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I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have learned from the trials, but we want to give the House a more comprehensive analysis of the information that has been compiled. We have seen already that HIPs can improve the market, and that they are making a difference and providing increased transparency. On average, a pack takes seven to 15 days to prepare, and the people who said that each one would cost £1,000 have been shown to be wrong: a HIP costs £350, and some estate agents are incorporating the cost in their fee. So far, 320,000 HIPs have been issued. We are on a journey, and I want to evaluate how HIPs are bedding in, but it is interesting
to see what those who oppose them are doing. Only last week, the Opposition Front-Bench team put out a press release asking for more information about HIPs. They had better make their minds up.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Will my honorary friend[Hon. Members: Ooh!] Does she accept that it is particularly important to include information about flooding in a HIP, especially in areas such as the one that I represent? Did the pilot provide any insight in that regard? If not, is it worth looking at areas where flooding has occurred to make sure that such information is included in future HIPs?
Caroline Flint: With my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, I am looking at all the issues to do with housing, planning and flooding. I shall look into the matter that my hon. Friend raises, and I shall be happy to get back to him with some more information. We recognise the risk that flooding poses, but it is a problem that we can deal with in a number of different ways. The result is that new developments can cope with flooding risks, and that means that the housing supply can continue to grow. However, he raises an important point, and I shall be interested to learn whether he believes that information about flooding should be integral to the HIPs process.
Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that the questionnaire about HIPs included a question about the period for which a pack is valid? The housing market is very slow and even on a downturn at the moment, so people selling a home might need to purchase more than one HIP.
Caroline Flint: No, not at all. My predecessor identified various problems and acted on them, but it is wise for any Minister to take stock as the deadline approaches. I shall be happy to look into the question raised by the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): When HIPs are evaluated, will my right hon. Friend look into their effect on people posing as sellers? When such people put their house on the market, young couples incur the expense of a survey, only to find that the house is withdrawn when its market price has been established. It is clear that the people involved have no intention of selling, and their actions merely mislead potential buyers.
Caroline Flint: Yes, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest just that. People are thinking carefully about whether they really want to put their house on the market or should just chance it to see what will happen. Other people are probably better to quote on the matter than Ministers. MyLondonHome, an internet property portal, believes that home information packs will have a positive effect on the house buying and selling process. We welcome that opinion from the people who work in the sector.
Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con): We have heard today that it does not in fact take four to six days for a HIP to come through, as the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) told me before, but that it takes seven to 15 days. We are getting closer to the truth. Surely, having waited nearly a year for the results of the Ipsos MORI trials on HIPs, and having spent £4 million of taxpayers money, and still not having had the results, despite HIPs now applying to all shapes and sizes of house, is it not time that the Minister at least took some responsibility for her own decisions and her predecessors by apologising to the public for spending that £4 million of public money, which has gone absolutely nowhere, as the policy has already been introduced, and has simply been wasted?
Caroline Flint: Was that the question? I tried to detect a question in there. [Interruption.] Well, we will look at Hansard to see whether there was actually a question. It is interesting [Interruption.] It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman is standing before the House suggesting that his party is against HIPs, when on Wednesday 13 February the Conservative party issued a press release calling for the inclusion of licensing information.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one group of home buyers to have been substantially advantaged by HIPs are first-time buyers, who get information provided up front at no cost to them? Will she reflect, however, that if the Government eventually see their way to including home condition reports in HIPs, first-time buyers will be even better off than they are now?
Caroline Flint: Yes, that is a good point. For those buying properties, it would offer an opportunity not to duplicate activity and in so doing duplicate expense. We will be looking through the findings from the area trials in considering the status of home condition reports, along with other policy areas, and I intend to ensure that we move towards permanent implementation for HIPs by consolidating the transitional arrangements.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears): Officials from the Government office for London have had discussions with the GLA and LDA on a range of financial issues, reflecting their responsibility for administering the Governments block grants to those organisations.
Mr. Dunne: Following the Deloitte report commissioned by the London assembly last summer, which revealed inadequate justification or accountability for much LDA spending on the initiative of the Mayor or his advisers, what steps has the Minister taken to ensure sufficient statutory safeguards to prevent misuse of public funds?
Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman will know that in 2005 the LDA took steps to strengthen its project management, delivery arrangements and scrutiny. He will also know that the LDA is accountable to the Mayor, and I hope that he will know that the London assembly is responsible for scrutiny. The Government office for London is responsible for administering the block grants to the GLA, but the checks and balances in relation to action by the Mayor clearly belong to the London assembly, and the LDA is accountable to the Mayor.
Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): Is it not time for a full and transparent register of the interests of the Mayors advisers, so that we can put an end to the scandal by which large sums of LDA money are transferred to groups or bodies with which it later transpires those advisers have some business connection?
Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman will know that on 15 February, Lee Jasper, to whom I presume he is referring, asked the Mayor to refer any allegations to the police, and was suspended by the Mayor. The hon. Gentleman will also know that five days later on 20 February the police stated that they would not be investigating, and no criminal allegations were reported. He is fully aware of that situation.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): If on 1 May, nine weeks from now, London council tax payers form a view that the London Development Agency has not been properly managed, that money has been badly spent, that the audit trail is incomplete, and that there is no proper political accountability for the past four years, who should they hold to account? Is there not only one answer to that: the current Mayor of London?
Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman is correct that the best form of accountability is through democracy, and people will have the chance to vote on 1 May. It is interesting that when Michael Portillo was recently asked who he would vote for in the mayoral election, Ken or Boris, he said, More choices, please, so he will not be backing Boris. He also said that it would perhaps be rather good for the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to lose the next election. He has experience of losing
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): Speaking of endorsements for the London Mayor, the Secretary of State will know that the Prime Minister is refusing to endorse Ken Livingstone, and refers simply to the Labour administration at City Hall. It appears that the two have not met in public for some months now. Are the Government supporting Ken Livingstone for Mayor, or are they simply embarrassed by the fact that he is mired in sleaze and maladministration?
I am always happy to look the Secretary of State straight in the eye. I ask her to reflect on the fact that her suggestion that the issue is nothing to do with the Government really does not stack up, as they created the institutions in question. When they did so, they claimed that the Greater London authority would be a beacon of transparency and accountability. Would she like to explain what kind of beacon it is, and what kind of transparency it has, given that the Mayors adviser failed to register the fact that he is chairman of an organisation seeking a grant from the body that employs him, and given that the Mayors adviser sent an e-mail to an officer telling them to lay off an organisation that happens to be run by one of his associates? If that is transparency, will the Secretary of State not reflect on whether her beacon needs a new battery?
Hazel Blears: I ask the hon. Gentleman to raise his sights a little, although I would never accuse him of digging in the gutter. The GLA has the power to summon the Mayor and the LDA. It has the power to call for the disclosure of documents. It also has a new power for confirmatory hearings. The matter is serious. Do the Opposition really believe in decentralisation, devolution and scrutiny at the local level, which is what they talk about, or are they now saying that the issue is a matter for Government from the centre, not for the GLA? Just to make it clear, I will place on record that I think that Ken Livingstone has been an excellent Mayor for London. If we look at policy, there is congestion charging, better public transport, the Olympics and the regeneration of the city. It is an excellent record.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): Since 1 January 2003, there have been 105 housing stock transfers by 66 authorities, involving more than 422,000 dwellings, which has levered in £6.4 billion of private finance.
Bob Spink: I am grateful for that response, and I welcome the Governments policy to give tenants more direct control over their homes through non-profit housing associations; I think that that is absolutely right. Will the Minister tell us how that policy can help us to increase the availability of social housing, which is so badly needed in many communities, including my community of Castle Point?
Mr. Wright: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question; he raises an interesting point. I have been taking the Housing and Regeneration Bill through Committee, and the relationship and interplay between the new Homes and Communities Agency and the regulator for social housing will be key. Tenants will have a view on what housing is needed in their area, and they need to contact the regulator to make sure that affordable housing is available there.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): About 7,500 tenants in North-West Leicestershire have spent many, many months subject to a disgracefully unbalanced £1 million coerced stock transfer campaign by the local authority. When will my hon. Friend be in a position to respond to that district councils proposals, so that the ballot can at long last take place and the deeply damaging cloud of uncertainty can be lifted?
Mr. Wright: I agree with my hon. Friend that clouds of uncertainty are bad for tenants. I mentioned the Housing and Regeneration Bill. One of its key provisions is to ensure that it is mandatory for tenants to have a ballot in respect of transfer of ownership of their homes, and I would encourage all local authorities to do that in the meantime.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Will the Minister congratulate Conservative-run Kettering borough council, of which I am privileged to be a member, which has decided to retain its council housing stock, is well on track to meet its decent homes standards, and is building a record number of affordable homes every year?
Mr. Wright: I hope the hon. Gentleman will thank the Government for the increase in council house investment during the past decade. Council investment has increased from £800 per home in 1997 to £1,100 per home this yearthat is a 30 per cent. increase in real terms. We have also made available £3.7 billion to arms length management organisations to deliver improvements to council housing stock, and we will be spending more than £4 billion over the next comprehensive spending review period on arms length management organisations. I hope the hon. Gentleman will thank the Government for that unprecedented and sustained investment in council house stock.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): Information about chief executive salaries appears in housing associations annual accounts. I do not have information on 2007-08 salaries as the accounting year has not yet ended, but I have information for 2006-07, which was published in Inside Housing in September last year. The five top CEO salaries were as follows: Places for People£258,000, Anchor Trust£240,000, Sanctuary£225,000, Genesis£210,000, and Hanover£210,000.
Dr. Iddon: There is an interesting link between this question and the previous one, which I should point out. On top of the basic salaries, those five people also received bonuses each year almost equal to my salary as a Back-Bench MP, and should they retire they can receive up to £300,000 as a lump sum. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is an example of the pay-to-retain-me culture, and that the boards of housing associations should realise that they are handling public money?
Mr. Dhanda: If you will forgive me, Mr. Speaker, I will not get into the debate on pay for Back-Bench Members, but my hon. Friend makes the reasonable point that the boards of housing associations need to be responsible and show restraint. However, it is right for the boards to make such decisions. They are regulated by the Housing Corporation, which can intervene and has done so in cases of mismanagement. It is also important to remember that there are representatives of local residents on the boards. We should continue to keep the focus on those boards.
Mr. Dhanda: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is interested in applying, but as I said, it is for the boards to decide. There are about 2,000 registered social landlords delivering 2 million homes to about 4 million residents. It is important to remember that what I read out to the House was just the salaries of the top five CEOs, and despite the fact that they are doing a good job, it would be unfair to focus on just the top five.
The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): Ministers have no plans to meet local authorities in East Anglia at this stage in the boundary committees work. I have asked the boundary committee to advise whether it would recommend unitary arrangements for the area in future, but at present it is best that local authorities speak to, meet and deal with the boundary committee, which they are doing.
Mr. Bellingham: Is the Minister aware that I have not yet met a social worker, teacher, fire officer, police officer, planning official or highways engineer who is in favour of the proposals? The only people I have met who are in favour are the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) and a few senior local government officials who are eyeing up large redundancy payments. Why does not the Minister listen to the public, who believe that the proposals will not make any difference to the delivery of efficient local government in East Anglia? Will he listen to the public and scrap those ideas?
John Healey: The case for unitary rather than multi-tier local government is very strong, and we set it out a couple of years ago. Just to be clear to the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, let me repeat that there are no proposals for unitary reorganisation in East Anglia at present. That is precisely what I have asked the boundary committee to look at; after discussing the matter in detail with local authorities and others in the area, it will judge whether to recommend to Ministers that there is a good unitary solution for the area in the future. When or if it does that, I will consider it.
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