable value. As a fellow Lincolnshire MP, I know Sincil Street very well. I advise my hon. Friend’s businesses to contact the local valuation office to discuss whether the rateable values can be amended at all.

As the Minister is well aware, there has been a significant increase in begging on Scunthorpe High Street over the past three years. The police, the local authorities and the courts between them do not seem to be able to roll up their sleeves and sort out the problem, despite trying hard in many different ways. What are the Government going to do to ensure that the right powers are in the right place to tackle the issue?

May I begin by congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his marathon success yesterday? For such a young man, he did it in such an interesting time; he deserves full credit for it. He raises an issue that I am fully aware of in Scunthorpe, which is a town centre that is on its way back. I am happy to discuss with him further what we can do across Government to help to deal with the problem.

Traders in Cleethorpes High Street and elsewhere in the resort are concerned following a decision by North East Lincolnshire council, which is Labour controlled, to close a number of public toilets and refuse to repair others. That is having a very detrimental effect. I know that my hon. Friend, as the coastal communities Minister, would want to look favourably on future funding requests so that these amenities can be improved.

It is a delight to get a question from my other neighbour. Across northern Lincolnshire more generally, we have seen the council in north Lincolnshire actually open new public toilets. We recently allocated £20 million to northern powerhouse projects through the coastal communities fund. There will be a further round of bidding in October. If the local coastal community team wants to come forward with a proposal that includes that, we will, of course, look at it.

Domestic Violence Refuges

22. What recent assessment the Government have made of the adequacy of the availability of domestic violence refuges for women. (909782)

Refuges provide vital support for victims of domestic abuse. Since 2014, we have invested more than £33 million in services, including refuges, to support victims of domestic abuse. We expect local areas to assess their need and provide services and support to meet that need.

I have one refuge for women in my area. With 17% of specialist refuges in England lost since 2010, what are the Government doing to protect this vital lifeline for women and children?

The Government take this issue extremely seriously. No person should be turned away from the support they need. We announced in February that 76 projects across the country will receive a share of £20 million to support victims of domestic abuse, creating 2,200 extra bed spaces and giving support to more than 19,000 victims. That includes additional funding to the hon. Lady’s area of Lewisham.

Topical Questions

In the past few weeks, we have set out our plans to crack down on rogue landlords, we have launched 12 new enterprise zones, we have unveiled a £40 million cash boost for Britain’s coastal communities and we have listened to some of the concerns voiced about our business rates revaluation, responding with a £435 million package. However, contrary to previous promises, I can no longer expect to deliver 100% business rates retention by the end of this Parliament—simply because the end of this Parliament will now come round rather sooner than I had previously thought.

Isle of Wight Council welcomes the award of £9.5 million specifically for transport improvements. Another priority for the council is to develop a back-office hub to improve services and cut costs. What more can the Government do to assist with that aim?

First, may I tell my hon. Friend that I enjoyed my visit to his beautiful and sunny constituency last week? The idea of this back-office hub, which I heard about from the local Conservative group, is a very good one. It highlights the fact that Conservative councils cost you less but deliver you more, so if local people want to see that, they should vote Conservative in the local elections throughout the country on 4 May.

T2. The Minister will know that, since 2010, the Tories have stolen 40% of South Tyneside Council’s grant and 46% of Gateshead Council’s grant. The victims of this crime are obviously the hard-working people in the area. Would the Minister like to take this opportunity to apologise to them for this shabby Conservative crime? (909750)

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting question, seeing as his party is still on the manifesto from the last election, where it said there would not be one more penny for local government. That said, as the hon. Gentleman has heard, we are providing additional access to £9.25 billion—for example, for adult social care—during the next three years, and his area will certainly benefit from that.

T3. Kettering is a wonderful place to live, but some rural parts of the borough are blighted by inappropriate and illegal development by Gypsies and Travellers. This is especially galling when many commuters in Kettering do far more travelling than so-called Travellers ever do. If there were a planning policy for black people or white people, there would rightly be outrage in this country. Why do we have special planning provisions for Gypsies and Travellers? (909751)

First, I agree with my hon. Friend that Kettering is, indeed, a wonderful place. I do understand that unauthorised encampments can cause real distress for local communities. He will know that, since 2010, the Government have made a number of changes that are designed to help with illegal and unauthorised encampments, but I do agree that more can be done, and I would be more than happy to sit down with him and to listen to what ideas he has.

T4. The Secretary of State will be aware of the Select Committee’s two reports into social care. Rightly, a lot of attention was given to funding, but also to the situation of the care workers who provide this important service. The Committee heard that nearly half of workers leave within a year of getting a job, half are on zero-hours contracts, many do not get paid for travelling time, in contradiction to the minimum wage legislation, and 27% do not get any training in dementia before they go out to deal with people with that condition. Is there not now a case for developing a well-paid and well-trained workforce, utilising Unison’s ethical care charter as a basis? (909752)

I welcome the Select Committee’s work in this important area, and I will listen carefully to the final research it comes up with. The hon. Gentleman will know, first, that more funding is helpful, and the local government Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), referred to that earlier. However, there also need to be longer term changes that make the whole sector more sustainable, and that includes skills.

T5. I am pleased that parishes and town councils in my constituency are getting on with their neighbourhood plans. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Cornwall Council must address these community-driven priorities to open up more options for local people who face difficulties in finding suitable housing? (909753)

I am delighted to hear of the work my hon. Friend has been doing to promote neighbourhood planning in her constituency. She is a powerful champion for South East Cornwall. She is absolutely right that Cornwall County Council needs to work with these neighbourhood plans to help local communities deliver the visions they have set out.

Order. As I call the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell), perhaps I may congratulate the hon. Lady, as she is one of several Members who magnificently ran the marathon yesterday. She may be feeling a tad tired today, but not too tired to stand up and ask her question. We are grateful to the hon. Lady.

T9. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am eminently glad that my question is on the Order Paper today and I do not have to bob, because that might just be beyond me. The rise in hate crimes following the UK’s vote to leave the EU has shocked us all, and the rhetoric from this Tory Government on immigration will do nothing to assist integration and cohesion. What discussions have the UK Government had with Ministers from the Scottish Government regarding the Casey report? Will the Secretary of State commit now to making sure that the policies in his party’s manifesto will not seek to divide people along these lines? (909757)

First, Mr Speaker, I join you in congratulating the hon. Lady on what she achieved yesterday, as well as all the people who raised so much money for so many good causes.

The issue that the hon. Lady raises is an important one. We are taking the Casey review very seriously. It shows the need for a new integration strategy to make sure that we do everything we can, working together across this House, including with people in Scotland and other parts of the UK, to make sure that we bring this nation together and reduce the number of people who face isolation.

T6. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he intends to increase the weight given to made neighbourhood plans, and will he indicate that the same weight will be given to an emerging five-year land supply? (909754)

I am happy to confirm that the written ministerial statement that is enlarged on in the White Paper is exactly designed to ensure that neighbourhood plans are not overruled when the local authority does not demonstrate that it has a five-year land supply. In addition, the White Paper contains proposals to help councils to demonstrate that they have a five-year land supply in order to uphold the plans that they have worked hard to produce.

T10. Sheffield City Council is leading the way in building much-needed affordable housing through its innovative Sheffield Housing Company partnership, but across the country the number of affordable homes built last year fell to the lowest in 24 years. Sheffield is doing its bit; why are the Government failing so badly to address the country’s housing crisis? (909758)

We are investing record amounts in affordable housing. Since 2010, more than 310,000 units have been created throughout the country. If the hon. Gentleman wants to know what failure on affordable housing looks like, he need only look at the previous Labour Government, who saw a fall of 410,000 units in social housing for rent.

T7. The housing White Paper has greater expectations of local authorities. How is the Minister going to keep them building? (909755)

Local authorities have a number of key roles: first, to produce a local plan that is based on an honest assessment of the level of need; and secondly, then to deliver that plan—the new housing delivery test is key in that regard. Thirdly, looking back when we did build enough homes in this country, local authorities played a crucial role in building themselves. We want to support local authorities in doing that, either through the housing revenue account or through the local housing company model that the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) referred to.

Surely the Secretary of State is aware of the damage being done to local communities by the cuts in local government spending. This has affected children’s centres, leading to their closure, and cut down on youth services. These services are at the very heart of our communities. What is the Minister going to do to put that right?

The hon. Gentleman will know that every council throughout the country has had to find efficiencies so that we can balance the books of our country and build a stronger economy. Some local authorities have done that well—mainly Conservative-led authorities—and Labour authorities have absolutely failed in it. So if people want to see more services being delivered for less, they should vote Conservative on 4 May.

T8. As the Secretary of State will know, thousands of new homes are being built across north Northamptonshire. What commitment can he give to local people in my constituency that, across the board, infrastructure and public services will keep up with those new homes being built? (909756)

My hon. Friend makes a very important point about how having the right infrastructure can help local people to accept more housing. He will know that local councils can already put obligations on developers to deliver certain infrastructure, and he will know about the community infrastructure levy, which can also help. I would like to highlight the new £2.3 billion housing infrastructure fund, which he can use locally in Corby. He should make an application to my Department to do that.

Despite a very strong objection from Historic England, which, like me, is concerned about the impact on the 12th-century St John the Baptist church in Adel, disgracefully, Labour councillors voted for a controversial plan for 100 homes to be built opposite the church. Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the planning system does not allow local communities to have enough say against unwanted developments?

Our planning system is built on a high level of community involvement at every stage. Local councils should work with communities in developing their local plan—an issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) in relation to Leeds City Council. Constituents also have the opportunity to make representations on planning applications and on appeals, but I am sorry that in this case it appears that the city council did not listen to their concerns.

In Derby we are looking at alternative methods of helping those people who are sleeping rough, including an app that will direct funds to agencies such as the Padley Centre. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that such initiatives can help tackle the issues of rough sleeping?

Yes, I wholeheartedly I agree with my hon. Friend. It is our ambition—I know that she shares it—to end rough sleeping in our country, and those kinds of new ideas can make a real difference.

Following last week’s successful and important meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform about unfair and unreasonable abuses of leasehold, what are the Government’s plans to do something about them?

First, may I commend my hon. Friend on his work to highlight abuses? I know that he shares my concern about where houses are sold on leasehold. That is an unacceptable practice and we will do something about it.

The leader of the Conservative group in Eastleigh has questioned the methodology behind the plan for an extra 10,000 homes, which could threaten 400-year-old ancient woodland. Without a local plan, and when ancient woodland is under threat, how can housing numbers be verified?

I hope that the housing White Paper will help my hon. Friend, who is passionate about protecting ancient woodland in her constituency, in two regards. First, the new standard methodology will give a much clearer indication of the real level of housing need in her area. Secondly, we propose to increase the protections of ancient woodland, which is a precious resource that we have inherited from previous generations and that cannot be easily replaced. It is right that we strengthen the protection.

I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), for the fantastic news that North Devon is to receive two coastal communities grants totalling more than £2 million: £500,000 for the museum in Barnstaple and £1.5 million for the new water sports centre in Ilfracombe, which he will kindly visit soon. Will he join me in congratulating those in the community who have helped to make this happen, and does he agree that North Devon gets this sort of recognition only when it has a Conservative MP and a Conservative Government?

I am obviously going to agree with my hon. Friend’s latter point. I also pay tribute to him for the work he has done in advocating both of those projects. The latest allocation of coastal community grants funded a whole host of projects across the south-west, proving that if they want that investment to continue, residents of the south-west will have to vote Conservative in the forthcoming general election.

Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State be Nottinghamshire’s Robin Hood to Labour’s King John and ensure that parts of Nottinghamshire, including my Bassetlaw constituents, are never forced against their will to join the Sheffield city mayoral region, and that the historical counties of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire will be safe under a Conservative Government?

It is of course a matter for the Sheffield city region to determine who it consults and what the proposals will be. We obviously have to apply the statutory test, so I am unable to say anything about that in detail, other than that it is really important that residents in Bassetlaw and Derbyshire make their views known as part of the consultation undertaken by the city region.

I thank the Secretary of State for his strong expression of concern regarding unfair leasehold titles, which affect my Congleton constituency; will he confirm that he is addressing this issue for those who have already bought, and, for the future buyer, will he look at imposing requirements on the right-to-buy conditions so that such properties can be bought only under freehold or fair leasehold terms?

My hon. Friend has done a great deal of work in this area. She will know that it is a particular problem in the north-west, and I can confirm that we are looking at all the issues very carefully.

Will the Secretary of State consider imposing a requirement on developers of large industrial sites to provide some units for smaller businesses, to meet the shortage that currently exists in my constituency?

I point my hon. Friend to some of the changes set out in our recent White Paper. They are designed to make sure that local plans take account of all needs, including the needs of businesses.