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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 662: debated on Monday 17 June 2019

Housing, Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Housing Ladder

Since 2010, more than half a million people have been helped into home ownership through Government-backed schemes, including Help to Buy and the right to buy. The recent independent evaluation of the Help to Buy equity loan scheme found that 63% of first-time buyers using it were under 35.

While the lifting of the housing revenue account cap is welcome and will deliver more council-built homes, which will be used to meet the long-standing demand for council housing across the country, we need more private homes. What more can the Government do to help the delivery of that private housing, which will bring prices down and increase the availability for young people?

My hon. Friend has made an important point about the housing revenue account cap and our desire to see more council homes built, but he is right to say that we also want to see a general increase in housing supply. Last year’s figures show that more than 222,000 homes were delivered, the highest number for a decade. As my hon. Friend says, there is more to do, but I should emphasise to him that the number of first-time buyers is at an 11-year high.

The Government are failing to meet the housing needs of young people in the south lakes, while ignoring the simple fact that thousands of local houses are sitting empty as second homes. Will the Secretary of State agree to change planning and tax regulations, so that we can limit second home ownership and give our young people the chance of a place to call their own?

The hon. Gentleman has highlighted the broader issue of the need to increase supply. We have made reforms to ensure that there is clarity in the planning process, and through the schemes that I have mentioned. However, if the hon. Gentleman’s challenge is that there is more to do, yes, there is, and that is why we are determined to see that increase in supply. I think that is the best way to address the issues that he has highlighted in relation to his own constituency and others across the country.

In my constituency, we are delivering homes at three times the rate of the country as a whole. Does my right hon. Friend agree that maintaining supply of all styles and tenures is the key to enabling young people to make a start on the housing ladder?

I do agree, and I am well aware of the housing opportunities that are being taken up in and around my hon. Friend’s constituency and the work that is going on there. He has made a powerful point. If we ensure that all types and tenures of housing are being developed, that housing will be delivered more quickly, and that is where the focus lies.

14. The average full-time salary among my constituents is above national norms at £37,500, but that is still way off the house price that the Government class as affordable, at £450,000, and it is half the cost of the average sale achieved in W5 in the first quarter of the year, which was £905,348. One flat even changed hands for £3.5 million. What are the Government doing to relieve the pressures on young people specifically in London, where salaries and speculation are forcing out everyone but the children of the super-rich? (911366)

About £9 billion is being spent on the affordable homes programme, and half of that is going to London. I hope that the hon. Lady will join me in encouraging the Mayor of London to focus on the delivery of housing of all types for all people, and to ensure that there is that bright prospect in London as well as the rest of the country.

After nine years of Conservative government, why are nearly 900,000 fewer people under 45 able to own their own home?

It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman should make that point. He may recall saying in the past that falling home ownership was not “such a bad thing”. I should have thought that he would support the increase in delivery that I have mentioned, and, indeed, the fact that the number of first-time buyers is at an 11-year high.

Is not the truth that the Government have been failing young people on housing for nine years? One in five of those on the Help to Buy scheme are not even first-time buyers, the average age of those on the right to buy scheme is over 50, and not a single one of the new starter homes that were pledged in 2014 has yet been built. Where is the new hope, and where are the new housing plans, from the wannabe Tory leaders?

Is it not clear, after nine years of Conservative government, eight Housing Ministers and four Secretaries of State, that the Conservatives still have no plan to fix the housing crisis, and is it not clear that the only hope for young people with regular incomes is a Labour Government with radical plans for discounted First Buy homes, first dibs for local people on new homes, and a programme for the building of a million new affordable homes both to rent and to buy?

I wondered, given the right hon. Gentleman’s peroration, whether he was building up to Christmas, but I can say to him that a Labour Government are absolutely not that gift, because if we look at Labour’s record in office we see house building fall to levels not seen since the 1920s. I would underline to him the work this Government have done: last year there were 222,000 new dwellings; only in one year in the last 31 have we seen a higher number. So it is a bit rich of the right hon. Gentleman to make those points when, for example, Labour has opposed and voted against our stamp duty cut for first time buyers, which is absolutely about making the difference for young buyers. The Labour party opposed that measure, which underlines that it is the Conservative party that has the ideas, the innovation and the energy, whereas the Labour party, frankly, offers none of that at all.

Local Government Efficiency

This year we gave £20 million to the Local Government Association to fund council improvements, we introduced a programme to boost the use of digital technologies, and we are developing a tool to help councils improve efficiency. These measures will help councils continue their impressive work to manage budgets and deliver quality services.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that councils should do their utmost to learn from best practice so that hard-working taxpayers are not burdened with bills, and that it is disgraceful that my local council, Labour-controlled Sefton, has wasted £32.5 million on a dilapidated shopping centre?

My hon. Friend rightly makes the point about Sefton, and councils should absolutely be focused on delivering good-quality services and value for money. That is why we are investing in areas such as digital innovation and looking at how that can drive further support. My hon. Friend is also right about ensuring that good practice is shared, and we are working with the LGA and others on that.

I am sure the Secretary of State will accept that local government has had a 30% cut in spending since 2010 and also that councils have done incredibly well through efficiency savings and other measures to mitigate the worst impact of the cuts, but has he now seen the report by PwC for the County Councils Network saying that by 2025 there will be an £8 billion funding gap for councils? Does he accept that efficiency savings are not going to bridge that gap and that what we need now is an end to austerity and a major increase in funding for councils from the Government? Will he go to the Treasury and argue for that to happen?

I need no encouragement from the hon. Gentleman to make that case for local government and its power and ability to deliver good-quality local services. I recognise the challenge the hon. Gentleman brings to me in his question, but I highlight to him the real-terms increase in core spending power made available to councils this year. This Government have made that commitment to councils, but I absolutely want to be on the side of councils and commend them for their innovation and the work they do.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his answers thus far. May I commend to him a booklet published in 2011, with a forward by one of his notable predecessors, on efficiency in local government, which I had something to do with? May I suggest that no authority in the country has yet taken every single efficiency measure, and that we should roll that out right across the country?

I certainly look forward to perhaps continuing this discussion with my hon. Friend outside the Chamber, and I commend him for his work in rightly highlighting the issue of value for money. Of course we can and should do more, and it is important that where there is good practice we learn from that.

Is the Secretary of State aware that 544 homes across Kent managed by East Kent Housing have not been regularly subjected to vital landlord gas safety assessments, and has he had conversations with the four local authorities, cash-strapped themselves, across the affected parts of Kent to make sure that this never happens again?

I am very willing to talk to the hon. Lady about the issue she highlights, and obviously safety for residents is an absolute priority concern for me and Members across the House, so if there are further details that she would like to share with me I would be very happy to pursue this on behalf of her and her constituents.

Conservative-controlled North West Leicestershire District Council has frozen its council tax for the past decade. Can the Secretary of State confirm that council tax in 93 English local authorities is lower in real terms this year than it was in 2010-11?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the great work of so many Conservative councils up and down the country, with their sense of value for money, delivering for local people and local services and ensuring that council tax is kept low. This is absolutely about getting those priorities right and delivering for local people.

When the Secretary of State looks at those efficiencies, is he aware of the New Local Government Network’s findings that a no-deal Brexit could contribute to an increase in demand for services to provide vulnerable people and families with support? Is he also aware that council grants in England from central Government have been reduced by nearly 50%, not to mention the £80 billion black hole in UK Government finances that a no-deal Brexit would leave? Will he and any future Prime Minister tell us how they will protect the most vulnerable in our society from a no-deal Brexit scenario, because they will certainly not be able to do it through efficiencies?

I appreciate that the hon. Lady is making her own point in her own way. Obviously, local government is devolved in Scotland, and she also makes her own point in relation to no deal. Preparations have been put in place and funding has been provided to a number of local councils in England, and we are ensuring that the money designed for EU preparations actually gets to where it needs to go, whereas that has not always been the case with the Scottish Government.

Local Authorities: Government Funding

3. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of changes in the level of Government funding for local authorities on the adequacy of the services that they provide. (911353)

21. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of changes in the level of Government funding for local authorities on the adequacy of the services that they provide. (911374)

Our recent settlement confirmed an increase of £1.3 billion in resources for local government this year. This real-terms increase recognises the critical services that local government delivers. Core funding is nearly all un-ring-fenced, giving local government control over its local income and the freedom and flexibility to spend according to local needs.

We know only too well by now that central Government underfunding of local authorities has devastated many of our constituents through cuts to many essential services. Perhaps the most dismal funding failure of all from this Government has been on housing, with the building of social housing at its lowest level since world war two. When will the Government wake up and realise that our housing is in crisis and at breaking point?

I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that he has not recognised one of our biggest reforms in social housing, which has been to lift the housing revenue account borrowing cap. This will enable councils to borrow in order to build a new generation of council homes, and I want to see councils utilising and harnessing that so that we can build homes for people and ensure that councils play their part in that.

Lewisham Council is fully committed to using the public health model to tackle youth violence, but since 2010, its budget has been cut by more than 60%. The Home Secretary says that the Government are also committed to that approach, but how does the Minister expect local authorities to put sufficient funding into schools, social services, housing and youth services when their budgets are being slashed?

I would highlight the fact that £261.2 million is being made available in Lewisham in 2019-20—a £7 million increase. The hon. Lady makes an important point about knife crime, and this is why we have targeted support through our troubled families programme, with around £9.8 million pounds being made available to actually get through to some of these issues with young people and to see that some of the work around families is accentuated. I am sure she will have an opportunity to make further points in the urgent question that will follow Question Time.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that in counties such as Shropshire, where our elderly population is growing at a disproportionate rate compared with the rest of the country, adult social care costs are going up very quickly? What steps is he going to take with the Treasury to ensure that more money is provided to enable rural shire counties such as Shropshire to deal adequately with adult social care costs?

I know that my hon. Friend will recognise the £650 million in additional funding that has been provided to local government for social care in 2019-20. He highlights some of the differentials around rural services, and as part of our fair funding review, we want to ensure that that is properly captured.

Social care needs both urgent funding and certainty from year to year, so that councils can rely upon funding packages such as those outlined by the Secretary of State. What can he do to assure us that rural councils will be properly accounted for in any business rates review?

My hon. Friend will no doubt be aware of some of the business rates retention pilots that are under way. They are a core element of our reforms. However, the whole concept of assurance for rural areas is part of our work through the fair funding review, and I appreciate the representations that he and others have made.

19. The local government funding settlement did nothing to tackle the crippling financial pressure on councils following eight years of austerity. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how he intends to respond to local authorities in 2019 when they have to choose between delivering children’s services, delivering adult social care and emptying the bins? (911372)

This year’s funding settlement offers local councils up and down the country a real-terms increase in core funding. Equally, the additional £650 million for social care is intended to address and respond to some of the issues around those services. However, she is right about the need for further reform in the longer term, and that is what we as a Government are determined to deliver.

But back in the real world, 763 youth centres have closed, over 700 libraries have closed, Sure Start and early years services have been cut in half, and one in five children are now growing up in poverty. The legacy of this Government is a decade of neglect as local government takes the biggest hit at the altar of Tory austerity. So what is the Secretary of State most proud of: an entire sector at breaking point, or the increased inequality that his savage cuts have created?

There are now more children’s centres than at any time prior to 2008, and quality has also improved. In 2010, 68% of early years providers were good or outstanding. Today, the proportion is 95%. As for outcomes, 52% of children left reception with a good level of development in 2013. Today, the proportion is 72%. I know that local government faces challenges, which is why I have argued the case for the settlement that we have this year, but the picture painted by the hon. Gentleman is designed to inflame rather than to reflect the reforms made by this Government and the positive improvements that have been delivered.

Local Government Unitarisation: Northamptonshire

4. What assessment he has made of progress on the unitarisation of local government in Northamptonshire. (911354)

The Secretary of State recently announced his intention to implement the reorganisation plan submitted by the Northamptonshire councils. Subject to parliamentary approval, the new unitary authority will be in place in April 2021. I place on the record my thanks to the councils for their continuing constructive attitude towards ensuring that their residents will have better local government.

I thank the Minister for that answer and share his sentiment about the local authorities’ constructive work. What steps will his Department take to ensure that future decision making is at the heart of the new model and happens at the most local level possible, with strong area representation reflecting the different communities of north Northamptonshire?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of local decision making happening as close to people as possible. We expect new unitary authorities to support the creation of new parishes as part of this reorganisation, which has happened elsewhere, and we also encourage the formation of area committees to ensure strong local representation. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that local people must have a strong voice in the decisions that affect their communities.

Stronger Towns Fund: Scottish Towns

5. What plans the Government have to ensure that Scottish towns benefit from the stronger towns fund. (911356)

I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that the Government recently announced the stronger towns fund, which is part of a commitment to create growth and prosperity in all parts of our United Kingdom.

When the stronger towns fund statement was made at the beginning of March, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said he would set out details on additional funding for Scotland and how it will benefit towns in Scotland. When will my constituents in Stirling see those details, and when will the fund be open for applications from Scotland?

My hon. Friend’s constituents are, of course, already benefiting from £45 million through the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal. We are working to ensure that the benefit of the stronger towns fund can be felt in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are working with the devolved Administrations on the best way to achieve that, and we will release further details in due course.

We are still waiting for important details of the stronger towns fund. Whether it be in Scotland, England or Wales—all over the country—our towns have seen lower job growth than in our cities and have often been harder hit by austerity. We have lost sports centres, libraries, community centres and children’s centres, as services have been shrunk back by austerity into the cities. We urgently need the details of the fund, because we need investment in jobs and public services in our towns.

I am not sure I agree with the right hon. Lady that austerity is the reason for services being shrunk back into the cities. Successive Governments have failed to concentrate on creating growth in our towns across the United Kingdom, which is why we are working on the prospectus for the stronger towns fund. I hope to see exciting bids come forward, not least from her constituency, to see how we, as a Government, can back our northern towns and our towns elsewhere in England.

It speaks volumes that even the Scottish Tories are disappointed by the stronger towns fund, which represents a drop in the ocean compared with the estimated loss of €13 billion of European regional development fund money that towns, villages, cities and high streets will lose under the Tories’ chaotic Brexit plans. Can the Minister guarantee that not a single penny will be lost to Scotland as a result of this chaos?

I am not sure whether the hon. Lady has some sort of special insight. She seems to think that ERDF funding has already been lost. It is, of course, correct that the Government consult widely, not least with the devolved Administrations, on the future of the UK shared prosperity fund. It is absolutely right that we focus on delivering growth in every part of our United Kingdom, including Scotland.

It is undeniable that money we would have got through ERDF funding will be lost on leaving the European Union, and this Government have no plans and no guarantees to replace that money. What is more, this Tory Government are intent on stringing Scotland along with promises of money—promises that, by their very nature, undermine the principles of devolution. Does the Minister not understand that, or does he just not care? He needs to show that he respects the Scotland Act 1998. If not, we move on.

That is not correct. If the hon. Lady has details, perhaps she will let me have them. We have been absolutely clear that we will respect all the devolution settlement as we move forward with the UK shared prosperity fund. But she does not have to wait, as we have already had 500 face-to-face engagements with stakeholders. I have engaged with all of England’s metro mayors, and we continue to have discussions with the devolved Administrations. I would have thought that, as an SNP Member of Parliament, she had been told that by her colleagues up in Scotland.

Planning Applications: Economic Opportunities and Housing Need

6. What steps he is taking to ensure that planning applications (a) maximise economic opportunities and (b) tackle local housing needs. (911357)

The Secretary of State has issued a national planning policy framework that provides details on how economic opportunities should be included in applications that look to tackle local housing need.

When a proposed economic development does not provide for sufficient good-quality jobs for our city, when proposed housing fails to address current and future need and when proposed car use only adds to an already gridlocked city, how will the Minister review planning so that ordinary residents have a real voice and so that councils and developers have to act on independent evidence to address local need, not their own interests?

I believe the hon. Lady is referring to the planning application for the centre of York, on which she and I have met, and on which I have also met my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy).

The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) is aware that the Secretary of State is currently considering this application, so it would not be right for me to comment. It is also right for me to say that I have formally recused myself from making a decision on the application because of my meetings with her and others.

Planning applications that could deliver hundreds of new homes in Fareham are in limbo following advice from Natural England, which has instructed that planning permission should be refused unless developments are nitrate-neutral, after two rulings from the European Court of Justice. Will the Government work with me to look at suspending house building targets while affected councils work to find a solution to avoid being unfairly treated at potential appeals?

We will happily work with my hon. Friend as she sets out. I believe that the housing Minister is already looking into this issue, and I am sure he will be in touch with her in due course.

On Friday, I met a constituent who had been moved to temporary accommodation in Ilford, 17 miles from where her children attend school and where she works. The Government continue to place an unacceptable burden on councils, making them responsible for the lack of social housing while cutting their funding and refusing to increase their ability to build. Can the Secretary of State confirm that since 2010 the rise in homelessness has been caused by the cutting of council “Supporting People” budgets, the loss of more than 170,000 affordable council homes and a failure to stop soaring private rents?

I do not accept there is the causal link to which the hon. Lady refers. Local authorities have an obligation, which they should discharge, to house homeless individuals and to provide good-quality accommodation. If she believes her local authority is failing to do that. perhaps she could provide details and we could look into that further.

As my right hon. Friend is aware, the Department sits in a quasi-judicial position in relation to all planning applications. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment on the individual application to which he refers.

Yes, but there is nothing to stop the right hon. Gentleman depositing a copy of his written request in the Library of the House, for its collective delectation.

Does the Minister acknowledge that one unintended consequence of extending permitted development rights to commercial and industrial property is that a significant amount of housing is now being generated that is below accepted space and safety standards? What action is he taking to correct that?

I do not accept that, but I will say that we are looking at PDRs more generally. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman would, like me, celebrate the fact that this one policy alone has provided in excess of 40,000 houses for people to move into. We universally acknowledge, across this House, that we have a housing crisis and we need to build more homes, so I would have thought he welcomed that.

Many thousands of new homes are planned in Chelmsford, but pressure on our infrastructure holds back economic growth, and we especially need the second railway station for the city. Will my hon. Friend update us on the status of our housing infrastructure bid?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic advocate for her constituents and really gets it: she understands that if we want to build the houses we need in this country, it is up to all of us, across this House, to get behind and support development. I know that she is in strong support of her housing infrastructure bid. The Department continues to review it and will give her the result of that review shortly.

Local Government Funding

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the level of funding for local government. (911358)

The Secretary of State and I both meet our counterparts at the Treasury regularly. Future funding for local government will, of course, be decided in the spending review, and the hon. Lady can rest assured that we will be making a robust case.

Since 2010, North Tyneside Council has lost £120-million worth of Government funding and, like many other councils, has had to cut frontline services to the marrow, not just to the bone. With the Chancellor admitting that he does not have a clue about the state of regional economies, can this House be confident that the Minister will make him fully aware of how bad things are for local councils?

The Chancellor and my Department have already responded with an extra £1 billion to improve resources for local government. The hon. Lady may not believe me when I say that we are supporting local government, but perhaps she might listen to her own local authority. This weekend I glanced through the council’s plan, which shows that inequality between the least and most affluent areas is narrowing, that according to feedback from residents 80% of local people are highly satisfied with where they live, and that an increased proportion of residents think their local area has improved.

We note the Minister’s choice of weekend reading: the capital plan. I hope he found it stimulating or in some way therapeutic. I am sure we will hear his impressions on that matter in due course.

Given the importance of the need to demonstrate the effectiveness of spending through local government, will the Minister tell us when we will see the results of the successful bidders for the future high street fund?

Successive rounds of bidding are currently in process. I can write to the hon. Lady with an exact date, if one is available from my hon. Friend the high streets Minister. More broadly, the hon. Lady is absolutely right about the need to measure the effectiveness of what local government does. In particular, the troubled families programme, with its extensive evaluation, provides great evidence to everyone in the House on the valuable early years prevention work that local councils do.

We all know that the Minister is an industrious fellow—I am sorry to dwell on this—but I sincerely hope that he was not reading the capital plan on Father’s day. Surely not. I am sure he must have read it on Friday or Saturday, not on Sunday.

Licensing Act 2003: Communities and Local Planning Policy

8. If he will discuss with the Home Secretary the effect on (a) communities and (b) local planning policy of the operation of the Licensing Act 2003. (911359)

I am in daily receipt of advice from colleagues from across the Government—indeed, from across the House, local government and the nation—on the efficient and effective operation of the planning system.

Will the Government agree to change licensing laws to give local councils the authority to issue licences—for example, to events in their area—only if the applicant agrees to use recyclable or biodegradable plastics?

The hon. Gentleman, typically, raises an extremely important issue. As he will know, the proliferation of single-use plastics—or, indeed, the restriction thereof—is a matter for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We have made other progress, on top of the ban of microbeads, with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs having recently announced the ban on the distribution or sale of plastic straws and stirrers and plastic-stem cotton buds. The hon. Gentleman nevertheless raises an interesting point, particularly in respect of events, that we will ponder further.

More and more licensed premises are being granted extended opening hours, even when it has hugely negative consequences for local residents. Councils report that trying to stop there being too many licensed premised in an area through the use of cumulative impact assessments is too slow, burdensome and costly, as well as being ineffective. Will the Minister agree to work with his colleagues to amend the Licensing Act 2003 to ensure that there is a much greater community voice in licensing and greater alignment with planning policy?

The hon. Lady addresses a significant issue that I had to address regularly in my previous life as deputy Mayor for policing in London. I recognise the impact that the proliferation of licensed premises in a particular area can have, not only on the community but on crime generally. It is incumbent on local authorities to have an authoritative and assertive licensing policy that sits alongside their local plan and planning policy, such that they can defend their policies in court or under judicial review, if that is the case. If the hon. Lady is concerned that that is not happening in particular authorities, I am more than happy to look into them and offer advice, where possible.

Bellwin Scheme: Social Care Packages for Vulnerable Children

9. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of extending the Bellwin scheme to include the exceptional costs of social care packages for vulnerable children. (911360)

The Bellwin scheme can be used to compensate authorities for emergencies and disasters in their area. Children’s services funding is made available through the settlement, with flexibility for councils to target their spending according to the local needs. In the autumn Budget, we were pleased to announce an extra £410 million to address the pressures on social care.

Plymouth City Council’s children and social care budget is being sunk by a small number of exceptional care costs for some vulnerable young people, with 6:1 care ratios costing £40,000 a week. Will the Minister agree to meet Plymouth City Council’s Labour leader and Conservative leader of the opposition to look into how the Government can offer additional support for the rare but exceptional care costs for these vulnerable young people?

I will of course meet the hon. Gentleman, the group leader and the council leader. I understand the hon. Gentleman has been active in this policy area, because he recently met my hon. Friend the Minister for Children and Families and the leader of Plymouth City Council, Tudor Evans. I thought he might raise this issue today, so I checked, and I understand that the Minister he met previously is going to write to him shortly to update him on the progress he is making with his campaign.

Over the past two years in Sandwell, my local authority, the number of children in care has increased by a third. Government funding has not kept pace and, as a result, the Children’s Trust is faced with a deficit of £3.5 million. This is pretty representative, in common with local authorities up and down the country. What will the Minister do about it?

The Government have their troubled families programme to tackle just the sorts of issues that the hon. Gentleman raises. No one in this House could be other than deeply concerned about the plight of our young people, particularly when they face the challenge of finding themselves in care, and that is why I am pleased that, since 2010, the amount the Government have spent on vulnerable children has increased by more than £1.5 billion.

Council Housing: Increasing Supply

We have given local authorities the tools that they need to increase the supply of council housing, abolished the housing revenue account borrowing cap, giving councils the freedom to borrow to build new homes, and provided a stable investment environment through a five-year rent deal from 2020.

As vice-chair of Luton Borough Council’s housing committee in the 1970s, I recall that we faced a crisis housing waiting list of 4,000 families, but with the support of the then Labour Government we built and bought thousands of council houses and housed everyone on the waiting list. Now Luton’s Labour council has a crisis waiting list of 12,864 with no hope of housing them all, so will the Government stop cosying up to the billionaires and speculators with promises of tax cuts for the rich and give councils such as Luton the powers and the massive resources they need to provide the millions of good council houses the country so desperately needs?

I am absolutely delighted that the hon. Gentleman has brought up that question, because, frankly, the answer is yes. We want councils to get on with building, which is why we have taken the cap off the housing revenue accounts. We expect at least 10,000 new council houses to be built, so I suggest that Luton gets on with it.

For any type of housing—council housing or private housing—to be built, we need to look at changing the rules around land banking. The Minister is aware that, in a Westminster Hall debate last week, I raised the problems that we have with a particular developer in Hull who is storing up different areas of land and preventing them from being developed. Will the Minister please meet me to discuss this problem in more detail and look at what legislative tweaks can be made to prevent this from happening?

The hon. Lady, as ever, puts her case terribly well. The appropriate Minister would be delighted to meet her.

Crisis and the all-party group on ending homelessness recently appealed to Ministers to prioritise for housing survivors of domestic abuse, but is not it the truth that it is difficult to prioritise anyone because of the social housing crisis—a crisis acknowledged just a few minutes ago by the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry)? Housing associations and local councils in particular have insufficient stock and limited capacity to build new ones to meet demand, and there are more than 1 million households on council waiting lists. Last year, just 6,500 social rented homes were built. That means that it will take 172 years for everyone on the current waiting lists to get a social rented home. Will the Minister please spell out exactly how she plans to sort out this crisis and offer our people some hope that they can also have a home of their own?

Again, I am absolutely delighted that the hon. Gentleman has asked that question, because we have actually put aside £9 billion for our affordable homes programme to deliver a quarter of a million affordable homes by 2022, including 12,500 for social rent. Let me repeat: we have given councils the ability to borrow against their housing revenue cap. We have taken the cap off. Please will councils get on with it? [Interruption.] As the hon. Gentleman is chuntering from the Front Bench, may I tell him that wonderful councils such as the ever present Conservative South Derbyshire District Council are doing exactly that?

Integrated Health and Social Care: Northamptonshire

13. What progress his Department is making with the Department of Health and Social Care on establishing an integrated health and social care organisation in Northamptonshire. (911365)

Following the meeting I had with my hon. Friend, we were pleased to facilitate meetings for the chief executives of the various councils and health bodies with officials from the Department of Health and Social Care and my Department. Those conversations have been very constructive, and I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the Social Care Minister and I would both be delighted to meet him and other MPs once the proposals have been fleshed out in detail.

I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council. There are still far too many patients in Kettering General Hospital and Northampton General Hospital who are classified as delayed transfers of care. They are mainly elderly patients whose medical treatment has been completed, but who face delays being put into the social care system. Does my hon. Friend agree that the reorganisation of local government in Northamptonshire presents a wonderful opportunity to create a social care and health pilot to combine these two services?

My hon. Friend is spot on. Delayed transfers of care undermine patients’ dignity while putting pressure on beds and costing the taxpayer money. Although we have seen fantastic progress nationally with delayed transfers of care halving since the peak, Northamptonshire is obviously not in that place. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the opportunity that greater integrated care could bring, and we are delighted to work with him and others to make that a reality.

Adult Social Care Funding

The Government recognise the pressures faced by adult social services and have provided councils with an additional £10 billion in dedicated funding for adult social care in the three years leading up to 2019-20. Of course, the future level of funding will be settled in the spending review.

Councils are already struggling to meet the overwhelming demand and pressure to fund adult social care, to the extent that there will soon be little money left to pay for anything else. Demand is only going to increase and the need for reform is urgent, but after nine years of inertia can we ever expect this Government to get to grips with the growing crisis we face in adult social care?

It is absolutely the case that the Government are gripping the pressures in social care—not only with £1 billion in extra funding at the recent Budget but, as we have recently heard, with greater integration of care between the NHS and social care. This is delivering real benefits on the ground, with a reduction in half of the delayed transfers of care showing enormous promise for what is possible in the future.

I am not quite sure where the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) was, but a number of Tory leadership contenders were queuing up on last night’s TV debate to pledge their loyalty to adult social care and their desire to see it properly funded. Now that there is a queue of Conservatives who are finally waking up to the adult social care crisis facing this country, what assessment does the Minister make of the amount of money needed to plug the gap?

We are doing that work with our colleagues in the Department of Health as we speak, to ensure an accurate reflection of the pressures as we go into the spending review. Those pressures are real; everyone acknowledges that there is an ageing demographic at the top end of social care, but working-age adults now account for half of the budget. It is right that we get the demographics right and that we go into the spending review with a robust case for the amount of funding that social care requires.

I call Clive Lewis. Not here—a second absentee. I hope these characters are not indisposed. We look forward to seeing them again erelong. The important point is that Yvonne Fovargue is here.

Weighting for Deprivation: Fair Funding Review

20. Which local authority service areas will no longer be weighted for deprivation following the fair funding review. (911373)

Deprivation is an important driver of local authority costs, which is why we have proposed that it will be taken into account in four significant service areas, including adult and children’s social care. Together, these account for up to two thirds of councils’ total spending covered by the review.

Will the Secretary of State agree to the Local Government Association’s calls for the Government to publish more of the analysis that has informed the fair funding review proposals?

Obviously, work continues and we see the recommendations and representations that have been made. Population is by far the most important factor for more universal services covered by the foundation formula; deprivation was shown to have a small effect over and above this. We continue to keep the matter under review, and will share data as and when appropriate as part of that work.

Topical Questions

Last week, as communities celebrated Eid, we also reflected on those lives lost in the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. This House and other buildings were rightly illuminated in green light as part of the commemorations. It is also right that we continue to take further steps to support the community of north Kensington and drive a culture change on building safety.

The serious fire at Barking last weekend was a reminder of the need for vigilance. I visited the community on Monday and have maintained contact with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, and with Bellway, the developer. I have asked the Building Research Establishment to investigate the fire and the independent expert panel to provide recommendations on any steps that may be required.

Finally, we remain very conscious of the impact of flooding in Lincolnshire and those whose homes have been affected. My Department’s resilience and emergencies division remains in close contact with local agencies who are leading the response, as well as with colleagues in Whitehall.

I join the Secretary of State in his comments.

Rough sleeping is the very visible sign of the levels of suffering and failure that we see in our housing and social security systems. According to the Government’s own figures, rough sleeping has increased by 165% since the end of the last Labour Government. Does the Secretary of State accept that this is just not good enough—that we need to do much more? What is he doing to tackle this scourge?

I do recognise the huge issue that the hon. Lady highlights in relation to rough sleeping. While the latest data on rough sleeping—the count last year—showed a small decrease, I know there is more that we need to do. That is why we have our £100 million rough sleeping strategy and work with our rough sleeping initiative in council areas. But her challenge to me is right. That is why I do keep this issue under careful review, and if there are further steps that we need to take, we will take them.

T4. Noting that the right to buy has been abolished in Scotland, what efforts is my hon. Friend making to re-energise home ownership throughout the United Kingdom, particularly for first-time buyers? (911379)

It is very heartening to hear at least someone from Scotland standing up for aspiration and, in particular, home ownership. My hon. Friend is an example himself—a living embodiment—of the social mobility that home ownership can produce, and I congratulate him on his question. He is right that this Government have done quite a lot on home ownership, putting 542,000 people into home ownership who were not there in 2010, and through Help to Buy there is much more that we can do. I urge him to advertise north of the border that help to buy ISAs and lifetime ISAs are available across the whole of the UK, notwithstanding the barriers that are put in the way of home ownership in Scotland.

The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) amply warrants the panegyric that the Minister has just lobbed in his direction, so I hope he will not take offence when I say that at this sensitive time it might also be prudent to bear in mind that he is, in all likelihood, being lobbied.

T2. New research by housing association Habinteg reveals that outside London fewer than a quarter of new homes being built would be suitable for older and disabled people, and only 1% are accessible for wheelchair users. What will the Government do now to raise standards so that all new homes are accessible and adaptable for older and disabled people? (911377)

The hon. Lady makes a very powerful and important point about accessibility. Everyone should be able to access a home that is right for their needs. It is crucial that we understand how the changes to the building regulations on access introduced in 2015 are working on the ground. She refers to the Habinteg report, and we will look at that carefully as part of a review of those requirements. I am grateful to her for highlighting it to me.

T6. Residents in my constituency village of Burwash have raised concerns about the transparency of the planning appeal process—namely, that the developer seems to have access to information that perhaps residents do not. Does our excellent Housing Minister have any plans to reform the planning appeal process so that my constituents have more comfort and can be more involved in the process? (911381)

Forgive the love-in, Mr Speaker, but my hon. Friend is a constant and persistent champion for his constituents in the many beautiful villages that he represents. He is quite right to identify an issue that a number of people have raised with me across the country—namely, the transparency of the Planning Inspectorate. That organisation is in the process of implementing the measures outlined in the Rosewell review in order for planning inquiries to provide more transparency. We are, at the moment, procuring a new online IT system—dread words in Government, I know, but nevertheless we are—that will allow progress of appeals to be tracked, providing exactly the sort of transparency that he is looking for.

T3. Since doing a constituency survey on leaseholds, I have been continually shocked by case after case of unfair charges and rises, such as sinking fund costs going from zero to £250 without any warning. I therefore welcome the Competition and Markets Authority’s investigation into leaseholds, but what assurances can the Minister give to current leaseholders who face increasing costs? Will he put a moratorium on new leaseholds while the CMA does its work, to ensure that there are fewer victims? (911378)

The hon. Lady might be interested to know that there are fewer houses being built as leaseholds in England since the mid-1990s. The numbers have come right down, but she is right to highlight the work of the Competition and Markets Authority. As she knows, I called for the CMA to look into these abuses. There have been appalling examples, and she highlights some. We are determined to bear down on this. We have the new industry pledge, but I keep this under close review, given the issues that have been raised.

I commend my hon. Friend for highlighting Cornwall, which I have a close affinity to, given that my family all come from there and my son was born there. I am very keen to see support for Cornish heritage, culture and language. We committed £100,000 to Cornwall Council over two years and continue to work with it to encourage the promotion of Cornish culture, which I know he will continue to champion, and I am pleased to support it on his behalf.

T5. Council tax arrears are a growing problem. In 2018, an estimated 2.2 million households were in arrears, and in 2016-17, people paid an estimated £129 million in bailiff fees and court costs on top of the arrears. As part of the review into council tax collection, will the Minister commit to reviewing the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992, to encourage councils to stop using liability orders and bailiffs? (911380)

I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting our review. I am happy to look at all things as part of that review, but she is right to highlight that issue. We are keen to see what we can do to improve the collection process, while maintaining high collection rates to fund the public services that we rely on

I call Marcus Fysh. Where is the chappie? He was here earlier. He has beetled out of the Chamber prematurely, but he could have had another go.

T10. Will the Secretary of State update the House on what he and his Department are doing to ensure that every council is meeting its commitment to and obligations under the armed forces covenant? (911385)

My hon. Friend makes a powerful and important point. I commend her for the work she has done to champion the military covenant, which every local authority has signed. The Minister for Defence People and Veterans and my Department have just written to councils, to encourage them to have a covenant champion. It is through such practical measures that we want to ensure that the covenant pledges are upheld.

T7. Given that waiting for the social care Green Paper makes Godot seem prompt, will the Minister agree to meet representatives of the Opposition parties, as well as leaders of the all-party Local Government Association, to use the LGA’s excellent Green Paper as a starting point for fixing our broken social care system? (911382)

I continue to have discussions with the LGA and others to underline and champion the importance of sustainable local government finance and delivering good-quality social care. We also have discussions with the Department of Health and Social Care. It is right that we reform and challenge, and I will be taking that forward in terms of the spending review.

North Lincolnshire Council recently refused a planning application for a housing development in the village of Goxhill, and North East Lincolnshire Council subsequently refused an application in the village of Waltham. Both were overturned on appeal. The reason for the councils’ refusal was based on a lack of infrastructure, access to public services and the like. Will the Minister consider giving better guidance to inspectors, so that they take more notice of local opinion?

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. He will understand that I cannot comment on specific planning applications, but he is right to identify that local communities often feel excluded from the planning process. The solution is for them to put in place a neighbourhood plan. The Government have pledged—and I have pledged, for however long I remain in this job—to strengthen neighbourhood plans, so that local people do not feel like victims of the planning system, but its master.

The Chair must always encourage new, young Members who are trying to develop their craft. I call Jack Dromey.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Government promised “Never again”. Two years on, not one penny has been forthcoming to help Birmingham City Council make safe 215 tower blocks, with 10,000 households. The Secretary of State quite rightly met private leaseholders before his recent announcement of the £200 million fund. Will he now meet council tenants from Birmingham? Birmingham MPs have asked that he do precisely that. It would be wrong not to hear their concerns, and they would regard it as a snub.

I recognise the points the hon. Gentleman has made on a number of issues in relation to Birmingham. We continue our discussions with Birmingham, at a whole host of different levels, on the services it is providing and some of the challenges it is dealing with. I will certainly continue to meet MPs from Birmingham and the west midlands, who have been convened in the past on some of these issues. I would be happy to discuss these issues further with them, and also in relation to the council tenants he refers to.

It is one of the purposes of this Conservative and Unionist Government to strengthen the Union. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what his Department is doing to strengthen the Union?

My hon. Friend makes a really powerful and important point on the issue of the Union, which I believe in hugely and passionately, and how we strengthen it and act on that. Through the UK shared prosperity fund, but also through the stronger towns fund, we do have the opportunity to ensure that all parts of our proud Union are playing their role in this country’s prosperity and future, and that is something I and my Department are proud to challenge.

The Government have provided some funding for the removal of aluminium composite material cladding, and they are testing non-ACM cladding on hundreds of buildings. The Minister for Housing has accepted that, if that cladding proves to be as dangerous as ACM cladding, it will have to be taken off. In that case, will the Government also agree to provide funding for the removal of non-ACM cladding?

I recognise the important point the hon. Gentleman the Chair of the Select Committee has highlighted on building safety. It is why I took the exceptional step of making £200 million available for remediation. It required a ministerial direction to be able to do so, because of its significance. Clearly, we have the ongoing testing of non-ACM materials. I will be advised by my team—the expert panel—in relation to the next steps, and I am clearly keeping the situation under careful review.

There is no point building thousands of new houses in greenfield areas unless we have the requisite infrastructure to go with them. A recent report shows that North Northamptonshire faces an infrastructure deficit of over £300 million in delivering the houses requested by central Government. What can the Department do to ensure that the infrastructure comes to North Northamptonshire?

My hon. Friend is quite right: one of the problems with housing development in the past in this country is that we have tended to build the houses first and cope with the infrastructure last. We have attempted to reverse that equation, and we now have £5.5 billion dedicated to housing infrastructure, which is specifically designed to release land to build the houses the next generation needs. I would be more than happy to meet him to discuss the possibility of a North Northamptonshire bid to the housing infrastructure fund either now or in the future.

When the Secretary of State meets the Chancellor to do the spending review, will he stress to the Chancellor that while a lot of money has been put into local government, it is inadequate to prevent the closure of libraries, or to cover issues such as social services and particularly youth clubs? Will he ensure that the Chancellor has a look at that and, more importantly, at social care in the community?

Through the last local government financial settlement, we increased the funding available to local councils for dealing with some of the issues of social care. If the hon. Gentleman is asking me to champion the needs of local government and to recognise the quality services it delivers, with the amazing work delivered by our councils up and down the country, I can assure him that I will absolutely be doing that.

The Department recently consulted on extra powers for local authorities and the police to deal with unauthorised encampments, a series of which we have had recently in Newport. Can Ministers update us on the progress being made so that our authorities have the powers they need?

As the hon. Lady will know, a number of those enforcement powers are led by the Home Office, and co-ordination between councils and the police is imperative. She will know that I laid a written statement on that a while back. Discussions continue with my ministerial colleagues, because I recognise the pressures. If there are specific examples that the hon. Lady would like to draw to my attention, I would be pleased to receive them.

Further to my last, if a decision could be expedited, the developer is now on the site, so any compensation will escalate.

Many will have been surprised by the Secretary of State’s complacent comments earlier about Sure Start centres. He will have seen the Action for Children report, which shows a 20% fall in usage, hitting the most vulnerable hardest. Does he understand that not only is that reprehensible, but that it costs us more in the long run?

The hon. Gentleman will have noted the figures I gave regarding the improved quality of a number of providers and, indeed, of children leaving reception with good levels of development. Obviously, local councils determine how they prioritise their resources, but it is important to look at the evidence.