23 Mar 2011 : Column 55WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 23 March 2011


Debt and Service Management Report 2011-12

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): The “Debt and reserves management report 2011-12” is being published today. Copies have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

Communities and Local Government

Council Tax

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): I am pleased to inform the House that all eligible local, fire and rescue and police authorities in England have decided to freeze or reduce their band D council tax in 2011-12 and will therefore all be eligible to receive the additional grant offered by the Government for doing so. The average band D rate of council tax will remain at £1,439—a change of 0%. This is the lowest ever change in the entire history of council tax. It represents a cash-terms freeze, and a real-terms cut in council tax. The capping threshold in recent years was a 5% council tax rise. Stopping such a rise this year saves a typical household up to £72 and if an average 2.5% rise had occurred the saving would have been £36.

Council tax payers in some areas may see a small cash increase in their overall bill due to precept increases set by town and parish councils; central Government have no remit over such precepts. However, nationally, this is offset by some councils which are making cash-terms reductions to council tax levels.

The Government have delivered on their promise to work with authorities to produce a council tax freeze in England, which is tremendous news for hard-working families and pensioners who have experienced a doubling of council tax since 1997.

The spending review made £650 million available for the council tax freeze. Where an authority has not increased its basic amount of council tax in 2011-12 compared with 2010-11, it will receive a grant equivalent to a 2.5% increase in its 2010-11 band D figure multiplied by the latest available tax base figure.

My Department will write to individual local authorities this week informing them of the amount of freeze grant I propose to pay to them during 2011-12. I intend the grant to be paid in 10 equal monthly instalments from April 2011 through to January 2012. Following the 100% response to the freeze by eligible authorities, no further capping action is required in 2011-12.

23 Mar 2011 : Column 56WS

Although the council tax freeze is only for one year, financial provision is made to support the freeze across the spending review. This will “lock in” the benefits of this year’s freeze over each year over the spending review.

Moving forward, the Localism Bill makes provision for the abolition of central Government capping powers, replacing them with new, binding council tax referendums from 2012-13 whenever an authority is proposing an excessive increase.

The Government have also protected families from potential increases in council tax by ruling out a council tax revaluation in England for the remainder of this Parliament. The Localism Bill also legislates to abolish bin taxes—which would have entailed new charges for household waste collections for many families on top of council tax.

Guidance on Work Force Matters

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): The growth review has announced that the Government will act to remove barriers to more open and efficient local public services including guidance on work force matters. I wish to provide the House with a detailed update on our approach, including plans to discuss with employers, employee representatives and others whether any alternative arrangements might be useful in the future.

I am revoking, with immediate effect, the guidance on work force matters which formed part of the last Administration’s best value regime. This is the handling of work force matters in contracting and the code of practice on work force matters in local authority service contracts (“the two tier code”) (“Annexes C and D plus paragraphs 28 to 31 of ODPM Circular 03/2003”) and corresponding guidance applicable to fire and rescue authorities and the Greater London Authority (“ODPM circulars 07/2003 for the GLA and 09/2004 for the Fire and Rescue Service”).

Councils, the voluntary sector and businesses—especially small firms—have called on the Government to remove unnecessary burdens and barriers that act to prevent fair and open competition. Removing this guidance will help create a level playing field, ensure more opportunities for innovation, help ensure better value for taxpayers’ money in the provision of public services, and remove red tape that hinders job creation.

The withdrawal of the two-tier code will not impact on existing TUPE regulations and provisions in the Employment Act 2008 or other employment legislation. There may be instances where contracts will be due for renewal or are currently out to tender and it will be a matter for local authorities to take legal advice on the particular contract specifications and circumstances. The abolition will not be applied retrospectively. Therefore existing contracts and the employment terms that flow from them will not be affected by withdrawal of the code.

I will be writing over the coming days to employers, employee representatives and others to invite their views on whether there might be anything, such as a statement of good employment principles in place of the code, that would be helpful for the future.

23 Mar 2011 : Column 57WS

Communities and Local Government

Planning for Growth

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): The Chancellor of the Exchequer has today issued a call to action on growth, publishing an ambitious set of proposals to help rebuild Britain’s economy. The planning system has a key role to play in this, by ensuring that the sustainable development needed to support economic growth is able to proceed as easily as possible. We will work quickly to reform the planning system to achieve this, but the Government recognise that many of these actions will take some months to deliver, and that there is a pressing need to ensure that the planning system does everything it can to help secure a swift return to economic growth. This statement therefore sets out the steps the Government expect local planning authorities to take with immediate effect.

The Government’s top priority in reforming the planning system is to promote sustainable economic growth and jobs. Government’s clear expectation is that the answer to development and growth should wherever possible be “yes”, except where this would compromise the key sustainable development principles set out in national planning policy.

The Chancellor has today set out further detail on our commitment to introduce a strong presumption in favour of sustainable development in the forthcoming national planning policy framework, which will expect local planning authorities to plan positively for new development; to deal promptly and favourably with applications that comply with up-to-date plans and national planning policies; and wherever possible to approve applications where plans are absent, out of date, silent or indeterminate.

Local planning authorities should therefore press ahead without delay in preparing up-to-date development plans, and should use that opportunity to be proactive in driving and supporting the growth that this country needs. They should make every effort to identify and meet the housing, business and other development needs of their areas, and respond positively to wider opportunities for growth, taking full account of relevant economic signals such as land prices. Authorities should work together to ensure that needs and opportunities that extend beyond (or cannot be met within) their own boundaries are identified and accommodated in a sustainable way, such as housing market requirements that cover a number of areas, and the strategic infrastructure necessary to support growth.

When deciding whether to grant planning permission, local planning authorities should support enterprise and facilitate housing, economic and other forms of sustainable development. Where relevant—and consistent with their statutory obligations—they should therefore:

consider fully the importance of national planning policies aimed at fostering economic growth and employment, given the need to ensure a return to robust growth after the recent recession;

take into account the need to maintain a flexible and responsive supply of land for key sectors, including housing;

23 Mar 2011 : Column 58WS

consider the range of likely economic, environmental and social benefits of proposals; including long-term or indirect benefits such as increased consumer choice, more viable communities and more robust local economies (which may, where relevant, include matters such as job creation and business productivity);

be sensitive to the fact that local economies are subject to change and so take a positive approach to development where new economic data suggest that prior assessments of needs are no longer up-to-date; and

ensure that they do not impose unnecessary burdens on development.

In determining planning applications, local planning authorities are obliged to have regard to all relevant considerations. They should ensure that they give appropriate weight to the need to support economic recovery, that applications that secure sustainable growth are treated favourably (consistent with policy in PPS4), and that they can give clear reasons for their decisions.

To further ensure that development can go ahead, all local authorities should reconsider, at developers’ request, existing section 106 agreements that currently render schemes unviable, and where possible modify those obligations to allow development to proceed; provided this continues to ensure that the development remains acceptable in planning terms.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will take the principles in this statement into account when determining applications that come before him for decision. In particular he will attach significant weight to the need to secure economic growth and employment.

Benefits to the economy should, where relevant, be an important consideration when other development-related consents are being determined, including heritage, environmental, energy and transport consents. The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Secretary of State for Transport have consequently agreed that to the extent it accords with the relevant statutory provisions and national policies, decisions on these other consents should place particular weight on the potential economic benefits offered by an application. They will reflect this principle in relevant decisions that come before them and encourage their agencies and non departmental bodies to adopt the same approach for the consents for which those other bodies are directly responsible.

Leader of the House

Private Members' Bills (2010-12 Session)

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): In September, I informed the House that the Government had decided that the current Session of Parliament should run until the spring of 2012. This was in order to ensure a smooth transition towards five, 12-month Sessions over a Parliament, which would be a beneficial consequence of Parliament agreeing the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill.

23 Mar 2011 : Column 59WS

I have tabled a motion, which appears on the Order Paper today, which has the effect of providing extra days for the consideration of Private Members’ Bills in this Session. The extra dates to be provided are 9 September 2011, 21 October 2011, 25 November 2011 and 20 January 2012. Bills will have precedence on those days in accordance with the established order set out in paragraph (5) of Standing Order No.14.

23 Mar 2011 : Column 60WS

The Government are also mindful that, due to the longer than usual current Session, extra provision will be necessary for Opposition days and Backbench Business days. No changes to Standing Orders are necessary to accommodate adequate extra provision in these two instances, and I will announce the provision of extra time through the weekly business statement as usual.