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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
05 November 2018
Volume 648

Housing, Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Leasehold Charges

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1. What recent steps he has taken to protect existing leaseholders from high leasehold charges. [907431]

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4. What recent steps he has taken to protect existing leaseholders from high leasehold charges. [907435]

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Before I answer these questions, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering our condolences to the family and friends of Sir Jeremy Heywood, who passed away at the weekend. He demonstrated all that is precious in our civil service through the way in which he supported Governments of all colours, and the manner in which he supported four Prime Ministers. He showed leadership, real focus and ingenuity in dealing with challenging issues, as well as calmness and a real sense of humour. I know that he will be missed by everyone on both sides of the House.

Unfair leasehold practices have no place in a modern housing market, and neither do excessive ground rents that exploit consumers. I will be making clear to developers at a roundtable meeting later this week the need for the industry to provide greater support to existing leaseholders.

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I thank the Secretary of State for his response, and I would like to associate myself with his remarks about the sad death of Sir Jeremy Heywood.

Will the Secretary of State explain how the steps he has outlined will help my constituent, Linda Barnes, who owns a flat that is valued at £80,000 and pays an onerous ground rent of £400 a year rent on it? What help will he give so that such flats can become attractive to buyers again?

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I am conscious of some of the bad practices in the leasehold market, which is why I will be meeting the industry later this week to underline the need for redress and for solutions to be offered to people who have in some cases been mis-sold. I certainly take this seriously. I have also written to the Competition and Markets Authority and to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, in the knowledge that there are serious questions about some of the practices involved, in order to ensure that we are taking action on a number of fronts in response to the challenges that the hon. Lady rightly highlights.

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Three weeks ago, members of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee held a roundtable for leaseholders at the start of our inquiry. They told us about the problem of escalating ground rents that trap them in homes that they can no longer sell. They made it clear that they wanted existing leaseholds to be ended; does the Secretary of State agree with them?

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We are working with the Law Commission around greater enfranchisement in order to bring leaseholds to an end. I am also conscious that at least one provider in the market has offered some means of redress and of dealing with some of the issues, but the point is that we need to go further, and that is what I shall be challenging representatives of the industry on when I meet them later this week.

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The House will be grateful to the Secretary of State for saying that he is going to commit to doing all he can for residential leaseholders on existing leases, which are abusive. It is still not too late for the Competition and Markets Authority to declare some of those leases to be so unfair as to be unenforceable.

I hope that, in time, the Secretary of State will meet representatives of the industry, along with the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and the Leaseholder Association —and perhaps the Chairman of the Select Committee, which is having hearings this afternoon—and that the campaigners and the industry will all meet together so that the Secretary of State is not hearing one thing in one ear and another thing in the other. We have to represent the leaseholders.

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I hear my hon. Friend’s message very clearly indeed. We have been provided with a number of examples of egregious practice, and I intend to challenge some of the concerns that have been flagged to me. I am sure that we will continue to have this conversation, but I have noted his points.

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The Law Commission process grinds on, but what advice can be given in the meantime to constituents who present with the most outrageous charges?

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Advice is being given by LEASE and others, but this is about transparency and providing more support, which is where the industry has a key role to play. That is why we will be making these points to the industry later this week, as well as looking at where the regulatory aspects might sit.

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Leaseholders in several private blocks in Leeds are being asked to pay huge bills to deal with unsafe cladding. The cost is between £10,000 and £28,000 for each leaseholder at Skyline Apartments, and the total cost of replacing the cladding in the Saxton development could be as high as £8 million. Given that my constituents are being asked to pay money that they do not have to deal with a problem that they did not create, when will the Government stop urging freeholders not to charge leaseholders and actually prevent them from doing so by law?

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We have taken several steps and put significant pressure on the industry, and that is starting to have an impact as many freeholders take the necessary steps to make buildings safe without passing on the costs to leaseholders, who should not bear them. I am happy to consider the right hon. Gentleman’s specific examples, because we are in direct contact with several different agencies, and indeed with local government about taking enforcement action, to see that work is done.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for his answers. I urge the Government to bring in legislation to bar such charges in future, but we would still need to address those who have been unfairly put in this position in the first place. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to consider not only legislation for the future, but retrospective legislation to address the egregious practices that have taken place.

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As my hon. Friend will know, we are consulting on the implementation of a ban on inappropriate leaseholds on homes, which are the core of what we are discussing. Legislation will come forward once we have seen the responses to our technical consultation, and there will obviously be plenty of opportunity for colleagues to debate the matter further.

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I start by formally echoing the Secretary of State’s comments about Sir Jeremy Heywood. Many of us were privileged to work with Sir Jeremy, and he was an exceptional civil servant who gave outstanding service to this country. Our deep sympathies are with his wife and family at this time.

As we have heard, many of us have constituents who bought their home but then found that they do not own it and feel ripped off by unfair leasehold contracts. When we hear, repeatedly, that leasehold buyers did not choose their own solicitor, were wrongly told that they could buy their freehold cheaply at any time, or found out later that they had to ask and pay freeholders for permission to own a pet, change their carpets or build a conservatory, the individual cases add up to something bigger. The Government must act, just as with other mis-selling scandals, such as on pensions, mortgages or payment protection insurance. Will the Secretary of State today back an inquiry into this systematic mis-selling to leaseholders?

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I recognise and appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about Sir Jeremy Heywood. I know that that message will have been heard throughout the House.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s investigation into leasehold is live, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman recognises the seriousness with which we take the issues that he and others have flagged, and the troubling matters that pertain to some of the practices within the leasehold market. That is why I am taking action.

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It is not the Select Committee’s action that counts, but the Government’s action, which has been too weak and too slow and, critically, largely overlooks the plight of existing leaseholders. An industry survey shows that six in 10 leaseholders did not even know what being a leaseholder meant until after they had bought, and that nine in 10 regret having bought a leasehold at all. Those are classic signs of mis-selling—it is a national scandal. I will give the Secretary of State another chance: when will he stand up for leaseholders and launch an inquiry into mis-selling?

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Nobody is ignoring the issue. That is not only why we are legislating to address the inappropriate use of leasehold for new homes, but why I have underlined today the requests that I have made of the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Competition and Markets Authority. We recognise that there are serious issues, which is why we are taking action. We want to ensure that leaseholders’ concerns are heard and fully understood, and that redress can be provided.

Homeless Families: Accommodation Outside Home Borough

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2. What guidance he has issued to local authorities on accommodating homeless families outside of their home borough. [907433]

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I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As usual, I ask people to note my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

In December 2017 we updated the homelessness code of guidance for local authorities, chapter 17 of which makes it clear that, when possible, local authorities should place families as close as possible to where they were previously living.

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There has been a 40% rise in London households being moved out of London by their local authority, and my own experience shows that local authorities are also moving families in unprecedented numbers away from their community, their children’s schools, their workplaces and their support. The code of guidance is clearly not working, so can the Minister tell us unambiguously that local authorities should, under no circumstances, expect children to commute to school from temporary accommodation for two, three or even four hours every day?

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I do understand the particular problem that the hon. Lady is having in Westminster, but it is the London boroughs. We have been clear that placing families out of borough should be a last resort, and we have now committed £40 million to a London collaborative project that will ensure that families are placed in temporary accommodation close to home. We also recently launched the £20 million private rented sector access fund to support those who are homeless, or who are at risk of becoming homeless, to access sustainable accommodation. Finally, our specialist homelessness advisers are working closely with London boroughs in particular to provide support to limit the number of out-of-borough moves altogether.

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The Housing First initiative has clear potential to prevent homelessness. What is the Department doing to monitor the effectiveness of pilots in Manchester and other cities, and what are its plans for taking the evidence forward?

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My hon. Friend is right. The Housing First projects in Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool are backed by the £1.2 billion that we have committed to tackle all forms of homelessness and rough sleeping across the country through to 2020. Housing First and the private rented sector access fund are also providing local authorities with flexible funding to tackle the homelessness pressures they are facing.

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The guidance also says that an authority moving a homeless family out to another area should inform the receiving authority within 14 days. I have written to the Minister twice about this issue, and she has replied that Peterborough City Council is systematically dumping homeless families in Travelodges across South Yorkshire without telling the receiving authority. What will she do to ensure that the statutory guidance passed by this House is actually enforced and that authorities do not continue to flout it?

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The hon. Gentleman is an assiduous Member and does such a good job of chairing the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee —[Interruption.] Do you mind? We are trying to get there; let us have a bit of civility, shall we?

I have written again to the hon. Gentleman, and the important thing is that we have now had frank words with the local authority in Peterborough to say that it should have informed the receiving authorities—it has now done that. The team we have put together to help with homelessness is having a special word with Peterborough and other councils that were thinking of placing homeless people out of borough.

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Homelessness has risen in each and every one of the past seven years. In the last year alone, 440 homeless people have died. The Budget pledged nearly £10 billion to a poorly targeted help-to-buy scheme, but it failed to mention homelessness once. Now the Secretary of State has scrimped together a measly £15,000 each for councils to tackle winter pressures. Will that guarantee that we will not see any rough sleepers on the streets this winter?

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Sadly I do not have a crystal ball, but what I do have is a team of fantastic advisers who are making sure that councils have put in really good bids to help rough sleepers. Secondly, there is money: £40 million, £30 million, £75 million and, now, another £5 million. This Government take homelessness and rough sleeping extremely seriously, and we are the only Government who have put it in our manifesto that we want to halve homelessness and rough sleeping. We will be looking after the most vulnerable people in 2020, and we will finish this altogether in 2027. The answer is that the Government and the money that taxpayers are providing are doing their best.

Local Government: Departmental Support

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3. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s support for local government. [907434]

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Councils will receive a real-terms increase in financial resources both this year and next. Furthermore, the Department funds the Local Government Association to provide support for local authorities to build leadership capacity, conduct peer reviews and facilitate efficiency initiatives.

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I thank the Minister for that. What help is being provided specifically for Somerset County Council to cope with the escalating demands of adult social care and children’s services? Will he bear in mind that Somerset County Council desperately needs £80 million from the housing infrastructure fund in order to cope with providing much-needed future infrastructure?

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My hon. Friend is tireless in pressing Somerset’s case. We listened carefully to her and others, and the Budget confirmed an additional £650 million for social care next year, and indeed an additional £500 million for the housing infrastructure fund. I am sure that the Minister for Housing will have heard her submission, but given what I have said, and the LGA’s specific support for Somerset with its children’s services, I hope she feels that we are responding to Somerset’s concerns and hers.

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I do not know whether the Minister has ever heard the song “Streets of London” by Ralph McTell, but it is worth listening to just to be reminded of what the streets of every town in this country are like: how run down they are; how many rough sleepers there are; how much deterioration there is; how much graffiti there is; and how many broken pavements there are. That is what my constituents see in my town, and it is happening up and down this country because this Government have starved our country’s local government service.

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The hon. Gentleman may want to talk this country down, but Conservative Members have enormous faith in towns and communities up and down this country, which was why in the Budget we backed Britain’s high streets with a £675 million fund. We did that because we believe in local communities taking control of their high streets and developing vibrant communities that we will enjoy for years to come.

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What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that local authorities in rural areas can deliver public services effectively?

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My hon. Friend has met me and others to discuss the cost of delivering services in rural areas, particularly in Leicestershire. His local county council has been a vocal proponent of a new fair funding formula, and I am pleased to tell him that we are engaged with his council and others to take into account those concerns, and we will shortly be issuing the latest round of consultation on those proposals.

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When one of the councils serving my constituency still faces £43 million of cuts over the next four years—more than the combined total it currently spends on recycling, parks, libraries, children’s centres, roads and pavements, and community safety—does the Secretary of State agree with the Prime Minister that austerity is over, or does he share the incredulity of so many of my constituents who wonder how she could possibly be so out of touch?

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This Government believe in backing local authorities to build strong communities. The hon. Lady mentioned parks and roads. Perhaps she heard in the Budget about £420 million for our councils to fix potholes this winter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently announced another round of our hugely successful pocket parks programme, and I encourage her local authority to bid as well.

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In Northampton- shire, the borough councils, the district councils and the county council are all working together to set up two new unitary authorities. Is the excellent Minister able to say when he is going to consult on that? Secondly, is he able to say when he will make a decision on whether next year’s borough and district council elections need to go ahead?

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May I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to all the local councillors in Northamptonshire, who are working very constructively together through a difficult situation to ensure that their residents benefit at the end of the process? I can tell him that reasonably shortly we will be issuing details about the next step of that process. As he rightly points out, as part of that the Government may have the ability to delay the elections next year, should that be requested by the authorities and it make sense in the context of the new unitisation proposals.

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This Government’s record on local government is clear: since 2010, the Department’s budget has fallen by at least £13 billion; and, by 2020, the revenue support grant will be cut by 80%—£8 billion—putting more pressure on to council tax, which is an unequal levy. Northamptonshire has, in effect, gone bust, with the media reporting that Surrey, East Sussex and Lancashire are next in line. Services are under pressure—cut, slashed or stopped altogether—and councils are at breaking point. The Public Accounts Committee asked Ministers to publish a definition of “financial sustainability” for councils, methodology for assessing authorities at financial risk, and projections for spending and demand in service areas, so why have they refused? This is common sense; what has the Minister got to hide?

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The hon. Gentleman has a job to do, and I appreciate that—it is his job to put pressure on us—but I would have thought that this week, after all the question sessions we have had, he would have joined me in welcoming last week’s Budget, which includes £1 billion extra for local government across two years.

New Homes

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5. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the time taken to build new homes. [907436]

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The publication of the national planning policy framework provides greater clarity and certainty for the development of homes. We are examining the recommendations of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) on the build-out review and will respond in full in February.

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The Government would see greater progress in their quest to shorten the time it takes to build new homes if people were able to have greater confidence in the design and layout of large housing developments. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the steps he is taking to get that done, but does he agree that what really worries people is not only the housing but the inability to provide adequate social infrastructure to cope with massive amounts of new housing where there simply is not currently the infrastructure to support it?

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I recognise the points that my right hon. Friend highlights and welcome his support for the Building Better, Building Beautiful commission, which will look at that sense of place and the identity between our built environment and how we live our lives. He also rightfully highlights the issues relating to infrastructure. I hope that he will welcome the extra £500 million that the Chancellor committed in last week’s Budget to the housing infrastructure fund to deal with the issues that he rightly points out.

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Some 140,000 children are waiting in temporary accommodation for new homes. In the meantime, how long does the Secretary of State think it is acceptable for a child to have to travel to school—two hours? Three hours? Some children are getting home at 9 pm because their school is so far away from where they are placed.

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The point that the hon. Lady makes is about the need to build more homes, which is precisely what we are doing as a Government. We are ensuring that housing associations are building more with the £9 billion fund, and by lifting the borrowing caps we are ensuring that councils can build more, along with what the private sector is doing. That way, people can have strong communities and the services that they need close at hand.

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Does the Secretary of State recognise that one of the best ways to bring forward more new homes quickly is to support my Housing Reform Bill, which has support from Members from all parties, including some of the House’s most distinguished Members? The Bill’s requirement on the Secretary of State to provide serviced plots for sale or for rent to rich people and poor people, social tenants and others, would do a lot to solve our housing crisis.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his tireless championing of the issues that he has highlighted. The Minister for Housing will meet him shortly to discuss a number of the elements that he has highlighted. I hope that he recognises some of the steps taken through the national planning policy framework that will support his agenda.

Residential Property Management

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6. What progress he has made on improving standards in the management of residential property in the (a) private rented and (b) social housing sectors. [R] [907439]

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All tenants deserve a safe and decent place to live. In respect of the private rented sector, Lord Best is chairing a new working group on property agent regulation, and we have extended mandatory licensing. The social housing Green Paper contains proposals to drive up the performance of social landlords in delivering a good service.

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I welcome the reforms, especially the requirement for all residential managers to be trained and qualified. That is the way to raise standards. However, there are concerns about how the requirement may be introduced. Will the Minister agree to a meeting to discuss how existing qualifications will be accredited by the proposed mandatory qualifications, so that we do not end up worsening the current shortage of competent managers?

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With his usual accuracy, my hon. Friend identifies an issue critical to getting this matter right. As he knows, the working group will be looking at the entire property agent sector to ensure that any new regulatory framework is joined up across letting, property management and estate agents. One of the key issues in making that new regulatory framework land will be the transition from the old to new, and I will be more than happy—indeed it would be foolish of me not to agree—to meet a former Housing Minister of such standing.

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According to the Government’s own figures, there are more than 10,000 rogue landlords operating in England. Will the Minister therefore explain to tenants who are suffering from damp and often unsafe conditions why none of these landlords appears on the Government’s new rogue landlord database?

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As the hon. Lady knows, the database was introduced earlier this year and it will take time to populate in order for landlords to appear on it. There will obviously have to be investigations, prosecutions, and penalties levied so that they can properly be entered on to the database. She will know that the introduction of banning orders and a rogue landlord database will have an enormous impact in future. We just have to make sure that we get the right names on it.

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Having man’s best friend by one’s side can make a massive difference to somebody who is suffering from loneliness, social isolation or mental health issues. I am aware of at least one local authority that has taken the retrograde step of banning its tenants from keeping a pet. Will my hon. Friend please look at the guidance given to local councils, because, to many people, having a pet is their lifeline?

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As part of a family who regard their pet cat as an intrinsic and important member of our household—[Interruption.] Well, hon. Members may well be amused by that, but it is true what my hon. Friend says: a number of people, particularly those who live alone or those who have children, rely on their pets for comfort and calm and for companionship. I would hope that all local authorities operated a humane and compassionate letting policy where this is concerned, and I would be more than happy to look at the rules around that.

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I empathise very strongly with the Minister, and there should be no levity over this important matter. Our own household cat is very fundamental to our way of life and is suitably named Order.

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I have no pets to declare to the House.

On behalf of my party, I offer our condolences on the passing of Sir Jeremy Heywood and our thanks for his service in public life.

It was encouraging to hear that the UK Government are to follow the example set in 2015 by the Scottish Government and introduce mandatory five-year electrical safety checks on rental homes. Will the Minister confirm a start date for those checks?

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I am afraid that I will have to write to the hon. Lady with that answer as I do not have it to hand at the moment, but she is quite right that we have been reviewing standards generally in the private rented sector and considering what more we can do to make sure that private rented homes are as safe as they can possibly be.

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That is a disappointing response, particularly considering how important safety is to people renting accommodation. Citizens Advice found that renters in England who complain about issues with their home are statistically more likely to get evicted. The Scottish Government abolished no-fault evictions recently. Will the Minister consider doing likewise so that tenants in England do not fear reporting faults with their homes?

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We certainly want to make sure that the phenomenon of revenge evictions is stamped out and that there is an equality of power between tenants and landlords in both the social and the private rented sector.

Local Authority Funding: Allocation

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7. What steps his Department is taking to ensure the equitable allocation of funding to local authorities. [907440]

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We are undertaking a fair funding review of local authorities’ relative needs and resources to address concerns about the fairness of the current system. This will determine the new funding allocations for local authorities through a more up-to-date and fairer funding formula.

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Rural areas are historically underfunded and in West Oxfordshire we need more funding for road repairs, upgrades to the A40 and adult social care. How is fairer funding progressing and will this be addressed in the spending review?

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I am pleased to say that we are making very good progress and are considering many of the topics raised by hon. Members, including rapidly changing demographics affecting social care and the cost of delivering services in rural areas. I look forward to collaborating closely with the sector and with my hon. Friend’s county as we look to introduce a simple, accurate and transparent new funding formula.

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If funding is so equitable, why is North Lincolnshire Council giving people on the lowest incomes such a low level of support with their council tax, at only 50%? Why is the council sending nearly all its discretionary housing payments back to the Government?

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Decisions about local council tax support are rightly for individual local authorities to make themselves; it would not be appropriate for me to dictate to them. The fairer funding formula is designed to determine the equitable nature of funding distributed to all local authorities. The hon. Gentleman will know that the current system dates back to 2013-14, and indeed many elements date back decades before that. We are determined to fix it and bring it up to date.

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I thank the Minister for supporting the measures in the Budget exempting public toilets from business rates and providing a commitment to take action regarding second home owners who are avoiding business rates. I very much welcome his words on a fair funding formula, but when the fair funding formula was previously introduced, it was dampened away. Will he make a commitment that rural councils really will see the benefit of a new fairer formula this time?

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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and, indeed, to my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) for successfully placing in the Budget measures on public toilet relief and second homes. With regard to my hon. Friend’s second point, I am determined to ensure that the new formula is transparent and that all local authorities—not just those in rural areas—have a clearer idea about their allocation under the new formula, and transition to those new allocations in a relatively short timeframe.

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A recent report by the New Policy Institute shows that the majority of local government cuts have fallen on the 10 most deprived councils, despite the fact that they have higher numbers of looked-after children and adults needing social care and other council services. Will the Minister now commit to funding councils properly and according to levels of need, rather than political colour, as the Government appear to be doing at the moment?

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It is simply not the case that that is how funding is determined. Although out of date, the current funding formulas do contain deprivation measures and funding is distributed on the basis of need. That is also how the new funding for adult social care, announced just last week, will be distributed—according to the relative needs formula.

Local Authority Funding

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8. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of Government funding for local authorities in England. [907441]

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10. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of Government funding for local authorities in England. [907443]

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The Government have listened and responded to the pressures faced by local authorities. The autumn Budget helped to support financial sustainability of local authorities and provided more than £1 billion of additional funding across this year and next year for local authorities to deliver local services, support vulnerable residents and build vibrant communities.

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I welcome the short-term support for adult social care promised in last week’s Budget, but it is a sticking plaster at best. In Nottingham, it costs an average of £450 a week to care for someone at home, compared to £2,500 in hospital. Our NHS trusts are already raising concerns about winter pressures. Inadequate social care provision adds to those pressures and will inevitably cost the Government more in the long term. I know that the Minister understands the importance and efficacy of early intervention and prevention, so can he provide any assurances that he understands the need to fund adult social care sustainably and tell us what support will be provided from 2020 onwards?

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The hon. Lady is absolutely right to mention the importance of prevention, and of the interaction between the NHS and social care. Later this year, we will see the publication of the Government’s Green Paper with a long-term sustainable settlement for social care. That will answer her question as to the settlement for social care beyond next year in the spending review.

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My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) just mentioned Cambridge University research published last month showing that local authority spending cuts have been concentrated on the poorest areas, making disparities with better-off areas much worse. Phasing out central Government grants, as Ministers are proposing, will make that even worse. Are Ministers happy just to let the disparities between different areas rocket?

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It may be worth pointing out to the right hon. Gentleman that core spending power per household in the most deprived local authority areas in the country is 23% higher than that in the least deprived. This Government support all communities with the resources that they need.

New Homes for Social Rent

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9. What assessment he has made of trends in the level of new homes provided for social rent since 2010. [907442]

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Since 2010, we have delivered over 378,000 new affordable homes, including 129,000 for social rent. We are investing over £9 billion in the affordable homes programme to deliver more than 250,000 new affordable homes, including at least 12,500 for social rent.

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There are thousands of households languishing on Dudley’s waiting lists. I meet families every single week who are desperate for a home of their own. Funding for new affordable homes has fallen from over £4 billion in 2009-10 to less than £500 million last year, and the amount of social housing built for rent is actually falling to its lowest level since the war. In that context, what hope do my constituents have of the decent, secure and affordable home that they dream of?

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As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are throwing literally everything we have got at the housing market at the moment in the hope that we can build the homes that everybody in the country needs. In particular, in the social sector, we have increased the size of the affordable homes programme. We have reintroduced the idea of social rent; removed the housing revenue account borrowing cap for local authorities; and are setting long-term rent deals for councils and housing associations, enabling them to plan. We have also committed funding beyond 2022 for housing deals and partnerships with housing associations, which we think will deliver significant numbers of houses. It must be remembered that the Labour Government the hon. Gentleman supported induced local authorities to get out of house building. I was a councillor at the time. We were offered large amounts of money to get rid of our housing stock. That has to end. We want councils to start building to address exactly the needs he raises.

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In Chelmsford, we are building a new garden community of 10,000 homes, more than one in four of which will be affordable, but the council wants to do more. What measures will there be to allow councils that do not have a housing revenue account also to take advantage of the new schemes that will enable them to borrow and build their own properties?

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My hon. Friend is right. Quite a number of local authorities, having been induced, as I say, to get out of the house building industry and home-owning function, do not have housing revenue accounts. At the moment, if they construct, build or own more than about 200 council homes they have to open a housing revenue account. We hope that the new freedom we have introduced will enable councils to create innovative partnerships with other social housing providers to build the next generation of council houses.

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The net number of social homes for rent built in the last financial year was 7,000, so we are losing a large number of these homes. We all agree that we need a lot more social homes for rent. In order to build more, will the Minister consider local authorities being given first right of refusal when public land comes up for sale, with a sale price based on current use rather than a speculative development price?

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I am engaged in an intensive amount of activity on the subject of public land with my ministerial colleagues and those elsewhere. Hon. Members will have seen that we have recently changed the rules so that local authorities can dispose of their own public land at less than market value if they deem there is a social need to do so. Whether or not we can give them first refusal on acquiring that land will depend on their ability to deliver the homes that people need. I am very focused on numbers of homes rather than principles of disposal.

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Our policies on affordable homes are almost entirely focused on affordable homes to rent. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should also deliver more affordable homes to purchase?

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My hon. Friend is one of the most innovative thinkers in housing policy generally, certainly on the Conservative Benches—not that there is much innovation on the Labour Benches, but there we are. He points to an area where there is strong demand. Very large numbers of people who would otherwise be tenants have a strong desire to own, and we would love to see them owning on a discounted basis. Hon. Members will have seen in the Budget the announcement of funding for neighbourhood plans to enable an allocation of discounted homes for sale, particularly in rural areas, and I would be keen to explore the idea further with my hon. Friend.

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I have no reason to think that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) is anything other than an innovative thinker on this and other matters, but it might be of interest to people to know that he is also a distinguished estate agent.

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You rather took the wind from my sails there, Mr Speaker.

The Minister refers to housing associations, and it will not have escaped his notice that the chief executives of housing associations earn on average comfortably more than the Prime Minister, with the upper decile trousering salaries in the eye-watering range of £250,000 to £400,000. Is the Minister entirely comfortable with that?

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One issue that we are considering as part of our work on the social housing Green Paper is whether the tenant voice is heard strongly enough at the highest levels of housing associations. We must remember that some of these organisations are extremely large. The largest ones are huge and complex, looking after many hundreds of thousands of people, and the individuals who run them shoulder enormous responsibility and, indeed, risk. It is for those boards, suitably informed by the tenant body, to make decisions about remuneration.

Midlands Engine

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11. What steps his Department is taking to deliver economic growth through the midlands engine. [907444]

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My recent visit to India provided an important opportunity to promote the midlands engine in that significant market. This month, we announced funding to support the creation of a new locally led development body for Toton, as well as £70 million for the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre, and we will refresh the midlands engine strategy.

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A great example of the potential economic development in the midlands is the shortlisting of Barrow Hill in my constituency as the next potential site for the Spanish train manufacturer Talgo. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming that shortlisting and—fingers crossed—hoping that we get it?

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I note my hon. Friend’s fingers are crossed. I am delighted to hear that Talgo is considering investing in the UK. I hope he will understand that as there are still a number of locations under consideration, it would be wrong for me to comment further—although, having visited the potential site in his constituency this summer, I can say that it is clearly an excellent site for investment.

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The midlands engine is working with Stoke-on-Trent City Council as part of the transforming cities fund and making bids for significant investment. It was heartening to hear the Chancellor refer to that in his speech last Monday. Could the Secretary of State put us out of our misery and announce from the Dispatch Box today that Stoke will receive that funding, which would save a further round of hoop-jumping?

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Good try!

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As my hon. Friend says, that is a good try. I recognise the way in which the hon. Gentleman has championed Stoke, this initiative and the funding. All I can say is that we will look at that carefully, but I hope he gets a sense of the attention and focus we are giving to the midlands engine.

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The midlands engine covers approximately two thirds of Lincolnshire—the county council area—but my constituency is served by the two unitary authorities in the north. Co-ordination of economic policies falls to both the Greater Lincolnshire local enterprise partnership and the Humber local enterprise partnership. Both the local authorities and LEPs would like to maintain the status quo. Could the Secretary of State bear that in mind in the upcoming review?

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My hon. Friend will note the conclusions of the review, particularly in relation to governance and overlapping geographies. It is important that we have reform and work with the LEPs to take this forward, and I look forward to having discussions with the LEP chairs in the coming days.

Homelessness

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12. What steps his Department is taking to reduce homelessness. [907445]

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17. What steps his Department is taking to reduce homelessness. [907452]

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I thank my hon. Friends for their questions. We are spending more than £1.2 billion through to 2020, and we have implemented the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, published our £100 million rough sleeping strategy and taken immediate action to begin to reduce the number of people on the streets.

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I thank the Minister for her reply, and it is great to see her back in her place. As she will know, Torbay is very keen to take forward a Housing First pilot for our bay, to end the scourge of rough sleeping. Can she update us on what plans the Government have for that approach to be adopted?

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We are delighted to be piloting Housing First at scale across England for the first time. The impact of that approach will be measured by a rigorous evaluation, which will ensure that we have the robust evidence base needed to demonstrate its effectiveness and inform future spending decisions.

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Does my hon. Friend agree with me and the more than 20 homelessness and health charities, including St Mungo’s, which today published a joint open letter to Sir Simon Stevens of NHS England, that to tackle homelessness, we need to ensure that the NHS works with others and local authorities to provide better support for those tackling mental health, alcohol and drug addiction and sleeping rough on our streets?

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My hon. Friend is an assiduous campaigner on this matter. We appreciate that this is a very high priority for all local constituency MPs on both sides of the Chamber. I certainly agree that wraparound support is crucial to help people who have been sleeping rough to access and sustain accommodation. In our recent rough sleeping strategy, we announced a range of measures, including asking NHS England to spend up to £30 million over five years on health services for rough sleepers.

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Street homelessness is a growing problem in my city of Leeds, reflecting inadequate social housing and mental health provision, and cuts to benefits. Big Change Leeds, launched last month, is bringing together everyone trying to help those who are street homeless in our city by giving their time or money. Will the Government welcome this initiative, but more importantly, will they commit their support by giving Leeds City Council the money it needs to address this growing problem in our city?

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Again, I reiterate how very important this question is to everybody on both sides of the Chamber. I had the great pleasure of talking last week to the chief executive of the council in Leeds about the strategy and about the money and the help we are giving to the city. It was a really useful conversation to find a chief executive who is so committed to the project.

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Will the Minister say how much money to deal with homelessness she has given to the local authority in Coventry and the charities in Coventry, which tell me that their allocations have been cut? That is no way to deal with homelessness.

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I am very sorry that the charities are telling the local Member that, because overall we are putting in place a £1.2 billion fund for homelessness. I would certainly be very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman. His area is part of the greater west midlands project, and the greater west midlands Mayor, Andy Street, has many millions of pounds to help with homelessness—going to Coventry as well as the other parts of the greater west midlands.

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I want to get through two more questions very quickly.

Leasehold Changes

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13. What recent steps he has taken to ensure that changes to existing leaseholds are more (a) accessible and (b) affordable. [907446]

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It is right that developers who sold leaseholds with onerous terms should support their customers to amend them. Some developers have introduced assistance schemes, which is welcome, but these must go further and faster. We are meeting developers shortly to discuss progress, and we will take further action as necessary.

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The St Mary Magdalene and Holy Jesus Trust in my constituency is a charity that is refusing to allow its leaseholders to extend their leases, in a wholly uncharitable way. The Secretary of State talks about roundtables and reviews, but when will my constituents get some sort of justice and the ability to extend their leases?

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The hon. Lady has a particular problem with a particular trust. The good news is that, following last year’s discussions, the trust has now made an offer to some of her constituents to enable them to purchase their freeholds. I am aware that her constituents have found the freehold purchase price of the leasehold properties to be prohibitive. We are also aware that different formulas are in use to establish the cost of enfranchisement. The Government are looking to standardise enfranchisement processes and have asked the Law Commission to review current arrangements, including the valuation methodology. This will support existing leaseholders by making buying the freehold or extending the leasehold easier, faster and cheaper.

First-time Buyers: Help to Buy and Stamp Duty

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14. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effect on first-time buyers of (a) Help to Buy and (b) the reduction in stamp duty. [907447]

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In the interests of providing a good service, Mr Speaker, I hope you will indulge me if I refer to my answer to the hon. Lady from north of the border, the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). I just want to say that there is no fixed date at the moment for bringing in the affirmative statutory instrument that will make it mandatory to have five-year electrical checks in the private rented centre, but we are searching for a slot as soon as possible in a crowded and exciting legislative timetable.

In answer to Question 14, the Government are working together to help more people on to the housing ladder. Help to Buy equity loans have helped over 169,000 house- holds to March 2018, 81% were to first-time buyers and 121,500 people have benefited from first-time buyers relief from stamp duty since June 2018.

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I am grateful for the cuts in stamp duty for those at the lower end and the help for home ownership, but the higher rates of stamp duty may be having an adverse effect on the housing market. It could cost the Treasury £300 million, so a cut leading to more income, leaving more resources for those at the lower end could be in prospect. Has the Housing Minister raised that with the Treasury?

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My hon. Friend is a political toxophilite of the highest order and has fired his arrows into a subject that is the cause of constant discussion between us and the Treasury. He knows that we all acknowledge the effect that stamp duty can have on the market; that is why he may have seen changes in the Budget to stamp duty on shared ownership, which we hope will benefit first-time buyers. However, I will keep him apprised of conversations as we have them.

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I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have the tribute framed. It would be very disappointing if he did not.

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What assessment has the Minister made of the number of people who have used Help to Buy who are now in negative equity because of leasehold reform? They cannot sell the properties and the price has fallen, so the taxpayer and the individual are hit.

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At this stage, there is no indication from the early returns on Help to Buy that the situation that the right hon. Gentleman raises is occurring. Indeed, early numbers show a higher level of successful redemption than we expected and we hope that that will continue.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [907456]

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This week, I am meeting developers at a leasehold roundtable to press them to tackle onerous ground rents, and I will attend the Locality Convention in Bristol to acknowledge the hard work of our community organisations and set out our ambition for increased localism.

Wednesday’s celebration of Diwali will be a special moment to reflect and celebrate the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. As we mourn the tragic events in Pittsburgh, especially in the context of this week’s 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, we are clear that racism and xenophobia in whatever form have no place in our society and will be confronted in the strongest terms.

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It was great that the Secretary of State and the Minister for Local Government were able to attend last Wednesday’s launch of the county all-party parliamentary group’s report on social mobility in county areas. Will my right hon. Friend work with the APPG to implement the report’s 11 recommendations, which will do so much to ensure that young people across the country have the opportunity to realise their full potential?

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That sense of social justice to which my hon. Friend alludes and which was in the report profoundly reflects the Government’s aspirations and intent to see a country that works for everyone. I look forward to continuing to work with him and the APPG in considering the fair funding review and other steps to ensure that we realise that aspiration.

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Trading standards are the foot soldiers in keeping the public from falling victim to unsafe goods, yet cuts to local authorities mean that trading standards budgets have fallen by more than 50% between 2009 and 2019, with a 56% reduction in the number of offices. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute is warning that, as we approach Brexit, the role of those dedicated professionals will be even more crucial. How can they keep the public safe from dodgy and dangerous goods without sustainable funding?

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We are providing a real terms increase in funding for local government this year and next year, recognising some of the pressures that exist. We continue to support local government and, in the context of Brexit, we are working with it to ensure effective preparations for protecting our communities.

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T3. Like the Minister, I welcome the Budget’s announcements of £650 million extra for social care and £84 million for children’s social care programmes over five years. Will he confirm when local authorities, including Torbay Council, will be told what their share of this new money will be? [907458]

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I can tell my hon. Friend that £240 million of the £650 million will distributed in the same way as the budget for the current year and he should have received those figures already. We will shortly write to local authorities and colleagues about the distribution of the second tranche of £410 million.

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T2. Last week, Southern Landlords Association filed for judicial review—[Interruption.] [907457]

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Order. I can scarcely hear the hon. Gentleman. I want to hear his question. I do not know what all this baa-ing is about—something may have been said that has escaped my attention—but that does not remotely concern me at this moment. What does concern me at this moment is that the hon. Gentleman must be heard and he will be heard, however long it takes.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. Last week, Southern Landlords Association filed for judicial review on selective licensing in Brighton. The Government’s response was to revoke the licence to regulate the private sector. This is not the first judicial review to derail selective licensing. In respect of the particular issue I am working on with the Minister, is it now not time to review the way selective licensing works and to stop judicial reviews, particularly vexatious ones like those from Southern Landlords Association, derailing the ability of councils to regulate the private sector and rogue landlords?

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The hon. Gentleman might like to secure an Adjournment debate on the subject.

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What a very good idea, Mr Speaker. I will not talk about the judicial review in detailed terms—obviously, it is ongoing—but I have been proud to sign off selective licensing in other parts of the country where the council has done a good job. I ask the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in Brighton to urge the local council to review its paperwork. If it comes back with detailed arrangements that I can sign off, I certainly will.

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T6. The money announced in last week’s Budget to help to revitalise our high streets was warmly welcomed in my constituency of Southport. Will the Minister confirm when that money will be available? [907462]

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Mr Speaker, if you ever take the opportunity to visit Southport, like Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, you will know that its famous high street, Lord Street, inspired the wide boulevards of Paris. The £675 million future high street fund, which that historic high street will hope to access, will be subject to a prospectus published by my Department by the end of the year.

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T4. When I was a local authority executive member back in 2012, we were often warned about the “graph of doom”, which showed that by about 2018 local authorities would be running out of money for everything but statutory services. At the time, the Government accused the Local Government Association and the National Audit Office of scaremongering, but given what has happened in Northamptonshire and elsewhere, those warnings were accurate, were they not? [907459]

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We recognise the pressures on social care, which is why an extra £240 million and £650 million is being committed through the Budget to deal with them. We are looking to long-term sustainability and valuing our local government sector, which is what we do.

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T7. I am delighted to say that Solihull has one of the highest proportions of home ownership in the country. However, there is still real pent-up demand, particularly among the young. Will the Minister tell me what progress the Department has made on the midlands voluntary right-to-buy pilot? [907463]

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My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituents, including those who are tenants. He is right. We have had an enthusiastic response to the midlands right-to-buy pilot, with over 9,000 people applying for a code in the ballot. Over 6,000 of them have been given a code, and we hope that a significant number will come forward to seek the ownership they desire, funded by the £200 million being put towards the pilot.

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T5. As Brexit approaches, what is the Secretary of State’s Department doing to ensure that, when buying food, vehicles, furniture or any other goods and services, local councils follow Government guidelines to take local value into account and back British business and British workers by buying British first? [907460]

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I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s positive outlook as we leave the European Union. We will deliver a positive Brexit, looking outwards into the world and at how we have trade deals in the future. We will continue to engage with the local government sector to ensure local councils help to deliver a smooth and effective Brexit.

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T8. Has my hon. Friend reviewed the better streets proposal from YIMBY and the Adam Smith Institute, which would allow residents of a single street to vote on giving themselves permitted development rights to build upwards to a maximum of six storeys and thereby address the housing crisis? [907464]

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I have done better than that—I have met them. I did so just two weeks ago to discuss their fascinating ideas, not least on how we can make the principle of neighbourhood planning work in urban areas, an issue that I know is of great importance to my hon. Friend.

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T9. Does the Secretary of State agree that the establishment of the new all-party group on the national holocaust memorial, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and me, is very much to be welcomed? Is it not fantastic that so many Members from both sides of the House came together, at a time when antisemitism is on the increase, to establish this group and that we want to commemorate here in Parliament history’s greatest crime and support the establishment of this memorial, right here in Westminster, at the centre of not just our political life but our national life? [907465]

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I absolutely recognise and commend what the hon. Gentleman said on how collectively we challenge antisemitism and stand up for the values of this country. I pay tribute to him for the personal contribution that he has made on this issue, and equally, I reflect on the statue of Frank Foley, which the hon. Gentleman was instrumental in bringing into effect. It recognises Frank Foley’s contribution in saving the lives of thousands of Jews fleeing from persecution in Germany, and we must never forget the contribution that he and others have made.

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Many of my constituents are suffering from severe stress following the purchase of their homes on unfair leasehold terms. Does the Minister agree that tackling leasehold abuse is a matter of urgency, and will she comment on a timetable for action?

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I thank my hon. Friend for her question. The Government are very clear that unjust leasehold practices come to an end. We have committed to banning new leasehold houses and restricting ground rents on future leases to a peppercorn. We launched our consultation on the details of these proposals on 15 October. I agree that this is an urgent matter, having read many of the stories of leaseholders facing high or doubling ground rents or struggling to sell their homes, especially in my hon. Friend’s part of the north-west. We will bring forward legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the most effective ways to deal with rising housing costs and rising eviction rates is for councils to follow the lead of my council—Sutton Council—and build council homes, over 90 of which are about to come on-stream very soon?

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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and I commend his council for doing that. My council is going to build 175 next year.

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Will the Department work with the Department of Health and Social Care to use the local reorganisation of local government in Northamptonshire as an opportunity to receive local proposals to develop a pilot for a new integrated social care and health system in the county?

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We are already taking such steps. On 18 October, we convened a meeting between leaders and chief executives of the Northamptonshire councils and representatives of the local health services to start discussions on how, in future, adult social care may be best provided and integrated with health.

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The ill-fated regional fire control centre in Cambridgeshire continues to stand empty, costing £2 million a year. We keep being told that it has been let or that it is about to be sold. When is the Minister going to get a grip?

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Fire control now resides within the responsibilities of the Home Office, but I will certainly look into the hon. Gentleman’s points in relation to ensuring good value for money.

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I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on the establishment of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission and the inspired choice of Sir Roger Scruton as the chairman, but, first, does my right hon. Friend not agree that this will only have any teeth if we can get the volume house builders to buy into it? Secondly, I think that the commission should be extended to look at the quality and the variable advice often given by local planning officers and at a full accreditation scheme for those planning officers on an annual basis to refresh them.

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I certainly want the new commission to drive quality in the built environment, which is at the heart of what my right hon. Friend said. If we do that, we can speed up this process and get greater support and consent from the public in building the homes that our country needs. I therefore think that the house builders should very much embrace this.

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The Secretary of State says that local councils will see real-terms increases in their budgets. If so, why is Derbyshire County Council planning for £70 million of cuts, on top of the £260 million of cuts already made, and cutting the terms and conditions of its lowest-paid workers in school catering as well as services for the most vulnerable?

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I recognise the challenges that local government has faced over the past few years and how councils have played their part in dealing with the public finance challenges brought about by the Labour party; let us not forget that when discussing the investment we are making to create that sustainable position for local government.

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As the Minister will know, we are taking thousands of new homes in Corby and east Northamptonshire, and it is imperative that the infrastructure keep pace. Last week, the Chancellor very welcomely announced a new generation of enterprise zones. May I make an early pitch for Corby, because I would argue that we qualify given the housing growth we are taking?

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I have just been told that it is my hon. Friend’s birthday today. I wish him a happy birthday and note his pitch for perhaps a birthday present. We will note it down.

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A constituent of mine has been a faithful council tenant for 30 years. Over this time, she has invested much in her home. Her ex-partner served notice when he moved out, and now City of York Council is moving to evict her next week. This is having a serious impact on her mental health—among other things, it has led to her feeling suicidal—yet the council still plans to move her. Will the Minister urgently meet me to discuss this case and the mental health assessments of tenants that should take place?

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What a very sad case! Of course, I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady.

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Following the Office for National Statistics household projection figures being revised downwards by nearly a quarter, will my hon. Friend the Minister ensure that regional housing targets reflect the easing of pressure to build on the green belt, with particular reference to the Greater Manchester spatial framework?

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My hon. Friend may know that we have already issued a technical consultation on the latest household projection numbers and the impact on projected housing need in local authority areas. We really do not want local authorities to take their foot of the accelerator, however, not least because we believe that there is pent-up demand for housing in this country. We are working with authorities across the country to get the formula right in the longer term, while we seek a short-term fix to keep numbers up, but I would be more than happy to meet him and his colleagues to discuss the Manchester spatial framework further.

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Tyne and Wear fire service is facing £3 million of cuts, which could mean the closure of my local fire station. Will the Secretary of State look at the special problems with funding fire services that are facing local government in the north-east?

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I will certainly raise the hon. Gentleman’s point with colleagues who lead on fire within the Home Office.

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The Labour cabinet in Nuneaton and Bedworth is imposing a £40 garden tax on green waste collection, despite pledging not to do so in May’s local election. Does my hon. Friend agree that such a fundamental change to how people’s waste is collected should not be made without full and proper consultation with the public and buy-in from local people?

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My predecessor in this job well knows that such decisions are rightly for local areas to make themselves, but I would say that local authorities should look to tighten their own belts and curb any wasteful spending before increasing the bills of hard-working taxpayers.

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Further to the Secretary of State’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George) about Derbyshire County Council’s cuts, the cuts in question are worth more than £200 million, and they were made not by the Labour Government, as he stated, but by the Tory Government in alliance with the Liberal Democrats. To refresh his memory further, I should remind him that we also trebled the amount of money going into the hospital. Now a Tory county council at Matlock has decided to close 20 libraries in the county. That’s politics.

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I will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman about the steps the Government have had to take to put the public finances back on an even keel as a consequence of the Labour party’s actions, and he should well know our commitment to investing in the health service in a way the Labour party would not have done.