The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): I am today placing in the Library of the Houses of Parliament copies of the report of the annual meeting to review the Compact held on 22 November 2006.
The coming years present the opportunity to make significant steps forward in the implementation of the Compact, building on what has been achieved. This year has seen a record 28 Compact Annual Meeting commendations for excellence, showing that the Compact is increasingly being used as a tool to improve partnership working and increase sector involvement. The publication of the Partnership in Public Services Action Plan, the Local Government White Paper and the review of the future role of the third sector in social and economic regeneration, as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, will all contribute to the creation of an environment in which Compact principles can flourish.
We will continue to work to ensure that Compact principles become fully embedded in the culture of central and local government bodies and voluntary and community organisations. The appointment of the Commissioner for the Compact, John Stoker, will help us with this process, overseeing partnership working and the operation of the Compact. He will report to future annual reviews on the state of the relationship. The next annual review will look at progress against the Compact Action Plan.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Pat McFadden): The 2006 Fast Stream Recruitment Report was published on-line at http://www.cabinetof.gov.uk today. It summarises the results of the Civil Service Fast Stream recruitment competitions completed in the year ending November 2006.
The Fast Stream selection process itself is subject to continuous review, and the results are monitored in detail to ensure no adverse impact on any particular groups of applicants. We shall continue to work to improve Fast Stream recruitment from the point of view of both applicants and employing Departments.
The Fast Stream Development Programme remains a popular career choice, and has featured continuously in The Times Top 10 Graduate Employers since the survey's inception. Over the last five years it has attracted an average of 14,000 applications a year.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): The Government will shortly be issuing a consultation paper on this subject. Copies of this paper will be made available in the Libraries of both Houses.
We had made it clear to authorities that we expected to see an average council tax increase of less than 5 per cent. and I am pleased that overall local government has responded in a positive manner in keeping down the average council tax increase.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Angela E. Smith): I am today publishing a short report by my Department on options for the future development of the building control system. This report follows in-depth discussion with a wide range of stakeholders over the last year which has raised a number of areas of concern and highlighted the need for reform to the system to ensure that it is fit for purpose now and in the future. This report is not a statement of intended Government policy. It is an indication of those ideas which we believe have the greatest potential for reforming the building control system effectively and which we intend to develop further before issuing a full consultation document later in the year.
The report can be accessed via the Communities and Local Government website at: www.communities.gov.uk/buildingregs and is also available in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): I am pleased to announce that I am today laying before Parliament a Command Paper setting out Government's response to the all-party inquiry into Anti-Semitism.
The Government welcome the all-party Parliamentary inquiry's constructive and comprehensive report into anti-Semitism and is grateful to the Committee for the detailed work it has undertaken in this area.
The Government share the Committee's commitment to the eradication of racism and intolerance wherever they exist. We acknowledge that there is no room for complacency, and recognise and commit ourselves to the practical nature of many of the Committee's recommendations.
The Government strongly condemn anti-Semitic incidents and understand the fears and concerns of the Jewish community. Anti-Semitism is not just a problem
or concern for the Jewish community but impacts on society as a whole. The Government have a shared responsibility to tackle anti-Semitism and all other forms of racism and prejudicenot only with those communities directly affected, but with all members of society.
We believe the best way to do this is through effective implementation of strong legislation against racial and religious discrimination and racially and religiously motivated crime, underpinned by policies and strategies to increase racial equality and build community cohesion particularly through education.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): This statement reports progress on the Governments review of the complex issues raised by the high major works bills now faced by some owners of ex-council flats (leaseholders). It sets out progress and further steps that the Government will take to address these issues, while looking for other sustainable solutions in the longer term.
Tenants who buy flats from local authorities, and people who buy flats formerly owned by local authorities, are responsible for contributing towards the cost of repairing, maintaining and improving the properties in which those flats are situated.
Some current works of repair, maintenance and improvement to local authority properties are generating high major works bills, particularly in London. We have commissioned research into the impact on leaseholders, and have published the results on our website, at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id:=l504262.
Our review has mainly focused on the range of ways in which local authorities can help leaseholders to pay their bills. It has also considered how landlords currently communicate with leaseholders on scheduled major works and their costs.
Leaseholders do not always have to pay the full amount that their lease requires. Major works charges are capped to no more than £10,000 in any five-year period when the works are funded by specified Government grants.
They may reduce bills to no more than £10,000 in any five-year period if the leaseholder would not benefit from the works financially or would face exceptional hardship in paying it.
They must offer loans to leaseholders who have bought their flats under the right-to-buy scheme, if they apply within a specified time, and they may give loans to leaseholders under other circumstances.
They may allow leaseholders to pay their bills by monthly instalments and over an extended period, or defer payment until the property is sold.
They can buy back properties from owners who are in financial difficulties. When doing so, they receive financial assistance from the Government.
Some local authorities offer leaseholders the HouseProud equity release scheme managed by the Home Improvement Trust. A number of lenders also offer other equity release products that can be tailored to peoples needs.
But the alternative of simply extending the existing scheme for capping bills would bring severe problems. Capping all major works bills to £10,000 while taking no account of ability to pay would be very expensivein London, this could, on current figures, cost more than £40 million.
i. inform and advise all leaseholders who face particularly high major works bills about the available payment options;
ii. offer the full range of available payment options to help leaseholders pay their bills, and share best practice to ensure that this happens everywhere;
iii. use existing resources, such as for private sector renewal which they are already expected to target towards those in need and on low incomes, to assist leaseholders in hardship;
we have in addition increased funding for LEASE so that social sector leaseholders can obtain authoritative advice and help at an early stage and LEASE can expand its alternative dispute resolution and mediation role in respect of social sector service charge disputes that arise;
we will work urgently with lenders and independent financial advisers, landlords and leaseholder representatives to develop the use of existing equity release/equity loan schemes (including HouseProud);
in the longer term, we intend to legislate to enable local authorities to offer equity loans to leaseholders, and to buy back shares in properties so that leaseholders in difficulties do not have to revert to being tenants.
We are continuing to look further at ways to address this complex and sensitive issue. These actions represent work in progress. We will also actively monitor developments, to ensure that all concerned focus on the best ways of tackling these issues both now and in the future.
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