Lord Kennedy of Southwark debates with Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

There have been 106 exchanges between Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Thu 13th February 2020 Islamophobia (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (81 words)
Tue 11th February 2020 Northamptonshire (Structural Changes) Order 2019 (Grand Committee) 15 interactions (776 words)
Thu 23rd January 2020 Homelessness (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (81 words)
Mon 20th January 2020 UK Holocaust Memorial (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (83 words)
Thu 31st October 2019 Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (1,829 words)
Mon 28th October 2019 Housing: Rental Market (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (32 words)
Thu 24th October 2019 Neighbourhood Services: Government Support (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (2,035 words)
Tue 1st October 2019 Homeless People: Prevention of Deaths (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (261 words)
Mon 30th September 2019 Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (658 words)
Wed 17th July 2019 Devolution: English Cities (Grand Committee) 3 interactions (1,978 words)
Mon 15th July 2019 Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 (Grand Committee) 3 interactions (418 words)
Wed 10th July 2019 Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (750 words)
Tue 2nd July 2019 Homes for Social Rent (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (50 words)
Tue 11th June 2019 Non-Domestic Rating (Preparation for Digital Services) Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (390 words)
Mon 10th June 2019 Grenfell Response (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (820 words)
Tue 4th June 2019 Housing: Social Rent (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (37 words)
Tue 4th June 2019 Council Funding (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (45 words)
Tue 21st May 2019 Homelessness (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (59 words)
Mon 20th May 2019 Buckinghamshire (Structural Changes) Order 2019 (Lords Chamber) 2 interactions (484 words)
Tue 14th May 2019 Domestic Abuse (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (573 words)
Thu 9th May 2019 Social Housing: Older People (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (126 words)
Wed 8th May 2019 Architects Act 1997 (Swiss Qualifications) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (121 words)
Tue 7th May 2019 Yorkshire: Devolution (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (46 words)
Thu 11th April 2019 Public Conveniences (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (82 words)
Tue 2nd April 2019 Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Functions and Amendment) Order 2019 (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (282 words)
Mon 1st April 2019 Rough Sleeping (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (49 words)
Tue 26th March 2019 Property Guardians (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (66 words)
Thu 21st March 2019 Housing: Future Homes Standard (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (99 words)
Thu 14th March 2019 Council Tax (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (49 words)
Thu 14th March 2019 Local Authorities: Fair Funding Review (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (58 words)
Tue 12th March 2019 Fracking: Planning Guidance (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (49 words)
Tue 12th March 2019 Local Government (Structural and Boundary Changes) (Supplementary Provision and Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2019 (Grand Committee) 5 interactions (335 words)
Tue 5th March 2019 Stronger Towns Fund (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (618 words)
Mon 4th March 2019 Specialist Domestic Abuse Services (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (63 words)
Wed 27th February 2019 Help to Buy: Housebuilders’ Profits (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (62 words)
Mon 25th February 2019 Business Rate Appeals (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (51 words)
Tue 19th February 2019 Housing: Private Rented Sector (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (44 words)
Tue 12th February 2019 Yorkshire: Devolution (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (82 words)
Thu 24th January 2019 Local Authorities: Essential Services (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (2,201 words)
Tue 22nd January 2019 Tower Blocks: Cladding (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (185 words)
Fri 18th January 2019 Parking (Code of Practice) Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (829 words)
Wed 16th January 2019 Planning: Permitted Development Rights (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (62 words)
Tue 15th January 2019 Tenant Fees Bill (Lords Chamber) 6 interactions (316 words)
Mon 14th January 2019 Islamophobia (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (96 words)
Thu 10th January 2019 New Home Building Programme (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (90 words)
Mon 7th January 2019 Combustible Cladding (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (110 words)
Thu 13th December 2018 Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (844 words)
Wed 12th December 2018 Housing: Serviced Plots (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (65 words)
Tue 11th December 2018 Tenant Fees Bill (Lords Chamber) 14 interactions (786 words)
Fri 23rd November 2018 Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill (Lords Chamber) 8 interactions (1,394 words)
Wed 21st November 2018 Women’s Refuges: Funding (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (87 words)
Tue 13th November 2018 Rogue Landlords (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (137 words)
Mon 12th November 2018 First World War Commemoration: Pakistan (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (184 words)
Tue 6th November 2018 Housing: Shared Ownership (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (38 words)
Mon 5th November 2018 Devolution: Sheffield City Region (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (41 words)
Mon 5th November 2018 Tenant Fees Bill (Grand Committee) 85 interactions (6,178 words)
Thu 1st November 2018 Housing: Prefabricated Council Houses (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (75 words)
Thu 25th October 2018 Affordable Housing (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (1,487 words)
Wed 17th October 2018 Yorkshire: Devolution (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (46 words)
Tue 16th October 2018 Private Rented Sector Licensing Schemes (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (142 words)
Wed 10th October 2018 Tenant Fees Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (1,655 words)
Thu 13th September 2018 Housing: Local Plans (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (82 words)
Wed 12th September 2018 Homelessness (Grand Committee) 3 interactions (446 words)
Tue 24th July 2018 Non-Domestic Rating (Nursery Grounds) Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (490 words)
Wed 18th July 2018 Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill (Lords Chamber) 6 interactions (318 words)
Tue 10th July 2018 Housing: Rent (Lords Chamber) 4 interactions (96 words)
Tue 3rd July 2018 Affordable Housing: Social Homes for Rent (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (53 words)
Tue 26th June 2018 Anti-Semitism (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (84 words)
Tue 19th June 2018 Short-Term Holiday Lets (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (63 words)
Tue 19th June 2018 Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill (Lords Chamber) 37 interactions (1,387 words)
Thu 14th June 2018 Housing: Private Rented Sector (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (115 words)
Wed 13th June 2018 Client Money Protection Schemes for Property Agents (Approval and Designation of Schemes) Regulations 2018 (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (432 words)
Mon 11th June 2018 Grenfell Tower (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (783 words)
Mon 4th June 2018 Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (1,168 words)
Tue 22nd May 2018 Leaseholders’ Rights: High-rise Blocks (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (70 words)
Mon 21st May 2018 Tower Blocks: Dangerous Cladding (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (222 words)
Wed 9th May 2018 East Suffolk (Local Government Changes) Order 2018 (Grand Committee) 11 interactions (397 words)
Wed 9th May 2018 Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Mandatory Conditions of Licences) (England) Regulations 2018 (Grand Committee) 3 interactions (704 words)
Tue 1st May 2018 Fire Safety: Building Materials (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (155 words)
Tue 1st May 2018 Combined Authorities (Borrowing) Regulations 2018 (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (248 words)
Tue 17th April 2018 Housing and Planning Act 2016 (Database of Rogue Landlords and Property Agents) Regulations 2018 (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (1,775 words)
Wed 28th March 2018 Community Football Clubs (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (140 words)
Tue 27th March 2018 Housing: Right-to-Buy Sales (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (66 words)
Tue 27th March 2018 Northamptonshire County Council (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (654 words)
Tue 27th March 2018 Non-Domestic Rating (Rates Retention and Levy and Safety Net) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 (Grand Committee) 2 interactions (514 words)
Thu 22nd March 2018 Grenfell Tower (Lords Chamber) 6 interactions (880 words)
Tue 20th March 2018 Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Amendment) Order 2018 (Grand Committee) 3 interactions (468 words)
Tue 20th March 2018 Insolvency of Registered Providers of Social Housing Regulations 2018 (Grand Committee) 6 interactions (372 words)
Thu 15th March 2018 Integrated Communities (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (621 words)
Thu 15th March 2018 Building Safety Update (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (779 words)
Tue 13th March 2018 Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (102 words)
Wed 7th March 2018 Housing: Holiday Lets (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (63 words)
Tue 6th March 2018 National Planning Policy Framework (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (968 words)
Tue 6th March 2018 Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber) 12 interactions (1,279 words)
Tue 27th February 2018 Grenfell Tower (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (101 words)
Mon 26th February 2018 Private Rented Housing: Electrical Safety Checks (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (144 words)
Wed 21st February 2018 Local Neighbourhood Services (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (52 words)
Tue 6th February 2018 Northamptonshire County Council (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (175 words)
Mon 5th February 2018 Grenfell Tower: Insulation Materials (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (203 words)
Thu 1st February 2018 Rough Sleeping (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (209 words)
Thu 1st February 2018 Non-Domestic Rating (Alteration of Lists and Appeals) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 (Lords Chamber) 6 interactions (610 words)
Wed 24th January 2018 Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber) 32 interactions (1,888 words)
Thu 18th January 2018 MV “Empire Windrush” (Grand Committee) 3 interactions (846 words)
Thu 11th January 2018 Housebuilders (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (1,911 words)
Tue 9th January 2018 Homelessness (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (118 words)
Tue 9th January 2018 Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber) 7 interactions (1,463 words)

Islamophobia

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Thursday 13th February 2020

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

There are a couple of points there. The IHRA definition is widely accepted internationally and, by adopting this non-binding definition, we underline the UK Government’s determination to tackle anti-Semitism wherever it occurs. On my noble friend’s other point, as she will know, Islamophobia is a complex matter and there are different views in this House on the issue. There has been strong opposition to the adoption of the all-party definition from a wide range of organisations, including Civitas, Policy Exchange, the Barnabas Fund and the Henry Jackson Society. It is an ongoing issue and discussions are continuing.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, there are some appalling examples of the Muslim community being harassed and suffering racial abuse. Why will the Government not adopt this definition when it has been adopted by hundreds of organisations, including many local authorities and police forces and, I think I am right in saying—perhaps the Minister can confirm it—by the Conservative Party in Scotland? We need to hear much more from the noble Lord and his party about how they will deal with this appalling abuse.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

The noble Lord has picked up on what I just said: it is a challenging issue. I can reassure him that we intend to move as quickly as possible to come to a definition. As I said, it is important to discuss this fully and make sure that we get it right.

Northamptonshire (Structural Changes) Order 2019

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Tuesday 11th February 2020

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I apologise for being slightly late. I was stuck in a committee. I declare an interest as a vice-chairman of the Local Government Association and president of the National Association of Local Councils. Probably more importantly, I am a member of Wiltshire Council. For 10 years, I led a unitary authority and for the six years before that I led a county council, leading it and its four districts in to a unitary authority. So I know quite a lot about unitary authorities. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that this is a mess. For many years, since I started in local government about 25 years ago, I have hoped that government would grasp hold of this and look at the reorganisation of local government so that we were more similar and sensible and would therefore have a stronger voice with central government because we would not be so complex in the way we do business.

I know a little bit about Northamptonshire, and I wish it well in the future. I think this is the right thing for that county, although personally I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Deben: I would have had one single unitary authority. Northamptonshire is about the same size as Wiltshire—about 500,000 people—which, in my experience, is about right, although I always said that if somebody gave me another 200,000 to 300,000 people, I would take them. I would have become much more efficient and been just as local. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and I have talked about this in the Chamber a number of times. There is no reason for a unitary authority to become divorced from its communities. People in Wiltshire will tell you that Wiltshire Council is now much closer to its communities. It takes work, planning and a system to do that, but it can be done. It can also work much better with its parish and town councils and start to look at devolution downwards. We talk a lot about devolution from central government to local government, but we forget the people on the ground. The people to deliver playgrounds, parks and gardens, swimming pools and things like that are towns and parishes. They do not cost the central taxpayer any money, because that is local precepting. It is easy for a town or parish to have a scheme, ask local people for the money, and be challenged on whether it has delivered it with the money it has got from local communities. I do not worry about size.

The other issue about size is that county councils now deliver more than 85% of the services across the county area. We are probably talking about 13% to 15% of the services, so why are we not thinking about a million? It would not worry me, providing that each of the unitary authorities is big and strategic but looks at how it can be local as well. That is possible. Cornwall and Wiltshire are doing this very successfully. They are also saving the money. I am sorry to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that it does not take long. In Wiltshire I was bothered, as every leader who changes a local government system must be, that local services would take a dip. I assure the Committee that every performance indicator in Wiltshire got better when we went to unitary and did so straight away. It did not dip. Not only that, we expected to make the savings in two years; we made them in 18 months. This is not a bad news story; it is a good news story. That is why I would support Northamptonshire all the way.

I would be concerned about children’s trusts. What Mr Berry said recently about Cumbria is concerning. It concerns me because if we take children’s services and adult care services out of local government, what is left? In local government over the past 10 years, we have shown how efficient and effective we can be. Just because there might be one difficult apple—not a bad apple, but experiencing difficulties—it does not mean that the system has to change. In both children’s and adults’ services, it is important that there is democratic accountability locally. We have seen what happens in the health service when there is not democratic accountability. Please do not do that to us for children’s and adult care services.

I could go on a great deal, but I will not. Northamptonshire has been through a very difficult time, and this is its chance to step up to the mark and deliver the services that its people deserve. I wish it all the best.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I refer to my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I thank the Minister for explaining the order. I agree with many of the points made by every Member here. Like my noble friend, I am generally a supporter of unitary authorities. I think they are the way to go, generally speaking. However, this is quite a sad day in some ways. We are not here because councils have come together and decided that this is what they need to do for their county. They have not had discussions and worked out that this is the best way forward. We are here because of complete incompetence and bad management at Northamptonshire County Council. This unitary authority decision has then been imposed on people. As we have heard, they could not have one unitary council—I do not know why, but they could not—and they could not have three. It had to be two. That is very disappointing.

I know the area really well. I lived and worked in the east Midlands for a very long time. I like Northamptonshire a lot. The town of Northampton got its charter in 1189. It has a beautiful town hall. The town was incorporated in 1835. The county itself is wonderful. As has already been said, it has a very compact shape and great road and rail links. There are great businesses there. Dr. Martens is in Wellingborough. The county also has Weetabix, Barclaycard and Carlsberg —all really good businesses. It is the home of the motor industry, with Silverstone and the Rockingham Motor Speedway. These are Premier League businesses with a Sunday league county council working for them. It is dreadful that we are where we are today.

Corby is another great town, with a great history in the steel industry. We may not all remember, but it was 40 years ago that the steelworks closed. Some 10,000 people lost their jobs in one fell swoop. However, the local community, the local authority and the councils came together, and they reinvented themselves.

I am also disappointed in the names of these two councils: North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire. They are terrible, dreadful names. Where have the historical county names gone? I mean names such as Northamptonshire, Kettering, Wellingborough, Corby and Daventry. We must also remember that we can have all the new names and structures and we can dismantle what has gone before, but unless the structure is sound, the funding is stable and the officers and members understand the challenge before them, this will solve nothing at all and we will back here again in a few months or a few years’ time.

Break in Debate

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

I hear what my noble friend says, but I do not agree with him on this. There are several reasons for that. Of course he will expect me to say that; I will say it. We see a fresh start for the people of Northamptonshire. It will provide new councils in which local people can have confidence, providing effective, modern and sustainable services. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I thank the leaders of the eight—not seven—Northamptonshire councils and the commissioners for the leadership that they have shown to take us to this point.

On the lack of unanimity and there being one council —Corby—that was not entirely on board, it has consistently shown great strength of purpose in nearly supporting things, so when we say that it is not entirely unanimous, Corby was behind many of the issues. Perhaps a letter is required to give a little more information on that.

One of the most important things in this process is consultation. The local consultation described the majorities in favour as overwhelming, with 74% support overall and 77% and 70% in West Northamptonshire and North Northamptonshire respectively. I do not want to be drawn in on the names—I do not think that I can comment on that—but I take the noble Lord’s point on the names that were given.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

Where are West Northamptonshire and North Northamptonshire? They are dreadful, dreadful names. The Government could certainly have done something about that. Northampton got its charter in 1189. They are dreadful, dreadful names. Something much better should have been done.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

I think that I heard “dreadful” at least four times. I say, perhaps as a reassurance—although I do not think that it will wash with the noble Lord—that the names have been chosen locally. Admittedly there was no competition, but they were chosen locally rather than being imposed on them.

I shall go further on the consultation. The Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Healthwatch Northamptonshire support a reduction in the number of councils. They both welcome the closer integration possible as a result of having to engage with fewer authorities, and agree that this is a positive opportunity for change to secure a sustainable future. The Northamptonshire police and crime commissioner is supportive and stated that the

“creation of unitary authorities would bring about clarity for the public and present opportunities for greater co-ordination, realisation of efficiencies and simpler partnership working.”

Finally, the Northamptonshire County Association of Local Councils reported that an overwhelming majority of town and parish councillors supported the principle of unitary authorities being established. We should not dismiss the opinions of local people in this respect. This allows me to pick up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, about taking “local” out of “local government”. I point out to her that the new parish and town councils are in the process of being established, including in Kettering, Northampton and Wellingborough—note those names. I welcome and encourage this as an important way to strengthen local democracy and enable decisions to be taken to reflect the needs of local communities. I do not agree entirely with the noble Baroness that the local is being taken out the process. In my view, we still have some very robust local democracy.

I will pick up another point made by the noble Baroness about the role of councillors in the cabinet system. I think her point was that only 10 were making decisions, as opposed to the other 93—sorry, 89; my maths is bad. It will be for the new councils to determine the role of councillors and to ensure that all councillors can take a full role in representing their residents and ensuring an effective local democracy.

Furthermore, as to the size of wards, for the election in May 2020, each ward, which are county electoral divisions, will have three members. For the next election in May 2025, we expect the independent boundary commission to undertake a full electoral review. It is for the commission to decide the number of councillors and the size of wards. Experience shows that the new unitary councils establish strong and effective arrangements at parish and community levels, to add a little more to what I said. We would expect the new Northamptonshire councils to follow best practice—as, for example, in the unitary Wiltshire Council, led by my noble friend Lady Scott, if I may spare her blushes.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, spoke and expressed concerns about process. My guess is that a letter will better satisfy him, but the start of the process was the independent inspector. The proposal made follows exactly the inspector’s recommendation. The consideration behind the inspector’s recommendation was that a new start was needed, with two new councils. In the inspector’s view, two unitaries best met this aim and the criteria for unitary local government: improving local government; a credible geography with a population substantially in excess of 300,000; and a good deal of support. That penultimate figure perhaps answers the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. To clarify, the figure is substantially in excess of 300,000. A unitary county would risk being seen as replicating and rewarding a failing county.

The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, spoke about Cumbria with great passion, for obvious reasons. The position in Cumbria is all about a devolution deal. It is for Cumbria to decide whether it wishes to have a devolution deal; initial discussions are continuing. Major deals have involved a mayoral combined authority. If Cumbria wished to have a mayor deal with a mayoral combined authority, it would point to a simplification of current local government structures: establishing unitary councils. We know that there are different local views about unitary structures for Cumbria. As I am sure the noble Lord will tell me, discussions are continuing. We will want to hear more from the local area in this respect.

The noble Lord made points about the elected mayors. The idea of elected mayors arises in major devolution deals where substantial powers and budgets are devolved over a functional economic area. An elected mayor is seen as providing a strong single point of accountability for the exercise of those powers and for managing those budgets. That elected mayor can be a combined authority mayor if there is more than one authority in the functional economic area, or if that area comprises a single unitary council or an elected mayor of that council.

Break in Debate

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

That just proves that there are different views; the noble Lord will have his views and other noble Lords will have theirs. Setting up mayoral authorities is not a case of one system fits all—it comes down to the ongoing discussions that are taking place. My understanding is that the mayors would not replace the LEPs, but I do not want to prejudge the negotiations. There are going to be different setups. As the noble Lord will know, there are already different setups in existing mayoral authorities. Regarding the figures that have been mentioned, a substantial deal would be one on the size and scale of that for Greater Manchester or the West Midlands.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I used to keep saying these things when the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, was the Minister: the idea is that these things just evolve, but it always looks like a confused mess to me. Local government looks like a real mess in England outside of London. It is all over the place and I really do not think this is good. I know it is not the Minister’s fault, but the department is not clear on what it is trying to achieve. I remember discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who lives in Cambridge. He described all the tiers of government in his county—and next door, there was just one tier. It is just shambolic.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

I cannot agree with the noble Lord. Surely, he would agree that there is good sense in talking to the locals to work through the issues and to get their buy-in to what they want, within the parameters I have set out. I cannot see the problem with that. Already, a format is evolving: that this is the wish of local people all around the country, particularly up north, where 37% of people are under the aegis of mayoral authorities; that this is actually what local people want.

This is not so much a philosophical thing, but as the noble Lord will know, we have announced the devolution White Paper. This is an opportunity to reflect and review. I do not know what is going to be in it or what will come out of it, but we are going to look at all aspects of local government in the White Paper, which will be produced in due course. I hope it will help to allay the noble Lord’s fears. It might answer the question of my noble friend Lord Deben as to why Northamptonshire is treated differently from Cornwall. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. For example, discussions are going on in North Yorkshire about York being a unitary. Cornwall, as we know, is treated differently. It is important to come back to the point that this has got to be driven by local people deciding what they wish.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

Again, I would agree with that statement, but the problem is that it is not the case. The Minister says that local people can decide, but they are given only one or two options. The Government are not letting them decide; they are narrowing down the options to a specific number and ruling things out before people get the chance to decide. They are setting a rigid framework and saying, “You can have that or nothing at all”. That is not letting local people decide, and that is the basic problem.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

I take note of what the noble Lord has said. Actually, it falls in line with what I said at the beginning, which is that a letter is due. I will do my best to set out our approach in more detail, because there is sense in what we are doing. This is not a scattergun approach and nor is it chaotic.

I want to answer a question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, concerning Northamptonshire and the new arrangements. He asked: why not one or three unitaries, rather than two? The inspector recommended that a two-unitary solution was best because a one-unitary council was perceived as replicating and rewarding the failing county council, and three was seen as not meeting the criteria on credible geography with councils of adequate size.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook - Hansard

I urge the Government to look again at the issue of consulting. I fully agree that it is about consulting local communities, local people. I have a problem when we take too much notice of those district and county authorities that are still there. With the greatest respect, they are trying to protect themselves, their officers—which is understandable —their members and their authority. Their views are sometimes challenged by that. It should be local communities that make the decision, not the local authorities within them.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I promise that this will be my last comment. The argument that we could not have a unitary authority for the whole county because it would be seen as rewarding the county council that has failed is rather weak. There was a failure of political leadership. The way to deal with that is to remove the people and not let them stand again. Not going forward with the one-council option because it could be seen as a replica of the failed county council is a weak reason.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

I pledge to write on that point and to tie it in with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I have not addressed the review of savings made. In my letter, I will attempt to give the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, a response on that matter and address the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, on the position of ministerial powers. That comes down to giving a coherent view of how ministerial powers juxtapose with local ones.

I hope that that is helpful and that I have addressed the many points raised. As I said, a letter will be coming that fully addresses the points that were made. Once again, I thank noble Lords for their contributions.

Homelessness

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Thursday 23rd January 2020

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to reduce homelessness.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Viscount Younger of Leckie) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, the Government are committed to reducing homelessness and rough sleeping. No one should ever have to sleep rough. That is why this Government aim to end the blight of rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament and will continue to fully implement the Homelessness Reduction Act. The Government recently announced a further £422 million in funding to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in 2020-21, an increase of £54 million on 2019-20.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that Answer. Could he set out for the House why homelessness has increased so dramatically in the last 10 years, particularly—shockingly—with 726 people losing their lives in 2018?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

I am very aware of the deaths related to rough sleeping in particular, rather than homelessness. It is a highly complex area, but the Government’s ambitions are set out in our manifesto. Ministers and officials from across the Government are working closely together to scale up our successful programmes, such as the rough sleepers initiative, and devise new interventions to meet the manifesto commitments. The 83 areas supported by our rough sleepers initiative showed an overall decrease of 19%. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

UK Holocaust Memorial

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Monday 20th January 2020

(8 months, 1 week ago)

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Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

The noble Lord is absolutely right. That is why the memorial exhibition and learning centre will explore the role of Britain’s Parliament and democratic institutions in the Holocaust— what we did and what more we could have done to tackle the persecution of the Jewish people and other groups.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I endorse the comments of the noble Viscount in answering this Question. I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon, along with the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, and others, is a trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. Does the noble Viscount agree that it is welcome that the learning centre will focus not just on the Holocaust but on all other genocides and that it is important that we do not forget the horrors of the past?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

Yes, indeed. I repeat what I said earlier: the learning centre, which still requires a lot of input, will focus on the Holocaust but will also cover other genocides.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Thursday 31st October 2019

(11 months ago)

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Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD) - Hansard

My Lords, it is both a privilege and a challenge to contribute to this debate, in which there have been so many excellent contributions. The terrible events of 14 June 2017 will leave a mark on our national public consciousness for years to come. Today, we have remembered the victims and their families, and those traumatised by their experiences not just that night but in the days, weeks, months and, sadly, years since. They were all victims of a catastrophe that should not have happened and that must not be repeated. To avoid that, we must have a clear understanding of what went wrong, what the contributing factors were, what measures are needed to remove and change those factors; and, quite rightly, survivors and residents want to know who made the mistakes that created the disaster.

I want to join other noble Lords in warmly welcoming the phase 1 report by Sir Martin Moore-Bick. It is forensic; it is forthright, and it is devastating. I want to hear the Minister repeat what I heard the Prime Minister say yesterday—that the Government will accept all the recommendations—and I hope that he can put some timescales on it, as a number of noble Lords have requested.

If one looks at chapter 34 of that report, one sees that it gives a precursor of the likely, equally devastating conclusions that will come from phase 2 next year; that is, in respect of the adequacy of the regulations, the monitoring and competency of the construction and material supply industry, the testing of products and the record-keeping. All these are matters which noble Lords have raised during this debate, and I hope that the Minister will take to heart the point that we do not have to wait for the publication of phase 2 to start work on tackling the problems already identified.

It is a sad truism of major disasters of this sort that they happen only when there are multiple system failures—it is never just one thing. Unfortunately, at Grenfell that was exactly the case, so it is not to be expected that the solution comes from one particular sector; it comes from all sectors and we have to be alert to that.

I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for introducing this debate, which has been valuable and has had plenty of expertise brought to bear on it. I thank him for the leading role he played as a Minister in the Government post Grenfell, not just for keeping this House well informed but for the sensitivity and thoughtfulness that he always showed, and continues to show, about the terrible issues that Grenfell raises. His courteous and thorough answers to our sometimes difficult questions have been a model of ministerial accountability over the past two years, and I echo the thoughts of others that I hope on a future occasion—but perhaps not in the next Government—he will again have that opportunity.

I also want to say how much I value the contributions from all three of our maiden speakers today. The noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, is clearly far from being at the shallow end, and we look forward to her further contributions very much. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, who is perhaps the self-definition of a Labour lawyer, I am sure that we will find many occasions to listen carefully to the advice that he gives. And it is a real pleasure to see the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, in this House. I think the noble Lord will find that he already has many noble friends. You will be able to tell the friends of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, because they will all have little nibbles in their ears from the times that he has so effectively lobbied us to take action, in our political parties and in our public life, to make sure that we have a more diverse public life. We have seen from his outstanding speech today that he will not rest until we get there.

There were so many other important and valuable contributions that it is quite embarrassing to comment or not to comment, but there were some really important points that I hope the Minister has noted. Those that particularly struck me were: the need to stress-test for the unthinkable, which is something that, apparently, had not happened; the need to look carefully at the public alert technology that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to, which it seems is stuck in a ministerial in-tray and just needs a good kick to get going; and that red tape is not always what it looks like. Sometimes, red tape is a safety net, and knowing the difference between red tape and a safety net is something that we need to be absolutely sure we get right.

I echo what has been said about the valiant work done on the night by firefighters. I absolutely support and commend the work that they did and the comments in their support that have been made today, but there is no getting away from the fact that the report found that there were fundamental problems with the command and control systems of the emergency services. I am indebted to the London Fire Brigade, the mayor’s office and the LGA for their responses to the report’s criticism. They have made some strong and pertinent points by way of what we might broadly speak of as rebuttal. However, the report did expose that recommendations made by the coroner to the brigade and other emergency services back in 2013 as a result of Lakanal had not been implemented. The response of the fire chief at the inquiry hearing was deeply troubling, as the report sets out.

London is one of the largest cities in the world. It is complex and multi-risk, and the London Fire Brigade and emergency services in general are charged with protecting it and the people who live here. We need to have confidence that the resources, the competencies and the leadership are there for them to do so. I want to hear the Minister say that the Government will make sure that they are, and that resources from the centre will never be a barrier to making sure that that happens.

Phase 2 needs to start immediately and to proceed at pace; I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Porter, on that really important point. Apparently, it will start in the new year—which is about when the new Government is going to start, so perhaps I should not be too critical of that—but we surely need to get things moving. Residents are already downcast at the time it has taken to produce phase 1, and they are urgently in need of reassurance that phase 2 will start quickly, deliver quickly, and produce closure and outcome for them. Of course, it is also important because we need to get started on putting right the many systems that must be overhauled and changed. We must allow the police to pursue their own inquiries into criminal liability and to bring charges where evidence supports it. We absolutely must not have another sequence of events like Hillsborough, where lingering uncertainty and prosecutions go on stretching years ahead.

In parallel to that, I want to see rapid action by the Government on legislation to implement the Dame Judith Hackitt report. I welcome the Government’s consultation proposals on that. They are due to complete that consultation in January; I hope that they can say—as a new Government—that they will commit to having in their new Queen’s Speech a Bill to cover that, just as I can assure the Minister that, if the Liberal Democrats have any power to do so, we will certainly be saying exactly the same thing.

I want to pick out some of the consequences of the Hackitt consultation. In many ways, its implementation will answer many of the points that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and others raised about the need for far higher quality buildings, properly supervised, with a golden thread of responsibility from the very beginning of the design, right through the building’s life, to demolition at the end of its life. Many of the questions and problems that have emerged in this debate and from the report will be answered by such a system being in place. The London Fire Brigade in its response this week has said it wants to see the Hackitt programme of oversight and supervision of high-rise buildings, which is in the report, extended to all buildings, not just high-rise buildings. I notice that the Government’s consultation document, in paragraphs 241 and 243, asks for views on extending it to all building regulations: the one way of improving the woeful standards of our construction industry is to say yes to that question and to get on with it.

Grenfell has been an unmitigated disaster for the families and the local community and has touched the hearts of the whole nation. It must not happen again, and I believe that every noble Lord in this House will want to make sure that whatever Government we have after the election are held to account to deliver that.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for bringing this Motion to the House today. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and others, that he always kept the House informed when he was a Minister. If we are going to have a Conservative Government, I hope that he will be a Minister in it—maybe not soon, but if there is to be one I will always want him to be a member of it. The report enables the House to debate the first stage of the Grenfell Tower inquiry, and we are very grateful to him for bringing the Motion before us.

We heard three excellent and powerful maiden speeches from the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson of Welton, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, and my noble friend Lord Hendy. I congratulate them all and, like others in this House, look forward to further contributions from each of them in the period ahead. I thank Sir Martin Moore-Bick for his thorough and comprehensive report into what happened at Grenfell Tower. It is a powerful and compelling document. The noble Lord, Lord Porter, made an important point about the order of the inquiry and the fact that it is actually back to front. I agree with him, but that is what has happened so we must now get on with the second stage of the inquiry as speedily as we can in the new year, as other noble Lords have said.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, referred to, reading chapter 32 is heartbreaking, telling of 70 lives lost on the night, a child stillborn as a result of the trauma and another resident who died in hospital a few days later. It is a fitting tribute to celebrate their lives, their hopes and dreams and the contribution the victims made to their community. I pay tribute to the survivors and their families in their fight for justice and to uncover the truth with that steely determination and dignity they have shown all the way through. I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, about the work of Grenfell United.

It makes me even more angry at the lack of respect shown to the victims of the fire, to the survivors and their families, by the publishing of parts of the report in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday of this week. There is no justification whatever for the paper: it was a truly dreadful thing to have done. My noble friend Lord Whitty referred to this. No public interest was served; it was just to get it out there first, ahead of other media outlets, ahead of the game and ahead of colleagues who would be attending the press briefing and getting copies of the report the following day. Survivors, families and core participants should have been able to read the report, take in what had been said and prepare themselves for the formal publication yesterday, but that was cruelly denied them. I condemn the actions of the Daily Telegraph in the strongest possible terms

I agree with my noble friend Lord Hendy that it would be very welcome indeed to learn that Sir Martin intends to summon the editors of the newspapers to the inquiry to explain their actions. I hope that there will be a full investigation into the leak, that we will identify whoever was behind it and that action will be taken against them. When the Minister speaks shortly, could he confirm that the Government will ensure that a proper police investigation into it will take place? Let us be clear: if the leaker and the Daily Telegraph get away with this in stage 1, it will happen in stage 2, and then any other inquiry on any other issue in the future will be at risk of leaks and the further hurt and damage they entail.

The report makes it clear that it was the cladding on the building, the aluminium composite material rainscreen and the combustible insulation behind it that was the cause of the fire spreading so rapidly on the outside of Grenfell Tower. The cladding was fitted in breach of building regulations, producing a fire which cost 72 people their lives. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell the House how many other blocks of flats, nearly two and a half years after the fire, still have the same cladding fixed to the building. Private or public, it makes no difference; even if there is only one block, it is a scandal and must be rectified immediately.

My noble friend Lord Adonis made the point that there can be no excuse for the remedial work taking so long—it must be done urgently. However, there is a further problem. Cladding is being used on schools, hospitals and office buildings. It is everywhere. This material has to come off all buildings; it is just not an appropriate material to use today. In this Chamber I have called on the Government to empower local authorities to remove cladding from private blocks where there is no response from the building owner or where they refuse to act. We must ensure that happens. Could the Minister update us on that?

I pay tribute to all the emergency services for their bravery and courage: the Metropolitan Police, the London Ambulance Service and particularly the London Fire Brigade, the firefighters on the night who went into that tower to fight the fire and save people. These are enormously brave people who worked in the most challenging of circumstances at Grenfell Tower, going well beyond what would normally be asked of them at any time. I concur completely with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Porter, in his tribute to the brave firefighters risking their lives again and again to save people on the night of the fire. They are heroes.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s recommendations are thorough and challenging and need to be carefully assessed and fully implemented. They will require changes to practice and procedures, new ways of working and a whole new approach to building safety. There can be no excuse for not delivering what has been set out in the report: changes to operations in the London Fire Brigade, and in every other fire and rescue service in the country and I expect across the world, and changes in how first responders communicate with each other and members of the public. My noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey gave a compelling case for the urgent introduction of emergency alert technology into the UK without any further delay.

There is also the question of how local authorities look after blocks of flats and their tenants and leaseholders, and how the owners of private blocks of flats maintain them and look after their residents. There is a huge challenge for the Government not only in implementing the recommendations or the legislation that is needed but in providing the resources that must be commensurate with the new obligations that will be placed on fire and rescue services, first responders and local authorities and others: the training on an ongoing basis which will have to be repeated again and again; the gathering of information and making it immediately available as required to those who need it in times of emergency; the establishment of thorough procedures; the upkeep of that information; and the powers that will have to be given to the fire service, the police, the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities so that they can take legal action and prosecute to the full extent of the law those who will not take their responsibilities seriously.

Dame Judith Hackitt called for fundamental reforms to fix the broken system of building regulations. Buildings must be designed, built and maintained with fire safety as a priority. We need to see urgent action from the Government on these matters. Could the Minister update the House on the progress they are making in this regard?

I very much hope that the Government listen to calls from the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, and others for sprinkler systems to be introduced. This happened in Wales, having been introduced by the Welsh Assembly when he was a Member. The Government have to follow that action and introduce sprinklers here in England. I fully support the calls for urgent research on buildings that fail on fire safety, as that leaves the “stay put” advice compromised and no longer viable.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said that the response in the aftermath of the fire was truly shocking, and it was. It was the community, the churches, mosques, the synagogue and the charities that stepped in when the local authority failed to deliver. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham told the House of the wonderful work they undertook, and I join him in paying tribute to everyone involved. I also recognise that when the emergency support plans were put in place a few days after the fire, teams of local authority staff from across London and civil servants came together to bring stability to the situation on the ground. We also pay tribute to them for their work.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate that we have to change our attitude to housing. The loss of council housing and the failure to see housing as homes needs to change. Everyone deserves to live in a home that is clean, safe, warm and dry, and there is nothing wrong with growing up or living in a council property.

I very much agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, about the loss of local papers and the ability to hold local power to account, be that the local council, the local police or any other power centre. As a local councillor in Southwark in the 1980s and 1990s, the South London Press was a vital part of holding the authority and others to account. It knew what was going on in Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham, Greenwich and Wandsworth, it knew who the leadership was, and it would hold you to account. The current state of affairs is regrettable, as we do not have those local papers in many parts of our country. I also agree with her remarks about red tape. As has been said, these regulations often keep you safe and alive. The “two in, one out” policy was daft— absolute nonsense—and I hope that the Minister can confirm that it is no longer the case.

In concluding my remarks, I again pay tribute to the survivors, the families and to Grenfell United for their determination to get to the truth of what happened at Grenfell Tower. I thank Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his team for all their work to date and as we move on to the second phase of the inquiry, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Viscount Younger of Leckie) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I am grateful to my predecessor in my role, my noble friend Lord Bourne, for initiating this debate on the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report. I, and the whole House, know that he understands these matters so well, and I am now honoured to respond.

It is fitting that my noble friend Lady Sanderson of Welton made her heartfelt maiden speech in this House today. I pay tribute to her for her tireless work in the aftermath of the tragedy, building a strong relationship with the Grenfell community on behalf of the previous Prime Minister and ensuring that those impacted received the critical support that they needed. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, a tireless campaigner for social and racial equality, and the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, a renowned QC in the field of industrial relations and employment law, for their maiden speeches in this House, which were both excellent and had some serious messages. We will no doubt hear much more from them in future, and from my noble friend, as they make their mark in this Chamber.

Over two years have passed since the tragedy that shook the nation, but the 72 people who died following those horrific events will for ever remain in our thoughts and prayers. All those who lost loved ones and their homes deserve to know why the Grenfell Tower fire happened. Yesterday’s publication of the report was an important step in this regard. I take this opportunity to thank Sir Martin Moore-Bick and the inquiry team for their work, both in producing this report and in preparing for the next phase of hearings. It provides some comfort that, as we have heard today, the report is widely regarded as thorough, informative and, as the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said, forensic.

It was important for the Government to establish this as a full independent public inquiry. It has been able to establish, first, what happened on the night of the fire; secondly, how emergency services responded; and, thirdly, how the building was so dangerously exposed to the risk of fire. We were clear that the inquiry should leave no stone unturned, no matter how uncomfortable the facts. The people of the Grenfell community must be allowed to learn the truth behind that appalling loss of life and how it was allowed to happen. They deserve nothing less.

My noble friend Lord Bourne and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked about criminal charges and how many people have been interviewed under caution. It is not for the Government to comment on an ongoing criminal investigation, but I can say that the Metropolitan Police continues to investigate the causes of this terrible tragedy, needing to take into account the work of the inquiry, including this report and the next.

I take a moment to commend the bereaved, the survivors and everyone affected by this tragedy. We will never truly understand all that the victims of this tragedy went through. My noble friend Lady Sanderson mentioned the essential need for change. She is right. Let there be no doubt: our commitment to ensure change is unwavering.

Noble Lords will know that the phase 1 report is focused on what happened that fateful night, and particularly on the response of the emergency services. Let me be clear in my message today, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and my noble friend Lord Porter. I also pay tribute to the heroism and bravery of those who responded to the fire: running towards danger, some more than once, entering a burning building and saving lives that night.

Sadly, heroism alone could not counter a fire of this nature, and Sir Martin outlines several significant shortcomings in the London Fire Brigade’s response. Clearly, there are lessons for our fire services from this tragedy and from this report. Crucially, he identifies the failure to change the “stay put” advice once it became clear that it was no longer the correct strategy. However, as Sir Martin said in the report:

“Effective compartmentation is likely to remain at the heart of fire safety strategy and will probably continue to provide a safe basis for responding to the vast majority of fires in high-rise buildings.”

The Government already took action on this issue following the Lakanal House fire, in particular by working with the sector to review national guidance on high-rise firefighting, including the “stay put” policy and evacuation. This was carried out both before and after the coroner’s findings in 2013.

As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State highlighted in the other place, the Government, along with the National Fire Chiefs Council and others, will continue to review the “stay put” advice to ensure that lessons are learned. We have already completed a call for evidence and published a summary of the responses, which showed consensus that “stay put” was the right approach but for buildings correctly designed, built and maintained.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised some important points about communications—the noble Lord particularly asked about mobile telephones. This must indeed be part of our work with the National Fire Chiefs Council. I will ensure that that issue is raised, if it is not already part of its considerations. I acknowledge those important points.

I am also acutely aware that the report concludes there were significant failings in both the construction and design of the building. I want to be clear today that we plan to accept in principle all the recommendations that Sir Martin makes for central government.

My noble friend Lord Bourne and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked about legislation. We will work with stakeholders to deliver that. That will include proposing legislation ahead of the Hackitt reforms, if that would mean that the recommendations can be implemented sooner. Our task must now be to consider how we can best implement the recommendations quickly and build on the work we have already done to ensure that people are safe in their homes.

To answer my noble friend Lord Porter’s question about the decision for phase 1 to focus on the events of the night, I must stress that the order of the independent reports is very much a matter for the chairman. I can only point to Sir Martin’s statement, in which he said that,

“there is an urgent need to find out what aspects of the building’s design and construction”,

led to the disaster, and to,

“understand the chain of events”,

of the night,

“in some detail”—

and, as such, find out what steps must be taken so that those who live in other high-rise buildings are safe.

The noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, made points about timings and urgency. That certainly chimes with me. The Government did not wait for the publication of this report, or the hearings to begin on the phase 2 inquiry, to press ahead with strengthening building and fire safety measures.

My noble friend Lord Bourne asked about high-rise buildings. The department has already consulted on proposals to apply higher standards to new high-rise residential buildings, including on sprinklers, signage and communication systems, which are now also a recommendation of the inquiry.

My noble friend also asked about the height at which buildings are considered to be high-rise. Although the consultation proposes a height of 18 metres, the Secretary of State has been clear that the Government will follow the evidence, should the height threshold need to be changed.

Housing: Rental Market

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Monday 28th October 2019

(11 months, 1 week ago)

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Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

On the subject of possible registration, we welcome Airbnb’s plans to hold a national discussion on this matter and we are engaging with it and other similar stakeholders on their proposals. Perhaps I may say that local authorities already have powers to take action against issues such as noise, anti-social behaviour or the accumulation of rubbish, as my noble friend has pointed out, that may arise in relation to short-term properties. I would urge anyone with such a complaint to take it to their local authority. We want to encourage responsible short-term letting where hosts behave in accordance with the law and with respect for both their guests’ safety and their neighbours’ peace.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests. Is the noble Viscount saying that he does not accept that there is a problem here which needs to be dealt with?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

No, I am not saying that there is no problem. We take the view that we welcome the voluntary approach. We are encouraging the Short Term Accommodation Association to drive up standards. Its self-regulatory measures to date include the Safe, Clean and Legal accreditation scheme in partnership with Quality in Tourism, its collaboration with Westminster City Council to develop and promote the considerate short-term lets charter and its members’ voluntary imposition of checks to help enforce the 90-day limit in London only.

Neighbourhood Services: Government Support

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Thursday 24th October 2019

(11 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) - Hansard

My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my registered interests as a councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I thank my noble friend Lord Greaves for initiating this important debate on the current state of, and future prospects for, neighbourhood services. I also draw the House’s attention to the fact that our Benches are less full than they would have otherwise been because today many are attending the funeral of a very special Liberal Democrat.

The National Audit Office produced an excellent report last year on the financial sustainability of local authorities. The data provided in the report admirably illustrates the spending cuts meted out to neighbourhood services. It states that there has been a 49.1% real-terms reduction in government funding since 2010, which translates into a 28.6% real-terms cut in spending power. However, that paints only part of the picture, as there is considerable variation between local authorities. For example, metropolitan and unitary councils have seen a 38% cut in spending power on non-social care services, and the shire districts a 25% cut. Even then, there is huge variation within those figures. As my noble friend Lord Greaves demonstrated, areas of greater deprivation are less able to raise funding through local taxation, thus the cuts there have been even greater. Fifty per cent is a huge cut in any local authority’s funding to provide services.

Further detail of service cuts in this invaluable report shows that libraries have experienced cuts of 33%, parks 27%, community safety 51% and highway maintenance 37%. The LGA survey of public perception last year shows that resident satisfaction rates with services is falling and, for highway maintenance, falling quite sharply—no surprise there for anyone who has to use local roads. The service cuts are becoming increasingly obvious to our residents.

What does that mean in practice for people who are, after all, paying more and more in council tax for less and less? Local authorities have protected spending on vulnerable adults and children in local authorities with those responsibilities, and focused budget cuts on neighbourhood services. In my own council of Kirklees, this has resulted in, for example, the Red House Museum being closed. It was the home of a close friend of Charlotte Brontë and features significantly in her novel Shirley. Of course, local people want to keep the Red House open to the public and a recent petition attracted more than 3,000 signatures from all over the world in a matter of days, but to no avail.

Libraries have been transferred for volunteers to run, while parks have much-reduced grass cutting, with some areas being neglected altogether. Local roads are in a poor state, as they are everywhere, with the Local Government Association reporting this year that funding available for the maintenance of local roads has dropped by £400 million. Across the country, residents have seen the closure of services such as libraries and museums, or a significant reduction in their opening hours, along with a considerable downgrading of the standard of service in, for example, parks and play areas. Provision has virtually disappeared in, for example, services for young people, or, as some people still call them, youth services. These cuts have been made by closing buildings and, in many cases, then selling those assets. In other cases, the service reduction has been achieved by cutting employees, as my noble friend Lord Greaves pointed out. We now have 34% fewer professional librarians than eight years ago and professional food safety inspector numbers have dropped by a staggering 60%.

The cuts to some neighbourhood services would be even worse if it were not for the increase in or introduction of fees charged by local authorities, as the report from the NAO clearly shows. Although it is difficult to be precise, the figures point to the fact that around 10% of the costs of providing neighbourhood services are now being borne by fees and charges, which means that in a sense they are just another tax on local people. Services are being diminished and the costs, either through taxation or charges, are rising as a direct result of the Government’s savage cuts to local funding. Here I disagree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Goddard, who believes that all this could be transformed by greater collaboration and more efficient, effective working. Yes, some of that can happen and that action taken by local authorities during the austerity years has shown that services can be provided more efficiently and effectively. However, you cannot keep cutting funding. In the end, public funding is an essential requirement for the delivery of public services.

The other way that councils have sought to manage the sharp reduction in funding is by increasing the number of volunteers. Volunteers are a huge asset to any council and enable local people to get involved and to shape service provision in a way that was not as readily available just a few years ago. Valuable though they are, however, volunteers cannot be expected to be completely responsible for council buildings or to take responsibility for running a service formerly provided by paid professionals. Volunteers are frequently drawn from the ranks of retired people, so the sustainability of a heavy reliance on them has to be questioned.

What are the consequences of these dramatic changes in public service provision? The impact on individual services is well documented in expenditure reductions, employee cuts, building closures, council tax rises and increases in fees and charges. What is not yet clear is the totality of the impact measured across a community. What the Government do not seem to appreciate is that councils are not simply the commissioners and providers of disparate services. All councils aspire to create healthy, safe and vibrant communities. Each of these service cuts has a different impact on individuals within a community: children who find that the football pitch is not being maintained to its former high standard; young people for whom diversionary youth services are appropriate, who now find alternative distractions, not always to their benefit or that of local people; readers wanting to use a now closed library, or unemployed people who need a library with public access to computers to complete job applications; and those suffering from mental ill health for whom a calming park or open space is a refuge, who find that it is now not as clean and well cared for. As for potholed roads, they are an unwelcome cost to individuals and businesses. Can the Minister let us know whether the Government have made an assessment of the cumulative impact on communities and individuals of this very significant reduction in neighbourhood services?

Parish and town councils in many areas have been able to take over the provision of some neighbourhood services to the benefit of local people. Can the Minister say whether the Government will actively encourage the creation of parish and town councils, including within metropolitan and unitary district council areas?

Neighbourhood services provide a vital lifeline for many individuals, as well as opening opportunities for those in more deprived communities. Flourishing communities with effective neighbourhood services help reduce demand for front-line services such as the NHS and social care. I hope the Government will begin to understand the enormous contribution of neighbourhood services to the well-being of local communities and begin to reverse the cuts in funding that have had a devastating impact on these much-valued and essential services. We on this side understand the vital nature of community services and will invest in them, and give powers to communities to make the decisions that affect them, for the well-being of all.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, first, I refer to my entry in the register of interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Secondly, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on securing this important debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has vast experience in local government, which he clearly demonstrated with his introduction to this debate. He has raised the important issue of the levels of government resources for neighbourhood services provided by district councils and other local authorities. We have received some excellent briefing notes, which have been helpful in the preparation for this debate, from the Local Government Association, the Library of the House, the District Councils’ Network and others, and I thank them all very much for that.

I join noble Lords in paying tribute to elected councillors and the staff of local authorities. As the noble Lord, Lord Goddard of Stockport, said, when you visit local government you see that the work that councillors do is so important. They are the glue that keeps things together. It is really important to respect and value the work they do.

Things have been tough financially, and it is due in no small measure to the dedication of people elected and working in local government that many more crises have been averted in recent years. A 32.6% cut in real terms in local authority spending in non-social care services between 2010 and 2017 has created huge pressures on councillors, staff and communities. Although I accept that there have been some increases recently, the National Audit Office’s prediction is that, by the end of 2020, the reductions in funding from central government to local government will be 56.3%—a huge figure. Many organisations would have ceased to exist with a cut in expenditure of that level.

My noble friend Lord Adonis is absolutely right: we need to end austerity. We also need to stop Brexit. I agree with him in both respects. I am so pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, is in the Chamber now. I recommend that noble Lords read yesterday’s Hansard. His contribution on the regulations on the European elections in Gibraltar was marvellous, and every noble Lord should read it when they leave the Chamber.

Local government delivers a huge range of services, and district councils deliver 86 of the 137 essential services to cover 22 million people—40% of the population in England—and more than 68% of the country by area. They approve 90% of planning applications and enabled most of the housing completions in their areas in the last year. That gives noble Lords some idea of the work that district councils do. Those services and more are delivered by unitarity authorities and, in the two-tier county areas, social services, education and other services are delivered by county councils.

The noble Lord, Lord Goddard of Stockport, was absolutely right when he spoke of the benefits of local authorities working together. Greater Manchester is a great example of that; it has seen much success. Regardless of the political control over those authorities—various parties have had control in different years—they have continued to work together. As the noble Lord said, they have reaped the benefits of working together, and that is to their credit.

I agree generally with all that the noble Lord said in what was an excellent speech, and I fully support the points he made about Bury Football Club. What has happened there is tragic, and I support the local MP James Frith for the work he is doing. I had some problems with Dulwich Hamlet Football Club a year or so ago. We made some progress there, and the club is back in its place. Many noble Lords supported my campaign in the House, so I am grateful for that. I am also grateful that in Lewisham, where I live, the council and the new mayor saw the error of their ways and withdrew the CPO around Millwall Football Club. Hopefully, that club will go from success to success, with notable thanks to the campaigns by fans and local residents on its behalf.

The Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raises the issue of government support for neighbourhood services. We know that local government gets most of its funding from three main areas: council tax receipts; retention of business rates; and central government grants. I have already outlined the huge cuts in resources provided by central government.

Let us just look at some of the issues that local government is dealing with, with reduced resources, such as housing and homelessness. Money provided to reduce homelessness is very welcome, obviously, but for me there is too much emphasis on the Homelessness Reduction Act without a corresponding increase in resources to make that very desirable outcome a reality. I have raised this many times in this Chamber. Councils need long-term funding in place to deal with the problem of homelessness on a sustainable long-term footing. I do not believe we have that yet. The number of homeless people when you come to this House from any of the nearby stations—Waterloo, Charing Cross or Victoria—or through Westminster Tube station is a tragedy. That was not the case some years ago, and the Government have to do much more about it. In its excellent briefing, the LGA estimated that homelessness services are dealing with cost pressures from demand and inflation alone of £100 million a year. Statutory homelessness continues to rise, and 1.1 million remain on council housing waiting lists. That will remain the case unless a long-term solution is found.

One of the most frustrating things I hear is that, somehow, the local authority planning department is some sort of barrier to building houses. This is utter rubbish. Councils approve nine out of 10 cases that come before them, yet approximately 250,000 applications are approved without a brick being laid. Every year they give permissions, and it is very frustrating to hear this. Also frustrating is the position whereby the council tax payer is still subsiding the whole planning process. The LGA and others have for many years called for that to be dealt with. There has been an increase in the fees, which obviously is welcome, but the Government were also consulting on a further 20% rise in planning fees and have not decided yet. They need to decide that. From this Dispatch Box I have also called for the Government to find just one council in England to pilot some sort of transparent scheme of local fee setting and see where that goes. That could be very helpful. I cannot see the objection to finding one authority to pilot that and have a look at it.

As noble Lords have heard, waste and recycling services are important to local communities and are very much more in the public eye now. Since 2010, councils have continued to increase recycling rates, although central government funding for this has been reduced by about 60%. The Government’s resources and waste strategy is a significant step in the right direction towards improving waste and recycling services, and the LGA has called for businesses and manufacturers to pay the full cost of recycling in their areas. Much more needs to be done to boost recycling rates, raise standards and meet national targets and to improve important services such as street sweeping, refuse collection, caretaking and cleansing services.

Local authorities are responsible for the majority of the estimated 27,000 parks and green spaces in the UK, but they are struggling to continue to maintain them. They have been exploring a range of models for maintaining them, including working with voluntary groups and trusts to generate income. Where I live in Lewisham, there are a number of initiatives to get local people involved in maintaining their local green space. These have been moderately successful, but they are no substitute for park keepers and their staff keeping the place clean, tidy and looking nice.

Councils in England run a variety of leisure facilities, including grass pitches, swimming pools, sports halls and various other amenities. It is important for people to keep active as they get older, because it is good for their physical and mental health, but these services are under pressure. Many facilities are ageing, particularly swimming pools, and need to be updated and made better.

I agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern, about community libraries. There are many good examples where local communities have taken over and run libraries. In Lewisham, there are good libraries at Crofton Park, New Cross and elsewhere run by the communities. They are providing community cafes and getting better footfall through the door but, again, these services are under pressure.

District councils are often responsible for maintaining key cultural infrastructure. They maintain the local heritage of their communities in local museums and afford residents the chance to see what is going on in their areas. The Mendoza review found that local authority museums were experiencing challenging circumstances. I grew up in Walworth, where the local museum was bequeathed to the borough by the Cuming family. It contains a valuable collection reflecting Southwark’s history and is much loved by the local community. However, it also needs to be supported.

We have a social care crisis which the Government need to address with new additional funding, recognising that we are all living longer. That is good news but medical advances mean that we could live 10, 20 or 30 years longer, often with chronic conditions with which we will need help and support, and it is important that there are local services available for local people. It is important that we get an agreed cross-party settlement on social care, which can stand the test of time, on how to fund these services. The issue cannot become a political football.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to the new homes bonus. I have spoken before about the robbing Peter to pay Paul strategy of the Government—taking from one area to fund another area—and that cannot carry on.

My noble friend Lord Adonis is right about the crisis in housing. I grew up on a council estate in Walworth. The home was clean, safe, warm and dry. My mum and dad worked and paid their tax and rent until they retired, and we were happy there. That is not the case now for young families who are trying to get a home. They cannot get a council house and getting something they can afford is a huge problem. I now live in an ordinary terrace house in Lewisham, which I bought 15 years ago with my wife, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley. I could not afford to buy the same house today—I could not afford the deposit or the mortgage payments—even though we are not badly off. People have that problem in many parts of our country.

My noble friend Lord Adonis has invited colleagues to go to Lambeth. I will invite them to come to Newham. I took the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, to Newham a few months ago, and he saw the great work being done by the council and the mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, in tackling rogue landlords. The council is doing a good job, and the noble Lord was impressed by the council but shocked by what he saw of the conditions that people have to live in. When he asked about the rent they were paying, the reply was shocking. I know the noble Viscount will visit there and any other noble Lord will be welcome. We could perhaps organise a trip there together. It would be good for noble Lords to see the conditions that people have to live in today.

I mentioned briefly the new homes bonus. When the noble Viscount replies to the debate, perhaps he will tell the House where we are on that.

District councils provide a variety of services which have a positive effect on public health and the public generally. I believe in the old adage that prevention is better than cure. Keep-fit classes, swimming, walking and other events are helpful and are important local services. In bringing my remarks to a close, I again pay tribute to local council and local authority staff. They do a wonderful job under difficult circumstances and they deserve our support.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Viscount Younger of Leckie) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for securing this debate and all noble Lords for their remarks. This is my first debate in my new role, although I have covered the department in the past as a Whip. I am, however, only too aware of the experience of the noble Lord in local government. If there is a verb “to Pendle”, the noble Lord could be described as a “much-Pendled” Peer. I am also aware of the experience and knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in this sector and the length of time that he has spent in his role on the Front Bench.

All types of local authorities play a central role in supporting communities, including the most vulnerable, across the country, and district councils are at the heart of delivering many of the key services that matter to communities. We have heard a lot about that today. We are grateful for the transformative changes they have championed and for their continued commitment to providing the day-to-day services that their residents rely on. The Government make it a priority to visit councils—including, I understand, Pendle this month—in order to see the issues and opportunities at first hand.

I want to be clear that it is not only upper-tier authorities that are a priority for this Government: we want all authorities, regardless of size, to know that their concerns are being heard. However, while we seek to understand and address the daily issues faced by councils, it is right that we step back and ask ourselves some strategic questions. What is the best model to serve local needs, especially for the most vulnerable groups? How do different authorities best work with their communities to meet the needs and priorities of local areas, which will no doubt differ across the country? The noble Lord, Lord Goddard, alluded to this in his remarks. What is the right balance between state intervention and support and the power of local democracy for local decision-making and authorities?

These are big questions and we must raise them. Indeed, it is not only me asking questions about the role of local government; the sector itself, including the Local Government Association, is constantly challenging itself to do better for all the people it serves. As my noble friend Lady Redfern said, there have been tough times. There continue to be challenging issues to address, but authorities are being innovative.

Social care services are essential to protect our most vulnerable. This is a priority for this Government. The Prime Minister has been entirely clear on this matter and I am keen today to dedicate some time to how we are supporting district councils and the universal services which neighbourhoods rely on. I will also be reflecting later on the important issues of empowerment and community—which I feel strongly about and which was a major theme in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves.

I turn first to the spending round. This Government understand their responsibility to make sure that local authorities are adequately funded. I was pleased—as I am sure were all noble Lords—with the positive outcome of the spending round. Core spending power, the measurement we use for local government funding, is expected to grow by £2.9 billion for England, which is an estimated 4.3% real-terms rise. I know that the Secretary of State was delighted to have secured the largest year-on-year increase in spending power since 2010—a package which will allow councils to,

“provide more support for areas such as adult and children’s social care and make sure that we are supporting the most vulnerable people in our local communities”.

Beyond social care, we are protecting vital front-line services by increasing the biggest elements of core settlement funding in line with inflation, and we are consulting on a 2% core council tax principle for all councils next year. I take account of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on that issue. This significant result is a testament to what happens when we work together with the sector. I am grateful to councils up and down the country which fed into our preparations. The LGA has said that we provided local authorities with,

“much of the funding certainty and stability they need for next year”.

I shall address the point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Kennedy, on the new homes bonus. The Government have previously noted that 2019-20 was the final year of new homes bonus funding as agreed in the spending review 2015, and that any funding beyond 2019-20 would need to be agreed as part of the next spending review. I understand that the new homes bonus represents an important part of district council budgets and can form a large percentage of core spending power. We have listened to requests from local authorities to honour previously announced legacy payments totalling £624 million. As part of the roll-forward settlement, the Government are minded to make a new round of allocations for 2020-21, and I would welcome views on our proposals.

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, raised a point on the Public Works Loan Board. I am not particularly familiar with it, but I hope I can reassure him that the Treasury recently increased the margin that applies to new loans from the PWLB by 100 basis points on top of the usual lending terms. The Government also successfully legislated to increase the lending limit of the PWLB from £85 billion to £95 billion to reflect their commitment to ensuring that local authorities can continue to access the financing that they need to support their capital plans. Since this change took effect, my department has been engaging with the sector to understand the potential impact that it could have on its capital plans and strategies, especially with regard to housing and regeneration.

Homeless People: Prevention of Deaths

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Tuesday 1st October 2019

(12 months ago)

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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Viscount Younger of Leckie) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given to an Urgent Question today by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, let me say first and foremost that every single death on our streets is a tragedy. Today’s statistics have provided us all with a stark reminder that there is so much more to be done. Every death on our streets is one too many, and this Government will work tirelessly to ensure that lives are not needlessly cut short. The fact that an estimated 726 people—mothers, fathers, siblings; all somebody’s loved one—died while homeless in 2018 will concern not only every Member of this House but everyone up and down the country.

As you will know, this Government are committed to putting an end to rough sleeping by 2027 and halving it by 2022. We changed the law to help make this happen. In April 2018, the Homelessness Reduction Act—some of the most ambitious legislation in this area in decades—came into force. We now have a year’s worth of evidence, which shows that more people are being supported earlier, and this is having a clear impact on the prevention of homelessness.

Last year, the Government published the first rough sleeping strategy, underpinned by £1.2 billion of funding, which laid out how we will work towards ending rough sleeping for good. Indeed, last year we reversed the trend when we saw a reduction in rough sleeping. A key element of this was the rough sleeping initiative. A total of £76 million has been invested in over 200 areas. This year, the rough sleeping initiative will fund 750 additional staff and approximately 2,600 new bed spaces.

Next year, we are going further. We will be providing a further £422 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. This is a £54 million increase in funding from the previous year—a real-terms increase of 13%.

The cold weather period is a particularly difficult time for those sleeping rough, so the Government have launched a second year of the cold weather fund. We are making £10 million available to local authorities to support rough sleepers off the streets. This will build on last year’s fund, which helped relieve more than 7,000 individuals from rough sleeping over the winter.

These statistics have reminded us of the fateful impact of substance and alcohol misuse. We know that the use of new psychoactive substances—so-called NPS—is rising. These are dangerous drugs with unpredictable effects and that is why it is so important that people get the support they need. In 2019, we brought forward new training for front-line staff to help them engage with and support rough sleepers under the influence of such substances, and we are working with the Home Office to ensure that rough sleepers are considered in the forthcoming alcohol strategy, which will focus on vulnerable people.

There is so much more to be done. Our work is continuing, our funding is increasing, and our determination is unfaltering. We are committed to making rough sleeping a thing of the past”.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, first, I draw to the attention of the House my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I thank the Minister for repeating the answer to the Urgent Question given in the other place earlier today.

We have seen a huge rise in rough sleeping. We can see it in in every town and city in this country. This simply was not the case 10 years ago. Just look at Westminster tube station—I come in via the tube station almost every day; I have been in this House nearly 10 years—and it just was not the case. Every day now there are more and more homeless people in the tube station. It is absolutely appalling and shameful in one of the richest countries in the world.

There is the widest possible agreement—from homeless charities to the National Audit Office to cross-party Select Committees—that government policy has not helped in this respect. Today’s figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 726 homeless people died last year. That is up by half in the last five years.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, does he accept that the £10 million in respect of the cold weather fund will be insufficient and that further funds will have to be provided for this fund? Secondly, will he agree to meet me and a delegation of local government leaders and charities to discuss the inadequate levels of funding being provided for the Homelessness Reduction Act? It is a good bit of legislation, but we need funds to make it work.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the rest of the House that one death in this way is one too many. I am very sorry to report that there was one further death in Wiltshire last night, which noble Lords may have heard of.

I will answer the noble Lord’s two questions. First, on the £10 million, we believe that this is enough, but clearly this is such a serious matter that we will keep this very much under review, but this is a figure that has taken account of the statistics. Secondly, of course I would be very pleased to meet the noble Lord and anybody else he cared to bring along to discuss the level of funding for this important matter.

Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Monday 30th September 2019

(1 year ago)

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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) - Hansard

My Lords, it is always good to follow the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on the subject of business rates because he has such considerable knowledge about how they work and what the consequences of any changes might be. Before I begin my comments, I draw the attention of the House to my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as an elected councillor on Kirklees Council. I welcome the Minister to his new role and look forward to our exchanges. I am sure they will be very positive and constructive.

The principle of the Bill, which is obviously to reduce the gap between revaluations of properties liable for non-domestic rates from five years to three, is one which we support. It is generally supported by the business community and, in essence, it should provide more certainty for businesses, as there should be less chance of wild fluctuations in valuations which are, after all, dependent on rental value, which is itself a reflection of the national and local economy at any one moment. However, such a change raises questions about implementation and wider concerns about the sustainability of the business rates regime.

The first question is one of practicality. Can the Minister confirm that additional funding will be made available to the Valuation Office Agency to ensure that revaluations can be fulfilled in the much reduced timescale? Obviously, he has also already referred to the current cost of £50 million, but clearly that has been over a longer timescale than the three years being proposed in this legislation.

Secondly, local government is now reliant on business rates income for basic service provision. Will the Minister confirm that any fall in the total national take from business rates will not lead to a reduction in funding from this revenue stream for local government? A briefing from the Local Government Association has drawn attention to the fact that more regular and accurate information is required from businesses so that the valuation office can provide more accurate revaluations. A consultation was apparently due last year but has not taken place. Can the Minister explain how more accurate information is to be supplied to the valuation office so that it can make judgments about revaluations in a timely manner?

Thirdly, we are concerned about the number of appeals that flow from any revaluation. Currently—as I am told in the Local Government Association briefing—there is a very large backlog of appeals, even from the 2010 revaluation, for which councils had to set aside more than £2.5 billion in case appeals were granted. That money is obviously set aside to cover those risks. That is a considerable amount of council funding to be set aside when councils are under such pressure for the provision of services.

Then there are more fundamental questions about the sustainability of the existing business rating regime. There have been many questions and comments in your Lordships’ House over the last few years on the failure of the current system to demonstrate that it is, in principle, fair to businesses. I suggest that a fundamental and radical reform of business rates is needed. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, also drew attention to that. The Government are allocating funding in a desperate attempt to revive declining town centres. However, at the same time they fail to appreciate that one of the biggest costs for small businesses, including independent retailers, is the business rates bill. Meanwhile, town centre businesses are competing with online businesses, which are able to operate from out-of-town warehouses and pay significantly less, pro rata, in business rates. The model is broken and must be reformed.

The Liberal Democrats have agreed a policy for such reform, which would scrap business rates altogether and replace them with what we have called a commercial landowner levy. The basic principle of this tax system is to tax the land, rather than the property and the investment in improvements that sometimes goes with it, as the current system does. It is estimated that businesses would receive a significant boost to profitability in this way, particularly in those areas of the country that are in desperate need of a funding boost to kickstart a revival in their fortunes.

The Government have occasionally hinted at the need for a more substantial reform of business rates. Can the Minister provide any indication of whether businesses may anticipate some policy statement to that effect from the Government? Will he also reflect on the challenge to the climate change emergency of favouring out-of-town warehouses, highly dependent on road transport, over more local shopping habits, and whether the latter should be encouraged rather than the former? With that array of questions, I look forward to the Minister’s responses.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I welcome the noble Viscount to his new role and look forward to our future debates on a variety of matters.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, on his excellent maiden speech. The noble Lord had a distinguished career in the House of Commons, and his contribution here will be very welcome on all sides of the House. He was the Government Deputy Chief Whip in the other place, and I am sure that his skills will be in much demand on the Government Benches. I agree with him that trust and compromise are welcome and much-needed qualities; they are often on display in this House, which is why this House works so well. I look forward to hearing him very many times in the future.

I refer the House to my relevant declaration of interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

The Opposition support the Bill as far as it goes. We welcome the proposal to bring forward the revaluation by one year to 2021 and to hold revaluations every three years thereafter. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, is an expert on these matters, and I look forward to the response of the noble Viscount to the very many points the noble Earl made. The Bill was of course promised back in 2017, and I am pleased that it is finally here.

There is, though, a serious problem: these proposals will not address the damage being done to our high streets. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, made reference to the broken model of high streets and online businesses, and I very much agree with her comments. I am very supportive of the Save Our Shops campaign run by the trade union USDAW, which has real expertise in understanding how important our high streets are. Our high streets are in real trouble in many parts of England. We need proper, co-ordinated action: a proper industrial strategy for retail that deals with taxation in general, commercial rents and business rates. This is desperately needed so that we can ensure a level playing field for different types of retailers and deliver the framework to support local communities and the wider and local economy. When shops close and businesses move out, it destroys communities.

CAMRA, which I have been a member of for many years, has a campaign focused on saving the great British pub, and I fully support its campaign. Pubs currently pay 2.8% of the entire business rates bill but account for only 0.5% of the total business turnover, which is an overpayment by the sector of around £500 million. CAMRA is calling on the Government to conduct a full review of how the system works, and it has my full support in that. This review needs to look at how to address the current system, in which pubs are unfairly burdened. In addition to being local businesses, pubs provide a community service and often a community hub that needs to be both supported and protected. As I said at the start of my remarks, we support the Bill as far as it goes, but much more needs to be done.

Another issue I want to raise in this short debate is that of unresolved valuation appeals, of which 65,000 were lodged in 2010 and are still not resolved. This has led to local authorities diverting £2.5 billion to allow for the possibility of a successful appeal. This cannot be allowed to continue, and the Government must address this. Perhaps the noble Viscount can respond to that point when he responds to the debate shortly.

In conclusion, I wish the Bill a speedy passage. Maybe the noble Viscount can tell us what is going to happen with this Bill in the next few days—obviously I want to see it on the statute book—but we have a really serious problem here and this Bill does not yet attempt to address that. At some point, we need to do that quickly.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie - Hansard

I thank noble Lords for their contribution to this short debate. I shall deal with all the points they have raised in just a moment, but I start by paying tribute to the excellent maiden speech from my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I am pleased to know that his voice can now, at last, be heard in this Chamber. I found the speech rather reflective, not just of the historical context of Uxbridge—it was interesting to hear of the role of air defences in the Battle of Britain—and more; my noble friend was also quite right that in this House there is more of a focus on compromise. Perhaps it is fair to say that there is a lot more courtesy in this House. He did not say “compared to the other place” but, given the climate at the moment, his point was well made.

I also thank all noble Lords for their kind words about my new appointment. It is not lost on me that I have big shoes to fill. My predecessor, my noble friend Lord Bourne, held the role for some time, so I have much to learn.

A good number of points were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. If they will forgive me, I will address their points towards the end of my remarks.

As I said in my opening speech, business rates are an important tax, providing a vital source of revenue to help local government pay for local services. We believe that in this country we offer a highly competitive basket of taxes, which ensures that public services are funded in a balanced and fair way. Of course, we also recognise that some businesses need help. Since the 2016 Budget we have announced reductions in business rates worth more than £13 billion coming up over the next five years.

For example, we have made 100% small business rate relief permanent and doubled the threshold for 100% relief from 2017. This means that 675,000 of the smallest businesses now pay no rates at all. For the high street, at Budget 2018 we announced the business rates retail discount, providing eligible retailers with a rateable value of less than £51,000 with a third off their bills for two years from April 2019. That is delivering help now worth an estimated £1 billion and is in addition to the Prime Minister’s plan to unite and level up cities, towns and coastal and rural areas across our country. In July, we announced a £3.6 billion towns fund to re-energise local economies so that everyone can share in a new era of prosperity.

I listened carefully to the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about high streets, and they are absolutely right to raise the issue. The point should be made that we want to encourage people into high streets as well as out-of-town retail centres. The high streets are a focus at the moment and have a crucial role to play as we work to grow the economies of all parts of the country, so the fund I just mentioned includes an accelerated £1 billion future high streets fund. This will support local areas in England to renew and reshape town centres and high streets in a way that improves experience, drives growth and ensures future sustainability. I add one more thing, which is that it provides an excellent experience for those who want to come into the high street, and we have much more to say about that as we take the policy forward.

More than 300 local authorities bid for a share of the funding in round one. More than 100 places have now been successful in progressing to the next phase of developing, detailed business cases; 51 places were announced on 5 July and a further 50 on 26 August. Successful local authorities will each receive up to £150,000 revenue funding and support from officials.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, who asked about the impact on local authorities of the rates retention scheme, I assure her that local authorities will be compensated for the revaluation. As was the case at the 2017 revaluation, we intend to make any adjustments as are necessary to the rates retention scheme to ensure that locally retained income is, as far as practicable, unaffected by the 2021 revaluation. However, to reassure her further, we will consult local government on how to make those revaluation adjustments to the rates retention scheme nearer the time. This is something we successfully achieved for the 2017 revaluation, and I am confident that that can be repeated for 2021.

We are aware of concern from local authorities that changing the date of the draft rating list from the end of the previous September will impact on their billing and budgeting process. The Bill provides only that the end of December preceding the revaluation is the latest date by which the draft list must be published. It may be that a sensible time to make the draft list available is at the time of the autumn Budget, alongside the confirmation of the multipliers and transitional relief. That is something that we will discuss with local government, and the Bill will allow us to do just that.

For local authorities, we intend to make any adjustments as are necessary to the rates retention scheme to ensure that locally retained income is, as far as practicable, unaffected by the 2021 revaluation. As I said, we will consult local government on that.

I recognise that this matter was raised in Committee on the Bill in the other place, and we are working with the Local Government Association and other local government representatives to ensure that the publication of the draft list fits with the local government budgeting process. My officials met the LGA in August to discuss this matter, and we continue to work with the sector. As was noted by Councillor Watts of the LGA when giving evidence to the Bill Committee in the other place, we are confident that this matter is perfectly soluble.

I turn to another question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. She asked about scrapping business rates and explained the Liberal Democrat policy. I just say that the Government concluded a fundamental review of the business rates at Budget 2016 and decided to retain business rates as a property tax. Respondents to the review agreed that property-based taxes were easy to collect, difficult to avoid, relatively stable and clearly linked with local authority spending. Some respondents suggested alternative tax bases. However, there was no consensus, as respondents were clear that other taxes, such as a land value tax, have their own issues, including agreement on how land should be valued, and would not address the perceived unfairness between high street and online retail. I should not expect the noble Baroness to agree with that, but that is based on real evidence that we produced.

The noble Baroness also asked about resources for the Valuation Office Agency. I reassure her and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that we believe that good progress has been made, particularly in clearing outstanding appeals, which were mentioned, going back to the 2010 list. At 30 June, there were around 62,000 outstanding appeals from the 2010 list. The majority of these—more than 50,000—are waiting for the resolution of litigation. We understand that the VOA is on track to clear the 2010 appeals within its control by the end of September 2019. I believe that good progress has been made. While I do not have completely up-to-date figures to hand, I understand that the VOA is expecting to have cleared the remaining appeals today—the end of the month. If for any reason situations arise where this does not occur, I have been assured that a timetable will be agreed with the ratepayer or their agent for the resolution of their case. I recognise the seriousness of this matter, but I hope that noble Lords are reassured that we are on the case and have the evidence to support that.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, raised a number of questions. He started by saying that this is too little, too late. He might not be surprised to hear that I do not agree with him. However, I shall address his question. The first was about whether the 2021 revaluation will be revenue neutral and how the multiplier will be adjusted. We will adjust the multiplier from 2021 to 2022 to offset the estimated change in total rateable value due to the valuation after allowing for inflation and forecast future appeals. He will know that we are required by law to do that. He further asked whether we plan to move to more frequent revaluations. To be fair to him, I understand how annual revaluations would further improve the rating system. It is something we will certainly consider in future, but in deciding whether to have revaluations more frequently than three years, rather than five years, we will need to strike a balance between the more up-to-date assessments which would flow from such a reform and the uncertainty that it would create by more regular changes to bills, and we will need to take the cost into consideration.

The noble Earl also asked about the revaluation process and the unacceptable burden on businesses. As I said earlier, and as he will know, revaluation is an important part of the business rates system that ensures that bills are more closely aligned with relative market values. The majority of businesses saw no change or a fall in their business rates liability following the 2017 revaluation. A £3.6 billion transitional relief scheme is providing support for the minority of businesses facing an increase in their bills. An additional £435 million of support to businesses was announced at the 2017 Spring Budget. I hope that reassures him that it is not the problem he thinks it might be.

The noble Earl also said that the CCA system was criticised at the Commons Treasury Select Committee. The numbers show that the system is operational and customers are using the service to make checks and challenges. The VOA published its road map in 2018, which set out the IT improvements that it will make to the system as it continues to deliver against that plan. The VOA has delivered some key improvements to the system, addressing specific concerns from stakeholders, including adding frequently requested features, such as an application programming interface—a so-called API—on check and streamlining the registration process to make the system easier to use. As of 31 March 2019, the VOA has registered more than 100,000 checks and more than 17,000 challenges under the new “check, challenge, appeal” system.

Towards the end of his remarks, the noble Earl asked how the revaluation will be delivered. I fully understand concerns regarding funding for the Valuation Office Agency, some of which I addressed earlier. Rating valuation is a specialised field, but we are confident that it can secure the staff it needs to discharge its statutory duty now and in the future. We are keeping a very close eye on it. I confirm that the agency is currently on track with preparations and resourcing for delivering the 2021 revaluation. The agency is also actively working to train and recruit staff to ensure that it can continue to fulfil its statutory duties. To this end the agency is continuing to develop and train its workforce for the future, including a targeted rolling recruitment campaign for chartered surveyors and those studying for accredited surveying qualifications.

I am ever grateful to all noble Lords this afternoon, for their many helpful points and questions raised. Your Lordships have that expertise and knowledge in the field of local government, and it is my first experience of that. Noble Lords’ expertise in the field of business rates valuation is less well known but equally appreciated. I am delighted that we have the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, here to keep us up to the mark—put it that way.

The Bill looks small and technical but, in fact, has widespread application in improving the business rate system for over 2 million ratepayers. It underpins the £50 million revaluation project currently being delivered by the Valuation Office Agency.

Devolution: English Cities

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Wednesday 17th July 2019

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) - Hansard

My Lords, we have all enjoyed this fascinating and detailed report. It has formed the basis of a very worthwhile debate. I will start, if I may, by looking at one or two of the tensions within it—most of all, the tension between the mayor as a model for efficiency, leadership, effectiveness and regeneration and what the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, refers to in his conclusions as the need for this to be based on,

“our families, our schools, our communities, our social services”,

so that government at all levels must work,

“in partnership with communities and businesses”,

and individuals.

That is part of the difficulty we have in Britain at the moment. I was very struck by a long article in the Financial Times yesterday looking at those who voted for Brexit three years ago and who still feel left behind now—why they voted as they did and why they still feel immensely discontented not just with Brussels but with London. The article said that they are as much against London as they are against Brussels. There is a sense of hopelessness, a fear that there are no decent-quality jobs, poor education, deeply inadequate skills training, obstacles getting to work and shrinking public services. As a result, as they see less government—I certainly see this in Bradford—and as local government and local services shrink, ordinary, poor people have less and less contact with it. It is there in London, not providing you with local services which you see—or even with police whom you see, as community services deteriorate.

If we are going to restore confidence in democracy and government, we must care about that as well as fundamental and essential regional regeneration, which is the core of this report and with which I strongly agree. I have spent much of my career teaching and researching European international politics. I am deeply conscious that those who designed the European Economic Community, Jean Monnet above all, believed that it would receive legitimacy by providing results and did not need a whole complex of democratic accountability and scrutiny. We all know where that got us. It provided results, but it did not achieve legitimacy. My worry about the strong mayor model, particularly without the scrutiny, is that we risk reaching that point of continuing alienation among much of the population, even though the effectiveness is there.

As a number of speakers have said, we face a deeply divided country, with deep regional inequalities and deep mistrust. The country has become increasingly centralised over the last 40 or 50 years. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, talked about the problem of Whitehall attitudes. They are also Westminster attitudes. When my daughter was in the Department of Health, I remember being very struck when she said that most of her colleagues did not think it at all attractive to go up to York and visit the outstation of the department that was there. She was very happy to do so, because she could come to Saltaire at the same time.

I also remember an astonishing conversation on educational matters I had some weeks ago with a Minister. When I started in politics, the West Riding education authority was one of the best in the country. It did things that people in the rest of the country did not and experimented with new attitudes. Now I represent a music education charity of which I am a trustee. I went with the heads of our education programme. I found myself having an argument with the Minister about the detail of initial musical education in primary schools around the country. That is the extent of centralisation. It is also why the Department for Education is much bigger than it needed to be in the 1960s.

It is also, incidentally, why I am sceptical about the need for the restoration of regional offices of central government. If we have effective city government and regional government, we do not need central officials checking on them to ensure that they do the right thing and do not put the filter light in on the A6, or whatever it may be. I am not sure whether the UK Government need a large embassy in Edinburgh and Cardiff to keep watch on what they do. If we have effective city and regional government, they ought to be able to manage on their own. Whitehall officials can come up to visit them from time to time and learn how well they are doing.

The Heseltine model, which I on the whole approve of, is a regional revival through concentration on the cities as the hubs for regeneration. It is a far more substantial devolution than the Government have yet been willing to accept of infrastructure, skills education and training, land use, planning, industrial strategy et cetera, and partnership between political and private sector leadership.

I shall focus on some of the obstacles we face in reaching that excellent model. Let us recognise how much we have to change if we are to achieve that vision. First, there is finance, as several noble Lords have said. There is the depth of cuts in local finance and the shortage of resources. Local government in Bradford started with public sanitation in the early 1810s to 1820s. Last year, Bradford closed 42 of its 49 public toilets, so it is going out at the point where it started. It also involved the provision of clean water. That is of course privatised and mainly owned by Australian and Canadian pension funds. Yorkshire Water is now in trouble because it is releasing raw sewage into the wharf upstream from where people bathe.

We have lost our sense of control and some of our local private as well as public leadership. As I look around the Aire Valley, where I live, I am conscious that we have lost a lot of our small companies and that when new small companies develop—we had had two in Saltaire 15 years ago—they get taken over by multinationals. Salts Mill is now owned by an American multinational. That means that we do not have the local industrial or financial leadership that we need to help with the regeneration. The regional CBI and the regional Institute of Directors represent the regional branches of a large number of multinational firms. That is a problem.

It is also a real problem with banks and the financial sector. My father spent his career working for Barclays Bank dealing with funding for small companies and reporting to his local head office in a federal bank, as it was organised. Banks are now very much national and multinational and do not retain that link. We must rebuild a whole host of things that we have lost at the local or regional level. We are about to lose EU structural funds. Perhaps I could persuade the Minister to say a little about the shared prosperity fund, what he sees it doing and whether it will be entirely direct from Whitehall or whether the regions will have some say in how it is distributed. That is of real concern to the less prosperous regions of England. Perhaps we ought to begin to discuss whether financial equalisation across England is something that ought to be much more public and much more politically debated. When I look at Germany, I am struck by how Finanzausgleich is one of the things that is most bitterly argued between the different Länder—quite rightly, because the rich areas do not like transferring funds to the poorer, although it is one of the things that has to be done within a national community. Let us have that argument out in the open rather more. We have it on the Barnett formula; we do not have it for the English regions. As the noble Lord, Lord Horam, said, this is absolutely no time for tax cuts. What we need now is long-term investment.

I am not entirely sure that city regions are the answer and I am very struck that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle and others have suggested that larger regions may in some ways be what we need. In Yorkshire we are stuck in our devolution with the Government because, as the Minister will know, the majority of local authorities prefer a one Yorkshire model. The Minister for the northern powerhouse is trying to make us accept a three-city region model and a sort of rural powerhouse—whatever that means; he could not explain it—for north Yorkshire. A one Yorkshire model is preferred because our city regions overlap, the city boundaries are very difficult to draw and that is what suits the people in the region. I hope to hear a little more from the Minister about whether there may possibly be a little movement at some point on that, although perhaps it will not be until we have a new Government.

The damage to confidence in democracy that has been done over the past two generations, inflicted by repeated reorganisation of local government and increasing Whitehall interference, is a real problem that we face in this country. We need a new settlement, one that can be agreed between the parties and between successive Governments. Devolution to city-led regions is key, but is not enough on its own to restore confidence in democracy and close the gap between people in the provinces and our governing elite. We desperately need action to narrow the gap between the prosperous metropolis and the regions and cities outside the south-east.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, first, may I say how pleased I am to be able to respond to this debate on a motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine? I commend the work he has done in this report and also over many years to empower our great cities, support communities and enable them to face up to the challenges in our world. That is not to say that I agree with every word in the report; but, like my noble friend Lord Rooker, I say that it is an excellent report and an important contribution. There are many recommendations in the report that I fully agree with and would want to take further.

When he introduced the debate, the noble Lord talked about two cities. You could feel that you are living in two different worlds, but actually be living close by the other. In my own borough of Southwark, we have the very prosperous south of the borough, which is a wealthy and nice place to live in, and we now have a much more regenerated north of the borough. There are lots of tourists there and things have improved dramatically in the last 20 or 30 years. In other parts, though, in Walworth, Camberwell and Peckham, the borough is still struggling and there are all sorts of problems in terms of drugs, knife crime and housing. You really could be living in a different world in the same borough, so that was a very important point that he made.

I should also at this point declare that I am vice-president of the Local Government Association—my usual declaration that I make on the numerous times that I speak in this House. Among other things, I am a Londoner, as you can probably tell; but for many years I lived in Coventry, Leicester and Nottingham, so I know the east Midlands very well. It is a great place to live and needs to have power to be developed and to move forward. As the noble Lord said in his introduction, such places have to be able to compete in a world that is changing at a pace unprecedented in our history. Things are moving so fast now; new technologies arrive in our country, become obsolete and then something else moves in, whereas before, things used to never change. We need to address this bigger picture to ensure that our great cities and institutions are fit for purpose.

I have raised several times in the House the issue of the combined authorities. We seem to be creating a confused patchwork for local government, and for me that is not good. We need a sense of what is going on in each area and who is governing it. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, mentioned the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, and I am conscious of the number of different bodies that potentially can be involved in taxation and so on. Not too far away is Bedfordshire, which is a very different operation. We need to understand how places are governed. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, does not agree with me on that but it is my view, and the report gives some welcome structure to the combined authority model.

My noble friend Lord Beecham made a point about the sums of money made available by the Government to the combined authorities, and I agree that they are still quite small sums of money over 30 years or so. If any of the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, are to be taken up by the Government, much greater sums of money will have to be made available. If we contrast the money presently available with the money that has been lost to local government since 2010, we see that there is a huge gap.

I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell. If we want something to happen in a local area, it is not going to be delivered from behind a desk in Whitehall. The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, made a similar point when she called for further devolution. Local people have a much better understanding of the problems and challenges in their area. If they can get that job, they will do it well. The noble Lord, Lord Horam, said that we need people in charge, and one thing I have learned in my life is that if there are not people in charge to make decisions, you get drift; nothing happens, and there is a lack of focus and then failure. Having people in charge is very important.

Looking at the proposals in the report, I agree that reform of government and of Whitehall is a crucial first step. I like the idea of a department for the English regions, but it would involve significant restructuring and there must be reform as to how Parliament and elected MPs would relate to any new department with such a clear focus. Others might not, but I would welcome the return of the government regional offices; it is disappointing that they were abolished. I have no problem with the Boundary Commission looking at local authority boundaries and at what the authorities do.

The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, made a good point about how some of our cities work. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, made a fair point when he talked about city boundaries. I have served on a number of local authorities, including one with 59 Labour members, one Green and a Labour mayor—to be honest, that did not always make for the best government. It does not matter which party it is, we need people on councils to say when a budget is not very good and what should be done instead. If you do not have that, you need it, so we need to find a way for that to happen. I am not an advocate of PR, but in many towns and cities we now have one party dominant in the council chamber. That is not good. I do not know whether we can do anything about that, but we need to find a way of getting somebody else into the chamber—but I do not know how. There is an issue there.

Select Committees of both Houses have an important role to play, but as I said earlier, we need to think about how Members of the House of Commons engage with the governance of English regions. We might not like it, but the world did not come to an end with a Conservative Government in the UK, an SNP Government in Scotland and a Labour Government in Wales. Clearly, parties of different perspectives can work together and function. We need some broader thinking they are about where we are in England. My noble friend Lady Quin talked about what we do there as well.

There is also the point about bringing the heads of the combined authorities together with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. That would give a good focus, but if that happened, it should be expanded to some of our bigger cities, such as Nottingham, Derby or Leicester, where the mayor there, Sir Peter Soulsby, makes a big contribution. Getting them wired into the policy challenges and the policy solutions nationally would be a good thing to do.

I very much liked the idea of looking at what goes on in cities around the world. We can learn much from our partners abroad, and it is a very good thing to do. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, mentioned that. I was not so keen on his football analogy, though. As a Millwall supporter, we do not get any European football. Our trips are normally up to Birmingham to play Birmingham City, or perhaps to visit my noble friend Lord Beecham in Newcastle. Getting together and working with other cities is an important thing to do.

Greater Manchester, which in many ways is the most developed of all the combined authorities, is a very good example. As a noble Lord said in a previous debate, many of the authorities in Greater Manchester have changed control in recent years, but they still work together very well as a group. There is clearly maturity there. It is a really good model and other parts of our country can look at what goes on in Greater Manchester: even when political control changes, there are still the same problems and challenges, yet they work very well together. It is important that that happens.

I can see the logic of combined authority mayors taking over the roles of the police and crime commissioners. That would be a very good thing. Again, I am not convinced, and many other noble Lords were not, by the idea of transferring various services, such as affordable housing and schools, to the combined authority. I do not necessarily see the merit in that.

I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who spoke about housing. We have debated this many times. Housebuilding is in the hands of four or five developers. It does not always necessarily get us what we need. As my noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe said, partnership between local authorities, housing associations and builders could get the housing we need built. We need to build more social housing in this country. For all sorts of reasons, that would help all of us deal with the problems we have to face.

I agree with the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle about the northern powerhouse and the need to provide additional funding and support for the north of England. I am also conscious that we often debate transport. Try to get from Bradford to Manchester: it is impossible. That is really important to talk about as well, as there are important issues there.

My noble friend Lord Beecham made a welcome call for more funding and power for mayoral authorities to raise taxes and charges, including a tourist tax. I very much support the call from my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath in that respect regarding the Commonwealth Games. I also agree with his point about the NHS. Again, this is something where Greater Manchester is certainly ahead of the game.

Finally, I was a very young councillor in the 1980s in Southwark. It is fair to say that we were not that happy with the setting up of the London Docklands Development Corporation. It was not universally popular locally, but looking back it is fair to say that what the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, did there was absolutely right. Much good was done in the area. Significant regeneration happened and lots of money was brought into the area, with new housing, better transport, with the Docklands Light Railway, and a new financial sector in Canary Wharf. That might not have happened if he had not pushed those things forward. We are very grateful to him for that. In north Southwark, maybe William Shakespeare and Sam Wanamaker had a bit of a role in that too, but we were very lucky with what happened there and what he did. We are grateful for what he pursued there.

I am also really pleased, because the early 1980s were a difficult time for local government: there was a great fracture between central and local government. For all our difficulties, local and national government have a much better relationship nowadays, and we should all welcome that.

In conclusion, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, for bringing this Motion to Grand Committee today. It has been an excellent debate. He started off by mentioning Brexit, so I will finish on it as well. I agree entirely with his remarks on Brexit. I had the privilege of being in Parliament Square when he addressed the People’s Vote rally. I believed every single word he said then, as I do today.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I thank noble Lords immensely for what has been an excellent debate. Most importantly, I thank my noble friend Lord Heseltine for bringing this forward and for a thought-provoking report with excellent ideas—making this a full house of compliments from every single speaker, which is a rare event in any debate—and for a first-class introduction to this debate.

I do not necessarily always agree with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, but I do on the point about my noble friend’s lasting contribution to British life and the impact he has made. It is singularly rare for somebody to make the sort of impact across the board that he has made in British life, both at the Board of Trade and in the massive impact he has made on regional policy, particularly during his time in Liverpool. I had the privilege of being in Liverpool about three weeks ago, in Berry Street in Toxteth—it is not necessarily an area where people would always vote Conservative, but my noble friend is held in massive affection there, as he is throughout that great city.

As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, just said, his contribution to the Docklands area of London is immense. In Wales, I remember the opening of the National Botanic Garden in Llanarthney, which my noble friend did so much to help with. He was there with Lady Heseltine on that occasion. In terms of lasting contributions, the same is true in Wales.

Turning to the debate, I will make some general points and then try to go through and pick up on the contributions made by noble Lords. I should say in advance that I will make sure that a record of this debate is sent to all relevant government departments, because there is a great danger of silo thinking here. This is not just about the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Probably every single government department needs to see this debate, not least the Treasury. If I miss any points in replying to the debate or run out of time I will make sure that all the points that have been raised are answered in correspondence.

There have clearly been differences over some issues in the excellent contributions—whether people are in favour of having a department of the regions or of having regional offices. There has not necessarily been uniformity on that issue. Where there has been complete agreement is that this is unfinished business in England. I happen to think that responsibility should lie with a metro mayor; not everybody does, but everybody accepts that there has to be somebody there. There has to be accountability for this to move forward. I believe strongly in having someone at the helm, such as Andy Burnham. He is politically different from me, but I do not think one could argue that he has not made a good fist of carrying things forward for Manchester. He is there at the helm, and that is important. The same is true of Andy Street in the West Midlands. I happen to believe that that is important, and so do the Government.

There is also the importance of localism, trusting people locally with things that should be decided locally. As I go around the country—this morning I was in Oakham and then Peterborough; as I have said, I have been in Liverpool, Leeds, Bradford, Manchester and Cornwall within the last month—what consistently comes across is that people want that sense of belonging to something and being able to help decide things locally. The most responsive way of doing that in most cases—clearly some decisions have to be made at a different level to the most local—is having people doing it locally. That sense of localism is important.

I also believe that we cannot go for a rigid blueprint. We have heard very different stories from different communities, partly because of their size and partly because of the nature of where they are in the country. A town of 50,000 people just outside London is very different to a town of 50,000 people in Cumbria or Northumberland; their needs will be very different.

We are at a pivotal point for the country, with a new Prime Minister and a new Government, and clearly there are decisions to be made—the in-tray will be substantial. I agree with a sentiment that has come across that because of Brexit, whatever view one takes of it, our eyes have been taken off the ball as a country, and probably as a Government, on all sorts of decisions that need resolution. Again, there is a very real sense of that up and down the country when one visits communities, whether people are for remain or for Brexit. There are things that they say the Government and Parliament should be getting on with. There is a sense of alienation—that might be too strong a word, but there is certainly a sense that, as a Parliament, we are perhaps losing the plot. This is something that a new Government must grapple with.

I will turn to individual contributions and once again thank noble Lords for a very wide-ranging debate. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, spoke of Cornwall, with which he has a close connection and expertise. As he well knows, we have a devolution deal in place for Cornwall. It is the one area in England where we have a devolution deal where there is not a metro mayor. I agree with the noble Lord that there are issues relating to Cornwall that are very different from other parts of the country—I had better not say other parts of England because one thing that much of Cornwall is united on is that it is not part of England. There are issues of language and culture; I was down there last week and understand very well their importance. It is very different from metropolitan Britain, and we must not forget those important distinctions.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, reminded us quite rightly that this is not just about the money; it certainly is about the money, but that is not the only point of regional policy. I very much agree with that and the point he made about levering in private sector funding—a point also made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. I also agree with the noble Lord on Richard III, but that is perhaps by the way; we can discuss that at leisure at some other time.

The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, spoke of nostalgia and welcomed by and large the report and the sense of direction from it. He had some doubt about a department for the regions but agreed with the main thrust of what my noble friend Lord Heseltine says in his report.

My noble friend Lord Hodgson spoke with great authority from different perspectives—from the committee perspective, from being MP for Walsall North and from his commercial experience. That was extremely useful. He referred again to the need to belong and the sense of alienation, which I think was referred to as well by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. There is a great danger of alienation, not just from Brussels. Perhaps alienation is too strong a word, but there is a turning away from London and wanting things to be done more locally and pride in the local area. That is something we need to be aware of, as well as the sense of two nations. We need to be wary, as we always have been, as a party and as a country, of the danger of the two nations to which Disraeli referred in Sybil; we do not want that in any shape or form.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, whom I thank very much for her contribution and her expertise from the National Housing Federation, asked whether we were going to be doing things more deeply and more widely. To deal first with the “more deeply”, it is very much unfinished business as far as the metropolitan areas are concerned. If they want to come forward with proposals for further devolution, we are very open to that. Touching on the issue of police and crime commissioners, that too could be brought forward by the areas that already have devolution. There is, of course, one example other than London where we have a police and crime commissioner who is also the metro mayor: Manchester. The issue of coterminosity of boundaries would need to be looked at in that connection, but that is certainly a point.

As for the “more widely”, certainly there is unfinished business, as we have heard quite rightly from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, on Yorkshire. There is unfinished business in South Yorkshire, where, having had authorities sign up to the agreement, we have not got all of them over the threshold to carry things forward. That has caused frustration across parties. We have been doing what we can, and we will still do that across parties to try to achieve that. In Tyneside as well, we have heard that there is unfinished business. I think we all would want to end what is a patent absurdity of devolution north of the Tyne but largely not south of the Tyne, except for transport.

The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, referred to the great things achieved in Gateshead, which is absolutely true, including the Sage, the BALTIC and the bridge. However, for them to be part of the agreement with Newcastle must follow, as night follows day; it is crazy for one part of the Newcastle area to be devolved and not the other part.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said that this was not to detract from London, but that the aim must be to bring economic development elsewhere—although that is not the only aim of what we seek to do. However, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for saying that he then seemed to round on Oxford and Cambridge. Following on from what my noble friend Lord Lansley said, by the same token, they are not seeking money and this is an area of growth that helps the whole country. The aim must be to help all areas flourish, and that is what we are seeking to do.

The noble Lord raised the question of the northern powerhouse. The north in general is benefitting from £3.4 billion of investment going to locally determined projects, and specifically £337 million going to transport in the metro area of Newcastle, an area that includes places south of the Tyne. Government money does find its way to the north, but I understand that people will want to argue the case for their own area.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle for her positive and powerful contribution, as always, on behalf of her area and more generally. She cautioned against the creation of two nations and alienation, which is absolutely right.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley for his point about the chambers of commerce. I will take that away and underline it with BEIS. It is a very important point in carrying this forward. We must note the concrete examples he gave from Birmingham of the NEC, the airport and so on. I thank him for that. He also talked about the nature of Cambridge, the most prosperous city in Europe, which is something that should benefit the whole country.

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was very supportive of the report and referred to the transformation of Liverpool. He said quite correctly that Whitehall finds devolution difficult, which I know about from the Welsh perspective. It has got better in relation to Wales—much better—but there is still work to be done. I recognise what the noble Lord said.

I neglected to mention earlier the Select Committee, which I think is a good idea. Whether it is in the shape of a Joint Committee or not is above my pay grade and expertise, but it is an idea worth pushing.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others referred to the tourist tax. From going to Europe, we are all familiar with the bill at breakfast time for the tourist tax. We all pay it very willingly, and so it seems like a good idea. I had better be careful in going any further than that, except to say that we will forward the idea and the comments made to the Treasury.

Recently, I was in Birmingham for Windrush events, and was taken to an event in support of the Commonwealth Games. There is a growing enthusiasm, as there was in London, but I agree that it needs financial underpinning. Presumably the Treasury will be aware of that and will want to make sure that it is at least as great a success as the Olympic Games in London in 2012.

The noble Baroness, Lady Janke, spoke from her experience in Bristol and talked about the great European cities. The politicians on the continent who have come forward from being mayor are notable, including Jacques Chirac and Sarkozy, Matteo Renzi in Florence and, a generation previously, Willy Brandt in Berlin. There is a much closer link there, whereas here we have previously been able to offer only Joe Chamberlain. I suspect that that is about to change next week when it comes to mayors who have gone on to other things.

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, asked about the borrowing cap. I will give him more details in a letter, if I may, but work is progressing on that, with examples in Brighton and Hove and in Stoke. It is beginning to happen, but it is early days; I will enlarge on that in a letter. He referred also to the general position on constitutional reform, for which a case could certainly be made. He also asked about the issue of mayors and police and crime commissioners, which I think I have covered.

My noble friend Lord Inglewood also talked about the great European cities and the global nature of London. Many people referred to the growing imbalance in Britain and the centralisation. It is true of France, to some extent, but it is possibly greater in Britain. Part of that is just because of the global nature of London, which it would be very difficult to do anything about even if we wanted to. We do need to encourage the provincial dynamism that he spoke about; it was a point very well made.

My noble friend Lord Haselhurst, with his great experience of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Birmingham and, more recently, Saffron Walden and north Essex, recognised how valuable it is to seek to ensure that we get a rebalancing within the country and have local power going to our great cities and, indeed, beyond, throughout England.

The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, spoke powerfully about what is going on in Gateshead, as did my noble friend Lord Horam. In terms of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, where she does so much, she recognised that the current structure does not make sense. Anything that we are able to do in a pragmatic way to make it work more effectively would be really welcomed.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, who has roots in Liverpool, referred powerfully to the situation in Toxteth and how that was turned round, so that now one goes to Liverpool and there is a great sense of pride about the Albert Dock, the cathedrals and Toxteth. It has changed massively and, although there are still challenges, it is very different from how it was previously.

The noble Lord, Lord Butler, gave a great welcome to the report. He talked about putting someone in charge, which is a theme that came across and with which many agree. He had doubts about a department for the regions and talked about the dangers of silo thinking, which I think we all recognise. He also talked about the focus on Brexit, which has meant that we have not paid attention to other things, and indicated that there is a “fertile field for enthusiasm”. That is a message to carry forward and I thank him very much.

My noble friend Lady Eaton talked about councils being best placed to deliver for local people. Again, that theme came through.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, perhaps gave this more of a Brexit spin. I am not sure that I agree with him totally that Brexit is an English crisis. For example, Wales voted almost the same way as England. That is not something I am happy with, but it is a fact of life, so it is a little bit wider than that.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, talked about the energy of my noble friend Lord Heseltine and how he brought this issue to bear, which has been a mission for him through the years—and thank goodness for that. He had some very valid points about traffic situations. Again, I recognise that from Wales, where if you wanted to get a speed limit changed in a village you had to wait for an accident and pray that there was not going to be too serious an accident before you could do it. That has all changed and is very much better.

My noble friend Lord Horam talked about his experience from Preston, Gateshead and, more recently, Orpington, and the importance of putting someone in charge and having drive at the centre.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, welcomed what we are seeking to do and, though not necessarily agreeing with all that was in the report, talked about the importance of a new financial settlement. I agree with that. Clearly, it is going to be a matter for a spending review and the new Government, but these things will come with a price tag. It is not just about the money, but money will be needed for much of this. I have dealt with the point on the Commonwealth Games and the tourist tax.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made valid points, some of which we have been dealing with in the public lavatories legislation, such as the position in Saltaire and Bradford. He talked about how we need to break the logjam in Yorkshire, not least because the area he represents and is from is unrepresented by a metro mayor—my personal view is that that is not a desirable situation—and an impasse exists in South Yorkshire. He asked about the shared prosperity fund. I fear this is the usual line, but there is no change on it; it will be a matter for the spending review. It will obviously take into account the interests of different parts of the country and seek to ensure that those which most need the shared prosperity fund—perhaps those which previously benefited from cohesion funding—will continue to receive benefits.

Lastly, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for the points he raised. I agree with much, but not all, of what he said. As usual, he made some very good points. He spoke about the transformative changes brought about in Docklands in London, which is absolutely true. I should perhaps say in parenthesis that, in Wales, something similar happened with the Cardiff Bay development, which Nicholas Edwards, the late Lord Crickhowell, took forward. The docklands in Cardiff is a larger area than the docklands in London, but the project has been similarly transformative.

With that, I thank noble Lords very much. I will write to answer points of detail that I have missed, but I once again thank my noble friend Lord Heseltine for ensuring that we have had such a great debate. This must be a rare occasion on which there are probably more people in the Moses Room than in the Chamber of the House. That is another tribute to him.

Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2019

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Monday 15th July 2019

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Baroness Thornhill Portrait Baroness Thornhill (LD) - Hansard

I thank the Minister for that concise and informative introduction. We understand the technical purpose of the SI, and particularly appreciate the need for local authorities to be able to recoup their costs. The uplift of 20% that he mentioned was certainly welcomed, although he is probably as aware as I am that there is still a gap.

Evidence shows that more and more people extend their homes rather than move, so an increasing number of prior approvals are being sought. Therefore, the ability to charge for that will be welcomed. I know from personal experience that there is a reasonable amount of work involved, the more so in larger extensions. Those usually involve conflict with the next-door neighbour, who of course has no means of stopping the development because these are permitted developments. Despite that, councillors and officers get drawn in and it all takes time. I am curious about how the nationally set cost of £96 has been arrived at, alongside other fees. Perhaps the Minister could point me in the right direction for an explanation.

As the Minister said, councils need well-resourced planning departments to deliver the Government’s ambitious housing agenda; on that we agree. There is also a national shortage of planning officers, and the cost of living in different parts of the country differs considerably and means that councils struggle to recruit or have to pay higher salaries if they are to function. Yet these fees are nationally set, so from Land’s End to John O’Groats they are the same. Are there any plans to allow a fair and transparent scheme to give councils flexibility to set appropriate fees that might reflect local circumstances?

Permitted development rights in general are being extended, the latest being, as the Minister said, in May this year, despite some serious opposition from organisations such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Town and Country Planning Association and others that have genuinely well-documented concern that in the Government’s legitimate desire to increase the number of homes, which we would absolutely agree with, issues such as quality and sustainability are being totally neglected, and that the most recent liberalisation of permitted development on the high street could be a blessing or a curse depending on local circumstances. Councils’ only recourse is to apply for an Article 4 direction to remove that automatic right. I know from personal experience of how difficult it was to get an Article 4 direction placed on our premier office headquarters area that this is neither speedy nor simple. We succeeded, but it was an expensive, tough battle. Do the Government keep records of the number of councils that apply for an Article 4 direction and how many are actually granted? The Minister mentioned other reviews; are there any plans to review the impact, good or bad, of the extended permitted development rights, particularly on quality and sustainability?

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I draw the Committee’s attention to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. As noble Lords have heard, these regulations will remove the sunset clause to enable fees to be charged beyond the date the noble Lord referred to and introduce an additional £96 fee for prior approval applications for larger new extensions.

As far as they go, I am very happy to support the regulations. The increases in fees in recent times have generally been welcome, but it is still fair to say that planning departments are still being subsidised by the local council tax payer. We should try to eliminate that over a period of time. I agree very much with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, who asked how the £96 fee was arrived at. It would be good to hear that from the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, because it is a fair point that there are different associated costs across the country. How was this one figure reached? I look forward to hearing that.

I have mentioned many times during these debates that the Government often want to try new things out, such as new pilot schemes. I have asked many times: why can we not find just one volunteer authority to look at full cost recovery of planning fees? Surely we can find just one council in England to do that for us to see whether full cost recovery would work. It might not, and the pilot might show that that is the case, but I cannot see why we cannot find just one council somewhere in England to pilot full cost recovery on planning fees for the Government to see what effect it has. We hear lots of stuff about planning, most of it a load of old nonsense about how planning committees and planning departments are holding up all this housebuilding. It is absolutely rubbish. Was it 300,000 applications without a brick being laid? I know that the noble Lord did not say that, but we read this rubbish all over the place. I do not see why we cannot look at full cost recovery and at how it is not the planning regime, the council or the planning committees holding up housebuilding.

Having said that, I have no objection at all to the regulations. I am very happy to approve them and I look forward to the noble Lord’s response to the few points that I and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, have raised.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for their contributions on the issue of planning fees. I seek to deal with their points in the order they were raised.

I thank the noble Baroness for her general welcome of the 20% increase, which has certainly made a difference to the running of planning departments up and down the country. She rightly referred to the use of prior approval for larger, single-storey, rear-of-house extensions. In the two years up to March 2019 there were just over 52,900 prior approval applications for such extensions of which 81% proceeded. That indicates the importance of the £96 cost.

Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord asked how that cost was arrived at. I referred to the fact that some applications already attracted it. I will not go through the whole list as it is quite long, but I will give a sample and ensure that I send the full list to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. Here are some examples: the erection of an agricultural building; the method of demolition of a building; development consisting of the erection or construction of a click-and-collect facility within the curtilage of a shop; the temporary use of buildings or land and the associated temporary structures for the purpose of commercial filmmaking; the installation, alteration or replacement of solar photovoltaic equipment on the roofs of non-domestic buildings; the change in use of buildings or land from offices in class B1(a)—the list goes on. I accept that the question of how the figure of £96 was arrived at remains but I hope that the fact that it is the consistent amount charged for so many different applications is helpful for the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. I will ensure that it is assessed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, asked about the quality of developments. As I indicated, permitted development rights are delivering additional, much-needed new homes. Of course, all homes are required to meet building regulations right across the board, including in respect of fire safety. We expect all homes to be of good quality, but we are aware of concerns raised about certain developments. That is why we announced in the Spring Statement that we will review permitted development rights for the conversion of buildings to residential use in respect of the quality standards for homes delivered. I think that the noble Baroness made that point relating to Article 4, but I will pick up on it in more detail in a letter; I thank her for what she said.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord both raised the issue of additional fees. The accelerated planning Green Paper will be issued later this year and will look at some of the issues that were touched on. For example, it could cover the point made quite fairly by the noble Lord about a pilot for full cost recovery, although let us wait to see to what extent; there will certainly be an opportunity to look at that matter.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his support. I agree that it is important that we get this right and fund planning departments appropriately; they should be funded by planning applications fees, not cross-subsidy, unless that is what councils want, perhaps in addition to putting in extra staff. That remains a possibility but, in principle, we expect the fees to pay for planning departments. I anticipate that the accelerated planning Green Paper, which will be out later this year, will look at that issue.

Once again, I would be grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord if they would allow me to pick up on their points of detail in correspondence.

Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill [HL]

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Wednesday 10th July 2019

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire - Hansard

My Lords, perhaps it would help to explain why I find myself far away from my professional expertise in foreign policy in talking about public toilets.

The history of Saltaire is very much built on public sanitation and improvement. Titus Salt was mayor of Bradford and one of a group of Liberals and Congregationalists very much concerned about public improvement in a town which, like others in West Yorkshire, had endemic typhoid and typhus in the 1830s and 1840s, and several cholera epidemics. He moved his entire works out to Airedale and built a model village with outside toilets and back alleys wide enough to be regularly emptied, which, in those days, was state of the art in public sanitation. So, Saltaire and sanitation are very closely linked together.

We are now, as the noble Lord will know, a world heritage site and a regular destination for busloads of tourists—either schoolchildren or the moderately elderly—and, as they get off the bus, the first thing they ask is: where are the toilets? The answer is: they are closed. They were closed last year by the city of Bradford and I do not entirely blame it, given the intense pressure on resources it has faced, but I recall the chief executive of Bradford Council saying to my wife a year ago, “The tourists will have to use the local shops”. Of course, we are heritage-listed, and these 19th-century shops did not originally have indoor toilets and have steps up to the front entrance. Those that have now installed indoor toilets have them either in the basement, down a steep staircase—in our house, the staircase down to the basement is very steep—or on the first floor, so they do not help visitors who may be disabled.

The Bill’s provisions would have helped by reducing the estimated costs of maintenance and keeping open our local toilets from around £12,000 to around £6,000 or £7,000, but we do not have a local town or parish council at the moment, so we do not have the resources to do it, unlike Bradford’s other two tourist destinations —Haworth and Ilkley—where the cost and burden has been transferred from the metropolitan council down to the local town or parish. Given how stuck the metropolitan council is for resources, it would say that there is a certain justice—the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, will no doubt agree—in that these are moderately more prosperous areas, so they can damn well do it themselves.

However, we are left with real difficulties. The Minister said in introducing the Bill that this promise was made four years ago and we have been waiting for it ever since. It was put off by the 2017 election, but at least now it is coming through. But behind this are much wider issues of public policy: the provision of public services and what public services ought to be provided; whether they ought to be provided by local or central government; the future of local government and the provision of public space and public services; and how local government resources will be sustained.

I am very conscious, from other work I have been doing on attacks on the Civil Service and the whole question of the public interest, that there are those on the right of the Conservative Party who are libertarians, free marketeers and followers of Ayn Rand. I was slightly unnerved the other month when I read that Sajid Javid regards Ayn Rand as the most important philosopher he has read. These are people who believe that government as such is something to be shrunk as far as possible; that private is better than public; and that the individual should be able to do what they want, while those who cannot cope should be left behind. I recognise that both Ministers on the Front Bench at present are not of that persuasion. Indeed, as good one-nation Conservatives they in turn will recognise, at least to themselves, that that is not at the moment the dominant strain within their own party.

There are questions behind this measure about the whole system of local taxation, and the balance between charity law and non-charitable activities provided as public services. I note that in both cases, the rating system and charity law go back to the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and still reflect in some ways the assumptions of that period. For example, I note that private hospitals are charities and thus have an 80% rate reduction, whereas the NHS pays a substantial amount in non-domestic rates. There is currently a case in the High Court in which NHS trusts could be relieved of some £2.35 billion, if they win the case.

I am also conscious that public libraries pay substantial rates; for example, my noble friend Lady Pinnock tells me that Cleckheaton library pays £50,000 a year in non-domestic rates. I note that independent schools receive 80% tax relief on this but that state schools pay full non-domestic rates, and that the Scottish Government have committed to removing relief for most independent schools from next year. A set of large issues lie behind this mouse of a Bill.

I note that it has become more complicated in recent years with the introduction of relief for public houses, which are entitled to a £1,000 discount on their business rates from 2017 to 2019, while local newspapers have been getting a £1,500 discount on their office space for three years since 2017. The Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Act 2018 provides 100% business rates relief for five years on new fibre infrastructure. This is a mess and needs fundamental reform. If we had a Government who were not as exhausted and internally divided as this Government are, perhaps they would also be addressing that large question in the context of how we provide the resources for decent, democratic local government.

This is a mouse of a Bill and, as such, I give it a very small welcome. It tackles one small corner of a very important area of public policy, which includes: the provision and financing of public services; the sustaining of public space and decent government; the public provision of basic facilities for citizens of this country; and the future of local government. When it comes to Committee, we will certainly want to test the provision of public toilets in other public buildings and whether they should also be within the scope of the Bill. I mean those within libraries, market halls and the sort of places my noble friend spoke about. However, we note that this is a tightly drawn Bill and that it will not be entirely easy to amend. We recognise that some of these wider issues cannot be addressed in this context and that we will have to raise them in wider circles than this.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, first I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Secondly, I am very happy to support the principle behind this Bill, and the Bill itself, as far as it goes, although, like the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, I might want to explore options for improving it in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, set out what the Bill will achieve, and I will simply say that it clearly seeks to provide 100% mandatory business rate relief.

The closure of public toilets, over many years, is a matter of concern for the general population, particularly those with specific needs—they could be medical needs but are not exclusively so. The lives of an increasing number of people are affected by the state of Britain’s public toilets, such as people with disabilities, or their carers, the infirm, the elderly, or people with babies and young children. People of all ages—as I said earlier—are coping with a range of medical conditions and not finding adequate provision when they are out and about.

We need to be conscious of the ageing profile of our population. We travel more within the country than we used to. Furthermore, Britain welcomes many millions of tourists, and while that is something we want to increase, it adds further pressure on our existing facilities. These sometimes do not give the best impression, for example when you visit a tourist area and find the facilities are non-existent or in a not particularly good state. I was pleased with the progress that has been made—I think this was raised earlier—in making all the toilets at mainline stations free. That is not quite what we have yet but there has certainly been progress.

We should all be concerned about public health, hygiene and environmental standards in respect of toilet facilities. I agree very much with the British Toilets Association and its campaign to improve these essential facilities. If this measure helps—as I am sure it will—I very much welcome it.

Will the Minister, set out how this measure will increase the provision of facilities for women and for particular user groups such as wheelchair users, the elderly and people with young children and families who have medical conditions? The way in which the Bill is designed does not do that: there is a blanket exemption. Perhaps we should explore in Committee what we can do. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, made a powerful case highlighting the needs of disabled people. What problem would there be in saying that investing in more facilities for disabled people, young children and families, should attract double relief? What is the issue there? That would be a way of encouraging provision for disabled people, for example. These things need to be looked at in Committee.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, made a very good point about lavatories in libraries, town halls and other public sites. I accept the point about hereditaments, but we should explore whether we could do something in that regard, because these are important facilities. Another issue is better security provisions—ensuring that these facilities are safe and secure.

The noble Lord—again, as a sort of aside—referred to the Can’t Wait card. That is a very good initiative; it is disappointing to pass places with signs telling you that you are not welcome if you want to use the toilet, and that you need to go somewhere else. That is not a friendly way of operating.

I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I know the area a little—though not as well as he does—and the problem that he describes. I was in Stratford-upon-Avon at the weekend and I tried to find a public toilet. I found the sign indicating the public toilets but could not find them. In the end I went into the theatre and used the facilities there. I could not find the public toilets, yet the place is teeming with tourists; there are coaches and people going up and down the road. It seemed to me that people were operating on the basis that people will use the facilities at coffee-shops, pubs and restaurants. That did not seem to be a particularly good way to operate.

I support the Bill: I will certainly think about tabling some amendments in Committee, perhaps along the lines we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. We may be able to improve the Bill, narrow in scope as it is.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate on this important Bill. I do not accept for a minute that it is a small, unimportant Bill. It is a short Bill, certainly, but I think it has significance, so I do not understand the reference to it being a mouse of a Bill. It will take a substantial amount of public spending to help keep public lavatories open.

Let me deal with the various points made by noble Lords who participated and who gave a warm welcome to the principle of the Bill. I say in passing that this goes further than the provision in the Bill of 2017 that fell with the general election, in that it is mandatory. Secondly, there was a promise by the Chancellor in the Budget Statement 2018 that we would do this in relation to self-standing public lavatories. The reason we have not gone beyond that is one of cost and resource. I am happy to engage with noble Lords before Committee to go through that. It is not just a question of the relief itself, but the fact that we have to assess all these different properties to assess what would be the stand-alone cost of the public lavatory, and that is a massive undertaking which would be costly and time-consuming. I am conscious of the fact that there may be some urgency in relation to this measure—not just doing it quickly because it is desirable, but in terms of the days in which we live and the desirability of getting this legislation through.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, very much for her general welcome. She mentioned Cornwall. I was in Cornwall last Thursday, Friday and Saturday and because I knew this was coming I had the opportunity to discuss it with people in museums, particularly in Helston. I remember stopping there to find six public lavatories in a fairly small town—admittedly with tourist visitors. Cornwall is not an incredibly wealthy area, yet they had six public lavatories. They welcomed this because it will help some, if not all, of the public lavatories, which I think would be separately accessed. So I do not quite recognise the picture the noble Baroness was painting of Cornwall. I was variously in Redruth, Truro, Falmouth, Helston and Saltash, where the provision seemed to me perfectly adequate and probably beyond adequate, so far as I could see. Certainly, all those communities are far smaller than Kirklees.

I am not totally familiar with the position in Huddersfield, but I believe there are shopping centres, where there is presumably provision of lavatories. They are valued, in so far as shopping centres are concerned. There are technical reasons for this, but the rate that attaches to the public lavatory is very low because it is factored in with the shops in the shopping centre. I assume that that is the case. I do not know the position at Huddersfield railway station, although it is not so long since I was there because it has one of the most marvellous facades in the country.

We have to recognise that we are living in a different world. For example, I referred to the ability to check on a mobile phone where the nearest lavatory is. I do not know whether the noble Lord tried this when he was finding difficulties in Stratford-upon-Avon, but it is well worth doing. Yes, I think we need to publicise it far more than we do, but it is a very easy way of finding the nearest lavatory, wherever one happens to be in the country. There are many more shopping centres than there used to be, and many more coffee bars. I am not saying that that is the sum total of where we need to be, but it is a changing world. That was not the world we were in even 10 years ago—certainly not 20 years ago. We need to recognise that circumstances change. As I say, the principal reasons we are not going further than we are—and this has an annual cost of £6 million—are the cost and resourcing, particularly in getting it done quickly.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, very much indeed for his contribution. His experience here, his knowledge of the complicated situation and of where we are, is welcome. I was very interested in the legal tourism possibilities, and noted down that the lavatories at Westminster could perhaps be a stop-off point between Sayers v Harlow Urban District Council, which I think was a case of false imprisonment in a public lavatory, and Hightrees House in Clapham, which had nothing to do with lavatories but was a significant case. Some very interesting possibilities of legal tourism open up which we could perhaps engage in on another occasion. The noble and learned Lord made the point about rail stations, airports, shopping centres and so on; the challenge of extending it is an economic one.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, a doughty campaigner for the rights of disabled people, for her contribution. I will very happily make officials available to talk through the consultation we are currently holding. I extend that offer to other noble Lords who may want come along and talk to officials; I hope that they will participate in our consultation on changing places and toilet provision. I note, as I said in opening, that this rating relief will of course allow the reopening of lavatories—or, indeed, the building of completely new lavatories if they are self-standing—to attract the rating relief. I know that some councils have closed the buildings where there are stand-alone lavatories, and they remain boarded up. That may well be a possibility. I can also think of councils up and down the country whose reason for closures has not necessarily been just about the cost. Often, as noble Lords will appreciate and agree, it has been about drug use and other factors. That also needs to be said.

Perhaps implicit in what noble Lords have said—in fairness, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, who is always fair, said this too—is that this did not just happen overnight. I took down what he said; I think he said it has happened “over many years”. That is indeed true. This did not suddenly happen when we got a Conservative Government in 2015. I do not have figures, but, in so far as I have been able to get some figures about closures, this has been happening for a long time, so it does not stand up that this has been brought about by the suggestion of Gradgrinds in 2015. That is not remotely the case.

I will happily look at the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, of the audit of accessible facilities. I do not know how easy that will be to do, but, when we discuss this with officials, we can look at it if that would be helpful.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, very much indeed. He is always quite rightly fighting for his community and the legacy of Titus Salt. I think that Salts Mill and the Hockney Museum are free entry and open seven days a week, and that the lavatories there are essentially open to the public.

Homes for Social Rent

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Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, I know better than to try to stop the noble Lord doing just that. I am keen to associate myself with that during what, as he rightly says, is Rural Housing Week. We do this already, although I recognise the challenges, having represented a deeply rural area. We do already have rural exceptions and provide weighting for housing developments because of the small and medium-sized enterprises prevalent in rural areas. The noble Lord is absolutely right: we need to do more.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests in the register. Does the Minister support an increase in the number of co-operative housing schemes? If so, what support do he and his department give to local authorities and others to increase the number of schemes year on year?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, I know the noble Lord is very wedded to this and I am certainly happy to look at it. If he has specific schemes that he wants me to look at, I will very gladly do that with him. We have to be much more open-minded and diverse in forms of supply across the board. Certainly, the Co-operative movement and co-operative housing have a lot to offer in this regard.

Non-Domestic Rating (Preparation for Digital Services) Bill

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Tuesday 11th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) - Hansard

My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my interests as listed in the register: as a councillor in Kirklees and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

The Bill brings forward a sensible proposal: to examine the potential for business rates, currently managed by local authority systems, to move to HMRC digital tax accounts so that businesses can manage their tax liabilities in one place. This is likely to particularly benefit larger businesses with premises in different local authorities. The Bill states, as the absolute minimum, that the purpose is simply to enable such an investigation to occur. However, the lack of detail leads to concerns and questions about changes that might result from any implementation. I have some questions for the Minister, which he might or might not be able to answer, but I assure him that they are not of the expert variety just demonstrated by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. Mine are far more prosaic.

First, is it the Government’s intention that businesses, local government and HMRC will work as a partnership of equals in the project? I emphasise the idea of a partnership of equals, partly because of the obvious background to this: HMRC has experience in tax collecting, while local authorities have knowledge and experience as the long-standing billing authorities for business rates. Businesses of all sorts—one-person businesses as well as big corporations—should be able to take part in this and contribute to the project; otherwise, it will be doomed to failure.

Secondly, is it the intention that local authorities retain responsibility as billing authorities? This is something that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has already asked, but I emphasise that it is one of my concerns as well. I believe it is crucial that they do retain this responsibility as local government is increasingly reliant on business rate income to fund local services. The consequence of this project may well be that the link between businesses and the local authority to which they pay their business rates is broken. That would be unfortunate, as the existing direct link means that businesses are able to have a considerable influence in local government spending in their area, and vice versa: local government can aid businesses that have temporary problems of cash flow or whatever. If that direct link is broken, it would be detrimental both to business and to the local authority.

Having made these brief remarks, I reiterate our general support for the Bill.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I make my usual declaration of my relevant interest a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I am very happy to support this two-clause Bill and the general principle of the digitisation of tax payments and services, making them simpler for businesses and individuals. Making things easier for business is to be welcomed, and I know that this is paving legislation, but perhaps the Minister could confirm the intention behind it. Can he confirm that nothing in the Bill will change the role of local authorities as a billing authority? I think it is quite important to get that on the record.

Again, I accept that this is paving, but we have to be clear about the principle. When this is finally resolved, we must have an efficient process of transfer of payments from HMRC to local authorities. I would not want to see us here in a couple of years’ time discussing a situation where local authorities are worse off because the system in place has made things more difficult for them. I am also conscious that what local authorities call for can imply a whole range of discounts and amendments to the system. We need to make sure when we design the system that all this is taken into account.

I did have two or three questions for the Minister, but he answered them all in his introduction. I was very happy with the answers in his initial speech, so I have no questions at all for the Minister. I am so grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, who demonstrated the importance of expertise in this House. I am confident that there will not have been that level of scrutiny in the other place. A number of points raised by the noble Earl were very valuable; I am sure the Minister will respond to those. When further Bills come to us to implement all this in more detail, I am sure that the noble Earl’s expertise will be valuable once again. If we are going to make these changes, we have to get them right; this will involve computers, IT and digital, and we always worry about that, about what we are designing. We need to make these things better and more efficient for business and for local government. But, in principle, I fully support the Bill.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in this debate. I am most grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. I understand the concerns that they have raised. I sought in my opening remarks to provide the reassurance that this is simply paving legislation to enable HMRC to explore options and to firm up a proposal that will then have to come back to us. Further legislation will be needed to implement the new digital system and it is perhaps then that the detailed scrutiny that we have been touching on will become appropriate.

I will ensure that the noble Earl gets a detailed response to the questions he has asked, both today and when he wrote to me. I had prepared answers, but when I first saw the speakers’ list I do not think he was on it, so I was reassured and did not prepare my speech on the basis of answering some of his questions. However, I will ensure that he gets a detailed response to his very good points.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for her support. To reiterate her point, this is enabling legislation. It is important that we involve all the stakeholders in looking at the possible options before we come back with the design that will then be voted on.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, very much. It is not often that I show that degree of prescience and foresight, but clearly something was working when I was developing the speech earlier. Again, I reassure him that we will ensure that a detailed proposal comes forward after being honed by HMRC. It is important not to put HMRC in the dock here; this is something that business has been asking us to look at because it wants to remove some of these administrative burdens. Businesses—representative as they are of individuals, as the noble Earl said—have asked us to do this. HMRC is responding to that call and we will look at its proposals in detail. I am most grateful for the comments made and I commend the Bill to the House.

Grenfell Response

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Monday 10th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, with the permission of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on the Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire. I am also writing to the chair of the Select Committee to provide a formal report on progress, a copy of which will be placed in the Library of the House. But before I begin, I would like to take a moment to thank all those who responded to the serious fire in Barking, east London, yesterday afternoon. The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham provided emergency accommodation for those residents who needed it, and we will continue to work with the council to ensure that residents receive the support they need at this most difficult time. While the cause of the fire has yet to be confirmed, I have asked the Building Research Establishment to investigate the fire, working with the London Fire Brigade. I have also asked the independent expert panel on wider fire safety issues to provide urgent advice to the Government. We will take account of the findings of the investigation and the advice of the panel in our further work on reviewing the fire safety guidance. The local authority and the building owners are reviewing fire safety for the rest of the development, and I remain in close contact with the London Fire Brigade. I will also be visiting the community later today.

As we mark two years since the devastating events of 14 June 2017, I know the whole House will join me in remembrance and solidarity with the people of north Kensington. I want them to know that this House is behind them in honouring the loved ones they lost, in helping those left behind to heal and rebuild their lives, and in our determination to ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again.

This unprecedented disaster has been met with an unprecedented response across government, our public services, local government and the voluntary sector. I am hugely thankful to everyone involved, especially our emergency services and the public and voluntary sectors. In total, we have spent over £46 million of national government funds and committed a further £55 million to help meet rehousing costs, reimburse the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for Grenfell site management costs, deliver new health and well-being services, and deliver improvements to the Lancaster West Estate. More than £27.8 million of the nearly £29 million raised through the generosity of the British public has also now been distributed, thanks to the Charity Commission. Those affected are also getting vital support from the NHS, with a further £50 million committed over the next five years to addressing long-term physical and mental health needs. To date, nearly 8,000 health screenings have been completed, including for more than 900 children, with over 2,700 individuals receiving or having received treatment for trauma, including over 600 children.

We are determined to make sure that those affected remain at the heart of the response to this tragedy. That is why my right honourable friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner continues to meet families regularly in his role as the Grenfell Victims’ Minister. It is why the Prime Minister recently appointed two new panel members for phase two of the Grenfell Tower public inquiry, to make sure it has the necessary diversity of skills and experience. And it is why the community will be pivotal to decisions about the long-term future of the site as the Government take ownership of this to ensure sensitivities are respected, and they are fully engaged in additional environmental checks after concerns were raised.

Testing has started to assess any risks to health. We will ensure that all appropriate action is taken. One of our biggest priorities has been rehousing the 201 households who lost their homes, with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea acquiring over 300 homes to meet their needs and provide choice. I am pleased that all 201 households have accepted permanent or temporary homes, with 184 households in permanent accommodation and 14 in good-quality temporary homes. This represents significant progress since last year, but I am concerned that three households remain in emergency accommodation, including one in a hotel. I have asked the Independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce, which was set up to ensure that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea better supports residents and rebuilds trust, to look into this. I have been assured that the council is taking an appropriate and sensitive approach, given the complex needs of these households, to find the right long-term solution for each of them.

A new home is undoubtedly an important step on the road to recovery, and it is vital that this is reinforced by long-term support such as the recovery services co-designed by the council in partnership with the community and local health partners. It is essential that we build on this collaboration, with the council listening and the community being heard. That is fundamental to laying the foundations for a new and stronger partnership between residents and those who serve them.

Central to this relationship, and indeed to so much of the work flowing from the fire, is the need to rebuild trust. Above all, this means ensuring that people are safe, and feel safe, in their homes. With that in mind, Members will be aware that we launched a consultation last week on proposals to implement meaningful reform to our building and fire safety regulatory systems following the independent review led by Dame Judith Hackitt. It will provide a clear focus on responsibility and accountability and give residents a stronger voice to achieve the enduring change that is needed. Alongside this, the Government have also launched a call for evidence on the fire safety order to determine what changes may be required to strengthen it. This follows the recent launch of a new fund to expedite remediation of buildings with unsafe ACM cladding in the private sector and protect leaseholders, adding up to a £600 million commitment from the Government to make buildings in both the private and social sectors safe.

This builds on other significant measures we have undertaken, such as a ban on combustible cladding, a review of the building regulations fire safety guidance—Approved Document B—and tests on non-ACM materials not only to keep people safe now but also to fundamentally transform the way we build in the future, through legislation, yes, but more crucially through a change in culture. But I know that we must continue to challenge on what more needs to be done.

People living in buildings like Grenfell Tower need to trust that there can be no repeat of what happened that night, to trust that the state understands their lives and is working for them. That is why the social housing Green Paper, published last year, and the new deal it sets out for people living in social housing matter so much. My thanks go to the many residents who engaged with us on this for their invaluable contribution. We are assessing the consultation responses and finalising our response. The deal it proposes aims to rebalance the relationship between residents and landlords, address stigma and ensure that homes are safe and decent. In addition to our drive, backed by billions, to boost the supply of social housing, it is a deal that promises to renew our commitment to people in social housing, ensuring that everyone, no matter where they live, has the security, dignity and opportunities they need to build a better life.

This, ultimately, is what we hope for for the bereaved and survivors and for the strong, proud people of north Kensington, who have shown us the power of community. They, and we, will never, ever forget those who died in the most horrific circumstances.

I know that the pain of that loss continues as they wait for answers and to see justice done as the police investigation and public inquiry continue their important work. But they should know that they are not alone. The Government, this House and, indeed, our whole country will always have a stake in the future of Grenfell. I have every faith that this remarkable community, working in partnership, will move forward, rebuild and emerge even stronger. I commend this Statement to the House”.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for repeating the Statement given by his right honourable friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup in the other place earlier today. I refer the House to my relevant interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I join the noble Lord in paying tribute to the London fire brigade, the other emergency services and the staff of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham for the way they responded to yesterday’s fire. They are true public servants, one and all, and we owe them our thanks and gratitude for the exemplary way they carry out their duties.

I welcome the reviews referred to in the Statement, but more needs to be done to ensure that the regulations in force are fit for purpose, and this needs to be done urgently. While progress has been made in many areas, and is to be welcomed, things are generally moving too slowly. Perhaps the noble Lord could tell the House what he is doing to inject more speed into matters.

I join the noble Lord and others in remembering those who lost their lives on that terrible night two years ago, and I am thinking of those who were injured and their families and friends. I also pay tribute to all the emergency services, the local authority staff, civil servants, the faith communities and the community at large in north Kensington, who have done so much to get people back on their feet.

What have the Government learned over the past two years to ensure that the initial response from the local authority, which failed two years ago, will not happen again? Specifically, I am concerned about the department’s thinking, as opposed to any recommendations that will come out of the public inquiry. That thinking will, I am sure, have played some role in how events last night in Barking and Dagenham were dealt with. It would be good if the noble Lord could update the House.

I was pleased to note that the honourable Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner meets regularly with the families. Can the noble Lord tell the House when was the last time the Secretary of State sat down with the families and others in the community for a formal discussion, as opposed to the event today in Speaker’s House? When did the Secretary of State last meet both the leader of the council, Councillor Elizabeth Campbell, and the chief executive, Mr Barry Quirk?

Clearly progress has been made in finding people new accommodation, but we need to get the remaining households into permanent accommodation as quickly as possible. It is now two years since the fire, and a new permanent home is an important milestone on the road to recovery.

In respect of the consultation launched last week, does the noble Lord accept that there is some urgency here? Across the country, people living in blocks of flats want to see action. I have no doubt at all about the good intention but, as I said, it is the pace of change and reform that concerns me.

The Statement referred to the social housing Green Paper, and I was surprised to hear reference to the need to “address stigma”. I grew up on a council estate and see no stigma about it whatever. Council estates are full of law-abiding, hard-working citizens. My parents always paid their taxes and their rent, and they worked hard. I do not see the stigma there. What worries me is that, if that is the Government’s view, how is it impacting government policy? It would be good to hear the noble Lord’s view on that.

I also want to make reference to the position of the blocks that are in private hands. We need to make urgent progress with the recladding programme. I was obviously pleased that the Government announced additional funding, but will we get to the point when, if progress is not sufficiently quick, we will name the owners of the blocks with dangerous cladding? Will we set a deadline for when the work needs to be done—say, September this year or some time early next year? Are the Government considering giving additional powers to local authorities under the Housing Act 2004 to include fines or other action if the owners of these blocks are not moving quickly enough? Where blocks are not being dealt with quickly enough, will the Government consider allowing local authorities to apply for that funding to actually do the work? We need to ensure that people are safe. It would be good to get a response from the noble Lord on those points.

What about other public buildings with dangerous cladding, such as schools and hospitals? What are we doing there?

I understand fully that the noble Lord may not be able to answer all my questions, but I am sure he will respond to me in writing, as he normally does.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD) - Hansard

My Lords, I associate myself with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and with the sentiments of the Statement in what it has to say about both the Barking fire and the role of the voluntary and emergency services at Grenfell. I should perhaps remind the House that, during the coalition Government, I had some responsibility for building regulation policy. I welcome in particular the referral of the Barking fire to the independent expert panel. It seems to me that, if there are further lessons to learn, we need to learn them quickly and make sure that the appropriate action is put in place promptly.

We should very much recognise the fantastic work done by voluntary and community groups in the two years since the fire. It has been quite outstanding; they have brought the community together, and we should celebrate that amid all the tragedy of the fire itself.

I welcome the information in the Statement on rehousing residents. There is a little more to do, but it is good to know that progress is being made. I also welcome the progress on meeting the physical and mental health needs of residents, and carrying out proper testing of potential toxicity around the site.

I include in my congratulations the often maligned British public and their £29 million of charitable giving to relieve hardship, and the stout work done in distributing the funds appropriately in the area.

However, I have some questions for the Minister. Is he aware of the Building magazine survey of building contractors, published last week, which shows that very few firms have yet taken any serious steps to change their supervision and inspection regimes on projects, or their monitoring and recording procedures on the buildings they put up? The change of culture referred to in the Statement does not seem to be happening. The recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s inquiry, as far as they are applicable to the industry, seem to have made no practical difference, despite the urgency of action. It is not really surprising that Dame Judith herself has publicly expressed concern that her report has now gone into the “too difficult” box.

Given that, does last week’s consultation have a proper timeline? Some might say that it is not really in accordance with the Minister’s often expressed views that we should do things “at pace” in relation to this tragedy. We are now two years on, and the consultation and a somewhat minimalist pilot scheme have just been launched. Can the Minister give us some assurance on, or timeline for, when legislation and statutory instruments will be in front of Parliament to change the regulations now in force and the culture of the construction industry? As I am sure the Minister is absolutely committed to do, that is all designed to ensure that we never have another Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Housing: Social Rent

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Tuesday 4th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, I think my noble friend is referring to the policy initiative of the leader of the Opposition, and I tend to agree that that will not help solve the problem. We are intent on getting the balance right and ensuring that, in tenancies, there are the right measures to deal with disreputable landlords. However, the compulsory purchase of people’s property is not the way forward.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. How many homes for social rent have been lost since 2015 by the conversion to the affordable rent model?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, I do not have that specific figure to hand, but I will write to the noble Lord with it. As I have indicated, it is important that we build more homes for social rent, and we are intent on doing that outside London. Within London, there will be provision of affordable homes at the level of social rents; that is part of the programme and we are delivering that with the Greater London Authority.

Council Funding

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Tuesday 4th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, the noble Lord’s Question refers to the Institute for Fiscal Studies report, which I have read. The authors of the report, Neil Amin-Smith and David Phillips, are fair in acknowledging some of the things that we have done with regard to local government spending—for example, they cite a 10% increase in children’s social services. But the noble Lord is right in that there has been a reduction in other areas. The report canvasses the possibility of a local income tax, but I do not think that that is the way forward, and nor does my party. However, I am sure that the noble Lord would want to acknowledge that there is much innovation. He referred to libraries—a subject which I know is close to his heart. In Warrington, for example, hubs provide library services with other services, which is an innovative way of improving the service. That has also happened in Leeds and in other areas. I think that that is the way forward.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I again refer the House to my relevant registered interest. Can the noble Lord tell the House why he thinks that so many councils are struggling to deliver services, one of the most serious examples being the difficulties faced by Northamptonshire County Council?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, I readily acknowledge that there are challenges, but it is important to say that many facets indicate that things are improving. We know—the Chancellor has said—that we have ended austerity, and the comprehensive spending review is around the corner. It is also the case, as I am sure the noble Lord will acknowledge, that the last settlement was a good settlement. The noble Lord, Lord Porter, acknowledged as much, and other people in other parties have done the same. Innovation is a way of improving services and so too are some central government grants for such things as the Future High Streets Fund, Stronger Towns funding and so on, which do not go through local government but directly to the towns concerned.

Homelessness

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Tuesday 21st May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right: this is a key feature of our housing provision, not just to take pressure off London and the big conurbations but because of the need for housing generally. There is significant development in the Oxford-Cambridge arc, where we are spending a lot of money, and elsewhere as well. If I may, I will update him and ensure that a letter on the current progress of all the towns and villages is placed in the Library.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. My noble friend Lord McNicol has raised a really important issue. What are the Government doing to tackle child homelessness, as living in insecure accommodation as a child will negatively affect their mental health, emotional well-being and schooling?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a fair point. He is right about the issues around child poverty and child homelessness, which is a particular concern for the Government. That is why, in relation to welfare spending, we are keen that money is directed to those households with children, to make sure that they are able to gain a home. It remains a key priority. If I may, I will write to him on the suite of policies to tackle this across other government departments, because it is an area where we have concerns.

Buckinghamshire (Structural Changes) Order 2019

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Monday 20th May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD) - Hansard

My Lords, it is pleasure to contribute to this short debate on this statutory instrument. I thank the Minister for his introduction, which sketched out the framework very clearly. I think he perhaps oversold the consensus nature of the situation, which the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, highlighted in his contribution. There were court cases, a very anxious local MP and a good deal of controversy in many quarters about the alternative ways of changing the structure in the Buckinghamshire county area. Nevertheless, I think the Secretary of State has produced a sensible compromise between the views put forward by the district councils about how things should be organised in a unitary Buckinghamshire and the proposals that the county council put on the table.

I particularly welcome the choice of three members per ward and a body of 147 members, rather than two per ward as the county council preferred. That is a good decision and I welcome it. What does the Minister envisage will be the total number of councillors for the authority after 2025? He talked about re-warding the county structure as the 2025 elections approach. I have a general concern that every time we do local government reorganisation, one of the underlying consequences is that there are fewer elected representatives serving their community. Even accepting the number provided by the Minister—because of double-hatting, there are perhaps 200 individuals who currently serve on district and county councils at the moment—that will be reduced to 147, which is a 25% reduction in the number of elected representatives. I hope that he will be able to give your Lordships a steer that he is looking for that large council of 147 not to be dramatically shrunk in 2025 to make yet another step backwards in representation. By the way, it is a county whose population is already growing rapidly and, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, made very clear, is set to grow even more rapidly with infrastructure developments over the next decade or so.

That brings me to my second point, which is the role of parish councils in all this. Parish councils in Buckinghamshire feel quite bruised by how things have gone. Seventy-one per cent of parish councillors are reported in the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum as opposing the single authority solution. Therefore, it is important that we have reassurance from the Minister that nothing in this statutory instrument will disadvantage town and parish councils when fulfilling their role as local community champions.

In respect of that, can he say something more about the 19 community boards that are to be set up? Paragraph 7.4 of the Explanatory Memorandum refers to,

“the establishment of nineteen community boards, each with a community hub, enabling local councillors to take decisions on issues such as funding for community groups and local roads maintenance; and providing a single point of contact”.

That is an excellent concept. It is one that Liberal Democrats, when running local authorities, have always felt to be very important. However, it is internal devolution of the budgets and power of the local authority, and much will depend on how those community boards work with or relate to the parishes within their areas and how they develop their external relations with them. What reassurance can the Minister give to those who worry that community boards might be more of a barrier to communities exercising real power and that they will stand between the communities and the decision-makers, rather than turning out to be a conduit for making sure that powers and decisions go down to the local community level?

Notwithstanding the concerns about some of the detail, we will not oppose this statutory instrument this evening. However, we certainly believe that it is important to see that democratic accountability and links with the local community are not worsened by this proposal and that, in fact, the opportunity is taken to improve those links and communications in the future.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, first, I draw the attention of the House to my registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Like other noble Lords, I shall not oppose the order. I very much endorse the comments of my noble friend Lord Stevenson of Balmacara—who, as a local resident, knows the area very well—and those of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell.

I shall come at this from a slightly different angle. The Minister will not be surprised to hear my views as I have expressed them a number of times before. I just feel that the Government have no real strategy for dealing with local government in terms of its framework and how it is delivered in England. The Government’s general policy can be described as incoherent, confused and muddled. We are creating a bizarre patchwork in England outside London. In one place you could have a unitary authority and next door there might be parish councils, district councils, a county council, a combined authority and a metro mayor. There is no clear explanation of why any one area has one form of local government, yet it can be completely different in the neighbouring county.

This proposal and the neighbouring areas illustrate that point precisely. The proposal is to create a unitary authority for the area covered by Buckinghamshire County Council, but north of Buckinghamshire is Northamptonshire, which appears to be going down the route of two unitary councils. But then we have Bedfordshire, to the east of Buckinghamshire, where there are three unitary authorities: Bedford, Central Bedfordshire and Luton.

Cambridgeshire, the next county along, has the full suite: parish councils, district councils, a county council, a combined authority and a metro mayor. It has the whole lot. Below that we have Hertfordshire, which has the more traditional two-tier local government structures. Many noble Lords, I am sure, will know these areas quite well. They are all very close together and not one has the same local government structures as another. That is not a good way to run things. It is confusing for residents and does not help anybody. It leaves lots of challenges. It is pick-and-mix local government, and that belongs on the sweet counter at Woolworths. It is a really bad way to do things.

There is a vacuum here that is not filled by Ministers. We have policy drift, and that is how we end up where we are today. I have never yet heard the Government set out their vision for local government in England outside London. It is bad value for the taxpayer. The order suggests there will be a saving. Before the Minister was in his job, the previous incumbents would tell me, “We are not going down the reorganisation route because it costs money”. But here we are told it will save us money. Part of me wants to say that he cannot have his cake and eat it.

Domestic Abuse

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Tuesday 14th May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement on domestic abuse made yesterday by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement to the House today on a consultation on a new, sustainable approach to delivering support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in accommodation-based services across England.

Domestic abuse is a devastating crime experienced by more than 2 million adults a year, with women twice as likely to be victims. This is completely unacceptable, and we have much more to do if we are to reach a point where no family lives with the threat of domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse can take many forms and affects the young and old, male and female. But whoever the victim, those fleeing abuse must have somewhere safe to go. Just last year, we announced £22 million to provide more than 2,220 new beds in refuges and other safe accommodation, supporting more than 25,000 survivors with a safe space to rebuild their lives, but I know that more must be done to ensure a consistent approach across the country to ensure that survivors have a safer future.

At the 2017 general election, the Prime Minister made a manifesto commitment to review funding for refuges. The Ending Violence Against Women and Girls strategy for 2016-20 set out our ambition to provide support for refuges and other accommodation-based services, helping local areas ensure that no victim is turned away from the support they require at the time of need. We also committed to reviewing the locally led approach to commissioning of domestic abuse services.

To meet these commitments, in January 2018 we began a full review of the funding and commissioning of domestic abuse services in England. We have worked closely with sector partners, drawing on their data, expertise and knowledge. This review complements wider government work on tackling this devastating crime and supporting victims, including our new domestic abuse Bill.

Through the course of the review, we have engaged with specialist domestic abuse service providers and their representative bodies, local authorities, police and crime commissioners and other organisations which support victims to fully understand the challenges in commissioning and delivering these vital services and the positive features of the current system. We are grateful for their engagement and extensive input into our work.

We know that there are dedicated professionals delivering support to victims and their children in accommodation-based services across England. This support helps victims move from danger and abuse to safety and independence, and their children to regain their childhoods, and includes the vital work of service managers and support staff, counsellors, outreach workers and play therapists. But we also know that we need to do more to ensure that all victims and their children can access this support at the right time, underpinned by a sustainable approach to providing it.

We understand that victims and their children will live in a variety of different forms of safe accommodation and will need support to stay safe and rebuild their lives in all of them. This includes outreach support to remain safe in properties with enhanced security measures, in emergency or temporary accommodation, in dispersed accommodation and in refuges.

While refuge plays a critical role in supporting those victims at high risk of serious harm, we have deliberately kept our definition of “accommodation-based” wide to include the full range of safe accommodation in which victims and their children may require support. This will help local areas meet the support needs of diverse groups of victims and their children and those at lower and medium risk to prevent their needs escalating.

Having reviewed the current system and listened to the views of expert stakeholders, I am today proposing new, local authority-led arrangements for delivering support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in accommodation-based services in England.

Our proposals would place a new statutory duty on upper-tier local authorities—county councils, metropolitan and unitary authorities and, in the case of London, the Greater London Authority—to convene a local partnership board for domestic abuse accommodation support services. The local partnership board should include representation from police and crime commissioners, health bodies, children’s services and housing providers, along with specialist domestic abuse service providers. The board would be required to assess need for domestic abuse services, develop domestic abuse strategies, commission services to meet the support needs of victims and their children and report progress to MHCLG.

In two-tier areas, lower-tier local authorities—city, district and borough councils and, in this instance, London boroughs—will have a significant role to play in contributing to needs assessments, strategy development, service commissioning and reporting on progress. Authorities in those areas would be subject to a statutory duty to co-operate with the local partnership board.

To support local authorities and local partnership boards to meet these new requirements, I am proposing that we should produce new statutory guidance, making our expectations clear. This new approach will be backed by funding from the Government to ensure that services are put on a sustainable, long-term footing. This will be determined through the forthcoming spending review and informed by the consultation.

I want to safeguard provision of support, clarify expectations of governance and accountability, ensure that needs assessments are undertaken, and enhance our understanding of service provision across England through monitoring and reporting. I also want to ensure that the diverse needs of all victims and their children are met, including those with protected characteristics.

This is part of a wider government drive to tackle domestic abuse and end this pernicious crime for good. Our domestic abuse Bill, published in January this year, is the most comprehensive package ever to tackle domestic abuse. We have also brought in a new offence to capture coercive and controlling behaviour, and new domestic abuse protection orders will allow police and courts to intervene earlier.

It is our duty to ensure that victims and survivors can receive help by providing the support they need to transform their lives and move to safety and independence. Through this consultation, I want to hear views on our proposals from victims and survivors, service providers, local authorities, housing providers and other public agencies, as well as professionals who support victims and children every day.

I believe that my announcement today will provide much-needed help to ensure that more victims and their families better overcome their experiences and move on to live full and independent lives. The consultation will run from today until 2 August 2019. A copy of the consultation document will be placed in the House Library”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement delivered yesterday in the other place by the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup.

I welcome the announcement. Many people deserve credit for the Government taking this step, but I think that the survivors of domestic abuse, who have campaigned for this and shown real courage and strength, are to be congratulated on the progress made to deal with this disgusting and appalling crime. While men are sometimes the victims, most victims are women, often suffering years of sustained, horrific abuse.

There are several questions still to be answered by the Government to ensure that this announcement delivers what it is intended to. Funding will be a huge issue. Without adequate funding, this policy will fail. At this stage, what is the Minister’s estimate of the likely cost of the new legal duty, and will the Government provide these funds? I ask this in the context of the £8 billion funding gap for local authorities in England by 2025.

Why is this announcement wholly focused on crisis-point intervention? What about early intervention? I welcome the idea of local partnership boards. Getting all the agencies together to deal with the issue across the broad spectrum of services and interventions is very welcome.

However, I was less impressed with the reply to my Parliamentary Question from the Minister’s noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackwood of North Oxford. I tabled a Question on 11 April and received a Written Answer on 29 April. It was about GPs charging domestic abuse survivors outrageous sums of money to write letters confirming that they are victims of domestic abuse. Clearly, no progress has been made on getting these charges banned. I will keep raising the issue until they are banned, because there is a real risk that we cannot help victims here if we do not get this right.

The Statement says:

“I also want to ensure that the diverse needs of all victims and their children are met”,

and that,

“I know that more must be done to ensure a consistent approach across the country to ensure that survivors have a safer future”.

Victims of domestic abuse are now in a postcode lottery. They can be charged for these letters in one area and not in another. That is not good enough. Will the Minister confirm that the guidance that is to be issued will make it clear that such charges are unacceptable until we can bring forward a Bill to ensure that they are abandoned entirely? We also need a greater focus on social rather than affordable housing and further support for refuges, a fifth of which have closed since 2010. Can the Minister also confirm that police officers dealing with domestic abuse will form part of the partnership board? They can bring valuable experience of helping to deal with the issues faced by victims seeking to get to a place of safety.

In conclusion, I welcome the announcement, but we need to see much more in terms of funding, policy change and legislation from the Government if we are to tackle this sickening crime—one that is committed by the very person who should be supporting and protecting you. As the Prime Minister said:

“Whoever you are, wherever you live and whatever the abuse you face, you will have access to the services you need to be safe”.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD) - Hansard

My Lords, I add my welcome to this Statement and declare my interest as a patron of a refuge in Birmingham. Local authorities will now have a legal duty to provide secure homes for the victims of domestic abuse. It is absolutely right that the Government are taking this step to end the postcode lottery of the wide disparity in provision depending on where a victim lives.

The Government are anticipating that local authorities will require an extra £90 million to buy the beds and space needed. This is to cover BAME, LGBT+ and disabled people, women, children and men. Does the Minister believe that this is enough when 60% of women are currently being turned away from refuges—this, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, mentioned, in a country where local authorities will have seen their budgets shrink by £8 billion by 2025? Does the Minister anticipate that other budgets for non-statutory projects will be raided to pay for this support or can he confirm that this money will be additional and ring-fenced?

Social Housing: Older People

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Thursday 9th May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Baroness Kennedy of Cradley Portrait Baroness Kennedy of Cradley - Hansard

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the provision of suitable social housing for older people.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Kennedy of Cradley, and with her permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as a trustee of the United St Saviour’s Charity in Southwark, which provides social housing for older people.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on so ably stepping into the breach. The Government have made £9 billion available through the affordable homes programme to March 2022 to deliver new affordable homes of a range of tenures, including social rent and supported housing. Supported housing, including sheltered housing, plays a vital role in the lives of the most vulnerable, including older people. Since 2011, we have delivered 34,000 units of specialist and other supported housing for disabled, vulnerable and older people.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, what plans do the Government have to support calls for the lifetime homes standard to be mandatory for at least some, if not all, social housing built in future? That would enable people to stay in their homes longer, help them to remain independent and save money on future aids and adaptions.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to concentrate on that standard. He will know that Part M of the building regulations is about to be reviewed; we have touched on it previously. We very much hope that will be tightened for its requirements for disabled and older people. That will help to inform the sort of progress that we are all keen to make.

Architects Act 1997 (Swiss Qualifications) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Wednesday 8th May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD) - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction of these regulations to the House and his explanation of their content and purpose. It is certainly very important indeed that we make sure that international professionals currently qualified by virtue of their training in the EEA and Switzerland have the opportunity to come and support our construction industry, which—as the Minister has rightly pointed out—is a major export earner for this country. To that extent, I very much welcome the fact that this is being brought forward. The Minister might have been slightly glossing the specifics of this statutory instrument, which—as I understand it—is a consequence of Switzerland being left off the original document and therefore becoming a late runner in this race.

My broader point is that this is just another deckchair being rearranged on RMS “Titanic”—the no-deal option. The Prime Minister and Parliament themselves have repeatedly said that this will not happen, and therefore we are misusing our time in the House this afternoon. I do not want to take long contributing to that process, simply to say that if we had spent some time instead dealing with homelessness, fire safety or climate change, it would have made a much bigger contribution to the well-being of our country than this statutory instrument.

The Minister has made it quite clear that this is effective only if the UK leaves without a deal; it does nothing more and nothing less. In Part 2 of the supporting documents, entitled “Statements required when using enabling powers”, the final sentence of paragraph 5.2 says that,

“in order to allow for the continued recognition of Swiss qualified architects, this Statutory Instrument needs to be made before exit day”.

It was not made before exit day. It has come in time only because exit day has been extended to 31 October. It can of course come into force only provided that the original accession Act remains in force, which it would not do in the event of no deal. I would like to hear from the Minister confirmation of that point and, bearing in mind that a no-deal exit has been ruled out, some explanation of why we are spending time on this and not on homelessness, climate change or fire regulations, all of which are urgent, pressing issues that we should spend some time on.

I would be grateful if the Minister would check with his private office how many legislative proposals, consultation responses and consultation launches that have been previously announced as coming “shortly”, “in the spring”, or “by the summer” are currently outstanding and queueing for the attention of this House, while we spend our time—waste our time, I say—on statutory instruments dealing with a fantastical no deal that we all know is never going to happen.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for explaining to us the purpose of the regulations before us today. I do not intend to detain the House for very long, and I am very happy to support the regulations as far as they go. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that there are many other pressing issues that he and I are keen to get on with. There are many issues—in the department of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and in others—that we desperately need to get on to. Having said that, I have no particular questions for the noble Lord on the regulations before us. As far as they go, I am content with them.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords who have responded to this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, took quite a long while to tell us that he thinks we are wasting our time dealing with this; that was uncharacteristically churlish of him, if I may say so. These regulations are important. This affects only about seven people a year in Switzerland, but it is important that we recognise that there is considerable interest in the United Kingdom in making sure we regularise this position. I am not going to enter into the pantomime knockabout of Brexit. On behalf of my department, I am doing what is responsible for an important sector of the UK economy. We do not want a no-deal scenario, as the noble Lord knows. However, if, God forbid, that happened, and we had not protected these Swiss architects, I would feel very guilty.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked why we are not spending time on fire safety. As a Government, and in my department, we have spent an awful lot of time on that. We are in the process of implementing the Hackitt review—I make no apologies for that—and we answer questions on it and debate it. He mentioned homelessness. On Friday, we announced extra money for homelessness, and I answered a Question on it on Thursday. He mentioned climate change. My noble friend Lord Henley, who is present, answered a Question on that yesterday. We are, quite rightly, always answering questions in these very important areas. In spending a short time on this issue, we are not detracting from the importance of those others. We are doing something rather important.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his positive response and responsible position. We need to ensure that architects are able to act, and this will be mutually in our interest too: British architects will be able to operate in the EEA countries and in Switzerland.

We have, I think, not taken too long on this important legislation. I beg to move.

Yorkshire: Devolution

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Tuesday 7th May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, as I have indicated to the House, we are looking at the prospects and possibilities for all of Yorkshire. Discussions are going on with officials about the way forward. I am sure the noble Lord will welcome what has happened in Sheffield, as I know many other Members will. That is very welcome and it is within the context of looking at the wider Yorkshire position that we are moving things forward, which is to be welcomed.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, can I confirm that the Minister is saying that at the end of the term for South Yorkshire, if the authorities want to leave that arrangement they can go into another arrangement in Yorkshire and that the Government will not stand in their way?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, I am very happy to confirm that that is the case. If authorities were to leave the Sheffield City Region—the two authorities that have previously had difficulties with that arrangement, say—the city region would carry on with the remaining two. It would still be a viable entity, but we are running ahead of ourselves. There is a commitment within the agreement whose details we are now looking at. We are making progress on that to ensure that it carries on until at least 2022.

Public Conveniences

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Thursday 11th April 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for a genuinely important Question. I will pick up two points. First, Changing Places helps with the provision of disabled lavatory facilities. That is important nationwide—we have about 11,000 of them. Secondly, I, too, give a shout out for Pret A Manger, which is helping by making its lavatories available. That is part of community schemes that we are promoting up and down the country. These started in Richmond upon Thames in 2004, where, in addition to public lavatories, local businesses make their lavatories available. That is advertised locally and on apps in the area.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I come from a family of London cab drivers and very much welcome the Question. Does the Minister join me in welcoming the British Toilet Association’s Use Our Loos campaign, where pubs, cafés and other places allow people other than customers to use their toilets? Does he also welcome the trend at some mainline stations, such as London Bridge, Charing Cross and St Pancras, where the toilets are now free? I am waiting for Euston and Waterloo to follow suit.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, on the cabbies’ business, the noble Lord told me how his brother drove past him in his cab the other day—I could well understand his point of view. The noble Lord mentioned the important Use Our Loos campaign, which the British Toilet Association is supportive of—I was going to say “behind”. Unfortunately, it is advertised on its website as an “open doors” campaign—the inverted commas are useful. Seriously, it is a very worthwhile campaign. I have good news on Waterloo. All the mainline stations in London now have free toilet entrance, which is a good thing. The Department for Transport is encouraging other train operators to do similarly.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Functions and Amendment) Order 2019

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd April 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Lord Bradley Portrait Lord Bradley (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, I shall speak very briefly to this order to give it my strong support. I declare my interest as a resident of Manchester and in the light of the opening comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, I am also a former city councillor and a former Member of Parliament for the city. The people of Greater Manchester desperately want an integrated transport system across the area. The order is a further step in the right direction to achieve this by unblocking some of the logjams currently in the system. Its primary purpose, as the Minister has well explained, is the transfer of further powers to the elected mayor of Greater Manchester—Andy Burnham—particularly transport functions of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority relating to buses. This is in line with the devolution agreements in Greater Manchester, which specifically provided that any potential future bus franchising and/or smart-ticketing functions should be the responsibility of the mayor.

I wish to make three quick points. First, I welcome the establishment of the joint transport committee to cover Greater Manchester. I hope that this smaller group will bring a new, coherent focus on an integrated transport system across the area, covering not only the buses but the Metrolink light rail system and the region’s train services, with a particular emphasis on establishing a multimodal through-ticketing system, which is so strongly supported by all local people.

Secondly, we have heard some detail about finance, and it is pleasing that the 10 districts in Greater Manchester have agreed that all transport functions relating to buses that currently sit with the combined authority should become mayoral functions and the current expenditure level of around £87 million will continue to be paid by those councils. However, any additional expenditure on buses beyond that figure should be funded by the mayor through the transport precept or other resources available to the mayor. I believe that this should underpin the cost of new bus passes for 16 to 18 year-olds, which are about to be piloted and then rolled out for all 16 to 18 year-olds for the future. However, the amount of the precept does not form part of the constituent districts’ budget, and the mayoral precept itself will be subject to its own referendum triggers—perhaps a topic we should not pursue on this occasion.

Thirdly, the Bus Services Act 2017 allows an assessment of a proposed franchising scheme. While this is not full reregulation of the buses, which London benefits from, it is clearly the best option available in the circumstances. The order facilitates the franchising option, and I now hope that the mayor, Andy Burnham, will grasp the opportunity and see it as a vital step in the overarching aim of delivering the integrated transport system that the people of Greater Manchester dearly want.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Like my noble friend Lord Bradley and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, I very much welcome this order. It is another part of the transfer of powers to the northern powerhouse, to the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and to the combined authority. It will be able to deliver bus franchising, smart ticketing and the multimodal ticketing system that my noble friend talked about.

I was involved in the passage of the Bus Services Act through your Lordships’ House and I am very supportive of bus franchising; the mayor will be able to set the fares, the routes and the timetables and the bus companies can then deliver those services. I think that is a very good way forward and I endorse what my noble friend Lord Bradley said: I hope that the Mayor of Greater Manchester will be able to move forward and introduce bus franchising, which is what people want to see locally.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, raised a number of questions I was going to raise, so I hope he will get a response. They were about the taxation trap—we clearly have the same briefing—and the issue of the oversight committee, so I look forward to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, on those matters and on the question raised by my noble friend Lord Bradley about bus passes for16 to 18 year-olds. I shall leave the matter there because those points have been raised. As I said, I very much support the introduction of the order, like the other noble Lords who have spoken.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords who have participated in the debate on this important SI. It is worth noting that in the other place there was just one contribution from the Official Opposition, which welcomed the SI and commended the Government for acting very quickly in bringing it forward following the request from Greater Manchester. I am very grateful for that support in the other place.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, rightly referred to the civic pride and sense of togetherness in Manchester, and the rivalry between some of the boroughs and authorities that now make up the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. All that is absolutely true—I was in Manchester recently and saw the strength of the Manchester area. Of course, we were all very conscious of that at the time of the dreadful terrorist attack on the Manchester Arena—the sense of coming together in the area was very strong. I was there recently to launch the ESOL funding programme. There was a very good bid from Manchester and I was very conscious, again, of the sense of coming together and civic pride.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, also asked about financial arrangements, particularly in relation to the mayoral precept. It is the position that the mayor makes proposals which can be overturned by a two-thirds vote, which is a veto of seven of the 10 authorities. The noble Lord went on to ask about measures in relation to oversight in this committee. It is a streamlined committee, a fact welcomed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, for which I am very grateful. The order reflects the request for flexibility on the membership of the committee. Greater Manchester asked for the reduction to 23 members, and based on what the noble Lord was saying about responding to the bottom-up approach and sensing what is important in the area, we went along with the request. We judged that it is reasonable and will lead, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, said, to more streamlined decision-making. I think it maintains—not in the same proportions, I accept—some of the checks and balances that are needed.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, for saying that transferring powers to the Mayor of Manchester is a step in the right direction. Although the mayor is not of my politics I think that people locally recognise that he has been doing a good job and giving some sense of direction to Manchester. That is a good thing and it is true of all our metro mayors. It is something we should welcome widely and, as the noble Lord rightly said, it opens up possibilities in relation to the franchising schemes and so on as well. I confirm that I think it does underpin the costs of the young people’s passes in relation to the financial settlement.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for the welcome he gave to the order; he reiterated some of the questions I hope I have dealt with. This is an important part of the suite of powers that were promised to Manchester: we have been listening to the people of Manchester and responding to what they have asked for, and this represents another step in that journey. I am very grateful to the support given by noble Lords and I beg to move.

Rough Sleeping

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Monday 1st April 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth - Hansard

My Lords, once again, my noble friend refers to a different aspect of this. He is right that sensitive policing often helps to tackle these issues. I know that police throughout the country are very aware of that. He is also right that there is a complex range of issues, including addiction, which is very much related to rough sleeping. We are intent on trying to deal with that, as we are with other aspects. For example, a lot of people who sleep rough have come from a secure background, sometimes prison and sometimes the Armed Forces. It is a much more complex issue than just the finances, although that is an important part of it.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I refer the House to my registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. In addition to the figures that the noble Lord gave about individual change from year to year, could he set out why he believes homelessness has more than trebled since 2010?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth -