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7 July 2008 : Column 1354W—continued


Departmental Retirement

Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the standard retirement age in her Department is; and how many people in her Department and its predecessor worked beyond the standard retirement age in each of the last five years. [214134]

Mr. Dhanda: Communities and Local Government removed the mandatory retirement age for staff below the senior civil service grades with effect from 1 October 2006.

Prior to this the Department operated a mandatory retirement age of 65 and our records show that during the period April 2004-April 2006 no civil servants in grade 6 or below continued in post beyond 65 years of age.

The Cabinet Office has a civil service wide default retirement age of 65 for staff in the senior civil service grades. Our records show that during the period April 2004-April 2008 no staff in the senior civil service grades continued in post beyond 65 years of age.

Departmental Secondment

Pete Wishart: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what procedures her Department uses to ensure equal opportunities in relation to staff secondments to the Department. [214673]

Mr. Dhanda: The Department requires all inward secondees to complete a diversity monitoring form. Some secondments will follow a selection process which operates on merit. We are currently reviewing our interchange arrangements, with a particular focus on encouraging secondments from our stakeholder organisations, who are often more representative of the communities we serve.

Departmental Sick Pay

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how much sick pay to staff in her Department and its predecessor cost in the last five years for which figures are available. [211860]

Mr. Dhanda: The general rule is that employees on sick leave are entitled to be paid at their normal rate of pay for any periods of sick leave which in any 12-month period do not exceed six months, and at one half their normal rate of pay for any periods of sick leave which, in any 48-month period, exceed six but do not exceed 12 months.

Because of the way that data have been entered on our payroll system it is not possible to provide this information other than at a disproportionate cost.

Eco-towns

Grant Shapps: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst of 4 June 2008, Official Report, column 983W, on eco-towns, whether the Homes and Communities Agency will act as a local planning authority for any of the eco-town developments as part of its leadership role. [216016]

Caroline Flint: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) on 19 March 2008, Official Report, column 1201W. We would expect all applications for eco-towns to be considered as a normal planning application by the appropriate local planning authority unless called in by the Secretary of State.

We see the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) being able to take a leadership role in helping to deliver some of the eco-towns and playing a major role in supporting local authorities, and working with bidders to review and refine detailed proposals as they are developed. However, it is not envisaged that the HCA's leadership role will include acting as a local planning authority for any of the eco-town developments and there are currently no plans to designate any area and confer any planning functions upon the HCA.


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Eco-towns: Public Participation

Mr. Garnier: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government with reference to her Department’s YouGov poll on eco-towns, how many people were questioned; how those questioned were selected; where those questioned lived; what questions they were asked; and from which socio-economic groups they were drawn. [216196]

Caroline Flint [holding answer 3 July 2008]: With reference to the Department’s recent YouGov poll on eco-towns, I can confirm:

Empty Property

Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what assistance she is providing to help local housing authorities to purchase suitable empty properties on the housing market to house people who are homeless or on housing waiting lists. [216233]

Mr. Iain Wright: Funding is not being targeted directly at local authorities to enable them to purchase empty properties. In the current market the Housing Corporation is facilitating registered social landlords to purchase homes from developers and we have earmarked £200 million to fund this. Social homes provided through this route will help meet housing needs within local authority areas.

In April 2007, Communities and Local Government and GLA provided £30 million for the Settled Homes Initiative which will enable six schemes in London to purchase around 900 empty homes and convert them over time into quality settled social housing.

Energy Performance Certificates

Grant Shapps: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether the software for producing display energy certificates assessments has been finalised. [216011]


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Caroline Flint: Yes. Display energy certificates are being lodged on public sector buildings.

Grant Shapps: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the timetable is for display energy certificates to be compulsory for buildings. [216025]

Caroline Flint: Public sector buildings are required to have a display energy certificate by 1 October 2008.

European Charter of Regional Self-Government

Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what progress has been made in discussions on a European charter for regional self-government. [215433]

John Healey: The Council of Europe's (CoE) Conference of Ministers responsible for local and regional government, at its 2005 Budapest meeting, recognised that the then proposed Charter for Regional Self-Government did not have the degree of political support necessary for adoption.

I am aware that CoE's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities at its May 2008 meeting recommended a draft Charter of Regional Democracy to the CoE's Committee of Ministers who are now considering their response. The United Kingdom Government do not support such a charter, nor do they believe it would be right to recognise it in an international legally binding convention.

Fairtrade Initiative

Mr. Moore: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government pursuant to the answer of 18 February 2008, Official Report, column 17W, on the Fair Trade initiative, how much her Department spent on refreshments for official departmental meetings and engagements in each of the last three financial years; and what percentage of this total was spent on Fair Trade products. [211520]

Mr. Dhanda: Expenditure on refreshments for departmental meetings and engagements held at CLG' s HQ offices are as follows:

Expenditure on refreshments (£)

2005-06

360,596.34

2006-07

399,176.31

2007-08

381,843.57


Expenditure on Fairtrade products is not separately identified from non-Fairtrade products and therefore the percentage totals spent on Fairtrade products is not available.

Fire Services

Mr. Stewart Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what mechanisms are in place to monitor the (a) effectiveness and (b) timeliness of the implementation of Fire and Rescue Services’ Integrated Risk Management Plans; and if she will make a statement. [216316]


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Mr. Dhanda: Fire and rescue authorities (FRAs) are required by the Fire and Rescue Service National Framework to have in place and maintain an Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) which reflects local need and sets out plans to tackle effectively both existing and potential risks to communities.

The Audit Commission has responsibility for monitoring and assessing the performance of the fire and rescue service in meeting both the needs of local communities and national performance expectations set out in the National Framework.

Fire Services: Finance

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government pursuant to the answer to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst of 2 June 2008, Official Report, columns 541-42W, on fire services, whether fire and rescue authorities will be liable for cost over-runs arising after the cut-over to the regional fire control centres. [212720]

Mr. Dhanda: Government are committed to meeting the costs incurred by the Fire Service in making preparations for cut-over to FiReControl. They have also undertaken to put in place arrangements to ensure that no region will incur costs over and above those of running the existing control rooms once the Fire Control network goes live. Details of the arrangements are set out in the Communities and Local Government Business Case Part 1 that I have placed in the House Library which includes a regional case for each region.

A copy of the full Business Case will be placed in the Library later this summer.

Flood Control

Lembit Öpik: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether large-scale flood plain management projects will be dealt with by the Infrastructure Planning Commission, with particular reference to projects proposed in the Llandrinio area of the Marches. [215388]

John Healey: I refer the hon. Member to my response to him during Third Reading of the Planning Bill on 25 June 2008, Official Report, column 453. Flood plain management projects will not be considered by the Infrastructure Planning Commission.

Home Information Packs

Grant Shapps: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what assessment she has made of the reasons for the take-up rates of home condition reports as part of the voluntary element of home information packs. [213922]

Caroline Flint: We are considering home condition reports, including their rate of take-up, as part of the work of our Stakeholder Panel to improve the home buying and selling process.


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Housing Associations: Standards

Sarah Teather: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what arrangements her Department has put in place to ensure that housing associations are able to provide urgent alternative accommodation to tenants in exceptional or life-threatening circumstances; and what steps she may take in respect of a housing association which persistently does not offer such alternative accommodation to its tenants. [215269]

Mr. Iain Wright: Housing associations have a statutory duty to assist local authorities in meeting housing need and to provide good quality, responsive services; these are requirements of the Housing Corporation’s Regulatory Code and guidance. The Regulatory Code expects associations to be responsive to the individual characteristics and circumstances of residents and provide vulnerable and marginalised residents with appropriate responsive housing services. Where associations fail to meet these requirements, the Housing Corporation has powers to take a range of actions. These may include reassessing an association’s risk rating, which could have an impact on its relationships with stakeholders, including local authorities and lenders. If an association is a grant recipient, its fitness to develop might also be reviewed.

Associations are actively encouraged to sign up to the Respect Standard for Housing Management and to be active participants in Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships, to ensure that victims and witnesses of crime, and other vulnerable residents, receive the support they need.

Most social landlords are now members of choice based lettings (CBL) schemes. CBL schemes work to deliver good outcomes for vulnerable tenants, for example by giving priority to those with an urgent need to move. Outcomes in CBL schemes are transparent, so that delivery performance for vulnerable groups can be benchmarked. The Audit Commission also looks at delivery for victims of crime and nuisance, as part of housing management inspections.

The Housing and Regeneration Bill, currently in the other place, establishes a new Tenant Services Authority, with tenants at the heart of its remit. The authority will have significant new powers, to ensure that landlords who fail to deliver a good service to their tenants are dealt with in an effective and proportionate matter.

Housing: Low Incomes

Grant Shapps: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what assessment she has made of the effects of the downturn in the housing market on demand for each of the three Homebuy products. [216006]

Caroline Flint: In the current market conditions it remains very difficult for first-time buyers to afford to purchase a property on the open market, and the role of Government schemes in helping people get a foot on the property ladder is more relevant than ever.

The Government's Low Cost Home Ownership scheme ‘HomeBuy' which is based on equity sharing has helped some 35,000 people over the two years 2006-08. The range of products available under the scheme have
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helped to make home ownership affordable to first-time buyers, and enabled purchasers to get a foot on the property ladder.

From 1 April 2008 we have made two new equity loan products available under the Open Market HomeBuy scheme. They offer first-time buyers an affordable entry point into home ownership. Indications are that interest in these products remains high, as over 7,000 applications have been received for the new shared equity loan products since their launch.

In addition, the Housing Corporation continues to encourage RSLs to bid for New Build HomeBuy schemes in order to offer purchasers the opportunity to enter into home ownership with shares from as little as 25 per cent.

We continue to keep the HomeBuy products and their delivery under careful review to ensure that they offer value for money and are suitable for purchasers in the current market.


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