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3 Dec 2002 : Column 704W—continued

Local Government

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether the new housing strategy which will be prepared for each local authority under the Local Government Bill will be required to consider the aims and objectives contained in the existing homelessness strategies; what arrangements will be made for (a) the public, (b) registered social landlords, (c) the private sector and (d) other non governmental bodies involved in housing to participate in the preparation of the strategy; and what estimate he has made of the compliance cost. [84412]

Mr. McNulty: Local housing authorities have produced housing strategies for a number of years although they are currently non-statutory.

Existing guidance emphasises the need for authorities to demonstrate robust links with relevant strategies such as Homelessness Strategies. The new framework for housing-related plans will give councils the flexibility to combine their housing and homelessness strategies and other related strategies in a single document, where this suits local circumstances. The Local Government Bill does not change the provisions in the 2002 Act which relate to the objectives which may be included in an authority's homelessness strategy.

Existing guidance also stresses the importance of involving stakeholders in the development of the strategy, including residents, partner organisations and members. However it is up to local authorities to decide the appropriate arrangements according to their local circumstances. Of course, if the authority chooses to incorporate the homelessness strategy in the broader housing strategy the duties under the Homelessness Act relating to consultation and involvement of other bodies would still apply.

The Bill does not place a new burden on authorities. No estimate has therefore been made of the cost to authorities of complying with this requirement.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how an empty home will be defined under the provisions of the Local Government Bill; what steps he took to ensure that evidence collected during the course of investigations to determine whether a home is empty is compatible with an individual's right to privacy under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights; and if he will make a statement. [84413]

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Mr. McNulty: Clause 75 of the Bill will allow billing authorities in England to reduce or end council tax discounts for classes of dwellings prescribed in regulations. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister hopes to produce a draft of regulations defining such a class of long term empty homes in time for the Commons' Committee consideration of this clause. The precise wording has still to be decided. We intend, however, to define empty homes as vacant dwellings which are not exempt from council tax. A dwelling is vacant if no-one lives in it and it is substantially unfurnished.

The provisions contained in the Local Government Bill will not impose any additional checks to those which local authorities already have to undertake to establish whether a domestic property is empty or not for the purposes of the existing 50 per cent. council tax discount for long term empty homes, or for the council tax exemptions for empty homes. Just as billing authorities will have to act compatibly with the Convention rights in investigating whether a dwelling is vacant for the purposes of the council tax, they will have to act compatibly with Convention rights in making any further use of the data as will be permitted by clause 85.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) if he will list those authorities where the shortfall from handling stock transfer has resulted in an overhanging debt payment from his Department; and how much each of those payments amounted to; [84416]

Mr. McNulty: To date, seven one-off payments have been made. In 1999–2000 £20.99 million was paid to Burnley. In 2000–01 payments were made to Coventry (£111.68 million) Calderdale (£64.59 million) and Blackburn with Darwen (£78.9 million). In 2002–03 payments have been made to St. Helens (£87.2 million), Redcar and Cleveland (£25.4 million) and Knowsley (£126.13 million).

Resources required by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to meet commitments arising under clause 40 and 41 of the draft Local Government Bill will depend on the local authorities seeking to transfer their housing in any particular year. The resources are classified as Annually Managed Expenditure and as such are drawn down on an annual basis. Provision for 2003–04 is currently £616 million, and all payments would go to the Public Works Loans Commissioners. Provision for future years will relate to the 2003 transfer programme onward, for which applications from local authorities have yet to be invited. A local authority will be eligible where it has been accepted onto the housing transfer programme and where on disposal of its stock the receipt it will receive will be less than its housing attributable debt.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) what the arrangements will be for transferring subsidies from those authorities with

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surplus housing revenue accounts to those authorities in deficit under the proposals in the Local Government Bill; what proportion of that surplus will be affected; whether it will be varied on an annual basis; and what effect this transfer will have on the ability of those surplus authorities to deliver their own housing strategies; [84419]

Mr. McNulty: Under the arrangements proposed in the Local Government Bill, authorities with an assumed surplus on their Housing Revenue Account (HRA) will be asked to pay the whole of that assumed surplus to central Government. The surpluses, together with a contribution from the Exchequer, will be redistributed to those authorities whose assumed expenditure on their housing stock exceeds their rental income. This will not involve direct transfer between authorities.

This redistributive mechanism operates already at present, as an authority's assumed HRA surplus is netted off against the rent rebate subsidy due to them in the HRA subsidy calculation, thus providing the national resources to pay subsidy to deficit authorities. However, that will not be possible once rent rebates are removed from the HRA and subsidised separately; hence the need for the new mechanism in the Bill. As surpluses are effectively captured at present, this proposal will not, therefore, have any effect on the financial position of most councils, or their ability to deliver their housing strategies.

The assumed surpluses and deficits will continue to be determined annually as now. Authorities will be consulted on the formulae proposed each year in the normal way.

The pooling of a proportion of housing capital receipts will also ensure that resources are targeted to those areas where housing need is greatest so that all authorities can meet national housing priorities.

As with HRA surpluses, it is proposed that pooled receipts should be redistributed in full. The amount of pooled receipts will depend on levels of Right to Buy sales at the time.

Local Government Finance

Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what impact changes in the local government formula grant will have on public services in (a) Chesham and Amersham and (b) Buckinghamshire. [85130]

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Mr. Leslie: We will announce the new system for distributing Formula Grant, including detailed grant allocations for individual authorities, at the time of the provisional local government finance settlement which will be on the 5 December, subject to parliamentary business. Once the Government has allocated its grant, decisions about budgets and services are primarily for local councils to make. However, we have already guaranteed that we will use grant Xfloors" to ensure that no authority will face a cut in grant next year on a like for like basis, and we hope to do better than that when we announce the actual floors and ceilings scheme as part of the provisional settlement.

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Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how much central funding has been given by his Department to (a) Buckinghamshire county council, (b) Chiltern district council, (c) Amersham Town council and (d) Chesham Town council in each year since 1 January 1996. [85131]

Mr. Leslie: Information on funding provided by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister under the main local government revenue and capital finance systems to Buckinghamshire county council and Chiltern district council are given in the following table.


Buckinghamshire county council(10)
Revenue funding
Revenue support grant166,086157,855102,116(10)102,324101,21595,891111,39791,977
Redistributed business rates118,192134,97291,92296,628105,481119,630117,618128,319
Capital funding
Basic credit approvals issued(11)10,98712,5857,9767,0826,0805,13476415,171
Chiltern district council
Revenue funding
Revenue support grant83457173030916001880
Redistributed business rates3,0373,2342,9342,9683,2303,5683,5273,935
Capital funding
Basic credit approvals issued(12)000000050

(10) The area covered by Buckinghamshire county council decreased on 1 April 1997 when Milton Keynes became a unitary authority.

(11) In 2002–03 Buckinghamshire county council had a large transport annual capital guideline amounting to £12.3 million compared to a zero transport annual capital guideline in the previous year.

(12) Chiltern received zero basic credit approvals between 1995–96 and 2001–02 due to high levels of capital receipts. In 2002–03 a discretionary element was introduced.

I will write to the hon. Member shortly with information on funding provided to the authorities from other Office of the Deputy Prime Minister programmes.

No funding has been provided by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to Amersham Town council or Chesham Town council in any year since 1 January 1996.

Chesham Town council will, however, benefit from the grant of £30,000 per year towards best value costs that we announced in the local government White Paper XStrong Local Leadership—Quality Public Services". The Local Government Bill contains clauses to enable the Secretary of State to pay such a grant and, in advance of legislation, the Audit Commission has consulted on a proposal to provide about £10,000 of support to each best value parish and town council in 2002–03 by the waiving and reimbursing of recent audit fees. The outcome of the consultation exercise will be announced later this month.

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