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Affordable Housing

13. Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): What steps he plans to take to increase the supply of affordable housing in areas of high demand. [1547]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): We recognise that there is a continued need for affordable housing, and we remain committed to its provision. When we announced on 24 May the £6.2 billion of savings to tackle the deficit, we made available £170 million to safeguard the delivery of about 4,000 otherwise unfunded social rented homes, starting on site this year and prioritising provision for the most vulnerable. Decisions on future levels of funding for affordable housing will be made in the spending review.

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Kerry McCarthy: I thank the Minister for that reply. Given his professed support for social housing, will he explain why the Homes and Communities Agency has put a moratorium on all spending on new council housing, including the site in central Bristol on which work was planned to go ahead?

Andrew Stunell: As the hon. Lady will know, the moratorium is in existence until the emergency Budget is announced, and I cannot go much further than that at this point. However, the reason why there will be an emergency Budget, and the reason why there is a moratorium, is that there is not enough money to complete the programme that was put in train by the Opposition's Front Benchers when they were in government.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): Does the Minister agree that, although the previous Government made lots of pledges, the problem is that they never lived up to them?

Andrew Stunell: Yes.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): Why did Ministers not make an announcement about the first £230 million of cuts to the affordable housing investment programme instead of sneaking them out on the Homes and Communities Agency website? Do they not accept that the hardest-hit areas are the poorest, and that the poorest families will be hit first? Given that the Prime Minister said this week that the Government's cuts will be open, responsible and fair, can the Minister not see that that fails each one of those three tests?

Hon. Members: Just say yes.

Andrew Stunell: I shall not be quite so quick to do so this time. The fact is that we have tried to do our work in a measured and careful way to protect the vulnerable, as the coalition agreement set out. That is what we are about. That is what we are doing.

Regional Spatial Strategies

17. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What timetable he has set for the ending of regional spatial strategies. [1552]

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): As I said in my answer a few moments ago, we and, I think, many people in the country regard regional spatial strategies as undemocratic, bypassing local authorities. They are based on artificial regional boundaries and, by imposing on local people, have increased antagonism towards development. In other words, they have not worked.

Tony Baldry: Regional spatial strategies were a stick that was used to beat local authorities, but what will my right hon. and hon. Friends do on incentives? Do Ministers on the Treasury Bench still intend to allow those local authorities that encourage housing applications and grant planning applications for housing to retain the council tax receipts in respect of that new housing for a period, thus giving local councillors and authorities an incentive to bring forward housing schemes and new housing?

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Greg Clark: I could not put it any better myself. That is exactly our intention. This shows that if one works with the grain of human nature by, instead of bullying people and telling them what to do, allowing them to share in the success, then-miracle of miracles-we might have people who support development of all kinds in this country.

Affordable Housing

19. Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): What estimate he has made of the effect on the number of affordable homes of planned reductions in spending under the Kickstart and national affordable housing programmes. [1554]

The Minister for Housing (Grant Shapps): The national fiscal position is severe, and we have had to make some very difficult decisions on savings. That is why on 24 May we announced that the Government would be making £6.2 billion of savings this year. We have estimated that planned savings in the housing programme will reduce the number of affordable houses. That is why we brought forward another £170 million to ensure that 4,000 could be completed.

Mr Speaker: I call Mary Creagh.

Mary Creagh: Thank you, Mr Speaker; it is an honour finally to be called by you. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"]

Mr Speaker: Order. People should not be so unkind. I know that the hon. Lady was not criticising the Chair-she would not do that.

Mary Creagh: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I would never dare to criticise you, as you well know.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his new role. The residents of the Lupset estate in Wakefield are anxiously scanning the horizon for the sounds of his private plane jetting in to tell them which of their homes are going to survive the cuts to the decent homes standard. We are also very concerned about what calculation is made as regards the impact on the construction sector of the net cut of £60 million in the affordable housing programme. How will that cut affect the 1.8 million families he is so concerned about who are languishing nationally on the council lists?

Mr Speaker: That was three questions, but we will have one answer from the Minister.

Grant Shapps: Those of us on the Government Benches who care about things such as homelessness and affordable housing provision do not need to take lectures from a Government who, during their 13 years in office, produced less affordable housing than the Thatcher and Major Governments. The simple fact is that we want this stuff to go ahead, and that is why the £170 million has been brought forward. The reality is that if one runs the country like the money is never going to run out, one ends up in exactly this position. Rather than blaming us for it, it would be good to look closer to home.

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Sunderland Point

20. David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): What recent discussions his Department has had with Lancashire county council on levels of funding for community services in Sunderland Point, Morecambe. [1555]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): My Department has had no representations from Lancashire county council in relation to the matter that my hon. Friend raises.

David Morris: Thank you for that answer. [ Interruption. ] Behave yourselves across the Floor there.

Sunderland Point is a community that must be protected at all costs. It is a very historic area of this country, and Lancashire county council should help in any way it possibly can. I hope that the Minister's Department can help accordingly.

Robert Neill: I am conscious of the sensitivities involved in Sunderland Point and the areas to which my hon. Friend refers. Predominantly, the works there are dealt with by the Environment Agency, but Lancashire county council would stand ready to assist as far as it can.

Local Authority Funding

21. Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): What his policy is on changes to the funding formula for local authorities. [1556]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): As my hon. Friend will know, and as I said in relation to an earlier question, this is the third and final year of a settlement. Yes, we will be consulting in relation to future funding arrangements, and that certainly includes a willingness to consider any options that may be put forward.

Claire Perry: Will the Minister confirm that the plans we set out in our manifesto to make the funding formula more transparent- [ Interruption. ] Excuse me-I would like Opposition Members to listen. [ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady is entitled to be heard, and I want to hear her.

Claire Perry: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will start again.

Will the Minister confirm that the plans to make the funding formula more transparent and independently audited are still intact? That is a matter of great concern in my constituency of Devizes and all the Wiltshire constituencies, because we receive the lowest amount of funding from central Government of any unitary authority.

Robert Neill: I can confirm that the Government remain committed to a review, and we are more than happy to examine the points that are raised.

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Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): The Minister seemed to suggest earlier that the poorest communities would bear the brunt of the cuts. What is he doing to protect the poorest communities, such as those in Halton, from the cuts?

Robert Neill: The important thing that we have done is to protect formula grant, which is the largest single grant paid to local authorities. As I said, we have given local authorities considerably more leeway in how they use those moneys by ring-fencing a significant number of grants and removing significant burdens such as the inspection regime, which is estimated to cost local authorities something in the order of £2 billion a year.

Topical Questions

T1. [1561] Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): I and my ministerial colleagues have already announced new powers for councils to resist unwanted garden grabbing; the abolition of Labour's cumbersome comprehensive area assessments; the vetoing of a proposed salary package of nearly £250,000 for the chief executive of the Audit Commission; a new era of town hall transparency for councils to be able to show the people of this country the money; the burying of John Prescott's regional spatial strategies and the unwanted regional assemblies; the abolition of the red tape of Labour's home information packs; and the end of Labour's hated bin taxes.

Fiona Mactaggart: I am shocked that in that list, the Secretary of State did not refer to the cuts announcement that he has just made in his written statement. I have just calculated that in his plans, 90% of cuts in the diverse and deprived town of Slough, which I represent, will land on education and children's services and community safety initiatives. If someone is not protected or dies as a result, whose fault will it be, Slough council's or his?

Mr Pickles: If the hon. Lady is complaining about a 0.91% cut, goodness knows what she must have said about Labour, which allocated cuts of £50 billion, and the effect that that would have had on communities. If the hon. Lady wants to make complaints about anybody, she should look to herself.

T3. [1563] Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Will the Secretary of State tell us whether the Government intend soon to go ahead with their policy of giving the power of general competence to local councils, which my colleagues and many councils will warmly welcome?

Mr Pickles: I am very pleased to confirm to my hon. Friend that that is exactly what the Government intend to do, and the matter will be included in the new localism Bill.

Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State to his post. He and I have known each other since we worked together at the British Youth Council, which will give the House some
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idea of how long ago it was. I wish him well in his new role and hope that he does a great deal better in the months ahead than he has in his first month, because has he not failed to defend his Department, meaning that local communities and local services will bear the biggest share of the cuts, and introduced a package of cuts to services and housing that will fall unfairly on the communities with the greatest need? He needs to do better than that. He has failed in his job so far, and he will have to be a great deal more careful in what he does in the future.

Mr Pickles: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his words of welcome. We have indeed known each other for a very long time, but at least he is still recognisable from his photographs from those days, unlike myself. I wish him well in the forthcoming elections to the shadow Cabinet.

The right hon. Gentleman operated an extremely effective burnt earth policy within the Department. He left a legacy in which the cupboard was bare. All that was missing was a note of apology. The cuts that we have had to make have been imposed on us by him. We have managed to ensure that formula grant has not been touched and that no authority will face a revenue cut greater than 2%. That is much better than the £50 billion of unallocated cuts that was the legacy left to our Department.

T4. [1564] Mr Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con): I understand that, notwithstanding the announcement that the Standards Board will be abolished, the big cheeses of that organisation have written to chief executives of local authorities asking them to supply more business in the form of complaints against accountable and elected representatives. Has the Treasury Bench considered making an example of this quango for its impertinence?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): I have already told the House that the cost of dealing with every successful complaint is approaching £8,000. The hon. Gentleman is right that something needs to be done about that quickly. We have indeed, in the proposals that the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) was criticising a few moments ago, drawn back on spending by that quango. As soon as legislation permits, we will get rid of it completely.

T2. [1562] Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): Can the Secretary of State explain to people in Chesterfield, who suffered so badly from unemployment under the last Conservative Government, why one of the first measures that he has taken is to move £160,000 out of the working neighbourhoods fund? That money was being well spent by our council helping unemployed people back into work. Was not the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), right when he said that the poorest people will bear the cost of the cuts under this Conservative Government?

Mr Pickles: The hon. Gentleman's council faces cuts of 1.36%. If his council cannot cope with that, it should ask him why the Labour party spent the country's
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money without making adequate allocations and why the then Government planned cuts of £50 billion, of which local government's share would have been about £13 billion.

T5. [1565] Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): The coalition programme for government pledges to incentivise local business growth. Will that involve giving local authorities back a greater share of the tax revenue raised locally from business rates?

The Minister for Housing (Grant Shapps): It is our intention that areas that promote business within their communities should benefit in some way from doing so. The manifesto and coalition agreement make it clear that that is our intention.

T6. [1567] Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): Because this Government have deliberately chosen to cut the budget for housing, and that will have an inevitable effect on jobs and training in construction, does the Housing Minister now regret his words in opposition that it would be ridiculous and counter-productive to insist on apprenticeship training in publicly funded housing schemes?

Grant Shapps: The hon. Gentleman knows about the huge deficit-£780 million was promised from other budgets but never existed-and building homes with imaginary money is not possible, so compromises need to be made. We have said that £170 million will go to support 4,000 homes-as the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) said-and 3,500 jobs.

T7. [1568] Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I very much welcome the ending of the regional spatial strategy. My constituents, who are fighting inappropriate proposed developments in Micklethwaite and Menston, would like to know more detail about how the Government's new planning policy may enable them to fight off those developments. Will the Minister visit Shipley and meet local residents to discuss with them how the Government's new planning policy may help them in those particular cases?

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): My hon. Friend extends an enticing invitation that I will be delighted to take up, so that I can meet his local community and tell them that they are now free to set community plans in accordance with their interests without any fear that those plans will be revoked by national, unelected officials.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): The mantra that it is all down to the last horrible Labour Government that there is no money will not wash if this Government make the poorest people in our country pay. When the Secretary of State took office, he inherited one of the biggest council housing building programmes for 20 years. Will he guarantee that council housing will form part of his future affordable housing strategy?

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