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Density and location are a concern because there are not many brownfield industrial sites in Fareham, so most brownfield development has taken place in back gardens. Fareham has topped Hampshires garden-grabbing league for the past two years, and people ascribe the change in their residential environment to the building of new blocks of flats. Those problems are not exclusive to Fareham, and are experienced throughout south Hampshire. We are told that high
density is important to improve affordability, but the price of those flats is four or five times the average salary of people in Fareham, so they are not necessarily affordable developments. Problems caused by the lack of infrastructure are therefore compounded by changes in residential areas.
Local people are concerned, too, about the lack of control over development. They do not believe that they have a say in development, because central Governments control is too strong, so their protests are ignored. The combination of a deteriorating quality of life, development that changes the character of an area and a lack of local accountability cause people to be frustrated with development and anxious about what will happen to their community in future. They will get no relief from the housing and planning Bills that are to be introduced, and they regard the proposals to move planning from regional assemblies to regional development agencies, following the shift from counties to RDAs in the last planning Act, as moving power further and further away from people and their elected representatives. The evidence from the partnership for urban south Hampshire is that local councils can work together at sub-regional level to tackle those issues. The Government need to learn that decisions do not need to happen at the regional level or in Whitehall, but can happen at the local level. The proposal to move decisions further and further up the chain alienates people from the political process at the local level.
My constituents are concerned, too, about the planning charge in the pre-Budget report; legislation may be required to introduce it in this Parliament. It is a response to criticism about the planning gain supplement, but my constituents are concerned about the small print. They are worried that money raised on houses built in Fareham, Southampton and Portsmouth could be taken away and spent on other priorities in the region. They regard it as a stealth tax, as money is taken out of the local area to be used elsewhere. Money could also be raised in other areas in the south-east and channelled into Fareham, Portsmouth and Southampton, but that would mean that another group of peopleanother Members constituentswould be disfranchised, and would not receive the economic benefit of developments in their area.
The money raised by the planning charge should therefore be spent in the area where it is raised, unless local councils agree that it should be spent elsewhere. Local councils across the south-east, for example, agreed that the Hindhead tunnel to improve road connections from Hampshire and Surrey to London was a regional priority. They took voluntary action to back the regional plan. People are prepared to work collectively to support such projects, but they will not be happy if they are compelled to pass up money raised from houses built in their area so that it can be used for projects elsewhere.
The lack of democratic accountability and the risk that money raised by the planning charge will be used elsewhere may exacerbate peoples alienation from the planning process in areas such as south Hampshire. If the Government intend to pursue the policy of centrally imposed targets for Hampshire and other parts of the south-east, they must will both the ends and the means. Too often, the Government say that the
money will be made available for infrastructure, but people in south Hampshire need clear evidence that they are prepared to step up to the plate. They do not want a repeat of what has happened in Whiteley and other parts of south Hampshire, where infrastructure has not kept pace with house building and economic development.
Until the Government recognise the need for change, the measures on planning and housing mentioned in the Gracious Address will not address the concerns of people in my constituency. If we are to tackle growing frustration with the planning system, we need a change in approach. We need to move away from top-down big government that takes powers away from local communities, and away from money being raised by the planning charge in one area to be used in another. We need to give back to local communities the right to determine how development affects their area, and the responsibility for meeting their housing needs. Local communities must see the fruits of development, so we must provide incentives to improve infrastructure. The Gracious Speech does not show that the Government can provide the change that the country needs. People in my constituency are desperate for change: they are desperate for more local accountability and local responsibility. The Government talk about that, but they do not deliver. I believe that the Conservatives can talk about it, act on it and deliver it.
Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): I am pleased to take part in the debate. I particularly welcome the announcement in the Queens Speech of a Bill to improve services for vulnerable children and young people, including those in public care. It is good that Ministers are taking forward their proposals in the Care Matters White Paper, to improve outcomes for looked-after children and young people. The Government have made real progress in the past 10 years in helping children and young people, especially under the Every Child Matters agenda.
It is right that we are offering universal support and help to parents through services delivered in childrens centres. In my constituency, Stockport, in two of the most deprived areas parents are being offered a range of services that include parenting courses, speech therapy for young children, advice on diet, StoryBus read and play, and share care schemes.
Many years ago I was a social worker in those same areas. At that time it was almost impossible to access services for vulnerable families. The services that were available in specialist centres stigmatised and separated those families from the wider community and labelled them as social care familiesa label that followed the children through their school years to the time when they became parents, and the cycle started again.
Of course, those families are hard to reach and to help, but the difference now is that services are available, and because they are universal and are often provided by local parents and the imaginative use of volunteers, those hard-to-reach families will be reached. Their children will benefit and will stand a better chance of staying with their parents, with better parenting than happened in my day, when the choice was to leave children in bad situations or take them into care, which meant placing them in situations that did not improve their life chances.
We need to recognise that, where the state is responsible for a childs welfare, it has a moral obligation to care for that child as any other good parent would.
I am especially interested in improving outcomes for the group of young people who, because of the complexity of their problems, are often cared for in childrens homes. There are 6,500 children in childrens homes and hostels in England. That is 11 per cent. of all children. Children in childrens homes tend to be older. Just 1.5 per cent. of looked-after five to nine-year-olds are in such accommodation, compared with 14 per cent. of 10 to 15-year-olds and 23 per cent. of those aged 16-plus.
Those children and young people areunderstandably, because of their backgroundsamong the most challenging in their behaviour, and the most needy of the best care that the public system can provide. Without a stable care placement, there is little chance of a stable school or training placement, and without that there will be no improvement in outcomes or in their life chances. They need the best care both in the care placement by the provider and in the support and interventions of the corporate parentthe local authority that has responsibility for looking after them.
One of the issues that concerns me locally is the number of children from other boroughs who are placed in my local authority area, Stockport. In 2005 Lord Filkin, then the junior Minister with responsibility for children and families, wrote to all councils stressing that
a firm Government commitment that, save in exceptional circumstances, out-of-authority placements for looked after children should be restricted to cases where they are clearly in the childs best interests.
to act as an attentive corporate parent,
less likely to thrive if they are living well away from their own communities.
out-of-authority placements can also result in unhelpful concentrations of children with high levels of need in particular parts of the country.
How can social workers miles from a childrens home satisfactorily discharge their corporate parenting responsibilities without delegating them totally to the provider, whose interests may not always coincide with what is in the best interests of the child? My concern is that in some parts of the country local authorities are not heeding this Government advice, and that children, especially those with complex behaviour problems, are being exported from one borough to another.
The growth of independent childrens homes has created some positivesfor example, choice and tailored placements suitable to childrens needsbut also some negatives. While it has allowed some local authorities to seek better value by closing their own childrens homes, it has led to an increase in exporting children elsewhere. For example, I understand that more than 1,000 children from other authorities are placed in Kent. In Stockport we have 200 children placed from other boroughs; indeed, we have 17 per cent. of all childrens homes within Greater Manchester.
Although most homes offer a good if not excellent service there are, as there are everywhere, rogue traders. There are incentives for local authorities to place children out of their own borough. While the placing authority pays fees to the private homein some cases up to £4,000 per week per childit is the receiving local authority and the police that have to foot the bill for tackling repeat offending and running away, education and health, including mental health. A Greater Manchester police analysis showed that 81 per cent. of all children missing from home are missing from childrens homes in Stockport, compared to a conurbation average of 65 per cent. That reflects the complex difficulties of those young people, the high level of private provision in the borough and the difficulty that those private homes have in managing those children.
Our local research showed that children missing from home during a particular six-month period had committed on average just under five offences each, and that 47 per cent. had been victims of crime on more than one occasion, which included physical and sexual assaults. There is also evidence of substance misuse and prostitution when missing. A failure to manage those children in care not only has a high resource cost for the authority in which they are placed but, more importantly, exposes them and the wider community to risk.
In Stockport we have seen the profitable development of a market in importing prolific and priority offenders from other boroughs. In one case, authorities were leafleted by a Stockport home owner with an offer to send their persistent and schedule 1 offenders to his private childrens home in Stockport. The problem is that the care provided by such homes does not seem to manage or stabilise the behaviour of those young people. The area round one three-bedded childrens home in Stockport that took offenders from Liverpool was hit with a swift rise in burglary, car thefts and criminal damage. My interest is in ensuring that the children in those small homes are looked after and supervised properly, and that the inspections are rigorous in taking into account factors such as repeat offending and the number of times children run away or go missing.
Childrens homes of whatever size are now regulated by Ofsted, which registers and inspects them a minimum of twice a year. There are national minimum standards that childrens homes must adhere to, and each home must have a statement of purpose. Inspectors should assess the home against the aims of the Every Child Matters agenda, which includes categories such as Staying safe, Enjoying and achieving, Making a positive contribution and Achieving economic well-being, so there are criteria against which homes can be measured.
However, there is anecdotal evidence in Stockport that in practice the inspection reports are not as rigorous as they should be. I understand that some reports do not adequately report how often children get into trouble or go missing, and are more concerned with issues such as the quality of food and the cleanliness of bathrooms. It cannot be right that an inspection report on one Stockport home failed to mention that one young person had offended 89 times. Surely reference to that would have been relevant under the Staying safe category of Every Child Matters. If such issues are not reported, how can other agencies provide the interventions needed to help the young person concerned and others like them?
As Lord Filkin said, children are less likely to thrive if they are away from their own communities. If the child or young person is a long way from home, there is less opportunity to do whole-family work. Also, if a young person is placed in their authority of origin, offender management and safeguarding will rest with those who are more familiar with the case. There will therefore be greater stability in the resourcing and provision of substance misuse services, child and adolescent mental health services, family work, parenting, education, training and employment. I am also concerned that the requirement under the Children Act 1989 to promote contacts with families can be difficult to meet if children are placed away from home. Children in childrens homes will often have complex physical, behavioural and educational needs. If we are to improve the outcomes for such children, it is crucial that all the local agencies have a full knowledge and understanding of the problems.
The children and young persons Bill offers an opportunity to address those issues and the gap in outcomes between children in care and their peers, and to improve placement stability and consistency for children in care. It should be mandatory for the local crime and disorder reduction partnership to be notified by private homes when a prolific and persistent offender is exported into their area. However, some homes will not share information as to who is resident, which makes the CDRPs task of either safeguarding or reducing crime more difficult. We should also consider standardising the base assessment of young people before and during placements to ensure both that the inspectors are mindful of the Staying safe category in reducing crime and tracking runaways, and that inspectors report fully on such incidents. If those measures were used robustly, they would stop providers from offering inappropriate placements for young people who they know they cannot manage, and act as a lever for improving staff training.
There can be no doubt that it is best to place children in a home near to their own home, because the social worker responsible for supervising and reviewing their case can easily access and make use of local agencies to improve the life chances of that young person. That is inevitably more difficult if a child is placed outside the area, many miles away. Inevitably, however, some children will be placed outside their own authority, for very good reasons and because it is in their best interests. It is important that we have a robust and strict inspection regime that reports on all aspects of their progress, so that the child who is a long way from home can be properly parented and his or her life
chances can be improved. It is important to address those issues with this most difficult group of young peopleand we cannot achieve that without improving public care and corporate parenting.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I should like to return to the subject raised by the hon. Member for Bedford (Patrick Hall). I served on the Joint Committee on the draft Climate Change Bill and also on the Environmental Audit Committee, and I am glad to see a number of my colleague survivors of those Committees here today.
There is no doubt that climate change is the greatest new political issue to have arisen in our lifetime. At their highest, the stakes are the most extraordinary possiblenamely, the survival of life on earth. I have no hesitation in welcoming the intentions of the Government in bringing forward the Bill. I should say in passing, however, that they sometimes seem to forget how the commitment to the Bill came about. It was in fact campaigned for by Friends of the Earth, and the support of the Liberal Democrats, the nationalists and, eventually, the Conservatives, persuaded the Government to introduce it. None the less, that consensus is worth hanging on to.
It is also worth mentioning, as did the hon. Member for Bedford, how the Bill will work. It will work by increasing the Governments credibility in climate change policy, because they will be giving away power. By setting up the committee and imposing legal obligations on themselves, they will increase their ability credibly to bargain internationally and credibly to go to industry and the public with measures that will help to deal with the problem. In that regard, however, I still have some concerns about how the Bill will work, because I do not think that the Government are willing, yet, to give up enough power to give themselves enough credibility in the coming decades.
I want to concentrate on two areas, both of which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Bedford: the targets and the carbon budgeting process. On the 2020 and the 2050 targets, it is clear from discussions in all the Committees that have looked at the Bill that the most important factor is that there should be a total emissions target over the entire period. Yes, there should also be an end-point target relating to how great a reduction we make, but what really matters in climate change is the amount of greenhouse gas that has gone into the atmosphere across time. That total volume target is not mentioned in the Bill, but it needs to be in there.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the mechanism of carbon budgeting will effectively drive down the quantum that is out there, as he puts it, over a period of time, and that it will be a very effective adjunct to targets as we go through the period up to 2020 as those budgets are replaced over a five-year rolling period and that quantum continues to be drawn down?
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