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20 Jan 2004 : Column 1199W—continued

Fire Service College

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment he has made of the impact of the Airfield Support Services Project on Fire Service College, Moreton-in-Marsh. [149054]

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Phil Hope: The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has not yet made a decision on the Airfield Support Services Project. The possibility of joint working with the MoD on airfield support fire service training is warmly welcomed by the Fire Service College and is being taken into account in its strategic planning process.

Local Authority Debt

Sir Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) which local authorities in England are operating on a debt-free status; [148705]

Mr. Raynsford: The table below lists the 134 local authorities that had debt-free status as of 30 September 2003:

It was formerly our practice to take into account local authorities' capital receipts when issuing the credit approvals which allow them to borrow. That ended in April 2003. No estimates are available of the resources thereby redistributed from debt-free authorities to metropolitan authorities.

The redistribution of resources remains a fundamental principle of the housing finance system. It is currently achieved by the requirement for authorities to set aside for debt redemption part of their housing capital receipts. Debt-free authorities are exempt and have thus enjoyed an advantage unavailable to others, but that anomaly will be corrected from 1 April this year, when set-aside is replaced by pooling, under which all authorities must pay part of their housing capital receipts to the Government. Transitional measures will protect debt-free authorities from the full impact of this new redistribution mechanism for three years. Thereafter they will be treated on the same basis as authorities with debt. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister consider that the recently introduced the new prudential framework for local authority borrowing and authorities who need to borrow and can afford to do so should not be deterred by artificial incentives to remain free of debt.

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For the purpose of this table, an authority is 'debt-free' only if:

Local Authority Housing

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether his policy of requiring councils to submit proposals for disposing of their housing stock by July 2005 applies to (a) all councils and (b) only those councils unable to meet decent housing targets; how many councils have so far had applications for disposal of their housing stock accepted; what steps he is taking to ensure that the rest apply; how many proposals have been rejected by tenants' ballots; and how local authorities whose tenants reject proposals in ballots are to be helped to reach the decent housing targets. [148066]

Yvette Cooper: All local authorities must produce a robust stock appraisal by July 2005, which must be signed off by the relevant Government Office of the Region. Where that process identifies that additional investment is required to meet the decent homes target, local authorities can choose from three options singly or in combination: set up a high performing Arms Length Housing Management Organisation (ALMO); pursue a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme; and transfer housing to one or more housing associations.

Since April 2001, 29 local authorities have transferred whole or part of their stock and 11 transfers have not proceeded because tenants have voted against the proposal.

The option appraisal process is designed to ensure that tenants are involved in the decision making process from the start and that they are fully informed about the scale of the task in delivering decent homes.

Where there is a no vote it is for the authority and tenants to re-examine the options that are available.

Local Government Finance

Mr. Purchase: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when he will make a statement on (a) the local government finance settlement, (b) the supported borrowing allocation for capital spend and (c) the Supporting People grant notification for 2004–05. [148809]

Mr. Raynsford: Announcements on these issues will be made shortly.

Regional Government

Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister pursuant to his answer of 7 January 2004, Official Report, columns 399–400W, elected regional assembly for Yorkshire and the Humber, if he will place in the Library the evidence upon which his assertion was based. [149691]

Yvette Cooper: The Government are committed to promoting economic growth in Yorkshire and the Humber and an elected regional assembly is very much

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part of this framework. An elected assembly would clearly bring greater democratic accountability to the region because, for the first time, activities which are currently carried out by central government, its agencies and quangos, would become the responsibility of a democratically elected regional assembly. However it will be a matter of choice for the regional electorate as to whether they wish to have an elected regional assembly.

The White Papers "Your Region, Your Choice" and "Our Fire and Rescue Service" are already available in the Library of the House and fully set out our proposals for the regional responsibilities of elected regional assemblies, including the economic arguments, in favour.

Supporting People Programme

Mr. David Drew: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the operation of the Supporting People programme. [149083]

Yvette Cooper: The Supporting People programme which went live on 1 April 2003 provides housing related support services for more than 1 million vulnerable people—including the homeless, women fleeing domestic violence and older people—to live independently in their accommodation.

The programme introduced an integrated planning and funding framework for housing related support services.

Mr. Drew: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on funding for the Supporting People programme in its first year of operation; and what its estimated budget is for the next two years. [149084]

Yvette Cooper: Last October, the Government issued a written statement in the Houses of Parliament announcing funding of £1.8 billion for the first year of the Supporting People programme in England.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will be making an announcement about 2004–05 funding shortly.

An announcement for 2005–06 funding will be made in the summer.

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