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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 723: debated on Monday 21 November 2022

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

The Secretary of State was asked—

Section 21 No-fault Evictions

On behalf of the Department, I would like to wish every good luck to the England and Wales football teams. I have just heard the latest update, and I understand that England are leading 4-0.

In line with the Conservative manifesto, we remain fully committed to ending section 21 to ensure that renters feel secure in their homes and are empowered to challenge poor standards and unjustified rent increases. That is rightly a priority for the Government and we will bring forward legislation during this Parliament.

I thank the Minister for her response and echo her good wishes for the England and Wales football teams.

Three years ago, the Government pledged to ban section 21 no-fault evictions and it is good to hear that they are committed to doing so. During this time, YouGov estimates that 227,000 people in England have been served such notices. I recently spoke to representatives from a local homelessness charity who were concerned about the rising demand for their homelessness prevention service. May I push the Minister a little further and ask her to confirm when in this Parliament the Government will put an end to no-fault evictions and what additional support will they be providing to those working to end homelessness?

We are committed to taking forward this legislation, which is why we published the White Paper in June. Our consultation on the decent homes standard concluded on 14 October and we are currently evaluating the responses to it. We will introduce the legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows. I want to give the hon. Lady a personal commitment: I am very focused on the private rental sector and the issues in it, and I am determined that we will reduce the number of non-decent homes in that sector.

In asking my question, I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The tragic death of Awaab Ishak has highlighted the deadly consequences of poor-quality housing. Many tenants in the private sector face similar if not worse problems with damp and mould, but do not dare to speak up due to fear of being evicted. Is it not high time that the private rental sector is also more tightly regulated and that the tighter inspection regime and penalties that the Secretary of State announced last week should apply to that sector, too?

I wish to give all my condolences to the family of Awaab. Clearly, it is simply unacceptable in today’s world that a young boy can die in that way. I am committed, as I have said, to implementing a decent homes standard and to making sure that the enforcement of it is strict.

We are looking to abolish section 21 at the same time as we strengthen the grounds for landlords to take possession of their properties if they have a good reason to do so—that could be because of antisocial behaviour, rent arrears, or needing to sell the property. The two go in tandem, but it is absolutely imperative that we go ahead with the abolition of section 21.

Later this week, the Department is scheduled to release stats for the second quarter of the year on section 21 evictions. The emerging picture is clear: section 21 evictions are going up. We saw a 26% increase during the first quarter of this year. We are now three years down the track from the publication of the 2019 Conservative manifesto promising to end section 21. I note that the Minister has committed today to ending section 21 in this Parliament, but may I push further and urge the Department to commit to bringing forward emergency legislation early in the new year to end this scandal, working with the Opposition to do so? Will those on the Government Benches accept that, through their inaction, the Department is leaving tenants vulnerable to eviction in the meantime?

As I have said, we are committed to abolishing section 21 in this Parliament at the earliest opportunity.

Land Banking

2. What steps his Department is taking to tackle land banking by property developers and encourage development. (902292)

Too often, planning permission is granted and building work simply does not start. Through the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill that is currently going through the House, developers will be required to notify local authorities when development starts, and existing powers to serve completion notices will be streamlined. Last week we went even further and tabled amendments to ensure that housing developers will now have to report annually on delivery, and local authorities will have the power to decline to determine applications made by developers who fail to build out at a reasonable rate earlier on the same land.

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer. This issue is important for areas such as mine, where we do not have an up-to-date local plan because the Lib Dem borough council has not sorted it. That leads to a vulnerability in our community to speculative development. Coupling that with the duty to co-operate with Leicester city, which is not building up and out either, results in huge amounts of pressure on our countryside and green spaces. What does the Minister suggest can solve this problem? Will it come forward in the new legislation?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the need for local areas to build on brownfield sites. In Leicester, the 35% uplift applies, meaning that as an urban area they ought to be building more. Where an authority is demonstrably unable to meet the needs in full, there remains a duty to co-operate. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill recognises that the duty to co-operate is too stringent a test. The duty will be abolished and replaced by more flexible policy requirements.

Local Service Delivery

3. What steps his Department is taking to provide (a) tools and (b) funding to help local leaders deliver services. (902293)

5. What steps his Department is taking to provide (a) tools and (b) funding to help local leaders deliver services. (902296)

11. What steps his Department is taking to provide (a) tools and (b) funding to help local leaders deliver services. (902302)

The Government hugely value the work of local authorities and make significant taxpayer subsidy available to ensure that the work they do is successful. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed that additional funding will be made available for local government in 2023-24, particularly with regard to adult social care, where we know there are pressures.

The Conservative party 2019 manifesto said that we would seek to

“level up…across the whole United Kingdom.”

It went on to say:

“In the 21st century, we need to get away from the idea that ‘Whitehall knows best’…Because we as Conservatives believe you can and must trust people and communities to make the decisions that are right for them.”

Does the Minister agree that now is the time for us to take action on levelling up in places such as Halesowen and Rowley Regis, where communities are crying out for the prioritisation of projects across my constituency? The time has come to stop talking about levelling up and to take action. We need action this day.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that levelling up is hugely important not just for communities in the west midlands but for those all across the country, both in areas traditionally labelled as levelling-up areas and in those with high needs and high deprivation throughout the country as a whole. He is a huge advocate for the work that is being done across the west midlands and in his constituency. I know that it will be successful both there and wherever else we can do something across the country.

Buckinghamshire Council successfully secured £170 million from the housing infrastructure fund in 2020, to enable the delivery of Aylesbury’s long-awaited and much needed link roads programme. It was met by much celebration locally, as the town has suffered traffic gridlock during rush hour for many years. With the costs of construction materials spiralling, it is essential that these roads are built as soon as possible. Will my hon. Friend work with me and the council to help us get a little bit of necessary flexibility on the precise way that the funding is deployed, to ensure that this vital new infrastructure is completed?

The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that infrastructure is in place at the right time. My hon. Friend has worked incredibly hard in in this place in the period he has been here to make clear that the traffic challenges in Aylesbury are because of pressure from new housing, hence this grant. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), who is responsible for this area, and I are happy discuss this issue further with him to help his constituency.

In Clwyd South, Wrexham and Denbighshire councils are enthusiastically embracing the opportunities provided by UK Government funding, including the councils’ central role in ensuring the success of the Clwyd South £13.3 million levelling-up fund bid. Can the Minister ensure that future UK Government funding always contains provision for councils to grow further their own project management skills and resources?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about capacity within local government and the opportunities this Government are making available for local councils to make decisions on how to make their area better over the long term. I know he is a huge champion of his area and I wish him every success in those applications.

The Local Government Association has calculated that councils are facing extra inflation costs of £2.5 billion this year and extra costs of £3.5 billion next year. If we look at the autumn statement, apart from social care there was no mention of any extra money whatsoever for local government. All that will come is a potential £0.6 billion if councils put up their council taxes by the 3%, aside from the social care precept. Surely £3.5 billion versus £0.6 billion means significant cuts to council services or the prospect, as the LGA has said, of some councils going bankrupt next year?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who brings a huge amount of experience from his Select Committee perspective, but the combination of what the Government have offered, which is a substantial increase in funds from the financial year 2023-24, plus a recognition that local councils can make decisions about their council tax bases, plus the usual efficiency savings that every large organisation should be making—[Interruption.] The Labour party seems to have a problem with local councils being as effective and efficient as they can, but I know most councils will respond to that challenge as they see fit.

The Local Government Association has said that,

“Council Tax has never been the solution to meeting the long-term pressures facing services, particularly high-demand services like adult social care, child protection and homelessness prevention. It also raises different amounts of money in different parts of the country unrelated to need”.

Salford is the 18th most deprived local authority in the country. Increasing council tax and the levy by 5% is the equivalent of 1.8% of spending on public services there, whereas in Surrey an increase of 5% is equivalent to 3.1% of that spending. How will Salford pay for the high-demand services it needs when raising council tax seems to be the Government’s favoured solution to local government funding needs?

One of the services the hon. Lady highlights as being under pressure is adult social care. As the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) indicated, there is additional money going into adult social care—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady shakes her head, but it is absolutely the case that there is additional money going in. While acknowledging and understanding the principle and the underlying point that she is making, I struggle with the concept that local tax bases are not important within this discussion. They obviously are and they obviously should make a contribution. It is about trying to find a balance, and part of that balance is providing a lot of additional funds for next year, as we have done through last Thursday’s announcements.

I invite the Minister to come to Bristol to sit down and talk to the council about what it has done over the years to try to ensure it can deliver services. We now face an £87.6 million shortfall over the next five years. We have done absolutely all we can in terms of efficiency savings. Will he come to Bristol to sit down with us and see what the true picture is on the ground?

I was going through Bristol’s documentation on the council website only yesterday; I am happy to talk to any local council to understand the pressures and challenges it faces and the concerns it has. By the same token, however, while local government does a hugely valuable job, one part of that valuable job has to be to ensure that it is providing the most efficient and effective services for ratepayers over the long term.

Being able to raise council tax is a very welcome measure in the autumn statement. Leicestershire County Council is the lowest-funded upper-tier authority in England. Will the Minister meet me and representatives of the council to discuss its fairer funding situation?

My hon. Friends from Leicestershire have made that case repeatedly, and as a fellow east midlands MP, I understand the concerns about the challenges that individual councils face. I have already been in a meeting with representatives from Leicestershire County Council, who made their points known, and I would be happy to talk to my hon. Friend further about this matter.

I was pleased to submit a levelling-up bid earlier this year to transform Batley town centre. The proposal would create new shopping and leisure opportunities, support local businesses, attract new investment and reduce dangerous driving and parking through modernisation and pedestrianisation. I know the Secretary of State understands the importance of this bid to Batley, and I thank him for agreeing to visit the town centre with me in the near future. Does the Minister agree that long-overdue Government support is now more vital than ever, given the severe impact of inflation and rising costs on already overstretched local authority budgets?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on making the case for that important campaign and the important changes that she wants. We can already see a successful delivery of levelling-up funds and town funds all across the country. I know that further applications are coming forward, and I hope that they are successful and can make the most of the money as quickly as possible.

I am delighted to see the Secretary of State back in his Department, where I had a very brief summer job this year. I know that he is passionate about making sure that we can get councils where we need them for our funding. As he knows, Great Grimsby secured the first town deal, and we have also had future high streets funding, but we have had some of it for two and a half years now and things are not happening quickly enough on the ground. Will he commit to coming back to Grimsby to make sure we can push the council forward to get things happening on the ground?

My hon. Friend’s constituency is an excellent example of the transformation that is happening as a result of the support that the Department is giving. Although I cannot speak for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I am sure that one of us will be very happy to come to Great Grimsby to support the work that she is doing.

The Minister and the Secretary of State will be familiar with the fact that council leaders in Aberdeen are fairly supportive of the north-east of Scotland’s green freeport bid. Yet despite the bid being launched five months ago, we have had no decision whatever from the UK Government and, indeed, no indication of when that decision will be taken. Can the Minister provide clarity on that, and if he is unable to do so, will he and the Secretary of State meet me to discuss it?

We know that freeports have the opportunity to be transformative for many areas that are ultimately successful in their bids. We know that so many places, including those in Scotland, are looking forward to taking part in UK Government-led activities such as this. The hon. Gentleman has made a strong case for the north-east of Scotland, and I wish him well. We will make announcements in due course.

Before the Chancellor’s statement, the Conservative leaders of Kent County Council and Hampshire County Council wrote to the Prime Minister warning of their likely bankruptcy. Instead of hearing the concerns of local leaders across the country, the Government passed on responsibility to them by forcing councils to raise tax. Not only is that another unfair burden on the British taxpayer, but local government experts have estimated that the Tory plans to raise council tax will bring in more than £80 per household in Surrey but only £39 per household in Manchester and Hull. That sounds dangerously like another Tory failure in the making on levelling up. Does the Minister truly understand the financial emergency facing councils today? If so, how can he justify local residents and businesses having their council tax raised while the Government allow non-doms to avoid paying between £1 billion and £3 billion-worth of tax?

The hon. Lady highlights a number of things that she obviously wants to make a point about. The reality is that billions and billions of additional taxpayer subsidy was made available within the settlement last week. We will come forward with further information in due course. Ultimately, the Labour party’s position is fundamentally that there can be no contribution from local taxpayers. That is a very interesting place to be given that there ultimately has to be a link between services and taxation. That is something that the Government recognise while still providing billions in taxpayer subsidy from the centre to improve lives and services in the long run.

Regional Inequality

4. What recent assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of increases in (a) interest rates and (b) inflation on regional inequality. (902294)

It is because we are concerned about the impact of inflation and increases in interest rates that this autumn statement protected the most vulnerable by uprating benefits and pensions with inflation, strengthening the energy price guarantee, and providing cost of living payments.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would also like to update the House on the score in Qatar: it is now 5-1 to England. I feel it is appropriate for me to do this because the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) has been providing a running commentary on the answers being given from the Treasury Bench, so it is only fair that we provide a running commentary that the country actually wants to hear.

Excuse me! Secretary of State, I thought you were in charge of levelling up—it doesn’t look that way with that score!

I would have informed the House of that, had the Secretary of State not got there before me. After promising to match EU structural funds in the Government’s manifesto, and then taking £1 billion a year out of them for the replacement shared prosperity fund, how can the Secretary of State claim to be levelling up when his Government have presided over a net loss in funding across the country, including in the north-west, which stands to lose £206 million under the shared prosperity fund, which the Government have failed even to inflation-proof?

It is not just the UK shared prosperity fund, but the levelling-up fund that has seen money go to not just Liverpool city region, but all those areas we are targeting that have been overlooked and undervalued in the past. Specifically, the UK shared prosperity fund has provided £52 million for the Liverpool city region—money that I know will be well invested by Steve Rotheram and others.

May I pay tribute to the Iranian team, who refused to sing their national anthem, which was very brave of them?

In areas such as Lichfield, which have very high property prices, people who hold mortgages will also be affected by high interest rates. Although Lichfield is generally regarded as an area to which others might wish to level up to, we do have areas of deprivation. For that reason, may I urge my right hon. Friend to look at our levelling-up bid because it is desperately needed for Lichfield’s people—not those in expensive houses, but those who are in more difficult positions?

Lichfield is the jewel of Staffordshire, but even the most glittering jewels sometimes have flaws and, as a rough diamond himself, I know that my hon. Friend will appreciate that. I recognise that there is a need to help all those parts of the United Kingdom and the west midlands where, even though there may be prosperity, there is inequality that needs to be addressed.

I welcome the update on the football scores; it foreshadows what we intend to do to the Government side at the next general election. The truth is, before they crashed the economy, they were already struggling. Twelve months; 12 directors not in post; 12 missions going backwards. Only a third of the levelling-up funds has been allocated, and after wasting our time with the short-lived investment zones, the second round is months behind schedule. According to a circular, a local planning department performing at this level would have been put into special measures by now, by the Secretary of State. Can we bring some sense to this madness, end the “Hunger Games”-style competition, and allow all our communities—not just his favourites—to decide how their own money is spent?

I welcome the questions from the Marcus Rashford of the Labour party—the person coming on at the last minute may actually change the fortunes of the team for the better, who knows? I wish the hon. Lady good luck in all future penalty shoot-outs. If it is “The Hunger Games” we are talking about, it is the Labour party leadership contest that is closer to that than any other contest in this House. On the substantive point that she makes, it is important that we look at how we fund local government overall. There of course needs to be competitive funding to make sure we can learn from the best, but we need to look at formula funding as well, and we shall.

I am more than happy to be compared to Marcus Rashford, feeding our kids when the Government let them go starving hungry. We have almost as many funding pots in the Secretary of State’s Department as we have had Ministers in the past 12 months. Can he not see the problem? We both know that the only way out of this crisis is to get local and regional economies growing, so how can it be that the key Department responsible for that was the biggest loser in last week’s autumn statement? It makes no sense, unless the Government have collectively decided to abandon attempts to level up our regional economies. Can he clarify this for the House: when they came for his budget, was he just ignored by the Chancellor, or did he not put up any fight at all?

The autumn statement was at a time of challenging news for the global economy. It was absolutely the right response and, again, not only did we secure a significant, record increase in funding for local government at the previous spending review, but we, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) pointed out, secured billions additionally for adult social care and for children’s services. Once more, local government is securing the funding it needs under a Conservative Government who are putting stability and growth first.

Mixed-use Development

We cannot have houses without services and infrastructure. The national planning policy framework recognises the need for mixed-use developments, including local facilities and transport networks. In addition, the national design guide and national model design recognise the importance of mixed-use development in creating sustainable, active and vibrant places.

The Skegness Gateway project is a 1,000-home development, but it is also home—thanks to the levelling-up fund—to a new college for Skegness and, if all goes well, it could be a significant boon to local NHS services. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the huge contribution of the Sanderson family, some of whom are in the Gallery? Will she also join me in welcoming the prospect of Departments working together, breaking down the silos to deliver the maximum possible potential for such projects all in one hit and at the first opportunity?

I echo my hon. Friend’s praise of the Sanderson family and their commitment to the local area, and I welcome them to the House of Commons today. I am delighted that Government funds are helping Skegness thrive. I know that officials in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and other Departments continue to work closely with local partners to ensure that, as the Skegness town deal programme enters its important next phase, the vision for the new local college that he mentions and the wider gateway can be realised.

Homes for Older People

7. What steps he is taking with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to increase the supply of homes for older people including housing-with-care. (902298)

I know that my hon. Friend has considerable expertise in this area as a member of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee. As our population ages, we are committed to increasing the supply of specialist elderly accommodation, including housing-with-care. We work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to incentivise supply through capital funding, such as through the affordable homes programme. We have also announced an older persons housing taskforce to examine this area and I hope to have more details of that in due course.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her answer and welcome her to the Dispatch Box in her new role. The “Levelling Up” White Paper, released in February, promised this taskforce to build more homes for people who need care. I wonder when we will see it come into operation and start the important work of providing that accommodation.

As a new Minister in post, I wish to reassure my hon. Friend that I am committed to taking forward the taskforce and I have already spoken to the Minister for Care about re-establishing it.

One of the stated aims of levelling up is to

“restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging”.

Barnsley does not lack pride or community—we lack resources. After slashing 40% of our council’s budget, rejecting two levelling-up bids and now backing a Budget that places a heavy burden on councils, what are the Government doing to make sure that levelling up delivers a genuine economic boost to areas such as Barnsley?

I am sorry that Barnsley has not been successful in its levelling-up fund bids, but of course a variety of schemes have been put forward to improve local areas. Those are not finished and I wish her area every success in future bids.

Levelling-up Agenda

8. What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in the devolved Administrations on the potential impacts of (a) levels of Government spending and (b) the cost of living on the levelling-up agenda. (902299)

24. What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in the devolved Administrations on the potential impacts of (a) levels of Government spending and (b) the cost of living on the levelling-up agenda. (902315)

Ministers meet their counterparts in the devolved Administrations regularly, and on 10 November the Prime Minister and First Ministers met in Blackpool to discuss the economic outlook and working together on the cost of living. The Chancellor of the Exchequer joined that meeting virtually. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury met with Finance Ministers in the context of the autumn statement, and officials in all Departments remain in constant contact in the interests of all of the people across these islands.

This Government like to talk levelling up, but implementation delays have robbed poorer areas of £1.5 billion, with an additional £0.5 billion lost due to spiralling inflation. The Tories de-industrialised west central Scotland in the 1980s. We are bringing it back with the advanced manufacturing innovation district, including the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland and the medicines manufacturing innovation centre in my constituency. When might we hear that this Government will play their part by ensuring that the stand-out Clyde Green freeport bid and the Renfrew community hub levelling-up bid will be successful?

We will announce shortly the details of levelling-up bids and freeport bids. But when it comes to delays in implementation and the industrial investment that the west of Scotland needs, I simply and gently draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the divergence between a UK Government who have recently delivered six new warships on the Clyde and the Scottish Government who in the meantime could not even finish painting the windows on a ferry.

We are supposed to be eternally grateful for the £1.5 billion of Barnett consequentials over two years, but that is easily dwarfed by the £1.7 billion of inflationary pressures on the Scottish budget this year. When the Secretary of State discussed with the Scottish Government Scotland’s needs, such as the need to cover that £1.7 billion inflation cut, the additional money for pay and their other spending priorities, did he just ignore what they were saying?

No, we never ignore what the Scottish Government are saying. We have fruitful relationships with Ministers in not just the Scottish but the Welsh Government. I gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that, although he rightly acknowledges the Barnett consequentials—the Union dividend—that the Treasury pays to the people of Scotland, when he talks about inflation, he does not acknowledge that, if we were to follow the Scottish National party’s approach to a separate currency for an independent Scotland, we would see a flight of capital, massive interest rate increases and galloping inflation there. There would be no worse consequence for working people in Scotland than the currency folly that his colleagues put forward.

I am delighted to support the Isle of Anglesey County Council’s £17 million levelling-up bid, which includes excellent representation from the Holyhead Town Council, Môn CF, the Ucheldre Centre and the Church of Wales. Does the Secretary of State agree that the levelling-up fund can transform places such as Holyhead? Can we have an update on timing? Will he accept my invitation to see first-hand how transformational the fund could be to Holyhead?

Yes. Every time I visit Wales, I am continually impressed by the superb advocacy that Conservative MPs bring to bear for their communities, not least in Ynys Môn. I look forward to making that visit, I hope, early in the new year after the levelling-up fund bids will have been confirmed.

It has been quite something to listen to hon. Members on both sides of the House arguing for more powers for councils in England while they conspire to prevent powers for the Scottish Parliament—they are better together. After several tumultuous and wasted months while the Tories fought with each other as households struggled, I welcome the Secretary of State back to his place. During the autumn statement, levelling up did not merit a single mention, yet we are told that it is the Government’s flagship policy. With deeper austerity cuts slated for after the next election, the future of the levelling-up agenda is more in doubt than ever. Does he agree that levelling up requires a long-term commitment and that a levelling-up agenda cannot credibly survive the planned Tory austerity on stilts?

The hon. Lady knows that I have enormous affection for her. As one of the first and most effective advocates for levelling-up funding going to her constituency, alongside the Holyrood representative for that constituency, I look forward to working with her and her colleagues to make sure that the levelling-up fund bids from Scottish authorities, which are enthusiastically supported by many SNP colleagues, are delivered on time. It is wonderful to see so many people in the Scottish National party arguing for more UK Government spending in their constituencies—long may it be so.

Despite what we have just heard, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that there will be a 7.1% fall in real-terms wages over the next two years in the sharpest fall in living standards since the second world war. That is before the Government implement their new rocket-charged austerity agenda, which will reduce living standards significantly more—so much for levelling up. With Scotland short-changed and suffering from a Brexit-inflated recession as part of broken Britain, can the Secretary of State explain if that is why the Government are reduced to seeking to deny democracy to Scotland, because Scots now know that, with all the powers of an independent country, we could do better?

It is certainly the case that there are many talented politicians in the Scottish Government and on the SNP Benches, including the hon. Lady. I gently point out, however, that in England, there has been a devolution of powers to local government, and there has been cross-party consensus between Labour and the Conservatives that we should have that. Sadly, while the Scottish Government have been in power, we have seen no similar devolution of powers to local authorities in Scotland; quite the opposite: we have seen centralisation, with business rates hitting the north-east of Scotland and Police Scotland centralising powers in a way that goes against the spirit of trusting local people. I know from the many conversations I have with people in the north-east, the highlands, the islands and the Borders, that they wish to change the central belt centralisation of the Scottish Government—and I know that she agrees.

Levelling-up Fund

As the Chancellor set out in his autumn statement, the Government remain committed to the levelling-up fund and will allocate at least £1.7 billion in the next round to priority infrastructure projects that improve everyday life for residents across the UK. I look forward to announcing the outcome of round 2 before the end of the year.

I thank the Minister for that response, and I welcome the Secretary of State and his ministerial team to their new roles after a three-month hiatus. While we have had the merry-go-round of a revolving door, with Ministers changing and, indeed, Prime Ministers changing, communities such as mine in Horden in the Easington constituency are being starved of investment. We need the Secretary of State and his Ministers to approve our bid so we can address some of the serious issues, including the poor standard of the private sector housing in Horden. It would be marvellous if the Minister could give a date and ensure levelling up remains a Government priority by approving the Easington bid sooner rather than later.

The hon. Member will know that at this stage I cannot comment on the merits of individual bids, but I know how passionately he campaigns for his own constituency and for County Durham from meetings that we have locally, and he will be informed of the outcome in due course.

Could I use this opportunity to make a shameless plug for the Marple active communities hub, which in round 2 must surely be among the strongest applications in my hon. Friend the Minister’s in-tray? Does she agree that it is high time we put health and wellbeing at the heart of levelling up, and her approving this bid, in a totally transparent process, which I know it is, would be just the ticket?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising his bid. Again, I cannot comment at this stage on the merits of individual bids, but I am certainly happy to engage with him further on this. I know what a great champion he is for Hazel Grove, and I know he will continue to push for every levelling-up opportunity for his constituents.

I have heard “shortly” and I have heard “sometime before Christmas”, so I am thinking maybe there is a date in Ministers’ minds here, and I would be grateful if we could have a share of this. In Inverclyde, local government money and Scottish Government money work hand in glove with us to improve the area. We need to know when so that local stakeholders can be involved in this decision process and take the whole thing forward.

Briefly, I say to the Secretary of State that earlier he made a slur on my constituency and the good workforce of Ferguson Marine. If he wants to come to Ferguson Marine with me, and stand toe to toe and make that same remark, I will hold his jacket.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his question, and looking at the Secretary of State I think that point was heard loud and clear.

The hon. Member will know that, in round 1 of the levelling-up fund, the amount that went to Scotland was above the Barnett formula calculations. Round 2 will be coming in due course and I am sure that many people across this House who have been so involved in their bids will have an incredibly happy Christmas.

In Mile Cross in my constituency, healthy life expectancy is below the national average, children’s social mobility is in the bottom 10% of the country, per capita rates of violent crime are double the national average and claims to universal credit are also double the national average. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State throw their support behind the bid in my constituency to improve community facilities around Sloughbottom park to help people on all those counts?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her passion in campaigning for her constituents. Again, at this stage, I cannot comment on the merits of individual bids, but she is a great, passionate advocate for her constituency and we will be announcing the results of levelling-up fund round 2 in due course.

Barnsley town centre is thriving. That is as a result of hard work locally, but also powered by our belief not in a handout but in a hand-up. To that end, can I commend the Barnsley Central levelling-up fund bid to the Minister? It is an excellent piece of work that would make a huge difference to my constituents. I very much hope that the Government will be able to support it.

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for his pitch. I was in Barnsley a few months ago—an area very close to where I grew up—and I did have some local people making their own representations on the importance of this particular fund. At this stage I cannot comment on the merits of individual bids, but I heard loud and clear his pitch, and we will be announcing the result in due course.

Will the Minister please confirm as she moves towards the award of these moneys, that she has sharply in her mind the fact that hidden among the averages of the otherwise prosperous south-east, there are some serious pockets of deprivation, not least in those London overspill towns that still ring the capital? Those include Andover in my constituency, which as well as importing an unfortunate number of Arsenal supporters, also brought with it a number of social and demographic problems with which the town still struggles, and towards which the grant award could significantly assist.

I had best keep my comments about Arsenal to myself in this House, but my right hon. Friend is right: levelling up is not something that can be simplified purely by region or by north and south, and there are pockets all over the country that need to benefit from funds such as the levelling-up fund. I know how much of a passionate advocate he is for the Andover bid, and we will be announcing the result in due course.

The autumn statement confirmed that round two of the levelling-up fund is to be frozen in cash terms, meaning that the Government’s inflation crisis has significantly eroded the value of the fund in real terms. The Government must now either reduce the quality and scope of the winning bids, or accept fewer bids—which will it be?

This is an incredibly difficult time for economies across the world, based on global factors—[Interruption.] Right across the world, based on global factors. We are working with local authorities to see how we can help support them to ensure that they deliver their bids to the maximum potential. We have made adjustments to the project adjustment request process, to make it easier for local authorities to take that autonomy and make decisions about what is right for their community.

Topical Questions

The House will, of course, be aware that following the tragic death of Awaab Ishak, the chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing stood down at the weekend, but there is still so much more to do to ensure that the lessons from that tragedy are learned. I have written to local authorities and registered social landlords, to ensure that the dangers of damp and mould are at the front of all our minds, and further action will be taken in due course.

Colleagues across the House are eagerly awaiting the results of the latest round of the levelling-up fund, and I obviously want to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to Devon County Council’s bid to cut congestion in Exmouth. Does he agree that levelling up must make a real difference in every region, including mine in the south-west?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his passionate plea. As a former Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department —and a very successful one, if I may say so—he will know that at this stage I cannot comment on individual bids. I am delighted that Devon County Council has put in a bid to the levelling-up fund, and we will be announcing the results of that bidding process in due course.

It is almost five and a half years since the horror of Grenfell, yet the building safety crisis remains unresolved for the vast majority of affected leaseholders. Will the Secretary of State tell the House when the overdue developer remediation contract will be published? When will Ministers finally resolve the problems relating to mortgages and buildings insurance, and when will those leaseholders who are currently excluded from protections learn whether their Government intend to help or abandon them?

Across the House there is a determination to ensure that the terrible tragedy of Grenfell is met with appropriate steps, both legislatively and in regulatory terms, and also that those who are trapped in buildings through no fault of their own are given the opportunity to move on with their lives. We will shortly be publishing the details of those contracts. We are meeting lenders to discuss moving away from the situation in which so many people have found themselves, and we are also talking to the insurance industry about the steps we need to take.

T3. In the care White Paper the Government committed to investing £300 million in supported housing for people with long-term health conditions, the numbers of whom are likely to go up by 125,000 this decade. In the wake of the autumn statement, will the Secretary of State assure me that that money is still available? (902318)

The Government remain committed to our 10-year vision for the reform of adult social care, and we are taking forward proposals in the “People at the Heart of Care” White Paper. As my right hon. Friend will appreciate, following last Thursday’s fiscal statement, Departments are reviewing specific spending plans, and details will be announced in due course.

T8. Tory austerity has hit councils hard. Under the Tory Government, Leeds City Council has been hit by cuts of £2 billion, which is money needed for key local services. Would not another round of austerity be an act of Government vandalism punishing the poorest areas in our country? (902323)

T5. I thank my hon. Friend for her support on Friday in the debate on my private Member’s Bill. Has she seen in today’s Inside Housing that last year exempt accommodation cost 174 of 333 councils a staggering £883.5 million, with 100 authorities who provide it not reporting anything? Given that huge amounts of money are going out the door—potentially to rogue landlords—will she commit to closing the loophole as fast as possible? (902320)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his Bill passing its Second Reading on Friday. This is clearly an important sector and there is no question that we need to put in place the licensing regime, on which I made a commitment that we would lay regulations within 18 months. However, it is critical that the taxpayer gets good value for money.

I strongly welcome the Secretary of State’s letter to local authorities over the weekend. It is right and proper that mould should be seen as a serious hazard to health. Does he agree that we also need regulatory powers, with resources to allow local government to implement those powers? Without that, we are simply using words and not action.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We do place responsibilities on local authorities—the letter reinforces that—but they do need to be appropriately resourced. I look forward to working with them to ensure that the personnel and resources are there to keep everyone safe.

T6. May I ask the Secretary of State direct how he believes it is either compassionate or conservative to be increasing council tax poverty? What message does he have for thousands of households in Dorset who next year will have to pay more than £90 every week in council tax as a direct result of his failure to reform the grant funding system? (902321)

I say to my hon. Friend, who is a brilliant advocate for his constituents, that we face a need for economy across the board and, funnily enough, as Opposition MPs have reminded us, the council tax base is often broader in areas that are relatively more prosperous such as those that he represents. Of course, I recognise the strains and pressures faced by his constituents. However, at a time when belts are having to be tightened everywhere, although it is a terrible thing to say, I actually feel sorrier for some people not in Christchurch but in other parts of the country because the relatively wealthy and the relatively older in our country already have it relatively better.

Since I met the Secretary of State, the pace of short-term holiday lets in my constituency has exploded, with the flipping of private rented homes and the hoovering up of homes to purchase meaning that people in my constituency have nowhere to live. When will he bring forward legislation to license short-term holiday lets? Will he support my private Member’s Bill, which aims to do that?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue also raised by Members from North Devon, North Norfolk and elsewhere. Through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and other measures, in co-operation with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, we are looking at what we can do to alleviate some of the pressures that her constituents and others face.

T7. Our precious green belt should never be prioritised over brownfield sites. However, local authorities are coming under increasing pressure to include green belt in their core strategies because of unfair housing targets. Will my right hon. and learned Friend help councils to better implement a “brownfield first” policy by reforming the formula used to set housing targets? Will she meet me and representatives from Erewash Borough Council to discuss the matter further? (902322)

We are absolutely committed to making the most of brownfield land. In fact, the national planning policy framework sets out that planning policies and decisions should give substantial weight to the value of using suitable brownfield land in settlements and should prioritise that. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that.

The Secretary of State is well aware of Bell Building Projects and the work it is doing to remove cladding across these islands. What representations has he made to Homes England, which is taking four to five months to pay the invoices of this company and other contractors?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Organisations in the private sector, such as the one in his constituency, are contributing to dealing with the building safety crisis. It is the responsibility of Homes England and indeed my Department to make sure that small and medium-sized enterprises that are making a contribution are promptly paid. I have raised the issue with Homes England and in the Department, and I hope that prompt payment will follow. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for speaking up for small business in his constituency.

T9. Will my right hon. Friend take steps to ensure that green-belt sites set aside for housing in local council draft plans are removed prior to plan adoption? (902324)

The national planning policy framework is clear that a local authority should not propose to alter a green-belt boundary unless there are exceptional circumstances and it can show at examination of the local plan that it has explored every other reasonable option. Any proposal to release land from green belt is subject to rigorous examination by the planning inspector, who is independent and who acts on behalf of the Secretary of State.

Taxpayers in St Albans district are shelling out £3 million a year to subsidise big developers because the Government’s cap on planning fees prevents my local councils from charging the full amount for processing a big application, and last week I tabled the presentation Bill to scrap that cap. Given the enormous pressures on household budgets, will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how we can urgently address this issue, perhaps through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill?

I sympathise with the position in which the hon. Lady’s constituents find themselves, We can certainly do more to ensure that developers pay their way when dealing with applications of this kind. One of my colleagues would happily meet her.

There is overwhelming evidence that the building blocks for lifelong emotional and physical wellbeing are laid down during the first 1,001 days of human life. Does my right hon. Friend agree that supporting that is the best piece of levelling up we could possibly do? What more can he do to ensure that family hubs and joined-up start for life services are rolled out right across England as soon as possible?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and her impassioned advocacy of better support for children and families in the first 1,001 days of a child’s life has helped to shape Government policy. The wider roll-out of family hubs, support for children’s services and, in particular, targeted intervention when children are at risk of abuse or neglect will, when taken together, help to ensure that we level up opportunities across this country. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for all her work on this issue.

European social fund projects in Northern Ireland face a financial cliff edge. Over 1,000 jobs are at risk and over 17,000 service users fear for their future. Can the Secretary of State give me an assurance that there will be an investment plan and a process in place to give those organisations the chance to apply for shared prosperity fund support ahead of next April?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue, and I will work with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to make sure that there is an investment plan in place.

The renters reform Bill will make private tenancy arrangements fit for the 21st century. Will my right hon. Friend set out what steps the Government are taking to ensure that such tendencies are also up to a decent standard? How will that be backed up with monitoring and enforcement?

We are committed to legislating for a decent homes standard, which is critical. I agree that enforcement is terribly important, which is why we have strengthened councils’ enforcement powers, including through penalties of up to £30,000.

Awaab Ishak’s death was shocking, and such things should not be happening in our country in 2022. Everybody deserves a warm, safe and decent home to live in. His case shows what happens when people living in social housing are disregarded, as has been the case in my constituency after decades of Conservative control of Wandsworth Borough Council, which has allowed social housing stock to go into decay. What is the Secretary of State’s Department doing to assist investment in social housing?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I should say that Wandsworth under Conservative leadership was an outstanding and exemplary council in so many ways, but I understand that she has to make that point—the constituency Labour parties have to be kept happy and so on. The key thing is that all local authorities have an obligation, as do all registered social landlords, and we want to work with them to tackle the issue that she rightly raised.

In Chelmsford we badly need more social and affordable housing. When new housing developments are built, the local authority can set a rule that a certain proportion of the new homes must be affordable. I urge my right hon. Friend to consider enabling local authorities to put in place similar rules when large commercial buildings such as office blocks are converted from commercial to residential properties.

That is an important issue that relates to permitted development rights. My right hon. Friend is on to something, so I look forward to working with her.

As private sector rents continue to rise in west London, more and more of my constituents on low incomes and dependent on benefits are having to pay rent well above the levels of the local housing allowance. They cannot afford it and are having either not to eat or not to heat their homes. Will the Secretary of State make a statement about the urgent need for the Government to uprate local housing allowance?

The hon. Lady makes an important point about local housing allowance, but I gently remind her that one thing we can do is to improve the supply of housing in west London, and I think I am right in saying that she has not always been an energetic supporter of every development that has come forward in her constituency.

In June, the Prime Minister announced plans to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants to enable them to purchase their own homes. Will my right hon. Friend update me on the progress of this initiative and confirm whether a tenant who has purchased an initial equity stake in a housing association home on shared-ownership terms will be able to use a right-to-buy discount to purchase the remaining equity stake through staircasing?

I have been proud to support a very good levelling-up bid in Oswestry in my constituency. With North Shropshire being such a large rural area, public transport is a really important part of levelling up the whole region, so will the Secretary of State look favourably on both Oswestry’s bid and Shropshire’s bid to improve bus services across the county?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for speaking so passionately about the bid for her constituency. I am certainly willing to engage with her and Ministers at the Department for Transport to see what more we can do.

Rutland and Melton councils have put forward a brilliant blueprint for rural innovation in our levelling-up bid, focused on health and transport. The context is an urgent need to put social mobility into funding formulas for those areas of deprivation otherwise hidden by affluence. Will my right hon. Friend do what he said he would do back in February: take up an offer that is too good to be true by coming to Rutland and Melton to discuss the bid and the future of social mobility funding?

What an alluring invitation—and yes. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) pointed out earlier, Leicestershire and Rutland are relatively poorly funded in comparison with other local authorities, which is why the particular plight of deprived communities in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere is at the forefront of our minds.

Recent analysis has found that £1 in every £13 allocated through the two levelling-up funding rounds will be lost to inflation—that is more than £560 million—so how will Ministers ensure that complex bids such as that for the remediation of hexavalent chromium at Shawfield in my constituency do not miss out on funding opportunities as a result?

We will do everything possible to work with local authorities, particularly to make sure that every pound goes further. The hon. Lady quite rightly raises the whole question of bearing down on inflation; I hope that she and others will be in the Division Lobby tomorrow evening to support the Government in the measures we have taken in the autumn statement that will bear down on inflation. I note that Members on the Labour Benches have not yet criticised those measures; they appreciate, as we do, that we need to work together to tame inflation.