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House of Lords

Wednesday, 6 July 2005.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone

The Right Honourable Virginia Hilda Brunette Maxwell Bottomley, having been created Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone, of St Helens in the County of Isle of Wight, for life—Was, in her robes, introduced between the Baroness Noakes and the Lord Fowler.

Lord Mawhinney

The Right Honourable Sir Brian Stanley Mawhinney, Knight, having been created Baron Mawhinney, of Peterborough in the County of Cambridgeshire, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Harris of Peckham and the Lord King of Bridgwater.

Lord Cooke of Thorndon—took the Oath.

Isles of Scilly: Key Worker Housing

2.49 pm

The Lord Bishop of Truro asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Government are addressing the accommodation needs of teachers and other key workers by providing £1.3 million worth of funding for 12 new homes for rent. The scale of funding reflects the high cost of building new homes on the isles. Six homes are currently under construction; construction work is due to start on the remaining six homes later this year.

The Isles of Scilly council has nomination rights for all 12 homes and will be able to allocate them to teachers and other key workers. The Department for Education and Skills is awaiting receipt of an updated budget forecast from the local authority. That will include funding to enable school governors to institute a scheme for subsidising teachers' accommodation costs. This request will be dealt with as part of the consideration of the overall schools budget.

The Lord Bishop of Truro: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. There are plans to build, but the school has lost good teachers because of the
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difficulty about housing. There has been a failure to recruit as a result of this problem. In other words, the problem is now.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Government are well aware of the problem. As I understand it, there are some 25.3 teachers in the Isles of Scilly and two and-a-half—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Noble Lords were a little slow in catching the precision there. I was about to go on to say that there are 2.5 vacancies. To add to the statistics: there is, however, an incoming teacher due to take up a post in September of this year. Efforts are being made to ensure that there is appropriate accommodation.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, in the old days the problem was solved by the system of having tied houses for key workers. Would not the Government consider going back to that system?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is precisely the point: the Government have a key worker housing strategy in place. We have set aside monies to enable the Isles of Scilly to construct new accommodation in line with that. There is a comprehensive local plan, a copy of which I have here, which is very interesting indeed. There is now a plan to encourage the development of low-cost housing on the isles, which is much in need.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I hope that the new teacher coming to Scilly is a whole teacher, because I am sure that they need one. The fact that the Isles of Scilly, like much of the rest of Cornwall, has London house prices combined with a local economy so deprived that it qualifies for EU Objective 1 funding, shows the level of the problem not just in Scilly but throughout Cornwall. Does the noble Lord agree that one way forward would be to allow local authorities to give exceptional planning permissions for cottages or houses for rent only in perpetuity to local people in housing need?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is an important point. I have no doubt that that is one issue that the regional housing board will want to consider. The Government have been putting much more money into housing in the south-west and we are keen to encourage the development of social housing, as I am sure that the noble Baroness appreciates. We entirely understand the problem of high-cost housing in areas where there is demand such as there is in the south-west, and appreciate the problems for those who want to enter home ownership.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, in the light of the considerable sums of money that the Government are investing in key worker housing, has research been undertaken to ascertain how many key workers who
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have taken advantage of the various government schemes remain in the required professions once they have obtained financial support?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we keep these things under review at all times. Clearly we need to ensure that the key worker strategy is effective, but I am sure that it is and have no doubt that that will be kept carefully under review, because we want to ensure that the money that we invest in key worker housing is well spent.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if we stopped the sale of council houses, there would be a supply for key workers?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we remain committed to council house sales, but we have amended the legislation to ensure that, in those areas where there is very high demand for and pressures on low-cost housing, we deal with the problem. We were quite right to take that action.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the situation in the Isles of Scilly, as in other coastal communities of Cornwall, is aggravated by the number of second homes? When will the Government bring forward proposals to control the number of second homes in areas of great sensitivity, so that local people can have a better chance of obtaining the housing that they need?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I accept the noble Lord's point about the problem with second homes. It is why we have changed the balance of benefits concerning second homes and council tax payments. We were right to take that action as well.

It is important for the Isles of Scilly to have a protracted programme of sensible investment in low-cost and affordable housing, in an area where, we all accept, housing costs are unacceptably high.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, given the poor educational attainment of children in local authority care, will the Government consider extending the key worker support programme to teachers attached to children's homes and not to schools? In some areas they do not benefit from those schemes.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I was not aware that there were problems of the nature that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, describes. The low-cost housing scheme for key workers has been effective and will continue to be so. I would hope that noble Lords would give it the kind of support that it ought to enjoy.

Lord Christopher: My Lords, the problems of the Isles of Scilly are essentially that it is wholly impossible to apply the mainland regulations to the isles. Each of their problems is different, separate and more difficult. Since the discussions to which my noble friend referred have been going on for three years to get to the Answer
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that he has given us today, can he ensure that there will be suitable flexibility with whatever regulations apply? The problems affect not only teachers but nurses, doctors, vets and local government employees. Unless there is flexibility in the use that they can make of whatever housing they have in this area, the whole system will begin to fall to the ground and they will lose very good people.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the key worker scheme and efforts to ensure that there is an appropriate level of investment in affordable housing in the Isles of Scilly are well under way. As I indicated at the outset, the council there has full nomination rights. But we are not aware of the wider range of professionals to whom the noble Lord refers having particular housing problems on the Isles of Scilly. From my understanding of the brief, the problem is with teachers, and steps are being taken to ensure that that problem is properly dealt with.

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