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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 7 June 2006

Leader of the House

Business Questions - New Hospital Schemes (Correction)

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): During business questions on Thursday 25 May, in response to a request for a debate on the White Paper on community health services from the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, (Mrs. May), I said

The figure of 132 relates to the total number of Public Finance Initiative (PFI) hospital schemes going ahead. A total of 72 schemes are now open (53 PFI schemes and 19 public capital schemes) and another 32 schemes (29 PFI schemes and three public capital schemes) are under construction. There is a total of 156 hospital schemes going ahead worth a total of £19.2 billion and the Government are on course to meet the NHS Plan target of 100 new hospital schemes by 2010. I apologise to the right hon. Lady and to the House for this inadvertent error.

Communities and Local Government

Decent Homes Announcement

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Ruth Kelly): I am today announcing the final bidding round of our decent homes programme. Applications for the 2006 housing transfer programme and the final round for new arm’s length management organisations (ALMOs) will need to be submitted by 31 July 2006.

This is a key milestone in a major Government programme to improve the quality of social rented housing. In 1997 we were faced with 2.2 million social tenants who lived in homes that were not decent. More than 500,000 council tenants did not have central heating, 2 million did not have double glazing and 1.2 million were in fuel poverty.

The decent homes programme already has reduced the number of non-decent homes by 1.2 million and many more have had improvements to their homes. By 2010 a total of 3.6 million homes will have been refurbished under the programme as additional homes have faced deterioration since 1997. Around 8 million people will have seen their homes transformed.

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The Government have increased by 30 per cent. in real terms the amount of money being spent directly by local authorities on refurbishing and improving council homes. This year it is about £1,100 per home compared with a spend equivalent of £800 in 1997. Over 90 local councils are able to make all their homes decent as a result of this investment.

On top of this the ALMO programme has provided an extra £3.7 billion since 2002 to help to date a further 56 areas to improve council homes. In total councils have invested over £20 billion since 1997 in improving the homes they own, using the investment provided by Government.

In addition £7.4 billion of private funding has been levered through stock transfer and private finance initiatives.

Work in hand and schemes already in place on our ALMO, transfer and PFI programmes will mean that around 95 per cent. of social housing will meet the decency standard by 2010, transforming the lives of tenants up and down the country. The majority of these improvements will have been in the most deprived areas.

Today we are announcing further support for the additional homes that are not covered by the current programme. The final bidding round will enable councils that have selected ALMO or transfer in the options appraisal process to bid for a place on the relevant programme. Bids will need to be received by 31 July. A bidding round for PFI has already taken place.

The decent homes programme has resulted in much greater tenant involvement in decision making about their homes. Tenants have participated in options appraisals and are board members of ALMOs and housing associations set up through transfer.

We now wish to go further in supporting greater tenant involvement in the management and ownership of their homes. Therefore, as part of this bidding round, we will promote consideration of options such as community gateway, community mutual approach and community land trusts as additional ways to meet the decent homes target and go beyond the target in future. Where local authorities with their tenants want to take forward tenant ownership options for transfer we will consider extending the date for submitting their bid beyond 31 July.

We recognise that the decent homes programme needs to support the creation of decent communities. In many areas the decent homes programme has already made a real difference to the lives of tenants by modest improvements to essentially good quality housing alongside improved services, helping to create sustainable mixed communities. But more radical solutions are required to transform some of the poorest neighbourhoods.

A number of local authorities and housing associations have already embarked on transforming such areas into mixed communities, harnessing the impetus of the decent homes programme and the better use of their assets alongside other funding streams. The review of housing and regeneration which includes the roles of the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships is looking at ways to extend and strengthen these programmes. All engaged in this transformation know it takes time to get it right; major change cannot be achieved in a few years.

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We also want to see greater investment in new build programmes in local areas. Local authorities, ALMOs and stock transfer housing associations need all to play a greater role in increasing supply as well as managing existing homes. We are exploring ways to give excellent local authorities and local authorities with three star ALMOs greater flexibility to use their own resources to build and own homes for rent and to increase affordable homes to buy in their areas.

The decent homes programme is making good progress. The vast majority of social landlords will be expected to ensure all homes are decent by 2010. But we will negotiate individual delivery timescales to allow some areas to continue beyond 2010 where they are starting late on the programme, or where additional time is needed to ensure value for money, deliver mixed communities and the right balance of refurbishment and new build.

This bidding round will be the last within the decent homes programme. In future we want decisions on investment in improving social housing to be considered alongside decisions on the other investment necessary to deliver sustainable mixed communities, and not as a separate programme. We want councils, residents and local partners, such as ALMOs and RSLs, to have more flexibility on local housing decisions. Local area agreements could offer the opportunity to do this and to introduce greater flexibility for local authorities on how to achieve different priorities and explore different models for managing homes and encouraging new social housing. We will explore how to achieve this in the long term as part of the comprehensive spending review.

We want to explore the idea of allowing some excellent local authorities and local authorities with thee star ALMOs to operate their finances outside the housing subsidy system. We believe this approach has potential to introduce the right incentives to secure this sustainability of investment. But the approach also has costs and risks both for Government and for local authorities. We intend to build on the work already done by inviting a small number of excellent local authorities and local authorities with three star ALMOs to work with the Government to establish in detail the costs and benefits of this approach and to determine whether greater value for money could be achieved. This work will be conducted as part of the CSR.

The ALMO review also raised a number of other issues which impact on the successful operation of ALMOs. The Government are publishing the outcome of the review today at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/decenthomes.

We are also publishing today a discussion paper that sets the decent homes programme in its broader context at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/decenthomes.

We want to use this document as the basis for stakeholder engagement over the coming months to bring together ideas that we can consider in CSR07. The discussion paper specifically seeks views on: getting the most out of existing housing revenue account assets; ways in which local authorities can be involved in planning for affordable housing and playing the biggest role it can in generating new investment; and barriers that prevent tenants from having a greater role in management and ownership of social housing.

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Education and Skills

New Ofsted Board

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Alan Johnson): The Education and Inspections Bill which is currently before Parliament will make provision for an expansion of Ofsted's remit, creating a single inspectorate for Education, Children's Services and Skills. The new Ofsted board is the centrepiece of the robust modernised governance arrangements the enlarged inspectorate needs to support and hold the Chief Inspector to account in delivering the responsibilities of the office. The board will be responsible for determining the strategic priorities for the Chief Inspector, setting the strategic objectives and targets relating to these priorities and securing that the Chief Inspector's functions are performed efficiently and effectively.

Appointment of a Chair and members to form the non-executive board needs to be undertaken soon to ensure that the board is in place to oversee a smooth transition to the new Ofsted and that public confidence in the inspectorate is maintained during this important period.

Parliamentary approval for any additional resources for the new governance arrangements will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the Department for Education and Skills. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £85,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund to start the process for putting in place these new governance arrangements.


Transport Grant and Advice Programmes

The Minister of State, Department for Transport Dr. Stephen Ladyman): The Government are committed to encouraging cleaner fuels and vehicles with policies that deliver for the environment and for the taxpayer. I have reviewed how best to invest the £40 million earmarked in the Department for Transport's budget for environmental grants and advice over the next two years. The full budget will remain allocated for green transport initiatives and will be refocused. The detailed development of the initiatives will be taken forward as part of the powering future vehicles strategy review this year.

I will introduce a new communications campaign to promote consumer information on buying greener vehicles and on eco-safe driving. The campaign will also target businesses by promoting the benefits of workplace travel planning. The campaign will be developed in consultation with key stakeholders.

I will provide additional funding for the freight best practice programme, including the safe and fuel efficient driving scheme for van drivers. This will train another 4,000 drivers in fuel efficient driving techniques, provide for another 400 fuel efficiency reviews and increase dissemination of advice in the van sector similar to that
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for truckers. Analysis in the climate change programme review showed investment in this initiative is effective and offers value for money.

I will refocus support for workplace travel planning, to work more effectively with business and encourage wider adoption of voluntary travel plans. These plans have the potential to reduce commuter car driving by 10 to 30 per cent. As a first step I will re-launch and expand the ground floor partners network (of major private sector companies with an interest in travel plans) in the autumn to support and encourage more employers to develop travel plans and to promote them to business groups.

I will also provide funding to explore the feasibility and value for money of a range of programmes, including a bus fleet advice programme aimed at improving the environmental performance of the UK's bus fleets, and a green transport accreditation programme for UK companies that implement best practice and show improvements in the environmental performance of their transport operations.

I will continue with the three existing green transport programmes funded by the Department and managed by the Energy Saving Trust: the low carbon research and development grant programme, the Infrastructure grant programme and the green fleet review programme, which provides advice to car fleet managers.

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I have decided not to implement the low carbon car, low carbon bus, air quality retrofit and enhanced environmental vehicle grant programmes on the grounds that, if implemented, they would not achieve market transformation or provide value for money.

Regrettably, state aid rules limit the level of grant available to 30 to 40 per cent. of additional costs and it is clear that the level and number of grants available would not be sufficient to kick-start market transformation. The low carbon car programme could only provide grants for 8,500 low carbon cars a year—only 0.4 per cent. of the new car market—and sales of low carbon cars have been sustained despite the absence of grants for 18 months.

I am not persuaded that giving small grants for individual purchases will deliver significant emissions reductions or change the way we think about green transport. Not only do we need to promote the cleanest cars, we need to promote the cleanest in each class. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) suggest that a reduction of up to 30 per cent. in average fleet CO2 emissions would be achievable if every consumer chose the most fuel efficient vehicle in its category. There are clearly significant savings to be made. Our priorities need to be working with industry to see increasingly efficient cars brought to market and supporting targeted, clear and helpful advice to inform the choices people make when purchasing and driving a car.

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