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and so on. I hope that my hon. Friend will take that as evidence that the vigour with which he is pursuing the matter and his conversations with the Prime Minister and others are bearing fruit, but he is absolutely right—others have made the point, too—that such thinking must go a good deal further.

In the debate, we have heard about the evidence that shows conclusively that good-quality child care, early education and good home-learning give children the good start in life that they need. That has been the background to a number of changes that the Government have made: the Employment Act 2002, for example, extended maternity allowance to 39 weeks and introduced two weeks’ paternity leave for the first time, thus enabling millions of parents to spend more time with their children in the first few precious months of their lives.

My hon. Friend and others talked about family-nurse partnerships, and the new opportunities White Paper refers to them in chapter 7, which is entitled “Strengthening family life”. With the White Paper, it has been announced today that we will increase the number of family-nurse partnerships, based on the US model that my hon. Friend spoke about, to up to 50 by the end of next year—a significantly faster increase than was originally planned, thus ensuring that disadvantaged families get the help that they need.

We have now invested almost £2 billion in Sure Start children’s centres. The target—2,500 centres—was reached in the spring of last year, providing services to well over 2 million young children and their families, and there
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will be another 1,000 centres by the end of next year. All of us will have visited such centres in our constituencies, and it is clear that future generations will reap substantial benefits from that programme of early interventions. I have certainly been very impressed by what I have seen throughout the network of children’s centres in my constituency. Our report on the next steps for public service reform, “Excellence and fairness: Achieving world class public services”, sets out the need for services to focus increasingly on prevention, and that focus is reflected in the White Paper.

I shall suggest three challenges that we must address, some of which have already been touched on in the debate. First, many issues, from antisocial behaviour to rising obesity levels, on which early intervention can deliver real benefits, require an active contribution from citizens themselves, as well as through public service provision. Derek Wanless estimated savings of £30 billion over 20 years if people all took simple steps to look after their own health, and it is true that cost-effective early intervention will rely on services in which responsibility is shared between service providers and professionals on the one hand and users on the other. That can be difficult to achieve, and we must design incentives for citizens, as well as for service providers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) referred in his intervention to the second challenge: early intervention requires joint working across traditional service boundaries and, most obviously, when the cost of a programme is in one budget but the benefits score in another. We need to enable and encourage services to pool budgets where appropriate.

Thirdly, the most challenging problem is one of measurement. We can gain a reasonable sense of the likely cost and subsequent return on a bridge or on an airport runway, to quote a current example. The materials that we need to build such things are finite, and once they are built, they will not move around or refuse to do what we want them to do, but even those projections are often hotly contested. Working with human beings and with children, however, is infinitely more complex, and it can be very hard to attribute causality and establish the reliability of even relatively small and focused interventions.

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Evidence shows that many preventive interventions are dependent on circumstances and the quality of their delivery, so, for example, some cognitive programmes that aim to prevent reoffending are demonstrably successful, but one evaluation suggests that they can suffer hugely from variability in implementation. That results in apparently similar programmes having a wider range of outcomes than would be perhaps anticipated or, certainly, desired. It is very hard to identify early the good ones, and we need to address that challenge.

The Office of the Third Sector initiated last November a three-year programme on measuring social value, bringing together academics and others to develop a social return on investment tool, which may be useful. On the specific issue of securing additional finance for early intervention programmes, however, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North sketched out some thoughtful proposals, and I should welcome the opportunity to sit down with him and others later in the year to discuss them. He has been pursuing the issue for a long time, and we know that spending now can release savings in the future, but can we devise mechanisms that somehow realise those future savings by spending now?

I am aware of the interesting work by the Council on Social Action regarding the idea of a social impact bond, but I am aware, too, of the difficulties with value for money—especially at a time of tight fiscal constraint. I welcome the exploration that my hon. Friend is leading, however, and I am encouraged by the ideas that are emerging. I am grateful to him for his generous remarks about the Treasury’s role, and our watchword is value for money for the taxpayer. We need to build the evidence base, so that everyone concerned is clear about the value that is added by any proposal. Understanding cost savings and benefits will be the key to extending the preventive approach, and we need to work hard on building up evidence about the circumstances in which such interventions should be targeted.

We have had an excellent debate, and I am grateful to all who have contributed. It is clear that early intervention has great potential to deliver exceptional returns.

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Milton Keynes/South Midlands Sub-region

11 am

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): I am glad to have the opportunity to bring forward a further debate on this issue, which is vital not only to my constituency, but to every constituency in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. If the Minister was in any doubt about the level of parliamentary interest in today’s debate, those doubts might be laid to rest when he sees that attending with me are my hon. Friends the Members for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley), for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster), and for Buckingham (John Bercow). I am also glad to see the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) here today.

I want to begin with two points on which I think that we can find agreement between all parts of the House. First, there will be a need in the Milton Keynes/South Midlands area, as in the rest of the country, for new housing and associated development. My hon. Friends and I all meet at our constituency surgeries people who are in housing need. We are all familiar with the demographic trends that are driving an increase in the number of households, even in circumstances where the population is relatively stable. They include the breakdown of marriage and partnership; the welcome fact that elderly people now live longer and can live independently for longer than in the past; and the wish of young adults to live independently of their parents and on their own—before they settle down and start a family—for more years than used to be the case. We are aware, too, of the impact on housing demand of what the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government described at the weekend as the “free-for-all” in Government immigration policy, which present Ministers allowed, whether or not they realised what they were doing.

Secondly, we can all agree that where new development takes place, it should be of good quality. I would be happy to endorse the aspirations set out on behalf of the Government by none other than the then Deputy Prime Minister in the 2002 White Paper, “Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future,” in which the issues we are debating arise. The Government stated in that White Paper:

the Government would wish

I happily endorse the Government’s statement that part of their response to the housing challenge would be:

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): My hon. Friend mentioned sustainability. Does he agree that for any community to be truly sustainable, it must have the support of local people? That is probably one of the key points that many of our constituents feel strongly about. They feel that housing is being imposed without any genuine local concerns being taken into account.

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Mr. Lidington: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Where I differ from the Government is that I believe that their policy has been flawed in two critical respects. First, they have been wrong to rely on top-down planning and targets imposed from the centre on local areas. In the 2002 White Paper, four areas in south-east England were singled out for large-scale development, when the evidence is that there is housing need and need for regeneration in many different communities in the south-east. I would have had far more sympathy for a Government policy that accepted that almost every town and village could cope with some additional housing, in each case on the scale and of a design that was acceptable to local people and in line with the needs and ambitions of that area.

Powers were removed from local authorities by the Government and given either to the Secretary of State or to unaccountable and remote regional agencies. Even when we get down to the process of public consultation on individual sites, which is happening in Aylesbury at the moment, we find that the rules that the local authority are obliged to follow in carrying out that public consultation—the timetable, the sort of questions that may be asked, the considerations that will be regarded as relevant and legitimate when a decision is taken—are determined by central Government and not by the representatives of the local communities themselves. Hanging over all that has been the threat, made clear in conversations between Government officials and local authority representatives, that if local authorities do not toe the line, the Government will step in, as they have done in Milton Keynes, and remove altogether the planning powers of the local authority in respect of growth and hand them over to a panel appointed by the Secretary of State.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to clarify that although it is true that parts of the new growth areas currently have little or no housing and are under the planning control of the Milton Keynes Partnership, there is also significant growth planned within the existing urban area of Milton Keynes, which is under the control of the council, as a local planning authority. In addition, of course, the local planning authority sets the overall parameters within which all development is taken forward.

Mr. Lidington: The hon. Lady is making the best fist that she can of defending a policy that I suspect is pretty unpopular among voters in her city. Although she asserts that it is up to the local authority to set the framework, the changes to legislation that her Government brought in require local authorities to ensure that their own plans comply with both regional and central Government guidance, or else those plans will be considered invalid and can be struck down by the Secretary of State. The problem with this top-down approach is twofold: it has led to bad planning decisions and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes pointed out, it is utterly corrosive of public confidence in the democratic system that allows its voices to be heard.

One of the most depressing experiences that I have had in my constituency when dealing with this issue over the past six or seven years, has been talking to local people who say, “What is the point of responding to a
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public consultation? What is the point of deciding which candidate I support in a local authority election? At the end of the day, all these decisions are being taken up in Whitehall; our voices are not heard, public consultation is a pretence, local democracy is meaningless.” I say to the Minister that irrespective of which political party happens to be in office at any one time, whether locally or nationally, it is not a healthy state of affairs when we see public cynicism about democracy growing in this way.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the prevalence of concern among the public and council leaders. I am sure that he would agree that both David Shakespeare from Buckinghamshire county council and John Cartwright from Aylesbury district council have consistently taken an extremely pragmatic and responsible approach to development, but given that Roger Tym and Partners estimates that £770 million of infrastructure investment is required in Aylesbury alone, does he think that local councillors are legitimately concerned that thus far, only a little in excess of £30 million of such commitments has been garnered?

Mr. Lidington: I am mindful of what my hon. Friend has said and I shall try to develop that theme at greater length later in my speech.

We need a change away from centrally driven, top-down planning. I welcome very much the commitments given by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) that a Conservative Government would return powers over housing and strategic planning to elected local authorities and would free local authorities to revisit housing plans and spatial strategies that have already been imposed.

The second flaw in the Government’s general approach is their failure to plan adequately for jobs, infrastructure and public services alongside the new homes. Even if we set aside our disagreements about the sustainable communities plan, the housing targets and the designation of four areas of south-east England for particularly large development, and look at the Government’s implementation of policy in their own terms, we find that that failure is a massive flaw which threatens to deliver communities that are far from sustainable. In the Milton Keynes/South Midlands area as a whole, the target is to build some 220,000 new homes. For Aylesbury Vale, the target is about 27,000 new houses by 2026, of which 16,800 will be in and around Aylesbury itself. Many hon. Members want to get in on this debate, so I shall touch briefly on three subjects that are relevant to my constituency: calculation of housing targets, provision for jobs and planning for infrastructure.

On the calculation of housing targets, I urge the Minister, even now, to look again at the change of policy that the Government introduced a couple of years ago which stopped local authorities from counting development on windfall brownfield sites as part of their housing targets. Historically, those gains were important in Aylesbury, and a consequence of the policy is that pressure for greenfield development has increased. The policy has also provided central Government with a way surreptitiously to increase housing targets without actually announcing and taking responsibility for such decisions. That, too, corrodes public respect for the political process.

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I would also ask the Government to look seriously at the provisions in planning policy statement 3 for local authorities to maintain a continuous five-year supply of deliverable sites. Paragraph 71 of PPS3 states that local authorities that do not have a five-year supply of housing land should “consider favourably” applications for planning permission. The inference one draws from that is that the absence of supply should trump other planning considerations that would normally make a scheme unacceptable.

The problem at present is that the impact of the recession means that sites that would perhaps have been given planning permission, or on which the local authority would certainly be willing to grant planning permission, are slipping out of the five-year deliverable timetable. In Aylesbury, work on many existing development sites has stopped, starts have been delayed, and where building continues the building rate has slowed down because of the impact of the recession.

Unless the Government are prepared to look at their rules on five-year supply, there is a risk that under paragraph 71 other sites outside the local plan—speculative applications—will succeed, not because they are sensible or sustainable but because market conditions mean that the local authority is unable to deliver the five-year supply required by the Government. We end up with the five-year supply rule clashing with the Government’s declared commitment to sensible planning and sustainable development.

Secondly, on jobs, there is at present a net outflow of some 20,000 people every day from Aylesbury Vale. Those people are commuting to workplaces elsewhere. Yes, Aylesbury is linked to London, and, yes, as the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West knows, I very much support the efforts that have been made to get agreement on the orbital rail route, including a link from Aylesbury to Bletchley, but Aylesbury’s travel-to-work area covers a wide circle which includes east Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and west London. Commuting to work involves a large number of car journeys.

Therefore, to cope with new development without adding dramatically to traffic congestion, Aylesbury will require many more jobs. Frankly, the target approved by the Government of one job for each new house is inadequate. These days, most couples work or, in the present economic climate, both halves of a couple wish to get a job and work regularly.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May I point out to my hon. Friend that one job for every new house appears to us in north Northamptonshire as rather generous? The Government targets for north Northamptonshire are for 52,100 new houses by 2021 but only 47,400 new jobs.

Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend makes his point persuasively.

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