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Lyons Review

3. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): If he will make a statement on progress with the Lyons review. [37196]

The Minister of Communities and Local Government (Mr. David Miliband): Sir Michael Lyons will publish an interim report tomorrow setting out his preliminary thinking, and publish research and analysis that he has undertaken so far.

Mr. Cunningham: Will my hon. Friend assure the House that, as he considers the Lyons report and local government funding, he will consult local government widely? I am sure my hon. Friend knows that there has always been serious concern about local government funding, particularly the formula element.

Mr. Miliband: I can confirm that written into Sir Michael Lyons' terms of reference is a commitment to work with local government. Obviously, it is essential that we do so. His proposals will cover the long-term financing of local government, and that must be done in partnership with local government.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): The Chancellor last week abolished the pensioners' £200 council tax rebate after it had been in operation for only one year. Is Sir Michael Lyons expected to estimate the number of additional pensioners who will face imprisonment for non-payment? Does the Minister personally regret that the Government have reneged on their promises to pensioners?

Mr. Miliband: The answer to that question is no. No new estimates are being provided of that, no new powers of entry are being given to the Valuation Office Agency, no new fines are being invented, there will be no new higher bills for inheritance and capital gains tax—all of which have been alleged—and, surprisingly enough, no new proposals for the slaughter of first-borns will be announced by Sir Michael Lyons, either.

Council Housing

4. Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): How many council houses have been built since 1997. [37197]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Jim Fitzpatrick): Since 1997 1,130,000 new dwellings have been constructed, of which registered social landlords built 177,000 and local authorities 1,365.

Bob Russell: When the Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister arrived at Westminster tube station this morning, did they observe the illuminated poster from Shelter showing the Chamber occupied by homeless families, along with the slogan

Noting that in the eight years from 1979 the Thatcher Government built 415,814 council houses, is it a success of the new Labour Government that in eight years they have built, according to the House of Commons Library, 4,278?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Shelter is a much respected organisation and we welcomed its latest report. However, the hon. Gentleman knows that when we came to power in 1997, our housing priority was the £19 billion backlog in social housing repairs and the 2 million homes that had fallen below the decency threshold. We have attacked that problem. We are well on our way to making sure that, by 2010, 2 million homes will be up to the decency threshold. We have cut rough sleeping by three quarters, and we are on our way to helping 100,000 new people into their first homes by 2010.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The Government response to the Barker review last week stated that the supply of social housing would be a priority for the spending review in 2007, but the Barker report was published with the Budget in 2004, recommending an increase of 23,000 new social homes a year. As I told both the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor in 2004, Birmingham desperately needs at least another 3,000 social homes a year. Why must we wait until 2007 for the increase in social housing supply that is so desperately needed in Birmingham and elsewhere?

Jim Fitzpatrick: My right hon. Friends must have listened, because the Government have accepted the key recommendation of the Barker review, which is a step change in housing. We are increasing funding for socially rented housing, and we are also increasing new build from 20,000 a year to 30,000 a year. By 2008, we expect 75,000 new homes in the social rented sector, as well as bigger targets between now and 2015.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Is the Minister aware that there is currently no homelessness provision for adults in my constituency in Shropshire as a result of the mixed messages that the Government have given out since 1997? What will he do for those who find themselves homeless on the streets of Shropshire this year and who do not have access to grace and favour apartments?

Jim Fitzpatrick: As I said, since 1997 we have cut rough sleeping by three quarters and ended the scandal of families with children experiencing long stays in
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cramped bed and breakfasts. We are providing £5 billion between 2004 and 2006 and £3.9 billion between 2006 and 2008. The Deputy Prime Minister has ensured that housing is a main priority for this Government, and we are very proud of our record.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that it is abysmal that a      Labour Government have built only about 1,000 council houses? Most social housing is run by housing associations, which are not accountable to the electorate. When people lived in council houses, they knew that their councillors would take up their cases on matters such as maintenance, but all hon. Members know that that situation has changed. We should reverse the position by transferring stock from housing associations to councils.

Jim Fitzpatrick: With respect, my hon. Friend is wrong. The Government made a clear choice to allow registered social landlords to seek private sector capital, of which an additional £6.5 billion has been spent on social housing, including the social rented sector. The matter involves value for money and choice for local authorities. I do not agree with my hon. Friend that there is no social control—registered social landlords have very good communications and their boards are staffed by councillors as well as representatives of the local community, who are doing their best for their neighbourhoods.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Back in 1997, the Prime Minister pledged to do all in his power to end the scourge of temporary accommodation. Bearing in mind the fact that the number of people living in temporary accommodation will have doubled by this Christmas, what does that say about the Government's pledges and the Prime Minister's power?

Jim Fitzpatrick: In the past year, homelessness has dropped by 23 per cent. As I have said, we have ended the scandal of families with children living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Those who are awaiting permanent accommodation are in accommodation of a much higher standard than anything experienced before 1997. The money that we are putting into housing, including the step change in new build, is unprecedented.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Minister's comments about investment in repairs to council housing, which has transformed the housing stock in my local authority. Does the Minister recognise that some people—in particular, young people—still cannot get into either social housing or the private sector? Will he introduce the plans on shared equity and greater social housing expenditure as a matter of urgency?

Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend has made a good point. Notwithstanding how much is being done—149 stock transfers, 56 arm's length management organisations, 37 private finance initiatives and £6.5 billion of private sector funding—a lot remains to be accomplished, but as a result of our programme, more than 1 million people now live in homes above the decent homes threshold who did not do so before 1997.
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Local Government Finance

5. James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): What representations he has received regarding the local government finance settlement. [37198]

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): There were 369 representations made to the consultation on options for the grant distribution system that was held over the summer. We also received a variety of correspondence on the options between the end of this consultation and the announcement of the settlement on 5 December.

James Duddridge: I thank the Minister for that reply and I thank the Under-Secretary for agreeing to meet Southend council on 9 January. However, what general advice would the Minister give local authorities across England about the ever-increasing Government requirements for spending on things such as pensions, job evaluation, civil contingencies and waste, which are extra costs that are not covered by inflationary or near-inflationary increases?

Mr. Woolas: I would advise those councils to read the words of the leader of the Local Government Association, a Conservative councillor, who acknowledged that the Government had met their new burdens obligations in the settlement. I would also advise those councils to look at the figures that confirm that by financial year 2007–08 they will have had 10 years of above-inflation increases in their revenue support grant.

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend) (Lab): The settlement has left the five district authorities in Tyne and Wear with a shortfall in the moneys necessary to implement the pensioners' concessionary bus travel scheme that the Chancellor announced in the last Budget. I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to meet me and colleagues from Tyne and Wear to discuss the problem. However, if we are unable to get a satisfactory settlement next week, will it be possible for me and other Members of Parliament representing the county to meet the Deputy Prime Minister to discuss the matter further?

Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his work on behalf of his constituents. He, like me, wants to ensure that all the pensioners get the benefits of the extra £350 million that has been provided across the country for free travel for pensioners. I look forward to next week's meeting with my right hon. Friend, the transport authority and the councils. He will of course be waiting for the outcome of that meeting to see how he can facilitate this policy.

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