The Secretary of State was asked—
Land Value Capture
The Government have recently published their response to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s report on land value capture. We have committed to using existing mechanisms of land value capture as effectively as possible and are bringing forward significant changes to developer contributions in order to do so.
Given that many challenges on housing delivery rely on the availability of land, will the Government consider introducing a Bill to make it easier for sites that have not been earmarked for existing development to be provided for local housing developments and have value captured?
I certainly recognise the need for more homes, including more rental and affordable homes for people, as we deliver against our agenda. The best way to do that is through local plans, which allow local councils to provide housing in suitable locations. Local plans will certainly ensure that local communities get the houses they need, but I take on board the point my hon. Friend rightly makes about communities and making sure that value is felt.
The Secretary of State will accept that, according to the Government’s own figures, when planning permission is given for housing to be built on agricultural land, that land increases in value, on average, by about 100 times. Does he accept that more of that increase in value should go to pay for public infrastructure and general community benefit? Will he therefore go further than he has promised and agree to look at again at the Land Compensation Act 1961, to which the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government recommended a change, which was supported by a wide range of organisations and by hon. Members right across the political spectrum?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and the Select Committee for the work that they have done in rightly highlighting an important issue. It is worth bearing in mind the fact that section 106 planning obligations and the community infrastructure levy levied in 2016-17 provided an estimated £6 billion of value. However, the point he makes is an important one. We wanted to see better utilisation of the existing rules, and the Letwin review makes further proposals, and we will be reflecting on those and coming back to the House in the new year.
Part of the Government’s policy is to enable large urban councils to establish a strategic infrastructure fund of their own, but at present this excludes smaller councils such as mine in East Herts. May I therefore urge the Secretary of State to amend his proposals so that any council with a local plan that is planning to deliver a new settlement is included in that and can establish such a fund? May I meet him to discuss that further?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I recognise the concerted work and effort that is going on to deliver homes and infrastructure through the local plan in his area. He rightly says that combined authorities with strategic planning powers will be able to introduce a strategic infrastructure tariff, but charging authorities can already pool their community infrastructure levy receipts to fund infrastructure jointly. We are updating the guidance to make that clearer, but I would be happy to continue that discussion with him.
In the midst of today’s political chaos, I wonder whether it is worth questioning the Secretary of State at all, as Cabinet members do not seem to be told what Government policy really is. Just as this Government are failing on Brexit, they are failing other big tests, such as taking on vested land interests and fixing the housing crisis. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), the Select Committee Chair, has just said, the Secretary of State’s own figures show that the price of land can soar hundredfold when planning permission is granted. That profiteering by landowners and agents pushes up the cost of the homes we buy and the rents we pay, and it blocks building the new low-cost homes we need on a big scale. After nearly nine years in government, why has the Secretary of State not put a stop to this?
It is a bit rich for the right hon. Gentleman to talk about policy, given that his own side has very little policy to show at all on a range of issues. He asks a fair question about building the homes that our country needs, which is why it is right to highlight to the House the 222,000 additional dwellings in the past year. That is profoundly about not only building the homes our country needs, but about ensuring that we are looking at viability and getting these issues of land value capture addressed—
Order. It is impossible to describe the extent of my gratitude to the Secretary of State, who is among the most courteous Members of the House, but I say very gently to colleagues that we have a lot of questions to get through. We therefore need short questions and short answers so that we can reach people lower down the Order Paper, because I am more bothered about the Back Benches than I am about the Front Benches.
The Secretary of State tells us to wait till next year, but he may not be in government next year. In truth, this is a Government who delay and duck the big decisions on housing because they are too dysfunctional and too divided, just as they are on Brexit. His own Members know that their policy is failing and want action taken on land costs, so will he change the law so that the Government can work with councils to compulsorily purchase land without paying for landowner speculation, then use the savings to cut the costs for first-time buyers and renters? Even if the Secretary of State cannot get the backing of the House for his Brexit deal, he would get it for a radical plan to make the land market work for the benefit of the many, and not the few.
Our policies are not about the many, not about the few; they are for everyone in terms of delivering on our housing agenda. Yes, we will consult on the new draft amended community infrastructure regulations, and I look forward to having the debate on them. It is this Government who are taking action to build the homes that our country needs. We will certainly take no lessons from the other side.
Local Government Funding
We are undertaking a review of local authorities’ relative needs and resources to address concerns about the fairness of the current system. That will determine the new baseline funding allocations for local authorities through a more up-to-date, transparent and fairer funding formula
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the extra pressures on local authorities in rural areas with sparse populations and many miles of road network. Will he assure me that the Government will factor in those pressures when allocating funding to rural areas such as Lincolnshire?
I recognise my hon. Friend’s point about remoteness and accessibility, and the impact of journey times on things like labour costs. My officials are working with the Department for Transport to look at how the extra costs can be taken into account.
Fifty per cent. of Oxfordshire County Council’s budget is spent on social care. Many of the things that my constituents discuss with me, such as potholes and school funding, are directly or indirectly related to local government funding. What steps are being taken to ensure that regional differences are addressed so that rural areas like West Oxfordshire get the funding that they need and deserve?
We will use the best available evidence to ensure that the relative needs and resources of councils up and down the country are properly taken into account to reflect a number of the important points that my hon. Friend and others have made. We are working closely with representatives across local government to do that.
Lambeth Council and Southwark Council have lost £6 in every £10 of Government grant they had to spend in 2010, yet across London the population is rising faster, levels of deprivation are greater, and the cost of delivering services is higher than anywhere else in the country. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that the fair funding review will restore funding to London councils and not result in further cuts?
We will certainly look at the available evidence on how the relative review of resources is affected throughout the country, and we will take account of evidence from London councils and others. Equally, I hope that the hon. Lady will recognise the announcement in the Budget of additional funding for things like social care. An extra £650 million will go around to councils to help to make that difference.
Reeling from the biggest cuts in local government history of £650 million, with another £123 million to come, Birmingham has put forward a powerful case for fair funding. Now, an announcement has been delayed. When will the Secretary of State make his announcement? Will he listen to Birmingham, because frankly Birmingham has had enough?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to make his points in relation to the provisional settlement for local government, which I look forward to delivering very shortly. He will have an opportunity to make representations for Birmingham and others on the fair funding review, and there will be further opportunities. I look forward to engaging with the hon. Gentleman and others in that regard.
The budgets of the local authorities that serve my constituency are under particular strain because of the increasing number of looked-after children. What additional resources are likely to be made available to cover that need?
We are very conscious of the pressures on areas such as children’s social services, which my hon. Friend highlights and, equally, of some of the differentials that exist around the country. He will, however, note the additional funding that was committed in the Budget to these issues and we therefore continue to work with him and others and look forward to the spending review next year.
The Daily Record reported recently that councils in Scotland have set aside £24 million to deal with the impact of universal credit, including £2.5 million in Glasgow, £3 million in Edinburgh and £4.5 million in South Lanarkshire. How can it possibly be fair that, when central Government decisions are having a huge impact on local government funding, we can do nothing about it?
A clear mechanism is in place in relation to what are known as the new burdens on local government and therefore we take that into account and reflect further on the costs that local authorities may have in relation to other governmental activities, and that is what we do.
The record is clear: Northamptonshire bust; other councils edging towards the cliff edge; and no end to austerity, with cuts to council budgets continuing. Last week, senior officials told the Public Accounts Committee that their measure of a council’s financial sustainability is now based solely on the delivery of statutory services. Our councils are at breaking point. Is the Secretary of State not even slightly embarrassed that his Ministry has let the cat out of the bag on the decimation of local public services on his watch?
Yes, local authorities have had to bear a cost and have made some incredible efficiencies and savings as a consequence of the need to deal with the problems that we inherited from the previous Labour Government. I say to the hon. Gentleman that, when we come to the discussion over the settlement, he will see that our work will ensure that local councils have a real-terms increase in their funding and services and therefore what we are doing to ensure that councils are viable and have a positive future.
The Department’s consultation on implementing reforms to the leasehold system closed on 26 November with almost 1,300 responses. It set out how the Government intend to tackle excessive and unjustifiable practices in the leasehold system. We are currently analysing responses and plan to publish the Government response in due course.
I know that the Secretary of State has, on numerous occasions, met developers, freeholders and other industry stakeholders as part of the consultation process, but he has not met representatives of the National Leasehold Campaign, the very people most affected by this scandal. Is it not time that he did so?
I certainly recognise some of the appalling practices that have taken place in the leasehold market, which is why we have made it clear that anyone with doubled ground rent should be able to get it changed to one linked to inflation. I look forward to engaging with leaseholders and everyone across the sector to see that reform happens.
The House will welcome what my right hon. Friend has said. On another day, we can deal with the statutory instrument recognising leasehold associations.
Today, I ask him to note the Law Commission’s proposals on getting commonhold working properly. May I draw his attention to the post on the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership website, which says that the Government’s Help to Buy team advised a builder that flats cannot be bought under commonhold because that does not apply within its rules? Can he get the rules changed so that commonhold, which we all want, can work?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I will certainly look at the point that he has raised. I highlight the fact that the Government support the use of commonhold and we are considering all the options for reinvigorating it. We certainly recognise the publication of the Law Commission’s consultation and want everybody to take part in it.
Will the Government back Labour by announcing an inquiry into the mis-selling of leaseholds?
What we need to do is to get on and get things changed. Having a review in the way that the hon. Lady has suggested is about deferring things, so we want the industry to take steps to take action. Labour can talk in that way, but it is this Government who are intent on actually bringing about reform.
The leasehold problem is an abiding scandal, and the Secretary of State does need to fix it. When he is reforming it will he consider being imaginative enough to copy the city of The Hague, which allows people on the housing register to go onto a register to get a serviced plot of land, which, if they cannot afford to buy it, they can lease at a peppercorn rent and then elect to buy later. If we are going to have reform, let us have imaginative reform.
I look forward to discussing that issue with my hon. Friend, because there is a sense of a need for change. Some of the abuses that we have seen are unacceptable. Although we have already put forward proposals to make that difference, I will certainly continue to talk to colleagues who may have some further imaginative thoughts.
I was shocked to hear that A2Dominion has sent leaseholders of a block in my constituency a landlord water bill of £900 per flat payable within 30 days, with the only explanation being that it had not read the water meter for two years. This has caused huge stress for residents and is the latest in the long line of unacceptable, sudden invoices with little or no explanation. Does the Secretary of State agree that there needs to be a change in the transparency and standards of housing association service charges, because leaseholders are treated like cash cows and the law is weighted in favour of landlords?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting that particular example. It is especially appalling that leaseholders should have been presented with such a significant charge in that way. If she can send me some more details, I will look into the matter further.
Adult Social Care
We have listened to the sector’s concerns. The Government will provide an additional £240 million for winter pressures next year, as well as a further £410 million to address pressures in social care.
I recently met local carers, whose unpaid work for loved ones takes enormous pressures off budgets, but inadequate funding for adult social care is putting additional strains on them. Some gain support from local councils and others from local groups such as Sheffield Carers Centre, but most are invisible. What support is the Department providing to local authorities to identify carers so that they can get the help that they need?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the valuable work that those carers do in our society, and that should be recognised. It is for individual local authorities to decide how best to support carers in their areas. As the Secretary of State previously said, £650 million of incremental funding for social care was announced in the Budget. That funding could be used to provide support in the way the hon. Gentleman suggests.
Councils are predicting that an additional £3.6 billion will be needed by 2025, just to maintain current levels of care. Does the Minister think that it is either sensible or economically sustainable that councils are having to use their dwindling reserves to deliver care to people? That is what many of them are doing and what many more will have to do.
Speaking of reserves, reserves in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and area have actually increased by 40% since 2011. Beyond funding, the delivery of social care is a function of joined-up thinking with the NHS. I was delighted to meet the chief officer for Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership in Manchester recently, and I am glad that almost all local authorities agree that our better care fund has improved join working between health and social care.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the adoption of a German-style social insurance premium, as recommended by the joint inquiry of the Select Committees on Health and on Communities and Local Government, would ease funding pressures on local authorities and ensure that everyone had access to the social care that they needed?
I thank my hon. Friend and all members of the two Select Committees for their thoughtful and detailed work in this area. I know that my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care are seriously considering all options in advance of the social care Green Paper, and the Committees’ recommendations are very much a part of the those deliberations.
Social care is characterised by low pay and poor employment conditions, and is heavily dependent on EU labour to meet labour force needs. The Migration Advisory Committee says that only by raising pay in the sector will it be possible to replace EU labour with UK workers. Will the Minister commit to the additional £3 billion of funding that will be needed to do that?
Immigration matters are obviously for the Home Office, which is shortly to bring out its White Paper. With regard to the funding, as I just said, the Department of Health and Social Care is working on a long-term sustainable funding settlement for social care that we look forward to seeing in due course.
As set out in the Government’s clean growth strategy, we plan to consult in the spring of next year on an uplift to the energy efficiency requirements for new homes and other buildings where there are safe, practical, cost-effective and affordable opportunities to do so.
I thank the Minister for that response. At a time when the Government are urging more house building and looking at climate change as well, would it not be a good time to change building regulations so that all houses are self-sufficient in electricity? That would have the dual benefit of reducing utility costs and saving the planet.
My hon. Friend is a persistent and effective advocate for renewable energy and for energy self-sufficiency. He is quite right that technology is currently emerging that may well enable domestic self-sufficiency in the future. I would be more than happy to explore the possibilities with him in the spring.
Do the Minister and the rest of the Ministers on the Front Bench not understand that those in local government are so demoralised by a lack of funding that they cannot get their heads round carbon-neutral housing or almost anything else because they are struggling to meet the basic needs? In my own local authority area, we do not even have a youth service any longer.
The hon. Gentleman is doing a disservice to local authorities, which have grasped the raised energy standards for new homes over the past few years, increasing them by 30% and saving all our electors, on average, £200 on their energy bills.
The latest figures show that over 222,000 new homes were delivered in England last year—clear progress towards our ambition of delivering 300,000 a year by the mid-2020s. This brings the total number delivered since 2010 to more than 1.3 million.
House building in Scotland has plummeted under the Scottish National party, which, since 2015, has also slashed UK-wide schemes like Help to Buy. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to work with the devolved Administration to make sure that UK-wide schemes are accessible to my constituents so that they do not miss out?
As my hon. Friend will know, my writ does not run north of the border. However, I note that in the autumn Budget of 2017, the Scottish Government received Barnett consequentials of almost £1 billion as a result of increased allocations to MHCLG for Help to Buy. I urge him and his colleagues north of the border to keep campaigning—to keep the pressure up—because Help to Buy is enormously popular and is helping many tens of thousands of first-time buyers, in particular, on to the housing ladder. At the very least, they should join him in campaigning for a Conservative victory in the Scottish elections in 2021 to make sure that people will get the homes they need.
Why has home ownership fallen to the lowest level in 30 years under this Government?
Home ownership has been on a gradual decline for some time—the hon. Gentleman is quite right—under Governments of all types. The main reason, frankly, that it has declined very significantly is that Labour crashed the economy in 2007-08, as he well knows. The coalition Government and this Government inherited a housing crisis of enormous proportions. After the crash, net additions to the housing stock fell to a low of 134,000. We have thankfully now got it up to 222,000, with more yet to do, and made an enormous financial, technical and practical commitment to the housing market and to building the homes that the country needs, unlike Labour, which was so complacent that it ran us into a brick wall.
Unemployment in Hemel Hempstead is at the lowest level it has ever been since the new town was built, so we would think that there would be more right to buy in the case of the 18,000 council houses that we still have in the stock. Unfortunately, though, because there is a £77,000 limit on the amount of discount we can get, people working in the local community—nurses and firemen—cannot afford mortgages as the properties are very highly priced. Can we look at the £77,000 limit, particularly in the south-east, because it just not does work for right to buy?
As my right hon. Friend will know, home ownership is extremely important to the Government, as it is to him. Affordability is an issue in areas such as his, on the fringe of the capital. We have kept right-to-buy discount under review, and it was reinvigorated back in 2012, to address the issue that he raises. I urge him to speak to his local council, to explore other ways within the affordable housing envelope to address that issue. If he had been at questions last time, he would have heard a very good question from my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) about discounted market sales, which may well be a route to ownership for many people.
Will the Minister meet me to discuss funding new affordable homes in rural communities such as mine in Cumbria by allowing councils to increase council tax on second homes? Excessive second home ownership robs our communities of a permanent population. A second homes tax could help to fund affordable homes for local families and keep our communities alive.
It would give me enormous pleasure to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that matter. As he will know, we have been looking at that in some detail, and the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), tells me that we are consulting on tightening up some of the loopholes, particularly around business rates and council tax. I recognise that in some parts of the country—not least my own—second homes can be an issue, and I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that.
I would like to draw the attention of the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) to an article in Inside Housing by Jules Birch called “England could learn a few things from Scotland when it comes to affordable housing”. Since 2007, the SNP Scottish Government have delivered 78,000 affordable homes, including more than 50,000 for social rent, because we have made it a priority. As this Government have fallen so far short of every target they have set, may I encourage the Minister to meet Kevin Stewart, the Scottish Government’s Housing Minister, to ask what he has done to achieve housing targets?
I am always happy to meet anybody who will help us to build more of the homes that Britain needs, and if someone from the SNP can spare some time from stoking grievance to meet constructively, I would be more than happy to do so. As I said, we are making an enormous effort to raise the output of the house building industry of all types of home, both public and private, in this country. We have managed to get up to 222,000 new homes, which is the largest expansion in house building for many decades—it is the highest level of output in all but one of the last 31 years. We are making good progress towards our target of 300,000 new homes a year of all types, including affordable, private and social.
Local Government Funding
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to answer Question 9 with Question 17.
We are undertaking a review of local authorities’ relative resource and needs. We are making good progress in collaboration with the sector and are considering many topics that hon. Members have raised as we look to introduce a simple, accurate and transparent new funding formula.
Before the hon. Gentleman puts his question, I appreciate that the Minister is probably operating on earlier intelligence, but Question 17 has gone, and therefore the grouping is merely with Question 20—a point that I am sure other Members instantly knew and of which I am merely reminding them.
As the Minister knows, small urban areas have limited space to generate increased new homes bonus. If my hon. Friend could announce that Gloucester and Cheltenham were to be pilot projects for retaining all business rates revenue, that would be a welcome Christmas present, but in the absence of that, what advice would he give to good urban councils that are keen to maintain their services and regenerate their city or borough centres?
I was delighted to meet recently my hon. Friend and those in his local authority. It was inspiring to hear their ambitious plans to grow the local economy, and I commend them for their vision. I would urge them to look at the recently announced high streets fund, which can help them to ensure that their town remains a vibrant and prosperous community.
As part of the review, will my hon. Friend ensure that councils such as Erewash have the funding necessary to properly support residents affected by High Speed 2 and mitigate the impact that this line will have on our towns?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that. The review relates to the distribution of funding for core services that are funded through the local government finance settlement, but the Government have introduced a number of statutory and non-statutory compensation schemes along the HS2 route, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which are designed to compensate those whose properties are affected.
It is neither hysterical nor alarmist to say that local government faces an existential threat to its very being when even sensible, efficient and serious councils such as Ealing are having to cut their services to the bone and beyond. It is quite right that the Local Government Association’s current campaign is called “Breaking Point”. Has the Minister met the LGA, and if so, what succour can he offer it and councils such as Ealing?
I meet the LGA on almost a weekly basis, I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman. I can also say that the LGA, the County Councils Network and many other part of the local government sector warmly welcome the announcements in the recent Budget providing a substantial increase in funding for social care. They believe enormously in the confidence that this Government have shown in local authorities, when it comes to the future high streets fund and others, and in their ability to deliver for their communities and their residents.
The Minister may have read the article on the front page of today’s Manchester Evening News, which is both powerful and harrowing. It is a truly awful account of what it is like for homeless families in Manchester today by the brilliant journalist Jennifer Williams. When will the Government come forward with a proper comprehensive plan for funding for local government so that it can serve families and, when they are in desperate need, house them in decent homes?
I thank the hon. Lady for bringing to my attention that article, which I will be sure to look at later today. I know the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler), who has responsibility for housing and homelessness, is hard at work tackling this difficult issue, with over £1 billion committed over the next few years. Indeed, I believe Manchester is a pilot for the Housing First schemes as well.
Voluntary Right to Buy Pilot Scheme
The midlands pilot was launched on 16 August, with over 9,000 house- holds registering for the ballot. Successful tenants are now applying to their housing association to buy their home. Our £200 million investment in the pilot will help thousands of housing association tenants to realise the dream of home ownership.
I realise this is a pilot, but if the Government do not know how many properties are available for sale and how many of the Mayor’s 6,000 lottery winners will actually be able to buy their own home, how is this the best use of scarce resources— £200 million—in the part of the country with the worst homelessness problem outside London and the south-east?
The whole purpose of a pilot is to answer the questions that the hon. Gentleman quite rightly raises. As for whether this is the best use of resources, I think that 9,146 housing association tenants in the area might agree it is, given that they applied for the funding. He is quite right that 6,000 were successful in the ballot, and we expect a smaller number than that to proceed to take advantage of buying their own home. Following the completion of the pilot, we will assess and answer those questions about where we go next.
My constituent Joanne Betts of Cawston in Rugby was very disappointed not to be successful in the ballot. When does the Minister think she may have an opportunity to buy her home? She has of course contributed a large proportion of its cost through the rent she has paid over many years.
My hon. Friend is quite right to raise the disappointment of his constituent. I am sorry that there were winners and losers in the ballot, but it was laid out early on in the pilot that the £200 million was capable of funding only a certain number of sales. We reckon that will be less than 6,000; we over-programmed it because not everybody will be able to proceed. Once the pilot is completed, and we can assess the results and the demand, we will be able to take a view on where we go next.
Will the Minister clarify the Government’s position in relation to the right to buy in the voluntary sector? As he knows, the voluntary sector is under a lot of pressure.
As the hon. Gentleman will understand, the pilot is a voluntary pilot. We agreed with the National Housing Federation that the midlands was a good place to do it to assess, from both the housing association sector and the Government side, how we can best effect and fulfil the aspiration of the majority of housing association tenants who want to own—from a financial point of view but also from an effectiveness point of view. We want the pilot to bed in, to see how it performs over the next couple of years and then to reach some conclusions after that.
The rough sleeping initiative has allocated £30 million to 83 local authorities, which are working to deliver 500 additional support workers and 1,750 extra bed spaces to support people off the street. The Government have also made available a £5 million cold weather fund for all areas to provide additional support this winter.
I thank the Minister for his answer. I wonder whether he could answer me a simple question. I would appreciate a one-word answer, as I am sure Mr Speaker will. The rough sleeping headcount in Birmingham took place last week. The figures are yet to be revealed. Does the Minister think that they will have gone up or down?
I am not going to predict, because—[Interruption.] I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Lady. I want to see the figures coming down, because it is about helping people off the street and changing their lives. No one chooses to be out on the street. That is why we are taking all the action that we are.
What is the Government’s estimate of the proportion of those sleeping rough who are not addicted to drugs, including alcohol?
We recognise that there is a significant issue with what is known as dual diagnosis of mental ill health and alcohol addiction and how the two are intertwined, along with the use of novel psychoactive substances, which has compounded the issue. That is why we have asked the national health service to provide an additional £30 million to address those issues and get better data on them.
There cannot be a Member in this House who has failed to notice the exponential rise in people sleeping on our streets, and not just in cities such as London, but in places such as Dewsbury, which I represent. Will the Secretary of State tell us what progress has been made on the Government pledge to end homelessness?
It is our intent to see rough sleeping ended. I highlighted in my earlier answer the additional beds, the additional workers and the funding support that has been put in place, because it is about progress over the next few years, but also action now, which is what the rough sleeping initiative is all about: saving lives and seeing more people come off the street.
Homelessness and Social Housing
Access to social housing is managed locally, but certain people must be given priority, including homeless households. The social housing Green Paper announced an evidence collection exercise to understand how the allocations framework is working and whether it is striking the right balance of fairness, support and aspiration.
Two hundred and eighty-nine young people are presenting themselves as homeless in Bath and North East Somerset Council alone. Will the Minister’s Department use the current review of social housing regulation to ensure that social housing allocation policies do not lock out young people, who are especially disadvantaged by the current policy?
We are very grateful.
What assessment has my hon. Friend made of local authorities assisting rough sleepers into a home of their own following the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 coming into law?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Unfortunately, I did not hear the very beginning of it, but I think the gist was that the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 is a very welcome new Act. We are grateful for everybody’s hard work on it earlier this year. We will review it after 24 months, but so far my understanding is that local councils are impressed with how well it is being embedded.
Shared Prosperity Fund
Leaving the European Union offers great opportunity to the country, including coming up with a shared prosperity fund that aligns our national priorities. Good progress is being made, and we intend to consult on the design of the UK shared prosperity fund shortly.
I am sure the whole House will agree that Cornwall is unique in many ways—we have our own heritage and culture, including our own language—but we also face a number of unique economic challenges, particularly from our geography as a peninsula and after decades of under-investment. Will the Minister confirm that the shared prosperity fund will continue to support the Cornish economy, so that we can all continue to say, “Kernow bys vyken!”?
If I may respond in Cornish, I take the opportunity to wish my hon. Friend and all his constituents Nadelik lowen. With only 109 shopping days to Brexit, I can reassure my hon. Friend that the UK shared prosperity fund will be simplified and targeted, and will tackle the challenges of our whole country, including those facing Cornwall.
This weekend, the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, resigned from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. He says he no longer sees the benefit, given that it was set up by a Government who just do not want to listen to it. At the same time, the Institute for Public Policy Research North paints a stark picture, where the north gets £2,500 less per head in investment on transport than London. The northern powerhouse Minister literally has one job to do. What’s going on?
As Harry Enfield and his chums would say about anyone from Liverpool, including me: “Calm down, calm down.” I can confirm today that we have announced £38.4 million for Liverpool. I completely refute the IPPR figures. They exclude 60% of spending across regional boundaries. They do not apportion spending where the benefit is felt. If the hon. Gentleman wants to give some advice to his chums in the left-wing IPPR think-tank, he might say that next time they produce such figures they should print them on softer paper.
The Government remain committed to ensuring that the survivors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy receive the support they need. This includes financial, practical and health support, as well as making sure that all survivors are permanently rehoused by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea as quickly as possible.
It is 18 months since the tragedy of Grenfell Tower. Will the Secretary of State tell us what process is in place to deal with psychological and trauma problems still faced by the survivors of that horrific occasion 18 months ago?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the continuing psychological and mental health issues. The NHS continues proactive outreach—there is a screening for trauma programme—and NHS support is available 24 hours a day for all who require it. NHS England has committed up to £50 million to fund long-term health checks and treatment for all those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.
Latest figures this morning showed that households in hotels and in temporary accommodation add up to 107 households: 107 households will be homeless at Christmas. These are people from the Tower, the walkways and nearby buildings who are unable to come home. Some of those people have had no money. We had one case last week where someone had no money for five months. Somebody else was seen begging at Ladbroke Grove because they have no money. They are not getting the help the Secretary of State believes. Why should we believe a single word he says?
The hon. Lady rightly challenges on behalf of her constituents. What I would say to her very clearly is that 201 households from Grenfell Tower and the Walk need rehousing; 193 have accepted permanent offers and seven have accepted temporary offers; and 179 households have moved in. I accept that there needs to be more effort in relation to emergency accommodation and getting people out of hotels. Progress is being made and we will continue to support the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to do that and get people into permanent homes.
It is 18 months after Grenfell and a quarter of families are still not in permanent homes. The problem goes wider. We have found out that 16 out of the 20 tall tower blocks in Kensington, several within full view of Grenfell Tower, still do not have sprinklers, and only 4% of council blocks in London have sprinklers. Sprinklers are mandatory in new tall buildings because they keep people safe, but councils do not have the funds to retrofit social housing blocks. The Government have brushed away every single request for help as non-essential. Why do the Government continue to stigmatise and discriminate against social housing tenants?
The hon. Lady will know that one of the key elements of our social housing Green Paper was to break stigma, and I challenge very firmly to ensure that people in social housing are treated fairly and appropriately. She highlights the issue of sprinklers and is right that in relation to new builds, we have put firm requirements in place. We have said that if local councils require flexibilities to be able to assist with that and the management of those buildings, we will certainly consider that fairly, because our priority is to ensure that people living in high-rise blocks are safe.
Local Government Funding
We took the opportunity to share our work with the special rapporteur and are considering his specific findings as they relate to the policy responsibilities of this Department.
The 14 million that the UN identified as in poverty in our country are not just in the Hovis adverts of the industrial heartlands, but in leafy west London. How would the Minister advise Ealing Council to resource the five extra adult social care cases a week that come across its desk and the rising number of child social services cases, when it has had a 64% cut in its budget since the Government came to power?
What I would say to Ealing Council is that it will shortly receive several million pounds extra to spend on its social care priorities. I would also point out that its reserves have increased in the last few years and are available for it to spend as it requires.
Housing remains the Government’s top priority and the work of my Department continues at pace. The latest figures show that we have delivered more than 222,000 new homes—the highest for a decade—but especially as the temperatures drop, we are taking decisive action to support vulnerable people without a home and have published our rough sleeping strategy delivery plan. Shortly, I will publish our draft local government finance settlement with a new fairer method for allocation to help our councils to deliver high-quality services. Finally, as Jewish families across the country gather to light the candles of Hanukkah, I want to wish everyone celebrating a happy and peaceful Hanukkah.
When I find time to do my Christmas shopping, I will do my best to support the local high streets in Lincolnshire. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what his Department is doing to ensure that our high streets have the support to survive and thrive in our communities?
High streets are the hub of our communities, which is why I am delighted that we have announced a £675 million future high streets fund to invest in our high streets, as well as, for example, launching an open doors pilot to bring empty properties back into use, and matching landlords of vacant premises with local community groups to ensure that our high streets are vibrant community places.
Some debt collection practices, particularly the heavy-handed use of bailiffs, make matters worse, not better, so what is the Secretary of State doing to promote the recent Money Advice Service toolkit initiative? How is he making sure that the way council tax debt is collected does not lead to further financial hardship and stress?
I would be happy to look further into that for the hon. Lady. On council tax debt collection, the Government’s position is clear: enforcement should be a last resort, and there is strict guidance in place to ensure the proper collection of council tax, done in a proportionate and civil manner.
Nothing is more important than making sure that people are safe in their homes. I have made it clear that building owners are responsible for the safety of their buildings and they should protect leaseholders from costs. Local authorities have our full support to take enforcement action to make buildings safe, and it is our priority to ensure that people are safe and secure in their homes.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It was appalling what was happening in Bristol in that hostel. The Government are committed to protecting vulnerable people. We are developing robust oversight of all supported housing, including homelessness hostels, and are undertaking a review of housing-related support services to ensure that all provision is of good quality and that appropriate support is provided. We are working with local government to support those experiencing rough sleeping and homelessness including with safety measures.
It was a pleasure to join my hon. Friend shopping on his local high streets. The Government’s future high streets fund will help high streets to thrive, adapt and change. We will publish the prospectus shortly, and I would encourage Longton and Fenton, as well as the other towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent, to express their interest in the fund.
We are determined to take action, and the consultation actually contains the technical elements to make sure we get it right and see a practical impact.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and his local authority colleagues on their ambition in welcoming this new garden community to their area. I can confirm that all such communities should be well planned, and include appropriate infrastructure, both hard and soft, so that they are of benefit to the local area, rather than a subtraction.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be able to discuss this and other issues when we have the provisional settlement. He will see the support we are giving to local authorities, giving that commitment to local communities and ensuring high-quality services.
What support is the Department giving to councils such as Worcestershire trying to improve services through the enhanced use of technology?
My hon. Friend’s commitment to using technology and public services is well known to the House and is a passion I share. I was delighted that his council, Worcestershire, was involved in three winning bids to our £7. 5 million local digital innovation fund. I congratulate it and look forward to seeing the fruits of its innovation.
I commend the work of the charity in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. We have a £5 million fund open to all local authorities to ensure that more accommodation is now available for these winter months.
Lichfield, Tamworth and Burton Councils are members of two local enterprise partnerships—the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP and the Staffordshire LEP. Why is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State trying to abandon localism and force them to join just the Staffordshire LEP?
Our LEP review is about putting our LEPs on a permanent footing as we leave the European Union. Abolishing overlaps is about creating accountability for all LEPs and is part of a wider suite of reforms ensuring that LEP boards reflect the diverse communities they represent by asking them to have at least 50% of their boards made up of local businesswomen.
It is right that we challenge and tackle religious intolerance, whatever form it takes. I look forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government and others to underline the positive approach that we take to integration, and ensuring that if there is intolerance and bigotry, it is challenged and shown to be completely unacceptable.
My right hon. Friend referred to the power that he has given local authorities to carry out emergency work to replace dangerous cladding and charge the owners. However, many owners are able to claim against the leaseholders for the costs under the terms of their leases, and that anomaly defeats the Government’s policy. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how the position might be rectified?
I shall be happy to discuss that with my hon. Friend. Many people are meeting those costs, but where that is not happening, I shall also be happy to challenge those concerned and make the point clear.
Order. I am trying to help the hon. Gentleman, in an excessively noisy House. Project! Speak up, man.
I am standing as tall as I can, Mr Speaker.
Can the Minister give me an update on the Government’s progress in helping to improve the provision of those much-needed facilities?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s personal leadership on this issue. I commend Celtic football club on its forward thinking, and, indeed, commend all other football clubs that have done the same. I recently met the Changing Places consortium and the campaign group. I share the hon. Gentleman’s passion for ensuring that those with complex disabilities have every opportunity to enjoy a dignified and fulfilling life, and installing more Changing Places is something that we should all support.
Northamptonshire’s police and crime commissioner, Stephen Mold, is very kindly lending Corby’s former police station to Corby Nightlight to help its invaluable work in supporting homeless people in our community. Will my right hon. Friend commend that collaboration, so that when Nightlight moves to its new premises next year, there will be no interruption in service?
I am happy to commend that collaboration, and the incredible work that is taking place in Northamptonshire and elsewhere to meet the important challenge of getting people off our streets and dealing with issues relating to homelessness.
In my local borough of Enfield, children’s services are at breaking point. Can the Secretary of State assure me that adequate funds will be found in the local government financial settlement for those services, and for child and adolescent mental health services?
I hope that when the hon. Gentleman hears the statement on the provisional settlement, he will recognise the commitment that we make to children’s as well as adult social services. However, I recognise the pressures that exist. We want to see innovation, and we want to see those services improve. I look forward to discussing the issue with the hon. Gentleman.