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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): As my hon. Friend is aware, this is the last year of a three-year settlement. We will consult on our proposals for 2011-12 in due course. We are of course prepared to keep an open mind about options for change in the distribution of formula grant to local authorities.
I thank the Minister for his response. One ward in Elmbridge has double the national average of child poverty, yet we get back just one third of the national average of funding for local services. Will he
consider the local funding formula as part of the local government finance review to ensure that it is based on a truly objective assessment of local needs?
Robert Neill: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the question. I know that, very swiftly after his election to this House, he was in contact on behalf of his constituents regarding a number of related issues. I assure him that, yes, the Government are committed to a review of the local government finance formula and that, within its scope, we will of course consider the points that he and others have made.
Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): The Conservative party was elected on a promise to slash public services this year-the Liberal Democrats must answer for themselves-and huge cuts affecting local government have been announced today. May I ask the Minister why what he has proposed today is so unfair? Why is it that the impoverished northern mill towns, the ex-coalfields and the struggling seaside towns will take the largest share of the cuts? Why is it that the big cities-Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Birmingham-will take the largest cuts? Why is impoverished Newham to have a cut of £4.6 million and wealthy Richmond one of just £900,000?
Robert Neill: I have no intention of taking lectures from a member of a Cabinet that left this country record levels of debt. Unless there are cuts, by 2014 we will be paying more in interest on the debt than we will in council tax, business rates, inheritance tax and stamp duty combined.
Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): Regarding today's written statement, does the Minister not accept that local authorities have been at the forefront of making efficiency savings-2% year on year-so to ask for a further 1% part way through the year, on top of the 2% to which they are already committed, will effectively mean cuts in local authority spending part way through the year of about 4% to 5%? Rather than being about efficiency savings, this is surely the first round of the savage cuts for local authorities that Ministers promised us.
Robert Neill: The hon. Gentleman, who is experienced in these matters, well knows the dire financial straits the country is in and the need for all sectors to save money. However, he ought to put that in the context of what we have had to do because of the legacy of his party's Government. We have taken steps to protect formula grant, to un-ring-fence a good deal of grant to give local authorities more financial flexibility and to remove burdens such as the expensive comprehensive area assessment inspection regime.
Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab):
If the Government cut external funding based specifically on local authorities' levels of deprivation-external
funding available to Witney in Oxfordshire at 1.7% but to the city of Sheffield at 18.5%, for example-is it not inevitable that those in greatest need will take the biggest cuts?
Robert Neill: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman recognises that, if we are to have sustainable, quality local government services, the first thing we have to do is get this country's economic mess sorted out.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): We shall be abolishing the Standards Board for England. The necessary legislation will be in our localism Bill, announced in the Queen's Speech.
Andrew Stunell: I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. He is right that a safety net is needed, and we are in discussion with our local government colleagues about the most appropriate way of moving forward.
Mr Bone: Is the Minister aware that he is going to become the pin-up boy for every councillor in the country, and receive an enormous amount of fan mail? Will he ensure that the abolition takes place as soon as possible?
Around the country, there are councillors of every political persuasion deeply frustrated by the fact that the Standards Board remains a burden and a threat to them. It costs £7.8 million, but it dealt with only 1,000 real complaints last year, which is £7,800 per complaint. The sooner we get rid of it, the better. That will be done on a statutory basis through the decentralisation and localism Bill.
Grant Shapps: I made it pretty clear that we intend to protect the rights of social tenants. [ Interruption. ] They are already protected, as Members well know. It is important to say that there are a record 1.8 million families languishing on the waiting list-a number that nearly doubled during the 13 years in which Labour was in power. It is important that we respect those rights to tenure as well.
Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): Interviewed in Roof magazine last year, the Minister made it clear that he was open to change in security of tenure for new tenants. Will he confirm that new tenants-people in housing need coming off the housing waiting list, as he described-will enjoy the security enjoyed by existing tenants?
Grant Shapps: As I have said, security of tenure is incredibly important, particularly for people in social housing, and we are keen to protect that. There are 1.8 million families languishing on that social housing waiting list, and it is right and proper that we look at the way in which we can reduce that list. It may include looking at tenure for the future.
The most important thing is that there is an honest street count, but there has not been such a count up to now. We will introduce measures to take street counts into account. The last street count said that there were just 468 people sleeping rough in the entire country: it is nonsense, and we are going to get it sorted.
Paul Maynard: May I welcome my right hon. Friend eventually to the Dispatch Box? We have a fine record in Blackpool of inter-agency working to tackle systemic structural homelessness involving both the council and NHS Blackpool. Will he tell me, as part of his collaborative efforts in government, which Departments he will target and which thematic issues are important in tackling the rough sleeping that he has just described?
Grant Shapps: I will make sure that I am quick in reaching the Dispatch Box, to announce that Ministers across Government will be involved in helping with homelessness: there will be a named Minister in each of the key Departments to ensure that, at long last, there is some form of joined-up government to help to reduce the number of rough sleepers.
John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to one of the best jobs in government. All of us who are passionate about housing are disappointed that the new Government have downgraded housing and that the Housing Minister no longer attends Cabinet. On homelessness, does he accept that co-ordination is fine, but we need to build more new affordable housing to tackle the problem? Some £230 million of cuts this year is a bad start. When the £6 billion of cuts were first announced, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told the House that the Government were
"putting more money than the previous Government did into social housing."-[ Official Report, 26 May 2010; Vol. 510, c. 160.]
Grant Shapps: I welcome my opposite number to my former position. I feel a little bit bad: I have taken both his offices and his car, and I have even got his red tie on today. But I can reassure him that we will do all that we can to undo the mess of the lowest level of house building since 1946, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned. Indeed, if one takes out the war years, it is the lowest since 1924. That is the heart of the problem with house building in this country. Leaving us with a bill-it is highly dubious whether £780 million of it is available to the Government-was not the smartest thing to do, and it means that we are in the position of trying to rescue house building in this country, and, in particular, affordable house building.
Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): As a significant proportion of those who are long-term homeless are ex-servicemen and women, will the ministerial team also liaise with the Ministry of Defence to ensure that these people are properly supported as they make the transition from service to civilian life?
Grant Shapps: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. It is incredibly important, right across Government, from the MOD to the Department of Health and the Department for Education and many other Departments, that there is proper co-ordination between Ministers. It has never been done before at ministerial level; it has always been left to the officials. We will have Ministers in charge of homelessness across the Government, including in the MOD.
The Minister for Housing (Grant Shapps):
The Government are committed to reviewing the unfair housing revenue account in England, and want a funding system that gives local communities more power and
responsibility. I can therefore announce that I intend to continue with the review that was undertaken by my predecessor, which reports back to me on 6 July.
Jonathan Edwards: Is the Minister aware that Welsh local authorities returned more than £80 million to the Treasury as a consequence of the scheme last year, and that my home local authority, Carmarthenshire county council, which has retained its stock, returned £5.5 million in 2008-09? Does he agree therefore that the scheme does not provide a level playing field between local authorities and housing associations, and that it would be far fairer for moneys to be retained locally to increase investment in public housing, help Welsh local authorities to achieve the Welsh housing quality standards and help to create jobs in the local economy?
Grant Shapps: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there are numerous problems with how the housing revenue account operates at the moment, in England as well as in Wales. The simplest answer that I can give him is that I agree, and we will continue the review.
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Kettering council, on which I serve, collects £12 million a year from its council tenants, £3 million of which is handed straight over to Her Majesty's Treasury. How is that fair, and will the Minister receive a representation from the council on this issue?
Grant Shapps: I would be happy to receive a delegation from the council on the issue. It is absolutely the case that it is not fair. I think that there is cross-party agreement that the housing revenue account has become increasingly unfair over the years. That must be fixed, in the interests not only of transparency and of the tenants within those authorities that are paying in, but of efficiency. I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and his colleagues.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): It is an astonishing but sad fact that after 13 years of a Labour Government there is a backlog of £3.2 billion to bring decent homes to all social housing, and that is in the context of the previous Chief Secretary to the Treasury leaving a note saying that he was afraid that there was no money-or, as my brief says, future funding for the decent homes programme will be decided in the context of the Government's spending review.
John Robertson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his inept answer. Could he possibly tell me how he intends to find the money to help social housing? His party stood on a manifesto to try to help people who needed help, unlike the party that he joined in coalition, which did not give a toss about the poor people.
The coalition Government and the agreement make it clear that we have a firm commitment to dealing with social and affordable housing to bring
housing up to standard. We have the job of making sure that we can do that in an affordable way while getting Britain back on its feet. The hon. Gentleman's Government caused the problem; we are giving the solutions.
Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): It is a question not just of the standards of housing but of the legacy. After the last couple of decades of development in social housing, there is a desperate shortage of three and four-bedroomed family houses. There are a lot of families in my constituency and throughout the country who are crammed into one and two-bedroomed houses. It is simply unacceptable. It has an enormous impact on their lives and children's life chances. Will the Government be addressing that as well?
Andrew Stunell: The question is about social housing, and of course my hon. Friend is right that we must have the right mix of accommodation in each local area. One thing that we are making clear is that local areas should take the decision, and that local bids should be made.
Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): May I start by congratulating the new Minister on being appointed to work in my old office? He has a great team of civil servants, and it was a privilege to work with them. I congratulate also the new Housing Minister on his promotion, but it is a real shame that he, along with the Prime Minister and, this week, the Chancellor, should choose to use their first appearances at the Dispatch Box to give such inaccurate information about the housing pledge that the previous Government announced two years ago. The Housing Minister knows full well that the costs were agreed with the Treasury and would have been met with £340 million from capital under-spends in other Departments and £540 million in greater departmental flexibilities. If that had not been the case, the Government's accounting officer would have prevented us from making the announcement. If that pledge- [ Interruption. ]
Andrew Stunell: Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman is wrong, and, as it will become clear when statements are made in the emergency Budget and elsewhere, we are putting the financial package back together again.
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