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Topical Questions

Volume 653: debated on Monday 28 January 2019

Local councils will play an important role in supporting communities as we leave the EU, and I am committed to working with them to ensure that they are prepared to respond to any Brexit scenarios. I can therefore confirm that local authorities will receive an extra £56.5 million to help them with their Brexit preparations and to help deliver essential services and keep residents well informed. We also remain in close contact with local councils through our rough sleeping initiative to support some of the most vulnerable in our society and help them to get the support they need.

Yesterday, Members across the House remembered Holocaust Memorial Day. I had the privilege to attend the incredibly moving national commemoration of those who lost their lives in the holocaust and subsequent genocides. Those dark events of the past call on us all to confront racism, bigotry and hatred wherever it may occur and to stand up for tolerance, reconciliation and stronger communities.

Councils in deprived areas such as mine are desperately scrambling to find the funds to meet their needs while facing almost double the spending cuts of the least-deprived area. The Minister says that this is about population, but London is home to 16% of the population and has suffered 30% of the cuts. This Government still favour wealthy areas over poor ones. Is that because they are mostly Tory areas?

The hon. Lady should look at the settlement that we have provided, which involves an extra £1 billion for local government across the board. Indeed, it represents a real-terms increase that is intended to make a real difference to how we support councils to meet pressures and challenges.

T2. Proposals to convert empty high street shops into housing have raised concerns in rural areas such as West Oxfordshire that there may be a perverse incentive to close viable shops in order to realise the greater value of housing. Will Ministers agree to meet me and my district council to ensure that the policy is tailored for both rural and metropolitan areas? (908856)

Embedding residential communities on our high streets is part of the future health of the high street, and I will with pleasure meet my hon. Friend and representatives from his constituency to take the discussions forward.

T3. Last week’s National Audit Office report confirmed that councils have responded to dwindling spending power by reducing spending on non-statutory children’s services. Despite evidence showing that preventive services work, they now account for just 25% of spending. Will the Minister assure the House that the upcoming spending review will explicitly address the lack of resources allocated to early intervention services? (908857)

I share the hon. Gentleman’s passion for ensuring that councils have adequate early intervention services. I have been championing the troubled families programme since I arrived in this job, and I would be delighted to hear from him and others about how best to ensure that a successor programme is available to councils.

T6. In many of my local towns and villages, the last bank and the last cashpoint have long gone, and the post office now provides essential services for my communities. Despite the Government investing £370 million in local post offices since 2017, post offices in East Dean, Alfriston and Newick are temporarily closed. What more can the Government do to support local community post offices across my constituency? (908860)

We absolutely support the role of rural post offices, particularly as a hub at the heart of our communities. That is why the most recent Budget cut business rates for most small post offices, and through our support for “Pub is The Hub” we have helped post offices move into people’s locals. Pints and parcels, Mr Speaker.

T4. I thank the Minister for meeting me and local Changing Places campaigner Lorna Fillingham, and I welcomed his announcement before Christmas that changing places will be mandatory in new public builds. Will he update the House on how the scheme is getting on? (908858)

It was a pleasure to meet the hon. Gentleman and his constituent, who made a powerful and compelling case for Government action. I am pleased to tell him and all campaigners that we will outline the consultation before the Easter recess to take this important measure forward, and I look forward to his contribution.

T7. Coastal erosion is a growing issue in Cornwall due to our more extreme weather patterns, and there is particular concern about the risk to cliff-top developments. The Newquay neighbourhood plan seeks to limit clifftop development through declaring the whole parish coastline a coastal change management area. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the neighbourhood plan team on their proactive approach? What more can we do through the planning system to limit inappropriate cliff-top development? (908861)

My hon. Friend is continually effective in bringing the issues of his constituency to this House. He will know that I am unable to comment on a specific neighbourhood plan, but I confirm to him that planning policy is clear that planning done through neighbourhood plans should be safe and should take coastal change into account.

T5. The Liverpool city region is one of the poorest in the country, yet its councils have faced some of the biggest cuts. The Secretary of State knows that services cost more in more deprived areas. Is not the only conclusion to be drawn from this targeting of cuts at the poorest areas that this Government simply could not care less? (908859)

How typical it is of the Labour party to measure success only by what is put in. We believe in the northern powerhouse, which is about creating a growing northern economy. We have created 200,000 jobs since 2010, we have created an historic mayoral devolution deal, including across Liverpool, and foreign direct investment in the north is growing at twice the national rate. Our approach has grown the northern economy by £22 billion in two years; the approach of the last Labour Government grew it by £4 billion in three years.

What steps is the Department taking to help to ensure fire safety in buildings, particularly those with a residential sleeping risk?

I note my hon. Friend’s experience of this, and we are working carefully across the board to implement the Hackitt review to ensure that building safety standards are raised. Indeed, we are currently consulting on approved document B. We are looking at continuing experience and, if there is experience from Scotland, we will certainly reflect on that, too.

Today’s Centre for Cities report is absolutely devastating, highlighting that cuts have fallen hardest on deprived communities in the north of England—including Liverpool—that are enduring the highest poverty rates. It is very disappointing to see the Minister grimacing and laughing, because this is a very serious matter for the communities we represent. Does he agree with the conclusion of the Centre for Cities that the Treasury review of public spending, which is due for the autumn, must find extra funding for all councils if authorities are to remain sustainable?

Issues of future funding are, of course, for the Treasury. As someone who was born and bred in the city of Liverpool, I delight every time I visit to see that this Government’s mayoral devolution is driving Liverpool’s economy in a way that we have not seen for a generation.

Will the Housing Minister extend his motto to “More, better, faster, safer” by introducing a requirement for carbon monoxide detectors in all new homes that have gas-burning appliances?

My hon. Friend is to be applauded for the constant pressure he keeps up on the Government on safety issues. He is right that we are looking at the introduction of carbon monoxide detectors. We have gathered evidence, which we are looking at, and we will be coming forward with a response shortly.

We had two debates in the Chamber last week on dangerous cladding, which shows the incompleteness of the Government’s response. Can we have a comprehensive strategy from the Government this year that deals with all types of building, all types of cladding and all types of landlord?

We provide regular updates that specify the work taking place through the remediation programme to deal with this very serious issue of combustible cladding. The hon. Gentleman will well know the work that is in place, both in the public sector and in the private sector, but I underline to him the urgency I attach to this and how I am not keeping anything out of consideration in making sure that people are safe and feel safe.

I understand the desire to build a lot of new homes, but I share the concern of many of my constituents that this could lead to large housing developments of identikit houses. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to enable small builders to bid for smaller areas of development? That would support our excellent small builders and encourage a more beautiful built environment.

I recognise and appreciate my hon. Friend’s championing of good design and the sense of place and space, which is something the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission firmly intends to achieve. We have specific funding to support small builders so that we can have a strong, diverse economy in housing.

The Local Government Association chair, Lord Porter, recently said:

“We are unanimous that deprivation should be in”

the foundation formula. Why does the Secretary of State disagree with his Conservative colleague?

As the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) said, we are consulting on the fair funding review in setting out that new arrangement for local government. As he has already set out, that is a means of ensuring that spending is felt effectively and fairly across the country and there are different ways of doing that.

On council tax and rent to be paid during the migration period of universal credit, will the Minister confirm that local authorities will be asked to take into account these exceptional circumstances and provide leeway when tenants fall behind on payments?

We are working closely with colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions on the implementation of universal credit, issues relating to housing and the connection that local government has on the frontline in the delivery of these issues. We are therefore ensuring that this will be done effectively, as my hon. Friend appropriately says.

Today, it has been revealed that Barnsley is the local authority hardest hit by Government funding cuts. Can the Minister really justify targeting cuts on the poorest in society?

This Government are committed to ensuring that every resident in this country gets the funding they need to have the services they deserve. The upcoming fair funding review is based on transparent, simple analytics and I am happy to hear from any colleagues if they disagree with the numbers.

Residents across my constituency and beyond are extremely concerned about the Rivenhall incinerator development, which was originally approved by the last Labour Government. With revised planning applications being considered, will the Secretary of State listen to my constituents and act by calling this application in?

I note the way in which my right hon. Friend is championing her constituents in her customary powerful and passionate way. She will understand, on the issue of calling in, that this is quasi-judicial and I am therefore unable to comment. However, I note the way in which she has championed the cause.

The fact that the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) served with distinction as a headteacher and the fact that she has been waiting so patiently are, in my judgment, not unrelated.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can the Secretary of State tell me whether any assessment has been made of the number of homeless people who have a history of special educational needs that may not have been appropriately supported in the past?

I recognise the hon. Lady’s own experience in raising that issue, some of the background, some of the challenges and some of the issues that may have led to someone falling through the gap and ending up on the street. We are determined to get better data and better analysis, so that we can provide more targeted help. That is precisely what we are committed to doing through the rough sleeping strategy.

Residents of Goxhill in my constituency are mindful that the village needs to expand and that new homes are needed, but does the Minister agree that local authorities and planning inspectors need to be mindful of the fact that there must be a limit on new homes in villages?

Goxhill is lucky to have such an assiduous representative in my hon. Friend. I agree with him that we need to balance the aspiration for new homes for the next generation against the need for sensitive and appropriate development. I urge him to work with the residents of Goxhill to put in place a neighbourhood plan, which would mean that they would no longer be victims of the planning system, but its bosses.

The Secretary of State will know that the battering of Birmingham next year will be all the more severe for his decision to rule out access to the council’s reserves. Birmingham’s MPs have written to him to ask for a meeting. When he finally wrote back, he refused to meet. May I say to him that he can take these decisions but it is incumbent on him to front them up to Members of this House?

I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I am happy to meet him and his colleagues because, obviously, I am focused on ensuring sustainability and stability in the finances in Birmingham. We took that decision carefully and in a considered way, but I recognise the points he makes and I am happy to meet him.