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24 May 2005 : Column 101W—continued


Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether the Social HomeBuy scheme is voluntary for housing associations. [366]

Yvette Cooper: The Government's detailed proposals on Social HomeBuy, which would help social tenants to purchase a share in their rented home at a discount, are set out in our consultation document—"HomeBuy—expanding the opportunity to own"—launched on 1 April 2005. The document makes clear that Social HomeBuy will be voluntary for both housing associations and local authorities.

The consultation period ends on 24 June and the aim is to have the new scheme running by April 2006.

Housing (South Hampshire)

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what discussions he has had with (a) the South East England
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Regional Assembly and (b) the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire and its constituent local authorities on the level of infrastructure required to support the house building targets set out in the draft sub-regional strategy for South Hampshire. [737]

Yvette Cooper: Officials from the Government office for the south-east (GOSE) were invited by the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire to attend their meetings, and have taken a close interest in progress on the strategy for South Hampshire. As a result, South Hampshire was mentioned in the Departments five-year Strategy: 'Homes for All'.

Where local partners want to pursue planned growth that is consistent with existing or emerging Regional Spatial Strategies, and subject to the normal statutory procedures, the Government will support them. Senior officials from GOSE and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister have met with local authority officers in South Hampshire to take forward this commitment.

I have not had any discussions with the Regional assembly on this subject.

Local Government

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether the Government plan to move to a four-year election cycle for local government. [289]

Mr. Woolas: The Government are committed to examining the case for simplifying the current local government election cycle by moving towards 'whole council' elections every four years.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans the Government have to conduct future local elections, in whole or part, via remote electronic voting; and if he will make a statement. [376]

Harriet Harman: I have been asked to reply.

As we made clear in our response to The Electoral Commission's report, 'Delivering democracy? The future of postal voting', laid before the House on 9 December 2004, the Government remain committed to the goal of multi-channel elections, in which voters choices will include e-voting channels. Our strategy for achieving this goal is to encourage local authorities to continue the programme of local electoral pilots, including remote e-voting.

Mr. Kidney: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many local authorities in England have schemes allowing councillors to make grants out of public funds; and what monitoring there is of the uses to which such funds are put. [85]

Mr. Woolas: The information requested is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost. The discussion document, "Citizen Engagement and Public Services: Why Neighbourhoods Matter" (January 2005), suggests ideas about devolving to each ward's councillors control over a small pot of money for the benefit of that ward.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the timetable is for capping local authorities in 2005–06. [375]

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Mr. Woolas: All nine authorities which were designated have challenged the maximum budgets proposed. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is receiving delegations from all the authorities to listen to their cases and will carefully consider both their formal challenges and their representations at the meetings before taking final decisions.

In-year capping is subject to approval by the House of Commons and we aim to have completed any necessary parliamentary stages before the summer recess.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans the Government have to amend the local government pension scheme; and if he will make a statement. [284]

Mr. Woolas: A statutory consultation exercise on proposals to amend the local government pension scheme in England and Wales began on 1 April 2005 and concludes on 31 May 2005. Once the responses have been carefully considered a decision will be taken on the next steps. In due course other statutory amendments to the Scheme will come forward within the requirements of the Superannuation Act 1972, and after full consultation with all the interested parties.

London Government

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans the Government have to reassess the role of the (a) Government office for London and (b) Greater London authority; and if he will make a statement. [287]

Jim Fitzpatrick: A joint Treasury/Office of the Deputy Prime Minister review is currently taking place on the future role of the Government office network, including the Government office for London. The review's emerging proposals were announced in the 2005 Budget report. The final report will be published later this year.

The Government gave a manifesto commitment to review the powers of the London Mayor and the Greater London authority. We will provide more details on this review in due course.

Negative Subsidy

Paul Holmes: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how much was taken in negative subsidy from (a) all councils and (b) Chesterfield borough council in each of the last two years. [581]

Yvette Cooper: Total negative subsidy in 2004–05 was £620,543,656. The equivalent figure, representing the total negative housing element for 2003–04 was £706,268,335. Negative subsidy generated by some councils is captured so that it can be redistributed to other authorities with an assumed deficit. It is not retained by central Government.

Negative subsidy for Chesterfield in 2004–05 was £3,559,478. The borough's negative housing element in 2003–04 was £3,508,419.

The definition of negative subsidy was changed by the Local Government Act 2003, which came into force on 1 April 2004. The figures given above are directly comparable, though the terminology changed between the financial years.
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Regional Government

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) what (a) powers, (b) responsibilities and (c) functions the Government have allocated to regional chambers since November 2004; [285]

(2) what plans the Government have to transfer powers and responsibility to the regional chambers; and if he will make a statement. [288]

Yvette Cooper: Regional assemblies have not been given any new powers or responsibilities since November 2004. The Government stated in our manifesto that we would continue to devolve further responsibilities to the existing regional bodies in relation to planning, housing, economic development and transport. We will, as we take forward our regional policies, continue to include the regional assemblies in our considerations.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what role county councils will play in the allocation of housing numbers by district under the new regional spatial strategies. [290]

Yvette Cooper: Regional spatial strategies (RSSs) contain housing numbers by district, and the draft revisions are prepared by the regional planning body (RPB) for the region. RPBs in all regions have not less than 60 per cent. of their members drawn from local authorities, including county councils.

RPBs are required to seek the advice of certain authorities, including county councils when preparing, keeping under review and implementing RSSs, and these authorities are required to give the RPB their advice. These authorities must have the opportunity to prepare the detailed proposals for different provision for different parts of the region, if the RPB decides to make such provision. The RPB must also consult statutory consultees including county councils prior to examination in public of the strategy.

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