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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 672: debated on Monday 24 February 2020

Housing, Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

New Homes: Carbon Emissions and Energy Efficiency

Welcome back, Mr Speaker, and welcome particularly to our new Chaplain.

Homes account for about a fifth of emissions. Driving these down and improving energy efficiency are crucial to fulfilling our commitments to net zero carbon by 2050. We have committed to introducing a future homes standard by 2025, and we will respond shortly to the 3,000 or so responses to our consultation—it closed on 7 February—which proposes carbon emissions at least 75% lower from 2025.

British architects such as Bill Dunster are building competitively priced, zero energy bill homes today that not only emit no carbon emissions, but are massively helpful to poorer families, so what will the Government do to push our oligopolistic and rather luddite house builders to start building the houses of tomorrow, not of yesterday?

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his question, and I appreciate his desire to get the affordable homes of the future built today. Our recent consultation proposes a new householder affordability rating to measure a building’s efficiency and ensure it is affordable to heat. I am conscious that Mr Dunster has an opportunity at the Victoria & Albert Museum at the moment. I am very happy to visit his ZEDfactory in Watford, because I agree with my hon. Friend that we do need new, innovative small and medium-sized enterprises in the marketplace to drive variety in our housing market to improve the absorption rate.

I welcome the Minister to his position. Of course, when it comes to decarbonisation of homes, we also need to look at pre-existing homes. In Glasgow, we have thousands of tenement properties with a prohibitive 20% VAT rate for repairs and renovations, which makes it very difficult for housing associations to carry out those repairs and help decarbonisation. In the run-up to the Budget, will the Minister join me in calling on the Treasury to make sure that it cuts the VAT and allows the opportunity not just for fiscal stimulus, but to look after the pre-existing housing stock?

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, and I congratulate him on his attempt to guide the Chancellor in his forthcoming Budget. We certainly need to make sure that proper remediation takes place in existing housing, and that is something I and my colleagues are looking at.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment to this absolutely crucial role. Does he agree that one of the best ways to prevent carbon emissions is to make sure that the ancient woodland we have in this country is protected when new homes are allocated? Would he support the Save Tiddesley Wood campaign outside Pershore, which wants to make sure that new homes are not built too close to it?

We have a manifesto commitment to more tree-lined streets. I would point my hon. Friend to the new Environment Bill, which will be coming forward. However, she is quite right: we do need to have green spaces and to maintain our ancient woodland. We all want to live in a nice and beautiful environment, and that is certainly something a Conservative party in government will hope to achieve.

The Government’s future homes standard would prevent councils from setting higher energy efficiency standards than national building regulations demand, while also watering down the impact of building regulations by allowing homes to pass the standard if their carbon emissions are reduced by general decarbonisation of the national grid, which will mean that homes can still be poorly insulated and meet the new standard. In what way does the Secretary of State think this is remotely fit for purpose as a response to the climate emergency? Will he rethink these proposals to equip our councils to go further and faster in reducing carbon emissions and to ensure that new homes will not have to be retrofitted in the future?

I think that a target of reducing emissions by 75% from 2025 is ambitious. It is very clear that the more stringent targets we are setting mean that it may not be necessary for councils to set different local standards. We have had a consultation, which closed on 7 February. More than 3,000 submissions were made to the consultation from big builders to think-tanks to local authorities, and we shall certainly be listening to that and taking it into account.

Housing Supply

We have delivered over 1.5 million new homes since 2010 and last year saw the highest level of delivery in over 30 years, but I am determined that we go further by reforming the planning system and investing in infrastructure and new affordable homes to deliver 1 million homes over this Parliament.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Can he reassure the House that this very welcome house building will not come at the expense of green belt, especially in Sevenoaks?

We recognise how highly many people value their local green belt, including no doubt my hon. Friend’s constituents in Sevenoaks, but meeting these legitimate aspirations must not mean that the acute housing needs of communities go unmet or the dream of the next generation to get a place of their own goes unfulfilled. Local communities wishing to preserve the green belt sustainably must therefore meet local housing needs in other ways: through gentle density, through reimagining town centres and through aggressively redeveloping brownfield land. I intend to encourage each of those.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concerns regarding Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s Greater Manchester spatial framework, which seems to threaten a number of green belt sites in my constituency of Leigh, while simultaneously not making these sites available for delivery since the landowners have made it clear they are not available for development?

Due to my quasi-judicial role in the planning system, I cannot comment on the merits of the plan itself. I can say, however, that a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, have made me aware of their concerns; even, I think, the shadow Secretary of State is campaigning against the plan. These matters will be looked at by a planning inspector should the plan reach submission.

Flats have a crucial role to play in meeting housing demand, especially for first-time buyers. In London, the price gap between a flat and a house is more than £160,000, but the entire market for high-rise flats has ground to a halt, because the Secretary of State has repeatedly failed to publish flammable cladding tests and mortgage lenders have taken fright. Up to 600,000 people are now in unsellable properties, and The Sunday Times put the number much higher at 3 million private flats now exposed. So after promising the results repeatedly since last summer will the Secretary of State tell us when he will publish the test results and how he will fix this problem that sits squarely at his door?

Like the hon. Lady, I am committed to tackling this issue. We want to bring about the largest change in building safety standards that this country has known in a generation, and we are doing that in many different ways. We have done it through banning ACM, the most dangerous cladding on buildings. We have done it through launching a new building safety regulator; there was no building safety regulator in this country, and successive Governments had failed to do that. I will be publishing the results of the Building Research Establishment’s studies. The reason for the delay is that we want to ensure that the right studies are done and as much work is done as possible. We will be guided by the experts and by expert evidence. I will not publish results until experts tell us that they are ready to do so, and I expect that will be in a few weeks’ time.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that it is not just about the number of homes, but is also about the quality of those homes. Indeed, he has established the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, which recently produced its report, “Living with beauty.” One of its key recommendations was for substantial reforms to the permitted development right regime, so that in future all homes would have to have minimum space standards, would have to conform to the design guidelines laid down by the local authority and also pay a betterment levy, as laid down by the authority. Is the Secretary of State going to accept those recommendations?

I was absolutely delighted by the findings of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. It is an important piece of work and, as I said at the launch of the report, we intend to accept the majority of the findings. I will be responding to that in due course. We must put the question of permitted development rights in context; PDRs have brought forward tens of thousands of homes that would not otherwise exist in this country, and that freedom is an important one that we intend to build on in the planning system. There have been a very small number of abuses where we have seen, frankly, unacceptable standards, including homes being built without any windows. I want to take action against those, because I want everybody to live in good-quality, safe accommodation.

Rough Sleeping

3. What steps he is taking to deliver the Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of the 2019 Parliament. (900864)

5. What steps he is taking to deliver the Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of the 2019 Parliament. (900866)

14. What steps he is taking to deliver the Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of the 2019 Parliament. (900875)

The Government are acting to deliver on our ambitious manifesto commitment to be the first G20 country to eliminate rough sleeping. We recently committed an extra £112 million to the rough sleeping initiative. The funding is a 30% increase on the previous year. It will provide up to 6,000 beds and 2,500 staff across the country.

I commend my right hon. Friend for the action he is taking, but clearly the best way to reduce rough sleeping is to prevent it happening in the first place. The review of my Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 is due at the end of this financial year and local authorities need to know how much funding they will have in successive years to deliver that Act. When he reviews the Act, will he ensure that local authorities, in combating homelessness, abide not only by the letter but the spirit of the law?

I would like to take this opportunity to thank and pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his invaluable work on the Homelessness Reduction Act. Since the Act was implemented, over 130,000 households have had their homelessness successfully prevented or relieved. We will be reviewing the implementation of the Act, including resourcing and how it is working in practice. Local authorities will now receive an additional £63 million in the next financial year through the homelessness reduction grant to carry out these duties. In the comprehensive spending review, which will set the multi-year spending review for local government, we will certainly take it very seriously.

In Eastbourne, we will make very good use of our share of the £1.5 million from the Government to address this issue locally. Our winter night shelter, which is orchestrated by local churches and powered by volunteers and the generous support of local businesses such as Iron Maidens, will close its doors in a matter of days. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and other partners to look at what it would mean to seek to establish a shelter all year round?

May I take this opportunity, like my hon. Friend, to pay tribute to all those involved in rough sleeping initiatives across the country? I visited many over the course of my six or seven months in this job and I have never failed to be incredibly impressed by their commitment and passion. I am sure that that is the case with the one in her constituency and I will, of course, happily meet her. The rough sleeping initiative, which the Government have pioneered, is working. Last year we saw the first fall in homelessness for many years, albeit a modest fall of 2%. I want to take that forward and I believe passionately that this is one of the great social ills that we can and will tackle as a Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the excellent work undertaken by organisations such as The Passage in my constituency is vital if we are to meet our manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament?

I thank my hon. Friend who, in her former role as leader of Westminster Council, played a critical role in taking forward these issues. I join her in praising the staff of The Passage, which is a phenomenal organisation. I have seen some of its work in practice. There are many great organisations in her constituency. I visited King George’s Hostel in Victoria just two weeks ago and was incredibly impressed by its staff. The approach I will be taking as Secretary of State will be to bring together for the first time health with housing, because homelessness is not just a housing crisis but a crisis of addiction and mental health. By bringing them together in a co-ordinated fashion for the first time, I genuinely believe we will be able to tackle this issue.

Nearly three years ago, a terrible explosion in New Ferry in my constituency left many buildings derelict. Local residents tell me that we now have people sleeping rough in derelict buildings, which is why I wrote to the Secretary of State on 28 January asking if he would meet me to discuss the situation in New Ferry and the fact that the Government need to help us. Please, will he meet me?

22. Today, it has been reported that the problem of rough sleepers seeking shelter in bins has surged in the last five years, and according to the Health and Safety Executive, at least seven people have been killed after being accidentally tipped into bin lorries. The waste company, Biffa, recorded 109 near misses in the six months up to December. It is shocking that anyone should be so desperate that they would seek refuge in a bin. What is the Secretary of State doing to prevent these shocking statistics? (900884)

I would be very happy to hear more about the specific cases that the hon. Lady raises. We have a strategy; we are investing more than ever before—we spent 30% more than we did in the previous financial year—and the initiatives that we are funding are working. I am pleased to say that we are seeing the first falls in rough sleeping for many years, but we are not complacent. We believe that this is an important challenge and it is one that the Prime Minister and I are committed to. We hope that when the statistics for the November count are published on Thursday, we will see a further fall and a further move in the right direction on this issue.

In Chesterfield, we have one-bedroom flats available, yet we also have people sleeping rough on the streets. The reason is that the benefits they receive do not cover the rent that they would have to pay for a one-bedroom council flat, so they are unable to take them up. I agree entirely with what the Secretary of State says about the value of hostels, but we could do away with the need for a lot of those if we had a welfare policy that supported people to live in the houses that already exist.

The hon. Gentleman is right that this is a multifaceted issue. We have ended the freeze on the local housing allowance, so that will rise in the next financial year with the consumer prices index. That will help to make it more affordable for individuals on the lowest incomes to get into homes in the private rented sector, but we will bring together all parts of Government with renewed vigour—whether that is the Department for Work and Pensions, the Home Office or the Department of Health and Social Care—to ensure that we tackle this issue as never before.

Local Growth: Great Grimsby

Great Grimsby is the Government’s pilot town deal. We are already investing over £40 million across Government to deliver local priorities. We will provide further significant investment through the £3.6 billion towns fund and we have already delivered funding to help to develop local plans for Great Grimsby’s future prosperity and growth.

Will the Minister let me know what the Government are doing to address the number of vacant commercial properties on our high streets, including in constituencies such as mine?

We have introduced a number of measures to address the number of empty shops on high streets, including our Open Doors pilot project, which matches landlords of empty properties with community groups, and a proposed private register for empty commercial properties. We are also cutting the business rates bills of small retailers by 50% from this April for properties with a rateable value of below £51,000. That is an increase from the one third that we have delivered in the current financial year.

Today, the Manchester Evening News reports on the findings of the Marmot review, which are truly shocking. It says that life expectancy has fallen for women and stalled for men, the likes of which we have not witnessed for 120 years in England. The richest men now live nine and a half years longer than the poorest and the equivalent figure for women is 7.7 years. The north needs not just a rebalancing of capital, but an investment in human capital. How can any levelling up address the austerity-led crisis so that the poorest do not see a decade stolen from their lives?

The hon. Gentleman raises a really important point. Clearly, the process of levelling up is not restricted to that of economic infrastructure; it is also absolutely about making sure that the life chances of individuals are realised to the full. That means, for example, making sure that our skills policy works, and the Government are committed to delivering a new national skills fund—we will announce more about that as part of the Budget process. It also means that it is really important that we get the process of skills devolution right, and we are keen to make sure that we work with strong local mayoral leaders to make sure that they deliver those budgets in a way that makes a real difference. This is clearly a long-term challenge. We need to make sure that we get the right devolution models in place so that such things as the towns fund and the future high streets fund are complemented by comparable work on life chances.

Local Government Finance Settlement

6. What steps he has taken to ensure that local authorities receive adequate funding in the local government finance settlement for 2020-21. (900867)

This afternoon, we will debate and vote on the final local government finance settlement for 2020-21. The settlement is a huge investment in the sector, with a £1.5 billion boost for social care and the biggest year-on-year increase in spending power for a decade.

I am grateful to the Minister for detailing the amount by which he is increasing funding for local government spending, but Wyre Forest District Council has seen a 2.7% drop in funding, which is very disappointing. That is largely due to the fall-off in the new homes bonus. The council is doing its best to grant planning, but the problem is that developers are land banking. What can my hon. Friend do to help district councils that are doing their best to deliver new homes but are facing increasing land banking by developers? If his answer did not include anything to do with compulsory purchase, that would be terrific.

My hon. Friend is right that Wyre Forest’s core funding has gone up in line with inflation this year—an extra £46,000—but its funding has decreased due to the fall in new homes bonus payments, which are time limited and based on local home-building performance. It is worth noting that Worcestershire County Council will gain an extra £26.1 million this coming financial year and that across the country we see a 4.4% real-terms increase in core spending power, but we have committed to reviewing the new homes business and I look forward to working with him as we take that forward.

I welcome the Minister back to his place on the Government Front Bench. He is boasting that in the coming funding settlement he is offering a 4.4% boost for local authorities next year. Any budget growth is welcome, after a decade of decline, but he fails to tell the House that more than half of his figure is predicated entirely on every council in England increasing council tax and the social care levy by the maximum amount. Why does he feel the need to hide behind inflated council tax increases to present his good news to the House?

I am glad that the hon. Member welcomes the increase in core spending power for councils around the country. I hope he will vote for it this evening to make sure that councils have the funding they need. This is a huge investment of £1.5 billion in social care. The Government are protecting council tax payers from excessive increases, as stated in our manifesto, and we will make sure that the 4.4% real-terms spending increase—£2.9 billion—goes straight to the frontline of local authorities.

Of all my discussions in my constituency, it is the funding for the local council that is of real concern to me. There is not sufficient funding coming through to help Shropshire Council deal with the huge increases in adult social care costs. In addition, Shrewsbury is flooded today, and the council is grappling with that situation as well. We need more money for our local councils.

I was pleased to meet my hon. Friend and his local authority recently to discuss the important points he raises. He will of course know of the increased investment in his local authority to deal with social care, but he raises some serious points, and I look forward to ongoing discussions with him about how we tackle these issues in the weeks ahead.

Oh, thank you, Mr Speaker. You took me by surprise.

Can I ask the Government Front-Bench team to wake up a bit? [Laughter.] I had rehearsed that line; I had to use it. I want them to wake up. Yes, local authorities have been starved of resources, and of course we all want money for local authorities, but we also want this Front-Bench team and this Government to put in place real incentives for a sustainable housing policy and for how our towns can grow and meet all the needs of our communities. We need sustainability—get on with it!

I hope the hon. Gentleman will contribute to the consultation on the new homes bonus when it comes out. There is a real-terms increase in core spending power. If he wants more money for local authorities, it is time he put his money where his mouth is and voted for the settlement this evening.

Local Growth: Lincoln

The Government are investing £155 million through the greater Lincolnshire local enterprise partnership’s growth deals. That includes £13 million for the Lincoln transport hub and £5 million for Lincoln medical school. Businesses are also supported by a local Lincoln growth hub. Additionally, Lincoln is set to benefit from the Government’s towns fund, which will provide up to £25 million of funding to support a thriving local economy in my hon. Friend’s beautiful city.

How significant and successful does the Minister foresee towns fund project bids of a transport type being in my constituency in enhancing the attractiveness of the city and benefiting all by putting residents first as well as those who work, set up businesses, study in and visit our lovely city and its environs?

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his question, because strengthening transport connectivity is a principal focus for the towns fund and some £173,000 of capacity funding has been made available to his town deal board in Lincoln. Throughout the development of their investment plans, town boards should consider a range of interventions and commit investment to the priorities that drive growth and prosperity for their towns, and that, of course, includes transport.

Local Growth: Clacton

The Government are committed to giving communities across the United Kingdom, including Clacton, real power and investment to drive growth and unleash their full potential. I am pleased that Clacton has progressed to the business case development stage of the £1 billion future high streets fund and will be bidding for capital funding shortly. The South East local enterprise partnership, which covers Clacton, has received £590 million through the local growth fund to drive regional development.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but I recently asked Cabinet Office Ministers not to overlook coastal communities in the south as we seek to level up between the north and the south. Levelling up is a laudable aim, but we should not overlook places such as Clacton, which, as is well known, has pockets of extreme deprivation. We need real and lasting support there. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the Government’s support for local growth in my area will be the norm rather than a passing fad?

I can certainly provide that reassurance. I have vivid memories of the Clacton by-election, when I first met my hon. Friend: I get all the best days out!

The Government are committed to levelling up all regions of our country. I speak as a proud north-easterner, but I am very conscious that deprivation is not limited to the north or to the midlands. It is clearly found in pockets throughout the country. I can absolutely reassure my hon. Friend that wherever those characteristics exist, we will be there to act.

Housing Developments: Education and Health Infrastructure

10. What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that local authorities include education and health infrastructure in housing developments. (900871)

I know how important it is to local communities for new development to be supported by infrastructure. In our manifesto we committed ourselves to delivering key infrastructure, including health and education, ahead of developments. The new single housing infrastructure fund will also help to provide the upfront infrastructure that is needed to support the new homes to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Aylesbury has seen considerable housing growth in recent years, but many of my constituents have been unable to get their children into the schools that are closest to them, even on new-build estates, because of a lack of places. Indeed, their children may attend different schools in places that are very far apart. What can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that infrastructure such as schools and doctors’ surgeries is in place before the new residents move into their homes?

My hon. Friend has made a good point. Of course, health and education providers should already be engaging with local planning authorities about infrastructure requirements in the areas in which they should be delivered. The implementation of our manifesto commitment—I have already mentioned the single housing infrastructure fund—will build on that approach, and will ensure that we can deliver the health and education infrastructure that is needed to support house building. I spoke to my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary just as a few days ago about the £2 billion or so that is available to the Department for Education to spend on school improvements, and I shall of course be keeping in touch with him.

Since the election in December, I have received countless emails and letters about our green belt in Coventry. In any upcoming review of the green belt, how will the Government ensure that local authorities can both deliver the homes that people need and protect our green spaces? Just this morning, Conservative West Midlands mayor Andy Street called for more funding to clean up brownfield sites so that new homes could be built. It is important for members of the next generation to have the opportunity to grow up in a healthy environment where they can play, explore, and learn about the natural areas in their communities, while also having homes that they can afford.

We are working with the mayor of the West Midlands to ensure that the right homes are built in the right places, through, for instance, a brownfield strategy. Of course the hon. Lady is right—we want green spaces that people can enjoy—but we also want homes that people can live in, and she cannot have it both ways. We want to build homes that people can afford to rent or to buy so that they have a stake in the country and a right to aspire to homes that they can enjoy and pass on to their families, and that is what this Government will deliver.

Affordable Housing: South-west

This Government are committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing with our £9 billion affordable homes programme from 2016 to 2022, and we have committed in our manifesto to bringing forward a successor, which we hope will be bigger and better. We have delivered almost 52,000 new affordable homes in the south-west since 2010.

My constituents are particularly excited about this Department’s agenda, and they are pleased about the Government’s commitment to delivering more local affordable housing. How will my right hon. Friend ensure not only that we are building homes for the future but that they are of a high quality and high standard?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As well as enabling people to get on to the housing ladder, it is important to ensure that the new homes we build are of good quality. It is unacceptable that new houses have in many cases been built to a shoddy standard and that some house builders have displayed poor service when house buyers find that they have problems with their new home. That is why I am today announcing a statutory independent new homes ombudsman to protect homebuyers from these rogue developers. Poor-quality builders will now have to pay compensation for shoddy workmanship, and house builders must join the new ombudsman scheme, so all house buyers will see swift action to resolve the issues that they encounter and builders must put quality first if they wish to continue to be part of the Government’s Help to Buy scheme.

Local Growth: Burnley

Across the north-west we are investing £1.5 billion through the local growth fund. In Burnley, we are investing £1.7 million at Vision Park to help advanced manufacturing and engineering companies, £1.3 million for the Centenary Way bridge work and £8 million for infrastructure development delivering new houses, jobs and private sector investment.

I think the Minister for his answer. New housing developments are vital, and an important part of ensuring that we have the housing stock that we need. Will he tell me what steps he is taking to ensure that housing developments have local support and contribute to thriving communities?

My hon. Friend is clearly a doughty defender of his constituents and their right to ensure that the homes built around them are approved by them. The Government have made it absolutely clear that new developments should be well designed in a way that reflects local preferences, and supported by the right infrastructure at the right time. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, we welcome the report from the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission in this respect, and we will be responding to it in due course.

Local Authority Spending: Value for Money

It is up to individual local authorities to secure value for money in their spending decisions and to set a balanced budget. They have a legal duty to deliver continuous improvement and to combine that with economy, efficiency and effectiveness. Local auditors scrutinise their accounts, and my Department has ensured that all council spending over £500 is published so that local voters and anyone else can check that their council is spending its money wisely.

I welcome the Minister’s comments. With regard to value for money, will he investigate the circumstances in which Swale Borough Council’s cabinet recently gave £1 million to a company called Quinn Estates to allow the council to take back control of car parks in Sittingbourne that it already owned, and for which it was not legally obliged to pay a single penny? In addition, will he join me in condemning Swale’s cabinet for slapping a gagging order on councillors, threatening them with legal action if they dare to expose this shabby deal for council tax payers in my constituency?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As I have said, local authorities are independent of central Government and responsible for their own decisions. He has raised serious concerns about Swale Council and of course, if he has evidence of financial irregularities, he should report it to the external auditors in the first instance. He may also wish to consider reporting it to the National Audit Office, and I would be happy to meet him to discuss the matter further.

Time and time again, it has been proven that local government has the most efficient public services, yet the largest pressures facing local government are in adult social care and children’s services. Despite that, those services will still be cut. Blackburn has growing demand and limited resources. The Minister may announce huge amounts of money but in reality that will not even cover the unmet demand or the rise in the national living wage. Sticking plasters will not fix the problem. Will the Minister please tell us what he is going to do to end this crisis?

I will later today present our finance settlement, which the hon. Lady can vote for if she really thinks that there is not more money going to local authorities. There will be a 4.4% real-terms rise, a £1 billion social care grant, and a further £500 million that can be accessed, and the rise in council tax will be the lowest since 2016.

Does the Minister agree that, with the enhanced spending power that local authorities are about to get, they should prioritise care for disabled children? The needs of such children are becoming more complex, and we want to do more as a society to support them, so that should be reflected in the decisions of local government.

Of course, it is for local authorities to decide their individual local priorities, but my right hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that the real-terms increase in core spending power for councils up and down the country means that money can be invested in the services that local authorities need the most.

The Minister said that councils are responsible for their own decisions. He is right on one level, but many local authorities are increasingly over-exposing themselves to certain commercial sectors—the Public Accounts Committee has examined this in depth—putting at risk council tax payers and the fabric of local government in their areas. He will know that some councils are at risk right now, so what is his Department doing to ensure that we are protecting council tax payers where local government is not doing so well?

The hon. Lady raises a serious point about the effectiveness of some types of spending. We are working with the Treasury to review the Public Works Loan Board rates and flexibilities that local authorities have, and we will ensure that we keep her updated in due course on the progress of that review.

Local Growth: North-west

We are investing £1.5 billion across the north-west through the local growth fund, including £201 million in Cheshire and Warrington. We have also invited 20 north-west towns, including Warrington, to put forward locally led proposals to draw down up to £25 million from the Government’s towns fund.

What steps is the Department taking to ensure that local councils prioritise brownfield development over green-belt development and make use of sites such as Fiddler’s Ferry, a coal-fired power station in my constituency that is about to close?

We are putting forward money through Homes England for the development of such brownfield sites. Our national planning policy framework is clear that local authorities should prioritise brownfield land but, equally, we do need to build the homes required.

Local Authorities: Levels of Recycling

17. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on supporting local authorities to increase levels of recycling. (900878)

Our Department has regular conversations with DEFRA about how to support councils to meet the national recycling target of 65% by 2035. The Environment Bill introduces a range of measures to boost recycling, and we will continue to work to ensure that councils are able to play their full role.

North West Leicestershire District Council is running a 2,000-home trial of food waste separation, and more than 25 tonnes of food waste has been diverted from landfill since mid-December as a result. Given that a third of black-bin waste is food or food related, will the Minister confirm that councils across the country will get financial support to enable them to roll out food waste separation to all homes?

I commend North West Leicestershire District Council on its work and note its recent “Recycle more…” plan. We recognise the importance of diverting food waste from landfill and will mandate weekly food waste collections in England through the Environment Bill, with DEFRA having committed to fully funding local authorities to do that in line with the new burdens doctrine.

Children in Temporary Accommodation

18. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of children in temporary accommodation since 2010. (900879)

Tackling homelessness is a key priority for this Government, which is why we implemented the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 to prevent homelessness. The number of children living in temporary accommodation is lower than the 2006 peak and has stabilised since the 2017 Act came into force. Of course, there is more that we can do, and we are providing a further £437 million in 2020-21 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.

There are 6,000 children living in unregulated homes, often at great risk to their own safety. Councils have had their budgets cut by this Government, and children in care simply have nowhere else to turn. Six thousand children in care living in unregulated homes is 6,000 too many. When will the Government take the action that is needed to look after this vulnerable group of our youngest people?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He raises an extremely important matter.

The Secretary of State for Education has launched a review to see what more we can do and what further steps can be taken. Of course, it is hugely important to make sure that we are preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place, and that is why we are increasing homelessness and rough-sleeping funding by £69 million in the coming financial year.

Local authorities across the UK are placing unaccompanied vulnerable young people in private children’s homes across Blackpool without notifying either Blackpool Council or other statutory local agencies. What steps can the Minister take to ensure that any local authority placing such people in my constituency first notifies both my council and the police that those children are there?

Local authorities should make other local authorities aware of it when they are placing out of area; of course, we would always encourage local authorities to place in their area wherever possible. I am more than happy to speak to my hon. Friend about the specific example he raises.

Local Government Finance: Protection of Children

20. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the local government finance settlement for local authorities to deliver their statutory duties for the protection of children. (900881)

This Government have recognised and responded to the pressures that local authorities are facing in delivering their statutory duty to protect children. For 2021, we are delivering an extra £1 billion for child social care and 4.4% into core spending power.

Andy Burnham’s inquiry into the abandonment of Operation Augusta showed a shocking scenario in parts of Manchester where children were being groomed in open sight. It also showed that before Operation Augusta was abandoned, and when the children’s department was working with the police, it was beginning to be effective in stopping that grooming. I simply do not accept the Minister’s answer that there is sufficient money now or that sufficient money will be provided. Ninety per cent. of children’s departments in this country are underfunded, and all the children’s departments in Greater Manchester are underfunded.

Of course, of the additional £1 billion of social care grant, Manchester City Council will have access to an additional £30 million to use on children’s social care in the coming year. As we set out in our manifesto, we are committed to undertaking a review of the care system that will allow us to go even further and to make sure that all care placements and settings provide children and young people with the support they need.

I understand the review also made recommendations about policing, and of course we will be starting to recruit 6,000 police officers in the coming year.

Housing Ladder

We recently published a consultation on First Homes, our exciting new scheme to give a 30% discount to local first-time buyers, which will help tens of thousands of people across the country to buy their first home. This will add to the 600,000 households already supported by Government home-ownership schemes since 2010.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Being able to get on the property ladder is a particularly big issue in my constituency—South Cambridgeshire—because property prices are so high, so I very much welcome the First Homes initiative. Can the Secretary of State tell me whether the First Homes initiative will boost the supply of new homes, or will it primarily change the tenure of existing affordable housing schemes?

We hope it will do both. It will increase the supply of new homes by building popular support for new developments, but I completely accept that the housing challenges we face as a country are primarily supply-side. There is only so much that can be done through new demand-side reforms such as First Homes, which is exactly why, as a new Government, we will be taking forward important supply-side reforms such as those in my forthcoming White Paper on the planning system to unlock more land for development and create a simpler, faster and cheaper planning system.

Topical Questions

I am delighted to welcome my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) and my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government team. Alongside the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall), who has responsibility for local government, we will be working together to get more people on the housing ladder, end rough sleeping, build safer, greener and more beautiful homes, and level up all parts of the country. I wish to place on record my thanks to my right hon. Friends the Members for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) and for Tatton (Esther McVey) for their service to the Department and to the Government.

During the recess, many of our communities were affected by Storms Dennis and Ciara, and I pay tribute to the men and women of the emergency services, local councils and the many volunteers on the ground for their tireless work to help people affected. My Department is supporting communities to get back on their feet, activating the emergency Bellwin funding, and providing a financial package of support, including council tax and business rate relief for the worst-affected areas.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that private sector building owners need to act more quickly to remediate dangerous aluminium composite material cladding on their buildings?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend on that. Work by building owners in the private sector to ensure the safety of residents living in tower blocks has been unacceptably slow, and I have been consistently clear with them that there is no excuse for their lack of progress. Today I am publishing a list of building owners who do not yet have a clear plan in place to remediate all their buildings. I will not hesitate in future to name others if they fail to demonstrate progress. Today I am asking the relevant local authorities to commence enforcement action against the entities I have named, and I will be supporting those local authorities to do this at pace.

It is good to see the Secretary of State still in his place after the Cabinet reshuffle. He is serious about the job, and he certainly has a serious job to do, given that hundreds of thousands of people are living with the mental and financial burden of having unsafe cladding on their home, nearly three years after the terrible Grenfell Tower fire. Never mind his exhortations, he promised that all social sector blocks with Grenfell-style cladding would have that removed and replaced by the end of last year. Why has that vital promise been broken?

We have taken decisive action to address the challenge of ACM cladding; we banned combustible cladding on buildings, and we have also brought forward the £600 million scheme, for both the social sector and the private sector. I am frustrated that some, particularly in the private sector but also in the social sector, have taken so long to do this. That is why I am taking the action I am today, as promised, to name and shame the private sector entities that have failed to take the actions that all of us in this House would expect them to take, particularly given that public money is being put at their disposal now in order to remove this dangerous cladding. I will take all the steps necessary to do this and I will do so as quickly as possible.

We have heard this before, and frustration and exhortation simply are not sufficient. Social sector blocks are just the tip of the iceberg, and the Secretary of State still has not got a grip on those. Four months ago, he promised action against private block owners who are not removing unsafe Grenfell-style ACM cladding, but his own departmental figures show that 43 block owners—one in four—do not even have a plan in place. He has to do more to act, and that is before we even get into dealing with 1,000 extra non-ACM unsafe blocks. Enough is enough: will he now accept and back the Labour plan for legislation to make those private block owners do and pay for the remedial action, and put a stop to the scandal whereby vulnerable flat owners are having to pay simply to make their homes safe?

The right hon. Gentleman is behind the curve on this one; he is behind the action we are taking as a Government. We have already said that we are going to bring forward the fire safety Bill, which was in the Queen’s Speech and which will give fire and rescue services the powers that he wishes—I hope that means he will be supporting that Bill when it comes forward in the coming months. We have said that we will follow that quickly with the building safety Bill, which will be the biggest change to fire safety and building standards in this country in my lifetime.

In draft, because this is an important and complex piece of legislation. As regards those buildings that still have ACM cladding, all bar a very small number of owners now have a clear plan to remediate that cladding. About a third have taken it off, about a third are in the process of doing so, and the remainder have a clear plan, except for the small number of egregious building owners I have named today.

On infrastructure and community projects all across Scotland there are EU flags that proudly show where European funding has benefited those organisations. Now that Scotland has been dragged out of the EU against our will, we will no longer benefit from that funding. When will the details of the shared prosperity fund come forward? There was meant to be a consultation on it in 2018 but that did not materialise, so will the Secretary of State update the House on when the shared prosperity fund will come forward, to give clarity and certainty to communities?

We will bring forward our proposals on the UK shared prosperity fund in due course. There is a significant sum in the European territorial co-operation fund—around £600 million—which I believe is what the hon. Gentleman speaks of. It is important that we get it right, so we will fully consult partners throughout the United Kingdom to ensure that we have a UK-wide fund that is committed to levelling up all parts of the country.

T3. Would the Minister care to offer guidance on whether town fund boards should be populated by the usual suspects who have appeared on local enterprise partnership boards in the past decade, or does he feel that we should seek a fusion of new ideas and new faces? (900889)

We are always up for new ideas. Town deal boards should be business-led and representative of their communities. We provided guidance on their membership and made it clear that we expect to see a business chair and the local MP on the board. We will set out a clear decision-making process for boards to follow.

T2. Some 850,000 people are currently living with dementia, and that includes 2,000 people in my Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency. The typical care costs for somebody living with dementia are £100,000. In its Fix Dementia Care campaign the Alzheimer’s Society has called for an additional £8 billion to be spent on social care, including £2.65 billion specifically for dementia. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the new Chancellor to ensure that that happens? (900887)

The Department has regular conversations with the Treasury about all sorts of matters. We are investing £1 billion in social care funding, and £500 million is available to local authorities. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that campaign.

T5. [R] Please may we have urgent reform of the planning system to prevent the preferential treatment given to Gypsies and Travellers to build in the countryside and to ensure that the planning system works equally for everyone? (900892)

I have great sympathy with the issue that my hon. Friend raises, and it will be addressed in our forthcoming White Paper on the planning system.

T4. Victims of domestic violence are often forced to choose between staying with an abusive partner or becoming homeless. What help are the Government providing to local authorities to ensure that no one is faced with that decision? (900890)

The hon. Lady raises an extremely serious and important matter. On 17 February we announced £16.6 million for 75 local authority projects, for the delivery of support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in safe accommodation, helping up to 43,000 survivors. The fund will allow local authorities to maintain existing services until the new duty comes into force in April 2021, subject to the successful passage of the domestic abuse Bill.

T7. Four communities in County Durham benefited from the high streets fund, but Labour-run Durham County Council supported none of the communities in my constituency of North West Durham. Will my hon. Friend investigate the possibility of reopening the fund so that Consett and the three-town area of Tow Law, Crook and Willington can access that vital source of funding? (900894)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question; it is great to have an MP for North West Durham who is committed to fighting hard for his community rather than grandstanding. Our £1 billion future high streets fund is key to levelling up the economy of all parts of the country. There will be a second phase of the fund and we will bring forward further details in due course.

Earlier in this questions session, the Secretary of State announced a new homes ombudsman, which will be welcome if it has the right powers. Will he also consider requiring an escrow account for each new build property, so that a proportion of the house price can be withheld until the snagging is completed and remedial work is carried out?

T8. People across Greater Manchester are rightly concerned about Andy Burnham’s Greater Manchester spatial framework and its plan to concrete over precious green spaces. Does the Minister agree with me, and with local groups in Heywood and Middleton such as Save Our Slattocks and Save Bamford Green Belt, that the Mayor should have released a revised plan with up-to-date housing figures before the election, so that people had a chance to judge his plan for their communities before he asked for their vote? (900895)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State answered a similar question earlier. Ministers have a quasi-judicial role in the planning system, so it would not be right for me to comment on the merits of this particular plan. However, the Mayor must meaningfully consult local residents in developing his plan, to ensure that he carries their trust. I understand that Mr Burnham will be in London again tomorrow, so my hon. Friend might have an opportunity to discuss it with him personally.

Both the Secretary of State and the Housing Minister have spoken about building safety regulations, but what regulation is in place regarding the installation of lithium batteries in new homes, and will they meet me to discuss this?

I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the matter further. It sounds like an issue that we should consider.

After our third one-in-100-years flood in seven and a half years in Calder Valley, the support package announced last week for the 1,187 properties that were flooded was a welcome relief. However, it appears that the match funding element of the package for those who fund-raise for residents badly affected by floods is not included. Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether the match funding is included, as it was last time, and whether it will be available to South Yorkshire before Christmas?

May I praise my hon. Friend for the hard work that he has done on behalf of his communities, who have faced severe flooding over the past two weeks? We have worked together and brought forward a significant financial package that is comparable to that provided in 2015. I do not believe that anyone has yet approached the Government to ask for match funding for a charity foundation, for example, as happened in 2015, but I would be happy to consider that if it was suggested.

Later this afternoon we will discuss the local government finance report, but there will be no true long-term sustainability for any local authority until adult social care has been resolved in this generation. We have heard lots about the Government’s desire to create a consensus on the issue. Where are the proposals so that we can start to discuss them?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that, on top of putting £1 billion a year into social care, we will be bringing forward that long-term plan this year. We of course look forward to those discussions in the weeks and months ahead. I very much hope that a true cross-party consensus can be reached, because we need to resolve this so that everyone has the dignity and security they deserve.