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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 643: debated on Monday 18 June 2018

Housing, Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—


The Government believe that one person without a home is one too many, which is why we have committed £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness and why we implemented the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 in April. We are producing a cross-Government strategy to tackle rough sleeping, and it is due to be published next month.

In December 2010, there were 22 homeless households in temporary accommodation in Coventry; in December last year, there was a massive 278 homeless households in the city, of which 210 were families with children, with a total of 505 children between them. Why does the Secretary of State think that the number of homeless children has risen so significantly under this Government?

I hope the hon. Lady will recognise the work that the Government have done and are doing with the commitment of £9 billion for affordable housing. This is partly an issue of supply and ensuring that we have the right number of homes, which is why the Government are taking action, investing and seeking to respond to the challenges of homelessness and, indeed, rough sleeping. I hope that the hon. Lady welcomes the Housing First initiative in the west midlands to tackle rough sleeping and ensure that we really respond to this important issue.

A recent Crisis report set out a comprehensive and practical plan for ending homelessness. On top of the excellent plans that the Secretary of State has already announced, I encourage him to work with Crisis so that we can tackle not only homelessness but its underlying causes.

I congratulate Crisis on its work, as it marks its 50th anniversary. Indeed, I spoke at the recent Crisis conference, where I indicated that I will work with the organisation on furthering its rough-sleeping initiatives, about which I have spoken. I note what it has said about homelessness and will continue to work with it and others.

16. There are many trends from the 1990s that I would like to bring back to this country—for example, decent indie music—but rough sleeping is not one of them. I pay tribute to the Forest emergency night shelter in Waltham Forest, which helped 109 people in just one borough this past winter. The truth is, though, that the problem continues, and tonight approximately 40 people will sleep rough in a graveyard in Walthamstow. I invite the Secretary of State to come with me to meet those people to understand how he can finally get a grip of this situation and get a roof over their heads. (905894)

The hon. Lady rightly speaks passionately about rough sleeping. I feel very strongly about it, too, which was why my first visit as Secretary of State was to a homelessness charity in Birmingham that was actively supporting people who were rough sleeping. That is why the Government are committed to eradicating rough sleeping and why, in recent weeks, we have committed a further £30 million to those areas most affected. It is a very serious issue and the hon. Lady is right to be passionate about it, as am I.

I welcome last week’s news that there will be £279,000 extra for tackling homelessness and rough sleeping in Torbay. Will the Secretary of State reassure me that the lessons from the previous pilot, which was carried out with the Torbay End Street Homelessness campaign, will be incorporated into the strategy that he is bringing out next month?

I commend the work that my hon. Friend’s local charities have done, along with all the organisations that are working locally in Torbay on this significant issue. Obviously, additional funding has been identified. Part of the issue is to ensure that that money is used effectively by learning from previous lessons and, indeed, by ensuring that local authorities are held to account for the moneys that have been applied.

High-rise Buildings: Cladding

2. What recent estimate he has made of the number of high-rise residential buildings that have had dangerous cladding removed and replaced since the Grenfell Tower fire. (905878)

As of 22 May, remediation had started on 107 buildings over 18 metres in the social sector that were identified to have combinations of aluminium composite material cladding and insulation that failed fire-performance tests. Work has been completed on 10 buildings.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that update, but will he give a timescale for the other tower blocks, in both the private and the public sectors? What is the timescale for the removal of these dangerous panels?

I recognise the clear desire and intent to see to it that these buildings are made safe and that remediation is completed at the earliest possible opportunity. The works are complex and detailed, and they will take time. We continue to monitor and to work with local authorities to make sure that progress is made, recognising the real public safety issues that the hon. Gentleman underlines.

The Secretary of State is rightly consulting on banning all material that is not of limited combustibility from high-rise buildings, and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee hopes that he will bring in such a ban after the consultation. If he concludes that it is right to ban such material from all new buildings, does he accept that it would be completely untenable to leave the same material on existing buildings, and, in such a case, does he accept that the Government will have the responsibility to financially compensate the building owners affected?

The Chair of the Select Committee will know that we have committed £400 million to support the public sector in remediation costs and that, therefore, we are committed to seeing that the work is undertaken well. Obviously, we will reflect carefully on the consultation that will be launched and therefore look at its application. The key message is that we need to make progress and to get on with this, so that buildings that have been identified in need of remediation are dealt with.

On behalf of the Scottish National party, I pay tribute to all of the Grenfell survivors and the people in that area whose dignified commemorations we all witnessed last week. There remains an issue about people in high-rise buildings in the private sector. What response has the Secretary of State made to Kevin Stewart MSP, Scotland’s Housing Minister, on his calls to exempt private buildings from VAT on materials to refurbish these buildings?

Obviously, that is a matter for the Treasury, but there is a need to make progress, and I look forward to continuing discussions with the Scottish Government. Equally, as the hon. Lady has said, I pay tribute to the incredible community of Grenfell for the extraordinary way in which they underlined the strength that they have together and how that has brought the country together as well and how we must very firmly continue to have that in mind.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He will have seen, as we all have, the pictures from Glasgow over the weekend where the Glasgow School of Art also had a devastating fire. Fortunately, there was no loss of life, although local residents are still waiting to get back into their homes. Does he agree that we need to look again at exemptions for sprinkler systems in buildings, so that more public buildings can be encouraged to have them installed, not least in the building that we are in today, because it is built in a similar way to the Glasgow School of Art and could be as dangerous?

I am sure that we were all horrified to see the terrible fire at the Glasgow School of Art. We should think about what that iconic building has meant to so many people over the years. The hon. Lady highlights the issue of sprinklers. May I be clear on that: for existing buildings, it is for the building owner to decide whether to fit sprinklers retrospectively, as part of a fire safety strategy? Obviously, it is for building owners to make those determinations, but, clearly, it can be an effective safety measure, as part of an overarching strategy.

Mr Speaker, you and I and other Members of the House were privileged to be part of the Grenfell silent walk with survivors and supporters last Thursday. They, like this House, want Ministers to take every action necessary to prevent such a fire ever happening again, yet, since Grenfell, 1,319 suspect cladding samples sent to the Government’s testing centre have been refused testing, as Ministers say that they will only test the aluminium composite material the Minister spoke of earlier. Why?

I will happily look into what the right hon. Gentleman has said. The Building Research Establishment’s focus has obviously been on the ACM material that has been at the forefront of concerns to ensure that, in both the public and the private sectors, that can be tested so that where cladding does not meet the necessary standards, it is dealt with and remediation steps take place. I will certainly look in greater detail at the point that he has made.

That simply is not good enough from the Secretary of State. The BRE does what Ministers tell it to do. We know that other cladding and insulation materials have been found unsafe. We know that the Hackitt review has confirmed that the whole building regulation system from end to end is, as she says, not fit for purpose. Since Grenfell, Ministers have been too slow to take responsibility and too slow to act. This Conservative dogma of “hands off” is delaying the Government action necessary to deal with this national disaster. Will he give local authorities powers to demand that testing and recladding are actually done? Will he release the details that he holds on tower block owners who will not do this work, and will he set a deadline, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) says, for all landlords to make their buildings safe or make it clear that Government will step in and then make them?

I firmly recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the urgency of the situation, which is why we have committed an additional £1 million to local authorities to identify the sites. In my time as Secretary of State, we have made an additional commitment of £400 million to the social sector to ensure that we get on with this remediation. I am intent on pursuing that level of action and focus to ensure that a sense of safety and assurance is given. Since the publication of Judith Hackitt’s report, I have announced that we are pursuing a consultation to bring into effect a ban on combustible cladding. The right hon. Gentleman and the House should be in no doubt that this Government gives priority to the issue, and we will continue to pursue that approach.

These are extremely important matters, but may I very gently say to colleagues—on Back Benches and Front Benches alike—that we must speed up?

Homes for Social Rent

3. What assessment he has made of trends in the level of new homes available for social rent since 2010. (905879)

Since 2010, we have delivered more than 357,000 new affordable homes, including 128,000 for social rent. We are investing more than £9 billion in the affordable homes programme to support the delivery of new affordable homes.

The Secretary of State fails to point out that only 199 houses have been built in the past six months. Given his failure to build new housing, can we instead look at actions to deal with the 7,235 privately owned empty houses in Stoke-on-Trent?

More affordable homes have been delivered in the past seven years than in the last seven years of the last Labour Government. It is a bit rich to press us when we have delivered 217,000 completed new homes in the past year. This Government have committed £9 billion to affordable homes—the hon. Lady should reflect on that—as this issue is our priority.

The Government have recently announced an extra £2 billion into the affordable homes programme. How many more homes for social rent should this provide by the end of this Parliament?

We have identified additional funding for affordable homes and social rent. I will be making a further announcement regarding what this means outside London. I will return to the House to update Members on the matter, as I recognise its importance.

Mr Speaker, I thank you and Members of all parties who supported the Grenfell community by attending memorial services and the silent walk, by speaking in the House and by wearing the green heart. Will the Secretary of State politely insist that all Members who have shown support by wearing the green heart support my request for a Backbench Business debate, so that we can discuss all these issues in one place and discuss the Grenfell response? We have a list of green heart wearers and will be writing to the Secretary of State today. Will he please show that he cares by supporting my debate?

I commend the hon. Lady for the work that she has done locally, as I commend the strength of her community in the face of this appalling tragedy. I cannot speak about the awarding of Backbench Business debates. If she seeks one, I am sure that it will be considered carefully. We have updated the House regularly on the response to Grenfell, and we will continue to do so.

The Secretary of State is quite right to disavow responsibility for the Backbench Business Committee. The hon. Lady could, however, usefully sidle up to and have a word with the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), who chairs that Committee. He is not in his place at the moment, but I dare say that he will be in due course. I am sure that she will find that a most useful conversation.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that North West Leicestershire District Council is building the first new council houses in my constituency in the past 30 years?

I absolutely do. I commend the work of my hon. Friend’s council. We are looking at how we can strengthen the housing revenue account further and see a new generation of council house builds. I commend his local authority for getting on with that.

The Secretary of State has just talked of his affordable homes record, but we all know that this Government’s definition of affordable homes is a joke. It allows an illusion of genuinely affordable house building, which is simply not happening. Many of his own Back Benchers agree, and 10 of them are meeting the Prime Minister on Wednesday to call for more genuinely affordable homes. The number of new social rented homes funded by the Government is at its lowest ever level, with fewer than 1,000 started last year. Will the Secretary of State therefore match Labour’s commitment, in our social housing green paper, to scrap the bogus definition of affordable rent at up to 80% of market rents and to invest in genuinely affordable homes?

I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the fall in housing waiting lists under this Government. I say to her very clearly that steps have been taken under this Government to respond to this challenge. I remind her again of the £9 billion that has been committed to affordable homes, with the change that that will bring to so many people in actually creating the vision of a home and making that a reality. That is this Government’s intent, and it is something that we will deliver.

Housing and Community Integration

4. What steps he is taking to provide people who have recently been granted asylum with support for housing and community integration. (905880)

On 8 June, the Department announced £1.75 million to help new refugees by funding 35 offices in 19 areas of England with some of the highest numbers of asylum seekers. This will support people granted asylum into housing, learning and work. The Department is very keen to share this learning widely, including with the devolved Administrations.

The Government’s consultation report, “Integrated Communities”, said that the Government will

“work with civil society and others to increase the integration support available to those recognised as refugees after arrival in the UK.”

What specific measures are being taken to ensure that newly recognised refugees get the same support as resettled refugees?

Funding for the pilot programmes is drawn from the controlling migration fund, which has no remit to finance the devolved Administrations, as funding is devolved in this area. The pilot programmes are now recruiting staff and getting their programmes up and running. The pilots will run for two years. They are funded in the first year by my Department and in the second year by the council itself.

Local Authority Funding: North-east

5. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of Government funding for local authorities in the north-east since 2010. (905881)

From 2015-16 to 2019-20, north-east councils will have access to £11.3 billion in core spending power. The 2018-19 settlement sees a 1.9% increase in the money available to north-east councils.

The Minister will be aware that north-east councils have had a 50% cut in Government grant since 2010. At the same time, the richest individuals in this country have had a £10 billion tax cut. Does he think it is right that these needless tax cuts are paid for by local government jobs, pay cuts and the loss of local government services?

On the subject of those who can afford it building up savings, I might point out to the hon. Gentleman that his local authority—I remind him, as I am sure he knows, that every seat except one is held by the Labour party—has increased its reserves by £7 million since 2010, so perhaps he should be addressing his questions on redundancies and closures to the local Labour party.

The Minister knows that the slashing of funding for Newcastle City Council can be seen in the increased litter on our streets, increased crime rates as youth services are cut and reduced public services generally. What will he say to my constituents who want to know why central Government care so little for their wellbeing?

On whether central Government care for people in Newcastle, I would say that surely they, like the hon. Lady, should welcome the £600 million of new money provided for the devolution deal; the Great Exhibition of the North, opening this Friday, which is set to boost her local economy by £184 million; the Budget announcement of £337 million for the Tyne and Wear Metro; north-east local enterprise partnerships having £379 million invested in them directly; and the north-east investment fund just announced, with £120 million. This is a golden era of Government investment in the north-east, but it takes the Conservative party to deliver it.

Adult Social Care

6. What recent assessment he has made of the ability of local authorities to deliver their statutory duties for adult social care. (905882)

14. What recent assessment he has made of the ability of local authorities to deliver their statutory duties for adult social care. (905891)

As part of the Ministry’s oversight of local government, we consider the financial stability and service delivery of individual authorities, liaising with the Department of Health and Social Care on adult social care. On that basis, we have no immediate concerns about the ability of local authorities to fulfil their statutory duties.

Wow! I am shocked by that response. This year’s precept of 1% raises only 0.8% of our total adult social care budget in the Borough of Rochdale. With nursing home beds being converted into residential beds because of providers’ difficulties in recruiting and retaining nurses, how does the Minister suggest that my local authority provides the nursing home beds that my constituents so desperately need?

This Government have increased funding for social care across the country. Rather than talking down the hon. Lady’s constituency and local authority, I point out that Rochdale’s performance in reducing delayed transfers of care is among the best in the country and deserves praise, rather than being talked down.

This weekend we heard the announcement of additional funding for the NHS, but there was no mention of funding to resolve the issues in social care as part of that package. What discussions were there with the Secretary of State about the future funding of social care in advance of that announcement?

This Government want to guarantee the security and dignity of people in old age and are absolutely committed to providing a long-term sustainable settlement on social care, on which the hon. Lady will know the Health Secretary is working. He will bring forward plans in due course.

Some 1.2 million older people in England are living with unmet care needs, according to Age UK. More than 400,000 fewer people are receiving publicly funded social care than in 2010. Council spending on adult social care fell by 10% in real terms between 2010 and 2015. A miserly £150 million in funding was announced for 2018-19 in the local government finance settlement, and now we hear that there is no funding for social care in yesterday’s NHS announcement. With social care in crisis, putting pressure on the NHS and sending councils across England towards bankruptcy, when is this Minister going to do his job and secure the resources that our councils need to give the elderly the dignity they so desperately deserve?

This Government are already responding to the pressures in social care, which is why we announced £2 billion in last year’s Budget for local authorities up and down the country. That represents a real-terms increase every year from last year to next year in social care spending, and we are seeing it translate into action on the ground, with a 40% reduction in social care delayed transfers of care just last month.

Social Housing

We have delivered 357,000 affordable homes since 2010, which is more than in the last seven years of the previous Labour Government, and we will be spending £9 billion on affordable housing, including social housing, until 2022.

Will the Minister join me in thanking housing associations across the country for all the great work they do on social housing, and in particular Rooftop Housing in my constituency, which has built 850 homes in the last six years, including substantial housing for elderly people and those with supportive care needs?

Housing associations played a key role in delivering more than 41,000 homes through the affordable homes programme last year. I certainly welcome the contribution of housing associations in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We are restless to do more, through measures such as long-term rent certainty and raising the housing revenue account borrowing cap.

Does the Minister recognise that for many people on low incomes, paying 80% of market rent is not affordable—it is simply unaffordable? When will the Government ditch this twisted notion of affordability and build more homes for social rent?

We are lifting the HRA borrowing cap. We are giving local authorities and housing associations longer-term certainty with their rents, and we also look forward to the publication of the social housing Green Paper, to address all these issues in the round.

I must say to the Minister that on Saturday at the Buckingham literary festival I met one of his constituents, and I told the constituent that the hon. Gentleman was a clever fellow.

19. What steps are the Government taking to speed up the local planning process and make it more about delivering affordable housing and new homes than about narrow local or petty partisan politics? (905898)

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your kind words.

Through the changes that we are making to the national planning policy framework, we want to streamline the process to get homes built and, particularly through our emphasis on the housing delivery test, to make sure that homes are built for the next generation.

21. There is growing interest on the Opposition side of the House in funding social housing through land value uplift. Does the Minister have any plans to introduce a land value cap within the lifetime of this Parliament? (905900)

I certainly welcome the hon. Gentleman’s thoughts, and we have heard such ideas on our side of the House as well. I would be very happy to see any proposals he has, and we would certainly take them very seriously.

To enable developers to build the right proportion of affordable housing, it is essential that they have the money for infrastructure. In that respect, I welcome the £7.6 million we have received for the spine road in Staplegrove. When will we know whether £18 million of funding will be announced following the joint bid by my council and Sedgemoor?

I thank my hon. Friend. The housing infrastructure fund is absolutely vital because people rightly ask local authorities with the ambition to build new homes where the roads, schools and clinics will come from. We are taking forward a whole range of bids for co-development. The business proposals will be analysed by my Department, and we will make further announcements in the autumn.

The Ministry’s own figures show that, at the end of 2014, the number of households in temporary accommodation in Bromley stood at 956, and by December 2017, the figure had risen to 1,501. There are simply not enough affordable homes in London, so when will the Government take real action to make sure that councils such as Bromley get building?

We are raising the HRA cap to give local authorities more flexibility to enable them to deliver the homes. The hon. Lady may also want to have a word with the Mayor of London, because we want the ambition from central Government taken right the way through. She is right to mention local councils, but we must also make sure that city hall is doing its bit.

Brownfield Regeneration

8. What steps his Department plans to take to enable local authorities to prioritise brownfield regeneration. (905884)

This Government are continuing to identify ways to ensure that local authorities make full and efficient use of brownfield land, including through changing the national planning policy framework, supporting the reuse of buildings through permitted development rights, and requiring every authority to publish and maintain a register of brownfield land suitable for housing.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but what progress has been made in giving Homes England the powers and resources it needs to acquire sites in fragmented ownership in order to deliver regeneration for our communities?

My hon. Friend is well known for his work in ensuring that brownfield land is prioritised for development. The Government are currently working up the details of a new £1.1 billion land assembly fund to enable Homes England to work alongside private developers to develop strategic sites, including new settlements and urban regeneration schemes. Homes England is also encouraged to use its powers of compulsory purchase, where necessary, to deliver community regeneration.

18. Where local authorities have a shortage of brownfield sites, will they be exempt from the requirement under the new national plan proposals, and will the Secretary of State reserve the power to call in such a decision? (905897)

The Government do not have the ability to force local authorities to build on brownfield sites. I am sure we can write to the hon. Gentleman to get specific details of the needs of his local authority area.

20. With former offices currently being converted into high-quality apartments in Cheadle Hulme, it is clear that first-class housing can be built using existing brownfield land and through office redevelopments. Does the Minister agree that district centres can be revitalised with permitted developments that provide much needed local town centre homes? (905899)

Again, my hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for her local area. It is very important that her local authority continues, with the Government, to identify ways to increase the take-up of these sites, especially for new homes, and to ensure that suitable brownfield land is prioritised for development.

Recent figures from the Campaign to Protect Rural England show that the amount of farmland, forest, gardens and greenfield land lost to development each year has increased by 58% over the past four years. What are the Government going to do to better protect our vital green spaces and redevelop our brownfield sites, which are so urgently in need of regeneration?

The hon. Lady makes a very important point. She will no doubt be aware of the protections in the NPPF to ensure that green-belt and greenfield sites are protected. I encourage all right hon. and hon. Members to remind their local authorities that there are protections in that policy framework.

As the Minister will know, I recently wrote to the Secretary of State to make a strong case for calling in a decision made by Labour-controlled Bradford Council to build 500 houses on the green belt in Burley in Wharfedale in my constituency. Given that Bradford’s Telegraph & Argus has reported today that Bradford Council is taking out of the plan a brownfield site in the city centre where more than 600 houses would have been built so that it can be used as a car park until at least 2024, will the Minister confirm that there can clearly not be “exceptional circumstances” to justify building 500 houses on the green belt in Burley in Wharfedale?

I am afraid that I have not read this morning’s Telegraph & Argus and seen that particular news; I shall try to get a copy by the end of today. I am sure that my hon. Friend realises that I cannot comment specifically on such a case. I understand that my colleague the Minister for Housing will be writing to him in very short order.

Northern Powerhouse

We are delivering economic growth across the northern powerhouse by devolving more power and investing more than any Government in history in our transport infrastructure. That is why, since the northern powerhouse was launched, we have grown the northern economy by £20 billion.

Cheshire West and Chester Council, Cheshire East Council, Warrington Borough Council, the local enterprise partnership and other stakeholders are determined in their quest to secure a devolution deal, yet increasingly frustrated. Will the Minister update the House on the timetable for the deal?

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, all the councils he mentions and the LEP have brought out what they refer to as the prospectus for growth, which is looking at how they can deliver real economic benefits for the people who live in Warrington and elsewhere in Cheshire. The Government remain open to ground-up locally supported devolution deals. I encourage the hon. Gentleman, the council leaders and the LEP to continue the discussions they have been having with me and my officials.

Last Friday it was announced that Siemens had won the contract for the new Piccadilly line trains and will now invest £200 million in a new train factory in Goole, creating 700 jobs—so not all investment in the south turns out to be all that terrible. However, can we make sure that the Department and the Minister in particular work with Siemens to ensure that the supply chain benefits the north of England in particular?

It takes a former northern powerhouse Minister to remind the current one that those new trains built in my hon. Friend’s constituency in Goole must benefit the entirety of the north of England. I will work with him to make sure that happens.

Should not the Government Front-Bench team learn this truth: that since the departure of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, there has been no vision, no leadership and no result for the northern powerhouse? Can the Minister not provide some real leadership and let us catch up with some of these soft people in the south of England and London who get all the investment?

I am torn: I find myself partially agreeing with the hon. Gentleman, although I certainly do not agree that there has been no vision or leadership on the northern powerhouse. Since I became Minister we have announced a “minded to” deal for a North of Tyne combined authority, we have reaffirmed the commitment to the north Wales growth deal, we have announced that we intend to do a growth deal in the borderlands and the last Budget included £1.8 billion of new money going to the north of England.

Midlands Engine

We recently launched the £250 million midlands engine investment fund and agreed a second devolution deal with the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street. We have also given £4 million to the midlands engine partnership to support a range of economic activity, including that of our very important ceramics sector.

I thank the Minister for that response. How best can we encourage new businesses into town centres in the midlands, like those in Longton and Fenton in my constituency, so we can see the revival of our high streets?

The future health of our high streets is extremely important, which is why I am pleased to be able to announce today that my Department will launch a call for evidence over the summer looking at the future of our high street. We intend to establish an expert panel to diagnose the issues currently affecting the high street. I will be visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency shortly. I hope Longton and Fenton will make their voices heard.

Local Authorities: Children’s Services

11. What assessment he has made of the effect on the long-term financial viability of local authorities of the use of their reserves to fund children's services. (905888)

Settlement funding has increased in recognition of pressures, including demand for children’s services. In addition, many local authorities have built up substantial reserves over recent years. It is absolutely right that they use those where necessary to protect high quality services for taxpayers.

Baby P, Victoria Climbié, Shannon Matthews—I am sure the House remembers those names. Child safety is a major concern right across our country, with councils starting no fewer than 500 child protection investigations a day. St Helens Council has almost twice as many looked-after children as the national average and has pulled £5 million from reserves to fund their care. That is unsustainable. Does the Minister really realise what is at stake? What will the Minister do to ensure that councils have the money they need to support our vulnerable children, instead of washing his hands of this?

This Government have ensured that all local authorities have increased resources to deal with all the various services they have to provide, including children’s services, on which, I am pleased to say, over £9 billion will be spent this year. The hon. Lady mentions reserves. She may know that last year reserves in her local authority were actually higher than they were five years ago.

We all want to live in a Britain where young people are safe, well cared for and nurtured, but for too many real life is very different. They rely instead on council safeguarding services to give them the protection they need, the very services that are facing a £2 billion funding gap and that have already overspent by £600 million. The question is simple: when can we see real action, with real money going directly to children’s services?

As I just said, £9 billion is going to children’s services just this year. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are undertaking a fresh review of the relative needs and resources of all local authorities. As part of that work, there is ongoing work with the Department for Education to understand in detail the specific drivers for children’s services up and down the country. I look forward to his contributions to that piece of work.

Local Authorities: Vulnerable Children

12. What recent assessment he has made of the ability of local authorities to discharge their statutory responsibilities to vulnerable children. (905889)

15. What recent assessment he has made of the ability of local authorities to discharge their statutory responsibilities to vulnerable children. (905892)

Her Majesty’s chief inspector of education, children’s services and skills is responsible for the inspection of local authority children’s services. Last year, spending on the most vulnerable children increased to over £9 billion. I very much welcome the efforts of colleagues in the Department for Education and in local councils, who continually look for ways to improve their services.

Following the murder in Ipswich two weeks ago of a 17-year-old and the critical stabbing of a 16-year-old on Wednesday evening, does the Minister recognise the serious effects that cuts to support for looked-after children and other vulnerable young people are having on their ability to lead safe, productive and law-abiding lives?

I am sure the thoughts of the whole House are with the families of the young children the hon. Gentleman mentions at this difficult time. Matters of policing and crime are for the Home Office, but the Government and local councils agree about the importance of high quality children’s services. He will know that a new inspection framework was introduced earlier this year. I am pleased that Suffolk County Council, his local authority, was rated good in its most recent inspection.

Has the Minister spoken to his counterparts at the Department for Education to discuss ways to improve the educational attainment of looked-after and vulnerable children? If not, why not?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. He will be pleased to know that just last week I met the Children’s Minister to discuss exactly the topic that he raised. In particular, one of the topics that we discussed was the care leavers covenant, which the Government are piloting and introducing to improve the educational and employment outcomes for children and young people leaving care.

Property Rental Market

It is hard to call somewhere home if you might not be living there in three months’ time, and for children, leaving home can also mean leaving school. Will my hon. Friend advise me what he is doing to increase the security of tenancies for people in rental accommodation?

I certainly recognise my hon. Friend’s concerns. In fact, we will shortly be consulting on the barriers to longer-term tenancies to inform our work and assess what further ways landlords can be supported to offer more secure tenancies.

The legal framework and guidance governing the relationship between lodgers and landlords has not been updated since 2006, pre-dating the growth in online lettings platforms and the affordability crisis, which has led many more people to become both landlords and lodgers. In this relationship, both parties can find themselves vulnerable. The current framework of protection is not fit for purpose. Will the Government take action to bring the framework that governs the relationship between landlords and lodgers up to date?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We keep these matters and the regime under constant review. If she would like to write to me on the specific things that she takes issue with, we will of course look at them.

If the Government are serious about tackling rogue landlords, will the Secretary of State today back Labour’s plans to give local authorities the power to crack down on rogue landlords through private sector licensing, without authorities having to seek permission from central Government?

We are introducing the Tenant Fees Bill, which will not just make renting fairer but save tenants an estimated £240 million in its first year. My concern with Labour’s proposals is that Shelter has said that they would hurt some of the most vulnerable in our society.

There are 22,000 properties in Hull with a housing, health and social care rating hazard category of 1, the highest hazard rating that there is, and all these properties are in the private rented sector. The cost of repairing and removing these hazards is £23.5 million. Who does the Minister think should pay for that? Does he think it should be councils or private landlords? If he thinks that it should be private landlords, when will he start making it easier for councils to introduce private landlord licensing?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We absolutely think that the onus should be on the landlords. That is why we introduced civil penalties of up to £30,000 on rogue landlords and, in April, we are introducing banning orders and a database of rogue landlords and agents, so that we make sure that we protect tenants in the real world from that kind of abuse.

Topical Questions

With Ramadan ending, I want to wish everyone Eid Mubarak. This week, we remember the Finsbury Park attack and, last week, we marked one year since the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The cladding thought to have been used on Grenfell Tower was unlawful under existing building regulations and should not have been used. To ensure that there is no doubt about which materials can be used on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings, today I am publishing a consultation on banning the use of combustible materials. Copies of the consultation are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

This Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush, and I hope colleagues from across the House will welcome the announcement of a national Windrush day to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation.

South Gloucestershire Council is planning to build thousands of homes, which local families need, but a slow build-out rate from developers is putting the whole of the authority’s plans at risk because of a shortage of five-year land supply. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on his strategy to ensure that permissions are built as quickly as possible?

I agree with my hon. Friend on the need to ensure that permissions are built out quickly. We will be taking that into firm consideration as part of the update to the national planning policy framework, which will be published before the summer. I hope he will also be aware of the work that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) is doing to see what the barriers are to prevent those build-outs from happening, and we will reflect on his ultimate recommendations.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Prime Minister recently announced a growth deal for Ayrshire, and I am delighted to tell him that the negotiations, led by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, are now under way, but it can only proceed as fast as the slowest actors, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will use his not inconsiderable influence to pressurise the Scottish Government to play their part in the negotiations.

T2. Will my hon. Friend advise me on when Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire will get their business rates retention? (905903)

My hon. Friend has been a long-standing advocate for rural funding in his county, and I am pleased to tell him that we will continue to pilot reform of the business rates retention system in the forthcoming year. We will publish details of the new pilot very shortly and would very much welcome Staffordshire’s application to become a pilot.

T5. My constituent Shirley Todd, a wheelchair user, carried out a survey of part of the city and discovered that 72% of businesses were inaccessible to wheelchair users. She has now launched a national campaign and petition. Will the Minister agree to consider plans to make local authorities responsible for proactively enforcing the provisions in the Equality Act 2010? (905906)

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important topic. She will know that in the past I have spoken about greater provision of Changing Places in this House. Building regulations set the access requirements for new buildings, while the Equality Act requires providers to make reasonable adjustments. If someone feels they have been discriminated against, there are several means of redress, and the Equality Advisory Support Service can provide help and support in that process.

T4. Local councils in Northamptonshire today launched their official five-week consultation on how the eight councils in the county might best be merged into two by 2020. Will the Secretary of State join me in encouraging all local residents to take part so that their views can be heard loud and clear? (905905)

I certainly would encourage residents to take part in the consultation. My hon. Friend has rightly highlighted the challenge and need for the county to come together around this. We will obviously look to the consultation and the proposals as they are forthcoming to provide that long-term stability and solution.

T6. Houses in multiple occupancy are an important part of a mixed housing economy, but when whole streets of former family properties become HMOs, it can put great pressure on local services and leave remaining residents feeling isolated. What actions does the Secretary of State intend to take to genuinely empower local residents to have a meaningful influence on their communities where traditional planning requirements do not apply? (905908)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his constituents have had an opportunity to make a submission on the revised national planning policy framework. We want to make sure that we give clear guidance, but ultimately it will be up to local authorities to get the balance right for the communities they serve.

T7. Chelmsford is a rapidly growing city, with many new houses planned, but plans for a second railway station and bypass have been put off for too many years. Fortunately, we are through to the final round of bids for the housing infrastructure fund. Will the Minister update us on the timing and process for Chelmsford’s key bids? (905909)

Local authorities can submit their business cases from September and we expect to make the funding decisions later in the autumn. The £4 billion forward funding stream is an essential mechanism to unlock the delivery of 400,000 extra homes and make sure we carry communities with us.

I recently went out early one morning with the outreach workers of St Mungo’s, who help people newly sleeping rough to get into long-term support. Why is the Secretary of State pressing ahead with changes to funding for homeless hostels and other supported housing that charities such as St Mungo’s have said could threaten their hostels?

I, too, have visited St Mungo’s and seen the excellent work it does to provide first-night-out support to people on the streets. I will continue to work with it and other charities as we look towards our strategy for dealing with rough sleeping and at how that will need to reflect on all these important issues.

T8. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be aware of my view—as he and I have discussed it—that most objections to large planning developments are based on the fact that the developments themselves add nothing to the local vernacular, do not acknowledge it and are often poorly built. That is partly owing to a lack of local planning officers and the fact that planning officers are poorly trained. Could the Government consider affiliating some of them to the Royal Institute of British Architects or the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, and empowering them so that they can stand against the volume house builders? (905910)

My right hon. Friend has made a powerful point about design. We have tried to bring people together on round tables to consider such issues, and to think about what the national planning policy framework can do to advance the agenda that he has highlighted.

Why is the Secretary of State pressing ahead with changes in funding for homelessness hostels and other supported housing which charities in my constituency, such as the YMCA, have said could threaten their vital services?

As the hon. Lady will know, the Government have been consulting on that very issue. We are absolutely committed to reducing homelessness, and we will be able to provide further information in due course.

No, it is me. Up and down—you have to be quick.

On 9 May the Secretary of State announced the allocation of funds for the £28 million Housing First pilots, which will be in Greater Manchester, the Liverpool city region and the west midlands. Plans to measure the impact and value for money of the approach are also well under way, and the first beneficiaries of the pilots will be housed in the autumn.

The Government are currently consulting on sites for Traveller families. Rather than simply looking at more enforcement, which police chiefs and others say will not work, what positive solutions is the Minister considering, and will he meet the all-party parliamentary group for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma to discuss some of those positive alternatives?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I should certainly be very happy to receive any submissions from her. I think it is right that we increase the trend making authorised sites available and, at the same time, ensure that, through both local authority and police powers, enforcement and the rule of law apply to all members of our communities.

The draft national planning policy framework largely closes the loophole of viability assessments, which developers often use to avoid the requirement for affordable housing. Would the Minister consider introducing stronger compulsory purchase order powers, so that local authorities can step in and purchase sites when developers continue to refuse to meet their obligations?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know how interested my hon. Friend is in this matter. CPO powers certainly have a role to play, although they must be exercised proportionately. The review conducted by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) will enable us to look at the issue in the round.

The discussions about any increase in funds for the NHS have been well publicised, but it is shocking that there is no extra money for social care. Was the Secretary of State aware that those discussions were taking place, and did he make any representations to increase funding for social care?

As I have said, the Government are committed to providing a long-term, sustainable settlement for social care. That work has been ongoing for a while and is continuing. It includes the Secretary of State, along with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and there will be a report in due course.

Corby and East Northamptonshire is at the forefront when it comes to building new homes, but there are currently a number of planning applications in the system that are completely unwanted and on green open space, although we more than exceed our housing targets. Does my hon. Friend agree that, in such instances, when local communities are doing all the right things, local developers should respect their wishes?

I congratulate my hon. Friend and his local authority. We want to see local authorities exercise their ambition, and we want to support them with the homes infrastructure funding that is available. Of course, once authorities have their local plans in place, they should have the protections to ensure that those plans are properly delivered and not abused.

I thank the Secretary of State for the letter that he wrote to me on 7 June about New Ferry. When I meet him, as he has invited me to do, will that invitation extend not just to me and to the Mayor of Liverpool city region, Steve Rotheram, but to residents of New Ferry?

The hon. Lady and I have had an exchange of correspondence and I take the concerns that she has highlighted very seriously. I will certainly liaise with her office in finalising arrangements for that meeting and making it happen.

The music industry, clubgoers, musicians and the Musicians Union all welcome the inclusion of the Agent of Change principle in the Department’s proposed revision of planning regulation. When will the Minister actually introduce that much-welcomed and much-needed change?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the fabulous work he has done, alongside UK Music and others interested in this subject, to bring about this change in policy in what is a very important area. The Government will be responding very shortly.

It is really good to see the northern powerhouse Minister on the Treasury Bench because in recent weeks there was a view that he had gone out of service when we were facing the rail chaos around the new timetabling, so could he tell us exactly what he has been doing to improve connectivity between the east and west of the north?

Apart from doing ITV, Granada, the BBC and local papers, including the Manchester Evening News, I do not know where the hon. Lady has been looking, but we continue to work with Transport for the North to improve transport connections across the north of England. This Government have been absolutely clear that the performance of Northern has been unacceptable, but I offer Labour Members the opportunity to condemn the RMT strike action, which is going to make a bad situation worse, or are they too heavily in hock to the unions to do what is right for the northern powerhouse?

Good public health is the best way of improving the wellbeing of the community, yet York City Council has slashed the public health budget by £1.3 million and we now have the highest level of in-service drug deaths in the country, so what is the Minister doing to protect public health, particularly given the removal of the public health grant?

These are all magnificent questions, but I hope the House will take it in the right spirit if I say that I do not think many hon. and right hon. Members have yet read the textbook on pithy questioning available on general release from the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne). It would be a very useful Christmas present.

The public health grant is not being ended; it is being folded into the business rates retention plan that the local government sector has welcomed and agreed for that process. Also, a new funding formula is being worked out with the Department of Health and Social Care specifically for public health, and I am sure we will welcome the hon. Lady’s contributions to that.

Has the Secretary of State yet personally had the chance to consider the important matter of Yorkshire devolution, and will he agree to meet the Yorkshire leaders from all parties before Yorkshire Day on 1 August—the Secretary of State personally?

We are seeing peace and harmony across the House on Yorkshire.

I have been having discussions with the Secretary of State on Yorkshire devolution and with the recently elected Mayor of South Yorkshire. The Government have been absolutely clear that, before “One Yorkshire” can proceed, the South Yorkshire devolution deal must be fully implemented. It is up to the Labour party councils in South Yorkshire to get on with that. Nearly £1 billion in Government funding could flow to South Yorkshire. Why do they not seem to want it?

While the Minister is on his feet, could he tell me when he expects a spade to be in the ground for the North Wales growth deal—any project, any spade, anywhere?

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware—because he, like me, attended a meeting at the Wales Office just before Christmas—the North Wales growth deal is proceeding well, but it can only go as fast as the slowest actors, so I say to him that he has power and influence over the North Wales local authorities. This Government have been clear: we would like to see concrete proposals come forward for the autumn Budget, but we cannot do this without the support of the North Wales authorities.

As I always like to welcome new young Members, I call, for the second time today, Mr Barry Sheerman.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will the Secretary of State urgently give local authorities new powers and new resources to tackle the tide of plastic and other waste that is engulfing our towns, cities and countryside?

I think the hon. Gentleman will, with all his years in this House, recognise the importance of this issue and that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been taking important steps as well. Of course local government have a responsibility too, and I hope he will welcome the settlement that has seen more resources going to local government under this Government.