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Housing, Communities and Local Government

Volume 637: debated on Monday 12 March 2018

The Secretary of State was asked—


Tackling homelessness and rough sleeping is a key priority for me and my Ministry. That is why we are spending more than £1 billion through to 2020. We are implementing the most ambitious legislative reform in decades—the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017—and we have established the rough sleeping and homelessness reduction taskforce.

The all-party group on ending homelessness recently took evidence on the success of rapid rehousing models in Denmark. What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to the merits of rolling out such programmes alongside the faster and wider roll-out of Housing First in England?

May I first pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the important role that he has played as the co-chair of the all-party group on ending homelessness? He is absolutely right to point to international experience when looking at the huge challenge that this country faces. As he knows, Housing First has come from the experience of others, particularly Finland. I thank him for his support.

The rising level of homelessness in Manchester is the biggest issue that people raise with me on the doorstep and elsewhere. All the good work that we are doing to rehouse people does not matter when there are too many people coming through the system at the other end. What conversations is the Secretary of State having with other Departments, especially the Department for Work and Pensions, about stopping people becoming homeless in the first place? The situation is getting completely out of control.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this issue, which comes up in Manchester and many other parts of the country. She is right to point to the cross-departmental work that is required, including with the Department for Work and Pensions and others, such as the Ministry of Justice, given the number of offenders who sometimes end up on the streets. The work is being co-ordinated, and the taskforce that the Prime Minister has created is helping to achieve just that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with Catherine Street of the Memorial University of Newfoundland that the causes of homelessness and sleeping on the streets are very many and complex, and that this is not just down to a lack of housing? Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to go to the west midlands to visit Mayor Andy Street to see the work and initiatives that he is undertaking to prevent the problem?

My hon. Friend mentions two Streets; I agree with him on both. Catherine Street is absolutely right about the complex causes of homelessness, particularly rough sleeping. Andy Street, the Mayor of the west midlands, has really led the way on this, including with the Housing First project.

Exeter has suffered a terrible increase in homelessness and rough sleeping since 2010, although strenuous efforts by its Labour council have led to a reduction in rough sleeping over the past two years. Will the Secretary of State and Government colleagues revisit the decisions to cut supported living and public health grants to local authorities, which fund alcohol and drug treatment programmes, because that is hampering local authorities’ attempts to tackle this problem?

I am happy to join the right hon. Gentleman in commending the work done in Exeter. We should all try to learn from one another, and councils can learn from each other. It is important that we keep up funding wherever it is necessary to address the causes of addiction, whether that is drug or alcohol addiction. That is why we are providing a total of £1 billion in funding up to 2020, including for a number of projects that are specifically designed to help with addiction problems.

My hon. Friend is right to point to the causes of homelessness. Of course, a number of people who sleep on our streets are not from the UK. Everyone deserves help, but we must look carefully at the causes of homelessness. My Department is working carefully and closely with the Home Office to see what more we can do.

LGBT young people are much more likely than others to become homeless. According to the Albert Kennedy Trust, they account for up to 24% of the young jobless population. What is the Secretary of State doing to address this particular problem?

I agree with the hon. Lady that anyone who is homeless, particularly anyone who is sleeping rough, deserves the help of central and local government. We have more than 48 different types of projects in place—many of them are community-led and many are funded directly by the Government—that are designed to reduce the number of people on our streets and those suffering from homelessness.

The last official survey in Cheltenham found nine homeless people, each of whom is a living rebuke to us to do more. Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking all the staff at the P3 charity who are ensuring that the £1 million social impact bond provided by central Government is being used to provide one-to-one support?

Yes, I commend the P3 charity for its work. I know that my hon. Friend has taken a lot of interest in this. The Government have helped to fund some eight social impact bonds to help with rough sleeping, including the one in Cheltenham, and they are making a huge difference.

In Scotland we have some of the strongest rights for homeless people in the world. The Scottish Government’s homelessness and rough sleeping action group recently reported, and it has been praised by charities for taking steps in the right direction, including with a £50 million fund to eradicate homelessness. What cognisance are Ministers here taking of the work that is going on in Scotland? Will the Secretary of State look at the group’s recommendations?

The hon. Lady rightly emphasises the point about learning from each other. Where Scotland has had success on homelessness and rough sleeping, we shall certainly look into that, and we will seek other examples in the UK. My hon. Friend the Housing Minister is visiting Scotland later this week and will be looking at that particular issue.

Homeowners: Mortgage Costs

3. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on support for homeowners in meeting mortgage costs. (904291)

One of the best ways in which the Government can support homeowners with their mortgage costs is by ensuring that the economy remains strong and competitive so that employment is high and interest rates are as low as possible.

At the end of this month, the Government are taking away mortgage support from 110,000 people, and only 7,000 so far have applied for the loan that replaces that scheme. What do the Government think that the other 103,000 people are going to do on 2 April?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the support for mortgage interest policy, on which the DWP leads. The Government are right to strike the right balance between the needs of hard-pressed homeowners and the taxpayer. If he is really interested in helping homeowners, perhaps he can explain to his constituents why he voted against the stamp duty cut that this Government implemented.

The withdrawal of support for mortgage interest came as a bolt from the blue to my constituents who came to see me on Friday. Many thousands like them will struggle due to the withdrawal of the support and may not wish to take up an additional loan. What options will be open to these people? What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact on people who are forced out of a home that they have bought into social rented housing, and of the impact on waiting lists?

I think that the hon. Lady misunderstands the policy—at least it certainly seems so, given the way she described it. The Government are not withdrawing support; we are making it fairer and ensuring that it is still available. The support will be loan-based, with a soft loan secured on the individual’s property. This also protects the rights of taxpayers, and I would have thought that she would be interested in doing that.

Help To Buy Scheme

The Help to Buy equity loan scheme alone helped 116,000 first-time buyers to get on to the property ladder and stimulated the supply of new housing—both key aims of this Government.

My constituents, some of whom have been on the wrong end of aggressive behaviour by Persimmon, are concerned to know that since Help to Buy was introduced, the biggest private house builders have increased house prices by up to 10%, with almost all of that banked as profit and much of it paid out in senior managers’ enormous bonus payments. Should not the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues be doing more to tame the aggressive behaviour of developers such as Persimmon, rather than subsidising them through Help to Buy?

It is good news that Help to Buy has helped more homes to get built. It has contributed to about 14% of new build since 2015. I personally share some of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about executive pay, but I gently remind him that it was this Government who introduced the corporate governance reforms in August, including to make sure that there is greater transparency and greater shareholder grip over directors’ pay.

The Minister will know that some 10% of those on the Help to Buy scheme earn over £80,000 a year. Even in London, they are people who can afford to buy without this taxpayer subsidy. In the light of the Secretary of State’s earlier comments about responsibility to the taxpayer, will he contrast the poorest homeowners who will lose help with mortgage interest with these heavily subsidised, well-off people up and down the country?

I think that some factual clarification would help the hon. Gentleman, because four out of five of those benefiting from Help to Buy have been first-time buyers, and three out of five households benefiting from Help to Buy had combined incomes of £50,000 or less. We are on their side; it is a shame that Labour is not.

Adult Social Care Funding

In addition to the spending review package, the Government provided a further £2 billion for adult social care at last year’s Budget and an additional £150 million in the most recent local government finance settlement. As a result, councils will be able to increase spending on adult social care in real terms each year until 2020.

Kirklees Council spends 35% of its budget on adult social care. It has just raised its council tax by 6%, and half of that is ring-fenced to fund social care, but the council will still have to cut tens of millions in the years ahead. So, ahead of tomorrow’s spring statement, will the Minister tell us what he has done to secure more funding from the Treasury for social care to alleviate the pressure on councils such as Kirklees?

In the most recent local government finance settlement, the Secretary of State listened to councils’ concerns and increased funding for adult social care by £150 million, with £26 million for Kirklees Council in particular. I recently met the Key Cities group, of which Kirklees is a member, to discuss its ideas for reforming the funding formula so as to adequately reflect the pressures faced by councils such as Kirklees.

When the then Communities and Local Government Committee adopted the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) that became the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, Ministers, to their credit, engaged really positively to make that Bill work. May I urge the Minister to be just as positive about the planned joint Committee inquiry into the funding of adult care? Indeed, Front Benchers on both sides of the House will need to engage with that process if we are to have a long-term answer.

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. As he knows, the Government are committed to publishing a Green Paper on adult social care this summer. Alongside that, there is a workstream on working-age adult social care to which I am sure that he will be keen to contribute.

25. Increasing the social care precept will do nothing to solve the challenge that we face in social care. Is it not time that Ministers stopped passing the buck to local councils and instead worked with us to try to find a long-term solution to one of the greatest challenges that we face as a country? (904313)

I agree with the hon. Lady that this is a challenge facing our country, and it is important that we get this right and put social care on a sustainable footing, not just for this year but for the years to come. That is exactly why the Government are committed to the Green Paper and to tackling this problem, and she should look forward to seeing the Green Paper’s contents this summer.

The Minister referred to the local government finance settlement, but this year’s settlement still means a cut of £177 million for adult social care compared with last year. Given that the National Audit Office’s report states that more and more councils are only just managing to balance their books by using their reserves to cover overspends on social care services, how does the Minister suggest that councils can avoid declaring themselves effectively bankrupt, as Northamptonshire County Council did last month, as in many cases their reserves will be gone by 2020?

I simply do not recognise those figures. The Government have increased funding for adult social care. Over these three years, £9.4 billion has been allocated for adult social care funding, with £150 million more at the last local government finance settlement. This Government are listening to councils and delivering extra resources to help them.

The Local Government Finance Act 2012 divorced local government funding from any assessment of need. The Government’s insistence that the problem can be solved by councils raising precepts is simply wrong, because councils in wealthier areas, which have more properties in the higher bands, can raise more money than those with more properties in the lower bands, which usually have the greatest needs, the greatest levels of long-term disease and so on. When will the Minister understand this and actually start to allocate social services funding on the basis of need?

I can reassure the hon. Lady that the allocation for social care funding does take into account the relative council tax bases of local authorities across the country. That said, I appreciate that the funding formula is out of date and in need of review, which is why we have launched a consultation on reforming it. That consultation closes today, but I would welcome her comments and input into it. We will reform the formula so that it can adequately take account of need, as she suggests.

Help To Buy Scheme

6. What assessment he has made of the effect of the Help to Buy scheme and the reduction in stamp duty on first-time buyers. (904294)

The number of first-time buyers was at an 11-year high in 2017, at 365,000 across the UK. That shows that our concerted action to get more people into home ownership through initiatives such as Help to Buy and the new stamp duty exemption for first-time buyers is working.

It sounds like my right hon. Friend agrees with me that home ownership is a fundamentally good thing. Some 86% of our fellow citizens aspire to it, and there is nothing like spreading the economic benefits of ownership more widely in society. Does he further agree that we should use every policy lever at our disposal to encourage home ownership and to give those all-important first-time buyers a leg up on to the ladder?

I could not agree more. The overwhelming majority of people want to own their own home, and we need to do more to help them to do just that. The plan that we have set out, including last week, to build 300,000 homes a year will help more and more people to realise that dream.

Why does the Secretary of State not wake up? So many people in my constituency and throughout the country know that this Government have failed to deliver enough houses to buy and enough to rent. The fact is that there are so many nimbys sitting on the Government Benches—he is speaking to one of them—that Ministers do not have the courage to do anything about it.

It is the Conservatives who are responsible for house building last year reaching its highest level in all but one of the past 30 years, and it was under a previous Labour Government that we had the lowest level of house building that this country had seen since the 1920s.

New Homes

Last year, some 217,000 homes were added to our housing stock in England. We have set out bold and comprehensive reforms to deliver on average 300,000 homes a year by the middle of the 2020s in England, including in last week’s publication of the draft revised national planning policy framework.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the enormous progress that he is making. Does he agree, however, that it will not be possible to get the housing shortage completely under control until we have brought migration levels down from the completely unsustainable heights that were created by Labour?

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that we are committed to both reducing net migration to sustainable levels and building the homes that this country needs.

Telford is a rapidly growing new town in which thousands of new homes are built every year, but for too many new-build homeowners, the reality is unfinished communal areas, unadopted roads, failure to comply with section 106, developers failing to take responsibility and the local council passing the buck. What will the Secretary of State do to strengthen the rights of new-build homeowners?

First, let me commend my hon. Friend for the work that she does through the all-party group on new towns. She is absolutely right to raise that issue and to emphasise the need for infrastructure alongside new housing. I know that she welcomes the housing infrastructure fund. In terms of holding developers to their commitments, I hope that she will contribute to our consultation on that topic, which was launched just this week.

20. Figures for York show that no new social housing has been commissioned under the current council for the last three years, except for older people’s accommodation, where there has been a net loss. The right to buy has made things worse. When, under the Government’s new planning framework, will the council be forced to build social housing in York? (904308)

We are working with councils throughout the country to help them to meet their housing needs, including through more social housing where that is required. The proof of that was in the last Budget, in which we increased the housing revenue account—the amount that councils can borrow from the Treasury to build more council homes and other types of social housing. If York wants to take advantage of that, it can.

23. Bristol has the highest rate of office-to-residential accommodation conversions outside London, and the permitted development rights scheme means that that does not have to involve any affordable housing element. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that councils such as Bristol can insist that affordable housing is built in our city centre? (904311)

The hon. Lady is right to raise the importance of affordable housing and having the right mix of housing everywhere, including Bristol. We are currently working with the Mayor of the west of England and the Mayor of Bristol on a housing deal which, if it happened, would include a significant portion of affordable housing.

Green-belt protections around Bristol and Bath are displacing housing targets beyond the green belt into Somerset. Should the councils unable to build enough houses be required to deliver transport and infrastructure plans that will service the commuting needs of new Somerset residents needing to travel through the protected green belt on their way to work?

We want to help all councils meet their local housing need, and that includes helping with their plans as they develop them, but also giving them more options other than looking at the green belt, as we did in the recent draft plan that was published earlier this month, and helping with infrastructure, which means the £5 billion housing infrastructure fund.

The previous Conservative Mayor of London set up the London housing bank, a loan scheme so restrictive that housing providers could not borrow from it. Will the Secretary of State explain why, instead of responding to requests from the current Mayor of London over the past 18 months to remove some of the restrictions on this scheme to enable much-needed affordable homes to be built, he has decided to withdraw the funding for affordable homes altogether? Will he also explain how it is that the first the Mayor’s office heard of this was via an article in The Huffington Post?

We all want more affordable homes, including of course in our capital city, and that is why over £3 billion was given to London for affordable housing in the spring Budget. It was the biggest ever settlement, and it was welcomed by the Mayor. Yet despite that, we have seen a fall in affordable housing delivery under Sadiq Khan. That is not acceptable: he needs to do much better.

Last week, the Government published the national planning policy framework for consultation, which, with clearer guidance to councils and developers, will help to deliver more homes and do so more quickly.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Charnwood Borough Council—for the sake for disclosure, I should say that my husband is the leader, although I refuse to call him that—has planning permissions for 10 years of housing, but the difficulty is getting the developers to start building. If that does not happen, that affects the five-year land supply, which leaves other sites vulnerable to development. Will the Minister tell the House what the Government are planning to do to speed up delivery by developers on planning permissions they already have?

The good news is that, in 2017, we saw 160,000 new homes registered to be built, which is the highest number since the financial crash. My right hon. Friend is right about speed. The NPPF will help to deliver that through the housing delivery test, and my right hon. Friend for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) is reviewing build-out rates.

I have no wish to be unkind to the hon. Lady, but let me put it this way: we have had a dose from Bath, and by long-standing convention, a Member is not called twice on substantive questions. If the hon. Lady seeks to catch my eye during topical questions, she may be successful. I admire her persistence, but I hope she will understand that that is the way we operate.

Local Authority Plans

9. How many local authorities have had their local plans signed off by his Department in the last two years. (904297)

In nearly all cases, it is for local authorities to take the final decision on a local plan. In the past two years, 50 local plans were deemed sound by planning inspectors, and one by the Ministry itself.

Yes, but let us look at this consultation from last week. According to the Government, neighbourhood plans can be overturned by local councils above them, and—above them—local council plans can be overturned by the Secretary of State and his faceless bureaucrats. What is wrong in this country with freedom and democracy, with local people making the decisions effectively, fairly and democratically? Is this Joe Stalin or English democracy that this Government are forcing upon us?

For all that thunder and lightning, we are investing £23 million to support neighbourhood planning groups. I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that 94% of councils have published local plans, compared with 32% when Labour left office. The previous Labour Government wantonly failed to deliver on encouraging the take-up of local plans, where this Government have succeeded.

Talking of planning ahead, two councils in Somerset—Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council—are waiting to form a single council. They have already had major savings by sharing services jointly, but they now really need to know if they can form one authority. Will my hon. Friend update me on the progress of this process?

The issue is under imminent review. The Secretary of State is giving it his personal attention and a decision will be taken shortly.

Last week I attended a meeting of the Eaton Park residents association as part of the consultation on Stoke-on-Trent’s joint local plan. They are aghast at proposals to use the greenfield site of Berryhill Fields, while brownfield sites are left unlooked at. When it comes to looking for new housing development sites, what can the Minister say to ensure that those residents know that brownfield sites will always be chosen over greenfield sites?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We have reinforced the focus on brownfield first, plus things like looking for extra density where it can be provided, through the national planning policy framework. I look forward to his supportive comments during the consultation.

New Homes for Social Rent

10. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the number of new homes for social rent since 2010. (904298)

Since 2010 we have delivered 357,000 affordable homes, including about 128,000 homes for social rent. The Government are providing £9 billion for affordable housing, a £1 billion housing revenue account borrowing freedom, and rent certainty for social landlords. Those measures will support social landlords to build more affordable homes where the need is greatest.

The number of Government-funded homes built for social rent fell to 199 in the past six months—the lowest number since records have been kept. Is it not now clear that there is an urgent need for a major Government-funded programme of social housing?

I know that this is an issue that the right hon. Gentleman has championed, and it is a pleasure to do business with him. We absolutely recognise the critical role that supported accommodation can play in helping vulnerable people to live independently. In fact, we have delivered almost 30,000 new units and we have plans to increase the number in those areas that need it most.

I thank my hon. Friend for her answers. Will she explain why the Department is returning to the Treasury money that could be used to build desperately needed affordable new homes?

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has asked that question, because some people seem to be causing mischief. This is less than 3% of the total budget. The money has been re-profiled, to come back in in future years. When councils, local authorities and housing associations can bid in, the money is there to be spent. We want it to be spent.

Building council houses is a very effective and financially prudent way to provide houses for social rent, but it is being choked off by the Government persisting with only inching the cap up, when they could remove it completely. When will they remove the cap and let our councils get building?

I do not understand why people misunderstand what is going on in local government finance. For those areas with the most serious shortages of affordable housing, the cap has been lifted to £1 billion of borrowing. We need local authorities to step up. If the hon. Gentleman’s local council has projects, like mine does, they will be looked on favourably. Please ask local councils to step up.

Rough Sleeping: West Midlands

11. What recent estimate he has made of the number of people sleeping rough in the west midlands. (904299)

I have the figures, sir; please do not disagree with me. We have committed to providing £28 million of funding to pilot a Housing First approach in three major regions, including that of the West Midlands combined authority. I look forward very much to working with Mayor Street.

Anybody in the west midlands who hears the Minister say that the number of rough sleepers has increased by only eight will be absolutely staggered at this Government’s complacency. The fact is that rough sleeping has soared, not just in Birmingham but even in towns such as Dudley, where, tragically, a homeless man died in a tent in the past few weeks. The Mayor’s policy will not result in rough sleeping being abolished until 2027. We need a much more urgent approach. Are Ministers prepared to fund an expansion of Birmingham City Council and the Labour police and crime commissioner’s street intervention teams, which have helped hundreds of people over the past few months?

That was a really good question. Intelligent questions in this Chamber are helpful, because they mean we can give intelligent answers. The intelligent answer is that the Housing First project is about wraparound care, with £28 million of public money going to help to solve this desperate problem. The advisory panel is meeting for the third time in two weeks’ time and the taskforce has already met. This is an urgent matter for the Government and it will be solved.

Local Government Finance Settlement 2018-19

12. What assessment he has made of the effect of the local government finance settlement 2018-19 on the financial sustainability of local authorities. (904300)

19. What assessment he has made of the effect of the local government finance settlement 2018-19 on the ability of local authorities to meet their statutory responsibilities. (904307)

The 2018-19 settlement is the third year of a four-year deal providing funding certainty and is accepted by 97% of councils. The settlement sees a real-terms increase in resources to local government over the next two years, totalling £45.1 billion in the forthcoming financial year.

Hull is the third most deprived local authority in the country. Two thirds more Hull residents require social care compared with the national average. We have lost half our Government funding since 2010 and we will be getting the lowest amount per head from the social care precept of any Yorkshire and Humber council. With the Government having got it so wrong so far, will the Minister guarantee that Hull will now get a fair funding settlement?

The hon. Lady makes some comments about funding for deprived areas. She will be pleased to know that funding per household in her particular area is higher than the average for unitary authorities across the country and that in general the most deprived local authorities have funding per household that is 23% higher than the most well-off. On her point, I can reassure her that we are committed to introducing a new fair funding formula and I look forward to hearing the responses from her council as we develop it.

In a letter to the Secretary of State last month, the Conservative leader of Warwickshire County Council stated that in the council’s view the current funding model for local government is unsustainable. Is she correct?

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman makes a point about the funding settlement and the formula. He will know from his membership of the Select Committee, which I have just had the pleasure to appear before, that we are looking very hard at the structure of local government financing, both increasing the amount of business rates retentions to 75% and introducing a new needs-based formula that takes into account updated needs and resources. I know his Committee will play a huge part in making sure that we get that right for Warwickshire and for the country.

Over the years, I have strongly supported the pressure we have rightly put local authorities under to improve efficiency and bear down on waste, and I am sure that elsewhere in the country there are examples of where more needs to be done. In the south-west, however, my impression is that the finances of Devon, Plymouth and many other local authorities have been cut to the bone. I think there is an opportunity for the Government to be more generous with efficient local authorities in the south-west to enable them to make sure their priorities are delivered.

I pay tribute to the work of local government across the country. Local authorities have done a commendable job over the past few years of delivering high quality services in a difficult financial climate. I thank them, as I know their constituents do. On my hon. Friend’s point, I look forward to the representations from Devon and the south-west as we reform local government financing through the fair funding formula which is coming soon.

24. On 4 July, the Secretary of State said to the House that he would help, with every precaution, local authorities dealing with the cladding problem across our country following the Grenfell Tower fire. Why, despite over 41 local authorities asking for that help and the Department giving £817 million back to the Treasury, has he not been able to find the money to help those poor worried people who are in those buildings as we speak? (904312)

The Department is in discussions with multiple local authorities on the requirements to improve the safety of buildings. My understanding is that the Department has not said no to any local authority thus far that is seeking flexibility with those plans.

My own council in Derbyshire has seen £180 million—over half of its budget—cut in the past seven years. It cannot now offer enough money for social care packages for terminally ill people to receive care in their own home. They are being forced to die in hospital away from their loved ones. What will the Minister do to make sure that councils receive the proper funding that they need to be able to free up hospital beds and support families in the most urgent need?

As we have been discussing, the Government have put extra financial resources into social care. It is pleasing to see that over the past year, delayed transfers of care across England attributable to social care have fallen by 34%, showing that the resources we are putting in are making a difference on the ground.

Since 2010, Hull City Council has been forced to cut its children’s services budget by £37.2 million, which means that it has not had the money that it has needed for early intervention support for families. It is no surprise that the number of looked-after children in Hull has increased by 140—that is 140 children’s lives changed forever. Will the Minister please give authorities such as Hull City Council more money, so that they can give those families support when they need it, before they enter crisis?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the important work that prevention plays. Nobody wants to see a child in need in those circumstances, which is why this Government have committed almost £1 billion to the troubled families programme over this period in the spending review. As recent results have shown, that is reducing the number of children in need after heavy intervention from their key workers in the programme.

Last week, the respected National Audit Office published its report on the financial sustainability of local authorities. It made clear the significant challenges faced by councils and the vital services that they deliver. Can the Secretary of State prove that he is on the side of local councils and place in the House of Commons Library any submissions that he has made to the Chancellor ahead of the spring statement?

I also read the National Audit Office report with interest. I was pleased to see that it made very positive comments about the Department’s work in getting to grips with the challenges across local government and making sure that the sector is properly resourced and looks forward to the reviews that are being put in place to improve funding and business rates retention.

Council Housing

The Government are committed to delivering a new generation of council homes, and we are providing local authorities with the tools and resources to deliver them.

In 2009-10, the last Labour Government had 40,000 housing starts in one year. This Government have financed 199 in the last six months. Given that we have such a shortage of social housing and a homelessness crisis, how do the Government explain this risible performance?

For the record on the hon. Gentleman’s figures, local authorities have built over 10,000 homes since 2010-11 compared with under 3,000 in the 13 years of the last Labour Government. We are restless to do much more, and that is why we are raising the housing revenue account borrowing cap by up to £1 billion to make sure that we spur local house building as far and as wide as we can.

It is a good question, and probably one for a symposium with everyone from developers to planners. The reality is that we want to see a stabilisation in house prices. We need to build more homes and deal with some of the demand issues that have been raised. There is no single answer; we have to yank every lever at our disposal 20% or 30% harder.

Support for Local Government

14. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s support for local government. (904302)

The 2018-19 settlement sees a real-terms increase in resources for local government over the next two years, increasing from £44.3 billion to £45.6 billion.

My hon. Friend will be aware that under Governments of both parties, Leicestershire has had one of the lowest per head of population funding settlements in the country. Will he ensure that as the new funding system is consulted on and brought in, it addresses this issue and provides fair funding for Leicestershire, alongside his Department continuing to support our councils in driving further efficiencies and service improvements?

In particular for Leicestershire but for all councils, there could be no better champion than my hon. Friend of fairer funding for the many councils, not the few. This evidence-based review will provide an opportunity for more accurate funding allocations for Leicestershire and other councils.

On 4 December, the Secretary of State told the House that

“the local government finance settlement is coming along shortly, and he can look to see what happens with that.”—[Official Report, 4 December 2017; Vol. 632, c. 684.]

Apart from our finding out that the Secretary of State is bad at maths and does not know what is happening in his Department, the settlement came and went with no help for children’s services. Since then, Tory Northamptonshire Council has effectively gone bust, citing children’s services as one of the main cost pressures, and only last week the National Audit Office published a damning report showing the worst crisis in the local government sector’s 170-year history. That is happening on these Ministers’ watch. With the spring statement tomorrow, what will the Minister do to ensure that our children’s services get the £2 billion that even the Tory-controlled Local Government Association says they so desperately need?

We have increased funding in real terms, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, like mine, will welcome. With the fairer funding review coming up, rather than trying to score political points across the Chamber, why does he not get involved with it so that local authorities can concentrate on delivery?

21. Can my hon. Friend provide assurances that the rapidly increasing demographic pressures on outer London boroughs will be fully considered as part of the fairer funding review? (904309)

I can absolutely provide that assurance to my hon. Friend. Demographic change will be at the heart of the fairer funding review.

Children in Care

15. What steps he is taking to support local authorities to fulfil their statutory duties in relation to children in care. (904303)

Over the spending review period, councils will receive more than £200 billion to deliver local services. This money is largely not ring-fenced, so local authorities can prioritise where they see fit, including for their statutory duties relating to children in care.

With the education disparity between looked-after and non-looked-after children being so wide, what more does the Minister believe local authorities can do to bridge the gap?

The hon. Gentleman raises a good point about the outcomes for children in care. The Government are consulting and are shortly to introduce the care leavers covenant, which will look to support companies, charities and local government to bring care leavers into employment after they leave care, and we are strengthening corporate parenting provisions under the Children and Social Work Act 2017.

Land Banking

Over 1 million homes have been delivered since 2010, but we are taking forward a range of reforms to build even more homes more swiftly, including under the national planning policy framework, which was published last week.

Two weeks ago, I asked the Department for the number of houses that will not be built because of land banking, and the answer came back:

“The Department does not hold the requested information.”

How can the Minister crack down on land banking if he has no information? I believe that the Minister does have that information, and I urge him to publish it so that he can monitor the builders and we can monitor his performance.

I welcome that scrutiny. It is very difficult to establish a negative in the way the hon. Gentleman suggests, but I can reassure him, first, that we have the housing delivery test in the NPPF, which will focus local authorities and developers on the delivery of new homes, and, secondly, that there is the review by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) of build-out rates, which will squarely address the point he is concerned about.

Devolution to Towns and Cities

For areas that have not agreed deals so far, we aim to be able to provide clarity on how best to take forward their ambitions for devolution and local growth over the coming months.

The Minister will be aware that the Greater Lincolnshire deal collapsed last year, despite its having the support of an overwhelming number of the local authorities. Will the Minister look favourably on a revised scheme from a smaller number of authorities in the county?

Devolution could almost be regarded as the golden thread of Brexit. If we want to take back control, we should bring powers not just from Brussels to London but from London back to our regions. Last Friday, I met borough and county councils in both Gainsborough and the city of Lincoln, and I was struck by the pent-up demand for devolution in Lincolnshire. I suggest that my hon. Friend use his considerable leadership role to drive forward devolution in his area.

Topical Questions

Yesterday, we marked Mother’s Day, a few days after International Women’s Day and the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote. Hon. Members will want to join me in applauding the exceptional women who make this country great, including our Prime Minister, who last week launched bold and ambitious reforms of planning rules to help to build the homes this country needs. I am pleased to announce that since my last departmental oral questions the homelessness reduction taskforce has met for the first time and that the Government have confirmed their support for the national war memorial honouring Sikh servicemen.

Corby and East Northamptonshire have been at the forefront of the building of new homes, which is entirely in line with the agenda set out by the Prime Minister last week, but can my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that the appropriate infrastructure will accompany those homes at all times?

My hon. Friend is right to raise the importance of infrastructure to the building of the homes that we need. That is why the housing infrastructure fund is so important. As a result of his hard work, Corby received £4 million in the first allocation, but I know that there is much more to be done, and I am listening carefully to what he says.

Nine months on from the Grenfell Tower fire, can the Secretary of State say—yes or no—whether every tower block with a social or private landlord which has Grenfell-type cladding has now been identified and tested?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. It is, of course, absolutely key that we ensure that we are helping local councils to identify those tower blocks. When it comes to social housing, we believe that all those tower blocks, whether owned by local councils or housing associations, have been identified. We continue to work with local councils, and that includes giving them additional financial support. Just last week we gave them £1 million to make sure that they had identified every single tower block in the private sector, and they will continue to receive whatever support they need.

I think that that was a long-winded “no”, and it was consistent with the recent building safety data release. How is it that, nine months after Grenfell, not all private tower blocks with suspect cladding have been tested? Why have only seven of 301 blocks with Grenfell-type cladding had it removed and replaced? Why has not one of the 41 councils that have asked for financial help with extra fire safety work even received an answer from the Department? The right hon. Gentleman is the Housing Secretary. What does he say to reasonable people faced with those facts who feel that he is failing the Prime Minister’s pledge in June, when she said:

“My Government will do whatever it takes to…keep…people safe”?

Reasonable people understand just how important this issue is, and they do not take kindly to the right hon. Gentleman’s playing party politics with it. If he actually cared about the issue, he would not raise it in such a way. He would not use numbers and twist the facts to try to scare the public. The truth is that we are working with local authorities up and down the country to locate every single building and take remedial measures, and also helping them with funds. Despite what he has said, not a single council has been turned away. We are talking to every single council that has approached us, and we have made it clear that they will all be given the financial flexibility, if they need it, that will enable them to get the job done.

T4. Thousands of houses have been granted planning permission in my constituency, but there are often long delays before they are actually built. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that, when planning permission is granted, homes are built, particularly affordable homes? (904317)

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance for which she has asked. First, we have commissioned independent work from my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) on speeding up building once planning permission has been granted. We shall hear more about that this week. Secondly, the consultation that was published earlier this week focuses on developer contributions in particular, and the need to ensure that developers stick to their word and can no longer game the system.

T2. On 1 March we saw the relaunch of the parliamentary campaign for council housing, bringing together MPs in all parties to call for the mass building of council housing. Can the Secretary of State, or a Minister, specify what the Department is doing to accelerate the expansion of the building of council housing? (904315)

I reiterate that we are raising the housing revenue account borrowing limit to £1 billion for local authorities where there is the highest need for new council housing to be built. Again, please may I ask the hon. Gentleman to encourage councils in his area to apply?

I know that my hon. Friend has a long history of being interested in this programme. He will be pleased to know that the evaluation reports published in December showed promising progress, particularly with regard to children in need. Further findings will be published in the annual report, and I look forward to discussing them at length with my hon. Friend then.

T3. The current definition of affordable housing, introduced by the coalition Government, is set at 80% of local market rate, but when house prices are spiralling out of control, as they are in my constituency, this definition of affordable housing is a cruel joke to those on low or median income. Will the Secretary of State commit to replacing this absurd definition so that housing can be genuinely affordable to my constituents? (904316)

I understand the issue the hon. Lady raises. I would just say that the numbers on social housing waiting lists are down by half a million since 2010, and the number of affordable homes in total, including social housing, is higher in the last seven years than in the last seven years of the last Labour Government. However, we are anxious to do even more. I am not sure that fiddling with the criteria for how these things are measured is the answer. We need to build more homes across the board and I welcome the hon. Lady’s support in that regard.

T7. My hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) has already raised the issue of fairer funding for Leicestershire County Council. The county council is broadly supportive of the Government’s consultation, but does the Minister agree that the overall funding formula needs to be looked at in detail, because if the baseline is not addressed Leicestershire will still be falling behind other county councils? (904320)

I very much agree with my right hon. Friend, and Leicestershire in particular has done much work on this, which will certainly feed into the consultation on fairer funding that is closing today. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing recently met with Leicestershire and I would be very happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss this further.

T6. Given the importance of European Union regional development funding to communities in Scotland and across the UK, what discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Treasury about replacement funding after Brexit? (904319)

We are having wide discussions with all Departments across Government consulting on the UK’s shared prosperity fund, which, crucially, in a post-Brexit world, will deliver on Britain’s priorities when it comes to local growth funding.

T8. A recent report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England says that viability assessments favour large developers over small developers and cut the number of affordable homes by 50%. Will the Minister take the strongest possible action to make sure that small and medium-sized enterprises compete on a level playing field with large developers, and that developers provide homes for those most in need? (904321)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and through our planning reforms we are putting far more rigour into the system so that plans are clear about the obligations expected for infrastructure and affordable houses, and also so that developers can be properly held to account in meeting those aspirations and commitments.

T9. If the Government are serious about the northern powerhouse and improving connectivity between communities in the north, does the northern powerhouse Minister think TransPennine’s plans to lengthen journeys from Hull across the Pennines, and not turning up to a meeting with the city’s MPs and business leaders last week to discuss this, will help to deliver his plans for the northern powerhouse? (904322)

It is extremely disappointing if TransPennine did not turn up to a meeting with Members of Parliament from the city of Hull. I hope that the hon. Lady will be encouraged, however, that we are investing £13 billion—more money than any Government in history—in our northern transport infrastructure, and we have also set up Transport for the North, a subnational statutory transport body, which is currently consulting on a 30-year plan to improve transport across the north of England. That is how to deliver a northern powerhouse.

T10. With High Speed 2 set to displace a number of tenants living in social housing in my constituency, will my hon. Friend consider whether the Rent Act 1977, which obliges councils to rehouse council tenants whose homes are subject to compulsory purchase orders, will need amending to reflect the fact that the majority of social housing stock is now owned by housing associations rather than local authorities? (904323)

I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, but I hope that I can give her some reassurance. I do not think that there is any need to amend the 1977 Act because local authorities are already obliged, through the Housing Act 1996, to consider those in need of social housing, so local authorities will make appropriate nominations to housing associations or offer tenancies in their own stock.

March is generally regarded as the start of the illegal Traveller encampment season. Given that the hon. Members for Reading West (Alok Sharma) and for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) are no longer in their posts in the Department, what has happened to the consultation and the timescale for action that the Government promised my frustrated constituents?

It is an important issue, and we are looking to see what more we can do with the challenges that it represents. We are planning to publish a consultation and will do so as soon as possible.

An article in The Sunday Times yesterday highlighted that some councils are still performing mass burials of babies. To be honest, I was appalled. Some research today has identified that, despite campaign efforts by colleagues across the House and charities such as CLIC Sargent, we have not yet been able to set up a children’s funeral fund. Will the Secretary of State meet me to progress the matter?

Nothing can be harder on a parent than losing a child, and we must always look to see what can be done to provide help. Local authorities do provide help in many ways, but my hon. Friend is right to raise this matter. I, too, was concerned by the article she mentioned, and I will be happy to meet with her.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Every day is a school day, particularly when it comes to parliamentary conventions.

Affordable housing and council housing are not the same. Instead of always mentioning affordable housing and council housing in the same breath, will the Minister consider amending the national planning policy framework to enable councils to specify in their strategic plans different housing types for each site allocation?

The hon. Lady makes an important point but, if she looks at the detail of the new revised national planning policy framework, she will see that there is scope for local authorities to make precisely the distinction that she mentions. I look forward to her support.

When are we likely to get a decision on the fantastic plans for expansion at the Mall at Cribbs Causeway in my constituency? With the greatest of respect, I do not know why the Secretary of State is taking so long, because I do not know what there is not to like about thousands of new permanent jobs, more housing and better transport infrastructure.

I should declare an interest, because I have been shopping at Cribbs Causeway many times and it is probably my mum’s favourite shopping complex. It is a live planning issue and we are considering it in detail. It is relatively complex, but we will try to reach a decision as quickly as possible.

It is very useful to learn about Ministers’ domestic habits, and we are grateful to the Secretary of State for providing further information on that score.

The Conservative-run Northamptonshire County Council has recently gone bust. Was that due to a lack of Government funding or local incompetence?

The council has not gone bust. Owing to concerns around its finances, I appointed an independent investigation weeks ago—a best-value inspection—and the inspector, Mr Max Caller, will report back later this week.

I welcome the Government’s encouraging words about the need to improve funding for the upper tiers, but will the Secretary of State congratulate the Conservative-run Broxtowe Borough Council, which has frozen its council tax yet again while delivering excellent services, reducing rents by 1% and spending half a million pounds on parks and open spaces? Does he share my amazement that the council’s Labour and Lib Dem members voted against this otherwise excellent budget?

I am not amazed by the behaviour of Labour and the Lib Dems, because such behaviour is sadly happening throughout the country. I warmly congratulate Broxtowe Borough Council on keeping taxes low and service delivery high, which is a reminder—so close to the local elections—that Conservative councils cost less and deliver more.

May I raise Grenfell and cladding in a nice, non-political way? I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that the facts of the matter are that the Government have rightly increased the standards and that the costs should surely be borne partly by the freeholder, partly by the leaseholder and partly by the Government. Why not get the three parties together to do something about that?

We have made it clear that, when it comes to the private sector and this type of remedial work, it should take a lead from the social sector. It is the moral duty of any freeholder to meet any necessary costs. There are a number of legal issues. There is an important legal case that is going through the courts right now, so I will not comment much more, but it is something that we are keeping under review.

Councils in rural areas have received a raw deal on local government funding for many, many years, even though the cost of delivering services in rural areas is often significantly higher. Will the Minister assure me that in the local government finance review the true cost of delivering services will be considered and that rural areas get a fair deal?

I know that my hon. Friend is a doughty champion of rural areas. I am delighted to tell him that his point will be exactly considered in the fair funding formula. I am sure that he will be heartened by the local government finance settlement, where we increase rural services delivery grant to its highest ever level.

We have three remaining questioners if each of the three agrees to ask a single-sentence question not exceeding 20 words. I call Mr Robert Courts.

I know that the Secretary of State is well aware of the requirement for infrastructure when new homes are built. What can he do to include broadband in that?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Following revelations in The Sunday Times about fraudulent Grenfell aid claims, what assurances can my right hon. Friend offer that financial support is going only to those directly affected by this tragedy?

I will not comment on the particular claims—I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand—but it is important that both the council and the police are working together on any such alleged behaviour.

Under its new garden town status, Taunton Deane is delivering well above the national average for houses, which the Secretary of State will welcome. Does he agree that the best way to provide the infrastructure that those houses need is to succeed with the recently submitted housing infrastructure forward funding bid, put in with West Somerset Council?

I suppose that two probably did not amount to more than 41 words. I think that we are done. Are we done? We are done.