There have been 11 exchanges between Christopher Chope and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
|Fri 23rd October 2020||Mobile Homes Act 1983 (Amendment) Bill||11 interactions (885 words)|
|Wed 30th October 2019||Gujarati Community in the UK (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (19 words)|
|Tue 1st October 2019||Park Home Residents: Legal Protection (Westminster Hall)||27 interactions (4,505 words)|
|Wed 23rd January 2019||Tenant Fees Bill||5 interactions (372 words)|
|Fri 23rd November 2018||Parking (Code of Practice) Bill||42 interactions (1,681 words)|
|Wed 5th September 2018||Tenant Fees Bill||10 interactions (663 words)|
|Wed 4th July 2018||Five-year Land Supply (Westminster Hall)||4 interactions (53 words)|
|Wed 25th April 2018||Christchurch Council: Governance (Westminster Hall)||2 interactions (2,629 words)|
|Wed 28th March 2018||Local Government Funding||10 interactions (760 words)|
|Wed 7th February 2018||Local Government Finance||3 interactions (75 words)|
|Fri 2nd February 2018||Parking (Code of Practice) Bill||9 interactions (320 words)|
(5 days ago)Commons Chamber
The hon. Gentleman referred to the charges that are made; does he agree that quite often those charges are made but the work is not actually carried out? Many owners are just interested in cramming as many mobile homes on to sites as possible.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we want to help the good park owners. Changing the index of calculations from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index will obviously reduce the income for improvements. I am sure we will consider the matter in Committee, but will he assure the House that he will allow good park home owners the latitude and finances necessary to make necessary improvements to the site?
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this Bill forward. It is a matter of regret that there has not previously been parliamentary time. I sincerely hope that the Minister, with her good civil servants working hard behind the scenes, will find a way to do a write-around or whatever is needed to move forward on this issue. The important thing is that there are really good mobile park owners and there are absolute rogues. Our first interest is the consumer protection of our constituents, so I wish my good friend all the best with the Bill.
Labour welcomes the chance to debate this Bill. We would have welcomed sight of it sooner in order really to understand the implications of the measures it contains and to ensure that relevant stakeholders could have made their views known. We would like a full impact assessment of the proposed changes, to understand why they are needed and to ensure that this is a fair deal for all involved. It is important that people pay fair fees for their pitches each year and that there is no chance they can be taken advantage of.
I thank the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) for her comments and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) on securing this debate. I also thank him for his tireless work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on park homes. He should not have admitted to being the chair for so long, but all Members of the House recognise his work in this area and he has been a consistent and powerful voice on these issues.
As my hon. Friend outlined, the Government are committed to effective reform of the park homes sector. As he has outlined, I have been unable to support the Bill’s current drafting, but I have agreed and am keen to work with him, and other members of the all-party group, to explore options regarding how we can bring forward these priorities and deliver on the ambition that we all share, which is to better protect park home residents. I hope that he will commit to working with me in the following weeks to do so. Before addressing the specifics of the Bill, I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler) for the role she played and the work she did when she was the Minister responsible for this area.
I am willing to work with my hon. Friend and my officials over the coming weeks, so that we can bring something forward and support something, so that is entirely correct. But as I have said, there are certain parts of the Bill that at this point I am unable to support Bill. However, I hope he will take my assurances from the Dispatch Box as a commitment to do that because when I say things I generally mean them, and I hope that even Opposition Members agree that, if I agree to do something for them, I follow through.
My hon. Friend outlined some of the Bill’s specifics, and I want to move on to those, but the park homes sector plays a vital role in housing, especially for older people. As he said, it provides valued homes for around 180,000 people.
(12 months ago)Westminster Hall
I am sure it will not last beyond today.
On behalf of the Gujarati community that I am proud to represent, I wanted to add to the list of requests made of the Minister. The first is about flight links to Gujarat. There is a direct flight from Heathrow to Gujarat, but given the scale of the travel needs of Gujaratis in the UK—as I understand it, we are the third largest home for the Gujarati diaspora worldwide—anything that the UK Government could do, perhaps on the back of discussions about the third runway, to encourage more direct flights to Gujarat would be extremely helpful to many of my constituents.
Turning to the issue of visas, many of my constituents still experience difficulties helping their relatives who want to visit, particularly at Diwali. Perhaps the consulate in Ahmedabad could offer advice sessions to the family members of our Gujarati community about what they need to do to have a decent chance of their applications being processed. The last figures I saw suggested that over 60,000 applications for visas from India were being turned down, and given the size of the Gujarati community, I suspect that many of those—the vast bulk of them— are from people hoping to come from Gujarat to visit relatives here.
The hon. Member for Harrow East mentioned the teaching of Gujarati. It is time that we considered providing some funding, through Government or lottery sources, to support the many Saturday schools that are key for those children who take Gujarati at GCSE and, crucially, A-level; relatively speaking, A-level Gujarati has a very small number of applicants. Many of the mandirs that the hon. Gentleman mentioned facilitate those Saturday schools at considerable expense, but other community organisations often have to provide the teaching, and in these hard times, it is increasingly expensive to provide that teaching and book the facilities for it.
The last of my main asks is this: I do not understand why there are not more trade missions to Gujarat, to take advantage of our substantial business links with it. Gujarat is the economic powerhouse of India, and we should not be frightened of turning to the talents of British Gujaratis to unlock further business opportunities for our country in Gujarat.
I was disappointed at the Government’s unwillingness to support the campaign for Diwali, and indeed Eid, to be recognised as a national holiday. If the Government are not willing to reconsider their opposition to making those days public holidays, they should, at the very least, have conversations with business organisations to encourage businesses to be sympathetic to requests for time off on those days. Those are the most important spiritual days for the Gujarati community, so that would be extremely helpful. As the Minister may know, the Jains and Zoroastrians who form part of the Gujarati community in the UK do not get proper recognition on the census. Both have been running campaigns to get those faiths on to the 2021 census, so that their religion can be properly respected, and it would be good if the Minister would use his influence to unlock a more common- sense response from the Office for National Statistics.
I view the Gujaratis in my community through the businesses and services that they provide, beginning with the garage directly opposite my office, which is run by the Halai family, who came over from east Africa but had a home in the Kutch area of Gujarat. They have provided jobs to people in my constituency and provide a much-appreciated service through their garage. They are active in the Shree Kutch Leva Patel Community, which does so much in north-west London; I wish its premises were based in my constituency, but sadly, they are in Northolt. The SKLPC has secured planning permission for a fantastic new India Gardens project, and I wish its trustees well in turning their vision into a reality.
Also linked to SKLPC are the Vekaria family, who run the Vascroft business—contractors that build temples, hotels and many other things. They employ huge numbers of people and are well known in the building community. That business was set up by two brothers from east Africa, but again with huge links to Gujarat, in January 1977. It is a family business still; it has great values, and it is based in Park Royal. All us Members from north-west London have constituents who work for Vascroft.
There is also Sandip Ruparelia, who has links to the International Siddhashram Shakti Centre in Harrow—which, I suppose, is my home temple in my constituency—and to the ISKCON Foundation at Bhaktivedanta Manor. His family, too, was originally based in Tanzania, but had strong links to Gujarat. He arrived in the UK in March 1980, and now runs a huge business, providing banqueting facilities among other things. Perhaps crucially, in the context of the debate about the future of our public services that we will have over the course of the next six weeks, he also runs an important care home service, providing much-valued services to the elderly in my constituency and beyond. He employs 2,500 staff and generates substantial tax revenues for our economy. He is another example of a member of the Gujarati community who recognises his responsibilities to the country in which he lives, but has also kept his links to Gujarat and is hugely proud of them.
The Dhamecha family are part of the Lohana community. Again, they have strong links to Gujarat and have helped the Lohana community in the UK, which is part of the Gujarati diaspora, to set up two centres, both of which, I am pleased to say, are in my constituency. That is much appreciated. Pradip Dhamecha and his family run a huge cash and carry business, which generates substantial tax revenues for the UK economy.
The Solanki family are a north-west London Gujarati family who originally came from east Africa. The father, Mr Solanki, came over in 1964. They run the Asian Media Group. The business is now run by the second generation, with a third generation of Gujaratis actively involved in taking that successful media business forward. All the individuals I have referenced are fiercely proud of their Hindu faith and have links to many of the mandirs, be they part of the Swaminarayan family or other temples in the area.
I also acknowledge the contribution of Gujarati Muslims in my constituency. The superb Dr Merali, a local GP and entrepreneur, is a trustee of the Mahfil Ali mosque in north Harrow. He provides hugely important public services as a GP and through his work with nurseries. He is also engaged with a series of other fundraising projects to support those in need in the UK and back home in Gujarat.
I am privileged to host the headquarters of the Zoroastrian community in the UK in Rayners Lane in my constituency. It is hugely proud of its links to Gujarat, and the fact that the first MP from an ethnic minority background was a Gujarati Parsi. Again, we should acknowledge the huge contribution that the Zoroastrians have made, as part of the Gujarati community, to life in the UK.
All those Gujaratis, in different ways, support my seven reasonable asks of the Government, which I hope the Minister will take seriously in his response.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) in the warmest terms on securing the first ever debate in the Commons about the role of Gujaratis. The story of the Gujarati community in Britain is inspirational. He has already mentioned the Gujaratis’ incredible get-up-and-go enterprising qualities. Many of them, particularly in my constituency, fled here from the murderous Idi Amin with nothing but the shirts on their backs, and they have built incredible businesses and transformed the local economy. If I were to name all of them in my constituency, we would be here for days.
The Gujaratis have made an incredible social contribution to our area—they are social entrepreneurs. As part of the wider Indian community in my constituency, they run countless voluntary groups, community groups and charities, with a particular emphasis on helping and caring for older people. It is always wonderful, when I go to Gujarati homes, to see the grandma and grandpa seated with great respect at the end of the table. That is a wonderful part of the culture that we could all learn from.
The Gujarati community is a patriotic community that has become integrated and part of the great tapestry of this country. I enjoy the cultural contribution that it has made to my constituency; there have been huge Diwali celebrations in recent weeks in Leicestershire. I particularly enjoyed dancing at the Navratri celebrations at Gartree High School in my constituency. As hon. Members might imagine, I am a terrible dancer, but it is a warm and forgiving community, so it was wonderful to be there.
(1 year ago)Westminster Hall
On a point of order, Sir Christopher. In view of the fact that the debate is starting just over two minutes late, are you, as the Chair, prepared to give yourself injury time?
I beg to move,
That this House has considered legal protection for residents of park homes.
Thank you for starting the debate, Sir Christopher. I hope I will soon be able to resume my place and that you—you were originally going to move the motion—will be able to pick up and give the speech the House is looking forward to.
May I first pay tribute to you, Sir Christopher, for leading the all-party group on park homes? This is one of those areas where, for far too long, there was too little publicity and too little Government action.
I pay tribute to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which looks after park homes, for the way it has picked up the initiative by Nat Slade, an officer in Arun District Council, and his colleagues, who have worked with the Ministry to get the Government to come forward with measures to deal with some of the appalling abuses. If I were a tougher Member of Parliament, I would name some of the rogues and crooks—some have left the park home business, but others continue. My belief is that, with publicity, they will be shamed into stopping the exploitation of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
Few people choose to live in a park home as their permanent residence if they have better options, but the fact is that many do not. Too often, people have taken on a home that is, in theory, licensed only for holiday use, but everyone, including the freeholder and owner and the operator, knows that they are there to make permanent use of it. If, by chance, the operator manages to get the licence changed to permanent, the innocent park home owners and residents are then told to pay a fortune to convert what was, in effect, a permanent residence into another permanent residence.
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
Break in Debate
I am grateful to you, Sir Peter, for moving the motion. I shall call Sir Christopher—it is his debate—but for the avoidance of doubt I should say that I am not late; I am the replacement.
My hon. Friend highlights some of the poorer practice in the industry, but to shine some light on the situation I would like to highlight some of the better practices. I had an email from Mother Ivey’s Bay Holiday Park yesterday, telling me that it champions the real living wage on its park homes, gifts 1% of its hire fleet to families in need through the Family Holiday Association, and never permits residential occupation of its holiday parks. Is there a lot we can learn from holiday parks such as Mother Ivey’s Bay, which are industry exemplars?
Does my hon. Friend agree that those who seek to occupy a park home need the best possible advice, and some information about the law in the area, and will he join me in congratulating Age UK on preparing a wonderful factsheet—factsheet 71— explaining that law?
I am sorry that a pre-existing commitment prevents me from staying for the rest of the debate.
It seems to me that the Advertising Standards Authority should get a complaint, and should quickly adjudicate, rule out of order and condemn the advertisements that my hon. Friend refers to. May I point out that Sonia McColl, the champion of park home owners, had her 40 foot, 10-tonnes mobile home stolen? My hon. Friend might join me in appealing to Devon and Cornwall police to find it and to find the people who stole it. Death threats are one thing; having your home stolen is another.
The hon. Gentleman makes a compelling case. One of the problems is that local authority officers have no experience in this area. It is vital that we give advice to residents nationally, because they are being penalised. Does he agree that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has to take this up as a matter of urgency?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is timely from my perspective, as I visited Great Orton park homes last week. The main issues for the residents I met were the state of the park and the responsibility of the park owner.
I have two points to make. First, does my hon. Friend agree that introducing the fit and proper person test would go some way towards giving councils more powers to intervene where appropriate? Secondly, does he agree that it would be appropriate for residents to have the opportunity to acquire ownership of the park in certain circumstances, similar to the right that long leaseholders in blocks of flats have?
If the hon. Gentleman does not agree with the concept of a fit and proper person test, what does he propose to put in place to try to stop exactly the rogues that he has described in such detail to the Chamber?
Three Members wish to make a speech, giving us about ten minutes each, without putting a formal time limit on it. Thank you Sir Christopher for starting this debate, and I apologise for my late arrival.
Break in Debate
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is correct and we need to address those particular issues, but we need to make sure we do so in an effective way, with the desired consequences. The introduction of the fit and proper person test was provided for in the 2013 Act and is intended to eliminate these rogues. However, the feedback from Wales is that it has not done that and that a dispersed system with a tickbox approach, which has been pursued there, has not led to one application being refused. If introduced—I have no particular problem with that—the test must be properly co-ordinated and consistent across the whole country and it must plug the loopholes whereby a rogue site owner either puts forward a manager for licensing purposes yet continues to direct business themselves or pursues the type of dubious practices highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch.
Secondly, more needs to be done to ensure that local authorities have the necessary expertise and resources to enforce the legislation. From my own experience, I know that East Suffolk Council is very good and proactive in addressing a problem when it arises. However, there is more work to be done on day-to-day management and the guidance and advice given to both home and site owners. Such pre-emptive work will nip potential problems in the bud and ensure they do not develop into the major incidents that cause people so much distress and turmoil. I take the view that, if seen through, the recommendations of the working group and the Government’s response to the review will address many of the concerns.
Thirdly, we have heard a great deal today about the sharp practices that are blighting many people’s lives, but it is important not to lose sight of the fact that many site owners behave responsibly, fulfil their obligations and build good working relationships with the homeowners on their sites. It is vital that we do not create a system that forces them out of the sector to be replaced by the rogues who circumnavigate the arrangements and exploit the loopholes about which we have heard so much. In my experience, some good site owners are already deciding to leave the sector.
Fourthly, it is important to continue to distinguish between park homes and holiday homes and to guard against holiday parks morphing into park home sites, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch highlighted. The two sectors are completely different, with two different systems of protection against mis-selling and misuse. It is important that they remain as such and that we enforce the two systems fully and effectively.
My hon. Friend is correct to highlight the problem, and the situation has evolved and been allowed to develop at individual sites around the country. It may be like separating Siamese twins, but we must try, because the two sectors are completely different, serving completely different markets. If at all possible, they need to remain as such.
My final point relates to the 10% commission on sales. That is an anomaly in many ways, yet it has to a large extent underpinned the sector’s financial viability over time. The Government are right to be carrying out an assessment of the likely impact of a change to the rate of commission, and their findings should be fully scrutinised both back in this Chamber and, I am sure, by your Select Committee, Mr Betts. However, before making any changes we need to guard against and properly consider any unintended consequences, which could lead to a jacking up of pitch fees, for example.
Park homes have often been a forgotten part of the housing sector, but they play a vital role, particularly in certain seaside communities, such as those that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and I represent, and for people at or approaching retirement. The sector has been overlooked in the past, and it is important that that does not happen in the future. We must continue to scrutinise the sector to ensure that homeowners have peace of mind, good site owners receive a fair return and the rogues are sent a clear message that they are not welcome and that we will send them packing.
Break in Debate
Absolutely. Such debates are an excellent way to shine light on poor practice in the sector. Park homes represent about 180,000 households and can house some of the most vulnerable people in society. Too often, those people are exploited and suffer poor treatment. They deserve our protection and support, so it is right that the Government have given and will continue to give significant attention to the sector. Good progress has been made in recent years. We have heard this morning that there is still a huge amount to do. I trust that I can count on the support of the Members present this morning, as we press ahead with our vital reform of the park home sector.
(1 year, 9 months ago)Commons Chamber
Order. I beg the House to be a little quieter because, as a matter of practicality, I could not hear the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I am politely asking for a little bit of quiet. Just talk quietly among yourselves.
The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly reasonable point. As to whether it is extraordinary, I cannot possibly comment from the Chair. However, he has asked me, as a point of order, whether his amendment (a) to motion 4 was selected and, indeed, whether amendment (b) was selected, and I can tell him that I do not know the answer to his question. The selection of amendments is entirely a matter for Mr Speaker, and the Deputy Speakers have no part in the consideration or discussion of whether an amendment should be selected. I do not know whether either amendment was selected, but I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman.
(1 year, 11 months ago)Commons Chamber
I commend the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) for his Bill and for the very sensible amendments that he has brought before the House. I assure him that I am not going to speak at length. I rise at this stage just to congratulate him and to assure him that he has the full support of Her Majesty’s Opposition.
May I just say to my hon. Friend that so far, throughout this whole process, I have found the Government very helpful, with no sign of procrastination? Indeed, they have been very astute in already seeking views and starting the consultation process, with a working group looking at some of these aspects. I am certain his fears are misfounded.
A time limit could be put into the legislation so that by such a time this should be done.
As always, my hon. Friend and neighbour considers these matters carefully, and I am listening carefully to his proposals. Given that the Bill’s sponsor has received reassurance on this point, surely the phrase “best endeavour” would be otiose, because the Government and the excellent Minister have said that these things will be brought forward. We simply do not need those words.
May I say gently to my hon. Friend that if his amendments are accepted, they may cause some difficulty? If the Bill becomes law, the Government will need to go through a procurement process, which will take several months. The arbitrary time limit that he seeks to impose might mean that that procurement process could not properly take place.
On amendment 7, how will the Secretary of State be judged on the requirement to “use his best endeavour” to carry this out within 12 months?
Presumably, whether best endeavours have been followed in the Brexit negotiations is likely to capture slightly more media coverage than whether best endeavours have been used in the introduction of the civil car parking code of practice.
My point is that in this instance best endeavours would always be in the eye of the beholder. The hon. Gentleman does not explain, in his amendments, how Ministers could be judged on whether they had used their best endeavours and what the consequences of any such judgment would be. Therefore, as an amendment—I know he is very careful about these sorts of things—it does not survive minimal scrutiny.
Is this amendment not a licence to take power away from this House and put it into the courts? This House should be responsible for its own legislation. If there had been a failure of a dilatory nature from the Government, then my hon. Friend could no doubt call them to account in this House. However, ceding power to the courts to make a decision on whether best endeavours have been used seems to me to be a complete abdication of responsibility.
I think my hon. Friend is seeing shadows on the wall where they do not exist. The Government have made it quite clear that they are very supportive of the Bill. If I give him an undertaking to harass the Minister and make his life a misery if I think he is dragging his feet, will my hon. Friend not press his amendments?
My hon. Friend should not be so dismissive of his own impact. As he will know, I was a sponsor of the Middle Level Bill, which is now the Middle Level Act 2018. His dutiful use of the procedures of the House ensured that it was a changed Bill. We do not necessarily need this at the moment, because we can rely on him being a dutiful parliamentarian, scrutinising constantly and ensuring that the House holds the Government to account for implementing the law that is passed.
Order. It is important that we stick to the amendments in front of us rather than what might be amendments elsewhere in future debates.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) on his commitment to ensuring that we have parity and fairness in private parking—it is matched only by his dexterity on the drum kit and his ability to keep time in the parliamentary rock band, MP4. This is a very fine Bill, and I will come to the code of practice on Third Reading, because it is really important that we get a better understanding of the Government’s intentions on the code of practice, which is a most important feature.
I support the right hon. Gentleman on new clause 1 and the subsequent amendment. It is very important to ensure that we get clarity on the appeals process. He is right that we are not covered by POPLA in Scotland. If a car parking operator is part of the independent parking community, we can appeal to the Independent Appeals Service, but that leaves a rather big gap in the opportunities in Scotland to appeal against some of these parking restrictions.
The right hon. Gentleman will know my interest in all this. The city of Perth is totally plagued by private parking companies, making life a misery for my constituents and the many people who come to visit that beautiful city. It is important that we get the Bill done and address this issue. On appeals, a member of staff who works in my office in Perth spends a good part of his day having to deal with complaints and assist people with appeals about the operation of parking companies in my constituency. Something has to be done. The procedure is that someone can appeal against private parking operators, but they are self-regulating. It is up to them whether they take it seriously and to make a ruling and a judgment if they think it is fair—if they think the appeal should be progressed—and then to make a response to the complainant. Clearly, that course of action is unsatisfactory.
This comes down to the British Parking Association’s set of regulations. It introduced POPLA in England and Wales several years ago, which, as I have said, does not cover Scotland. People can appeal to POPLA only if they have failed to secure a successful outcome in appealing to the private parking operator in the first place, and there is a £20 charge. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that the new independent appeals process that he outlines in the new clause will be free of charge. That is important, because I have seen some of these fines range to over £100—I think the top one I have seen, at the end of one of the very many threatening letters that are used by debt collection companies, was in the region of £140 to £160. The added cost of the appeal is another burden and feature that has to be endured by the hard-pressed motorist.
Break in Debate
The hon. Gentleman recognises that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is a Member of great distinction and resourcefulness. It may just be possible that that is his intention. If it is his intention, he has certainly made the point with his customary eloquence and effectiveness. Yes, I think this would be an excellent moment for him to recognise that the point is made, and he could therefore graciously not press his amendments.
That was elegantly done. Well, on that basis, I do not have much more to say. I have made the points I wanted to make.
With the Bill being improved in the way that has been proposed, I end by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire. This is past time, and the Bill will be welcomed in my constituency, by the constituent I mentioned, by me and, I am sure, by Members on both sides of the House.
It is wonderful when both sides of the House come together to support and put in place legislation that will make a practical difference to the day-to-day lives of the millions of people we represent. In that vein, I wholeheartedly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) on highlighting this issue, and on the tenacity and diligence with which he has brought the issue to the Floor of the House and to Committee. I pay tribute to him, and many people will be grateful for his efforts.
I will speak briefly now, and perhaps respond to hon. Members’ comments more generally on Third Reading. For now, I will limit my remarks to the various new clauses and amendments.
New clause 1 will appoint a single appeals service to create further clarity for consumers, giving a well-signposted route to appeal a private parking ticket. I am delighted on behalf of the Government to support the new clause. It and the associated amendments will ensure that there is a fair, transparent and consistent appeals service for motorists. This has been warmly welcomed by consumer groups and the parking industry alike.
I am pleased to tell the House that Steve Gooding, the director of the RAC Foundation, has said:
“we particularly welcome the proposal for a single, independent appeals service, which, together with a single, clear code of practice should establish a better, clearer framework and a level playing field that is fairer for all”.
The foundation has challenged the effectiveness of self-regulation in the parking industry. Only this week, it drew attention to the fact that in the second quarter of the financial year, private parking companies sought yet another record number of vehicle keeper details from the DVLA with which to pursue ordinary drivers and motorists.
The chief executive of one of the industry’s leading trade associations, the British Parking Association, has said that the association welcomes the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, commenting that they
“chime with our call for a single standard body, single code of practice and a single independent appeals service. This framework provides a unique opportunity to deliver greater consistency and consumer confidence”.
The BPA looks forward to pushing
“for a positive outcome for all.”
It is therefore with pleasure that the Government can support new clause 1.
I am also pleased to support, on behalf of the Government, amendments 1 to 6, which are pragmatic alterations that will support the Bill’s delivery through secondary legislation. They will give the Secretary of State the ability to delegate functions to non-public bodies, such as experts in auditing, as seems eminently sensible. They will clarify the role of the Secretary of State, in that he or she will have final approval of the code of practice and any subsequent alterations that will be submitted to Parliament. Finally, as my right hon. Friend stated, the amendments will expand the existing levy under the Bill to cover the cost of appointing and maintaining a single appeals service. The Government support all the amendments.
Let me turn briefly to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope). I welcome his broad support for the Bill’s measures, and share his commitment to, and enthusiasm for, ensuring that the measures start making a practical difference to people as soon as possible. However, following the arguments that have already been made by various Members on both sides of the House, I, too, do not believe that the amendments are necessary. I can personally assure my hon. Friend that the Government and I are committed to creating and publishing a code of practice for the private parking industry as soon as is practically possible. I can confirm that considerable work has already gone into this, and I will happily walk the House through that in a second.
More generally, placing an arbitrary timeline on the process of developing a code and implementing the Bill would compromise our ability to make sure that the Bill comes into force in the way that we want it to, and with the impact that we all desire it to have. For example, a consultation with the public is necessary. Given the scale and volume of the correspondence to our postbags and email inboxes, which are already full regarding this topic, one can imagine that that consultation will be of extreme importance to many people whom we represent. They will want time to have their say, and we should make sure that that is possible. Furthermore, as has already been outlined, procurement practices might be required, and if they should be required, they will be subject to statutory timelines that need to be obeyed. Lastly, if the code of practice was going to put in place new provisions around such things as standard signage, standard forms of parking tickets or standard language, it would be appropriate for a suitable transition period to be put in place to allow companies to adjust to the new, fairer measures.
I cannot give my hon. Friend a precise answer to that question, simply because, in the first instance, I am not in control of the parliamentary process in the other place, as he will be aware.
However, what I can do for my hon. Friend and the House is to give some evidence as to the pace and commitment with which I and my team are working on this issue. My predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), had already, even before the Bill’s Second Reading, asked the director of the RAC Foundation to form a working group to start developing an outline code of practice. That working group contains multiple stakeholders from across the industry, including the two main trade associations—the BPA and the International Parking Community—the Welsh and Scottish Governments, and bodies such as People’s Parking, the RAC Foundation, the traffic penalty consortium, the British Retail Consortium, and the DVLA. The body has already met four times—each time extensively, for over two hours—to debate all the issues. I personally have spent time with the director of the RAC Foundation and the BPA, and I am shortly to meet the IPC. My officials have had more than 30 bilateral meetings with members of the working group. At my instigation, my officials have hosted a parking operator roundtable in the Department to fully engage the industry to help to develop the code of practice.
All that work has not been in vain. It has informed a draft code of practice, which has already been published and shared with the Public Bill Committee, and I would be delighted to place a copy of it in the Library for hon. Members to see. I hope that, collectively, this will give all hon. Members the reassurance they need that the Government and I are firmly committed to developing this code of practice, and ensuring that the legislation is enacted as quickly and practically as is possible.
Break in Debate
May I just echo the Minister’s final comment? I, too, hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), having heard the pledges of support for the Bill and the clear expressions of good will, particularly from Front Benchers, will not press his amendments to a vote.
Thank you. It is very good to have clarity for the Chair.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
Delegation of functions
Amendments made: 1, page 3, line 14, leave out from “may” to “functions” in line 20 and insert “—
(a) enter into an agreement with a public authority authorising the authority to perform any functions of the Secretary of State under sections1 to4 (other than the function of laying a code or alteration before Parliament);
(b) enter into an agreement with a person authorising that person to perform any”.
This amendment enables the Secretary of State to delegate functions relating to the investigation of breaches of the parking code to bodies that are not public authorities.
Amendment 2, page 3, line 28, leave out “public authority which is” and insert “person”.
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.
Amendment 3, page 3, line 34, leave out “the final version of”.
See the explanatory statement for Amendment 5.
Amendment 4, page 3, line 35, at end insert “for approval”.
See the explanatory statement for Amendment 5.
Amendment 5, page 3, line 36, leave out “The” and insert
“Once the Secretary of State has approved the code or alteration, the” .—(Sir Greg Knight.)
Amendments 3 to 5 make clear that, where the Secretary of State has delegated the function of preparing the parking code, the Secretary of State must approve the final version of the parking code (or any alteration to it) before it is laid before Parliament.
Levy for recovery of administrative and investigation costs
Amendment made: 6, page 4, line 3, at end insert—
“() where the Secretary of State has entered into an agreement with a person under section (Appeals against parking charges) (appeals against parking charges), the establishment and maintenance by the person of a service for dealing with parking appeals (within the meaning of that section).” —(Sir Greg Knight.)
The effect of this amendment is that, where the Secretary of State enters into an agreement with a person for the person to deal with appeals against parking charges (see NC1), the costs of establishing and maintaining that parking appeals service may be defrayed out of the proceeds of the levy imposed on accredited parking associations.
Queen’s consent signified.
Break in Debate
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. These examples are all, clearly, very distressing for the motorist concerned, as are the language and the threats that are often used—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk). It is, however, important to remember that these companies have no legal power to fine motorists. That is something only the police, local councils and those enforcing railway byelaws can do. As a result, some private parking companies deliberately make their parking charges look very similar to official penalty charge notices. When the police or the local authority issue a fine, it will often be labelled as a “PCN”—a penalty charge notice—and may come in an official yellow cellophane wrapper. Some private companies are now using similar packaging and are even labelling their notices with the word, “PCN”, but this time it stands for parking charge notice. Often the term enforcement is used, but these companies do not have any enforcement powers.
(2 years, 1 month ago)Commons Chamber
As the Minister with responsibility for local government, I am full of admiration for local authorities and their ability to do many things. The pace of the creation of new legislation over the past year or two means that many of the local authorities’ powers in this area are relatively new, so local authorities are getting to grips with them bit by bit. I am pleased to say that there are very positive examples on the ground of local authorities taking action to enforce housing legislation and reinvesting in enforcement the fines that they generate.
A brilliant example of that is Torbay Council, which has used the fines from civil penalties to employ an extra enforcement officer to help with exactly the activities that we are discussing.
As I mentioned previously, Newham is obviously ahead of the curve, and the Committee did hear evidence about that, but many other local authorities are now following suit. Liverpool, Camden and Torbay are examples of local authorities that are getting to grips with the new legislation and putting it into effect in good order. I am pleased to say that, as these are relatively new powers, over the summer recess my Department conducted an extensive engagement activity across five different events throughout the country, involving almost 200 different local authorities, to talk specifically about the enforcement of regulations in the sector. Those conversations have sparked a lot of interesting collaboration across local authorities as they contemplate using the existing regulations and the new legislation in future. As we go forward together, with greater awareness and collaboration and, indeed, the greater funding that will come as a result of the legislation, I am confident that we will see enhanced enforcement activity from local authorities, where required.
Break in Debate
I will not give way, simply because of the time constraints on us.
If tenants are found to be in breach of those requirements, they will be liable to penalties and to prosecution, so I am more reassured than I was at the start of the debate. I welcome the fact that the Minister has listening ears, because he has really tried to listen to all Members on this matter.
On the enforcement issue, I am still concerned—not because of this legislation, but because of the failure to enforce the existing legislation requiring letting agents to publish their fees. I welcome the fact that, under clause 7, district councils will be able to keep the penalties charged, and I very much welcome the Minister’s announcement today that there will be £500,000 of up-front loading for councils to enable them to invest in staff and to start taking on enforcement. I want to pursue this, however, by asking what will happen if that still does not result in enforcement, because we will be no further forward with this brilliant legislation if enforcement does not happen. I also put on the record my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, which asked for the up-front loading.
If we are giving councils the money in advance and they are able to keep the penalties, they really must step up to the mark and enforce the legislation. It will make such a difference to tenants’ lives if they know in advance what fees they will have to pay and that those fees are evidence-based, and if they know that if those fees are abused, there will be prosecutions and severe penalties. I cannot support the Opposition’s amendment 3, simply because schedule 1 sets out which fees will or will not be payable, while the Opposition have only given some examples of such fees. That is not really strong enough, and the amendment would severely weaken the legislation.
I congratulate the Minister, who has done a fantastic job in listening to everyone. I still have some slight concerns about enforcement and the default payments, but I am very happy to support the Bill.
This is the perfect opportunity for me to speak. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as a result of which I recused myself from the Select Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. On the face of it, the Bill will cost my business more money than I wish to think about, and it is certainly keeping my finance director awake at night; we are talking about significant sums. Nevertheless, I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), because we do not have a free market here. I think that it is an entirely Conservative policy to make sure that we have free enterprise and a free market.
Tenants choose properties; they do not choose letting agents. Landlords choose letting agents. Despite the cost, we should be standing up for the values of free enterprise. The business I have mentioned, which I am still involved with today, could not have been built without the opportunities provided by free enterprise, so there is no way that I could not support the Bill. I appreciate the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), but I think that even a cap is the wrong approach. We need to abolish these fees completely, as I have consistently argued to the industry.
I want to make a couple of points about free enterprise and the private rented sector. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), said that the private rented sector had increased exponentially over the past few years. When I started 30 years ago in this business, I operated in York, where the lack of supply meant that anyone who wanted to rent a home would probably get a shabby, damp, dark terraced house. It is because of private sector investment that we now have such tremendous supply in this marketplace, generally at fair rents.
I am not sure where the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds)—she is not in her place—got the figure of an 18% yield from, but that seems incredible. On that basis, there is probably a march of investors heading down the road to Oxford East to buy property. Generally, yields in the sector are very tight—about 4%, not 18%—because of the competitive nature of the market.
I support the Government amendments to ensure that any charges are clearly defined in a tenancy agreement.
(2 years, 3 months ago)Westminster Hall
On a point of order, Sir Christopher. In the great excitement of commencing my speech, I failed to draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The simple truth is that our constituents, the public, have no faith left in the planning system. That is hardly a surprise when one is dealing with, to be frank, the rank incompetence of a council such as Leeds City Council. It has created a totally over-inflated housing target figure, which even the academics at Leeds University have claimed simply could not be built in the timeframe laid out, yet in the next couple of weeks we are to go into a public inquiry in which we assess whether Leeds City Council’s site allocations plan is sound. How can something be sound if it is based on fantasy figures?
Leeds City Council has lost almost every single Planning Advisory Service appeal; every time, the PAS says, “You don’t have a five-year land supply.” But the figure is being inflated to say that we need tens of thousands more houses than we actually need. It is, therefore, very difficult to come up with the land supply for houses that are never going to be built.
What are the consequences of that? Sites are being put forward to be built on that should never have been involved. They are the prime sites, where a developer will say, “I’m going to build on that site and get the housing numbers up.” They quite legitimately do not have to build on the brownfield sites, because the council has said, “This is a site you can build on.” The developer then starts to build on that green-belt and greenfield site, and they get far more revenue from that. There is no incentive for them to move elsewhere.
In the past five years, Leeds City Council has granted 25,148 planning permissions. Of those, 4,429 expired—they were not built within the specified timeframe—and only 3,680 were built. Therefore 17,039 remain unbuilt, yet Leeds says that we need to find planning and space for another 70,000 houses.
I realise that the Minister cannot respond to this, but his constituency neighbours mine, and the councils in his constituency, especially Harrogate Borough Council, are planning to build tens of thousands of houses on the border of my constituency. At the moment, Leeds City Council is not taking any notice of that, and it is saying that we need to expand. Councillor Alan Lamb from Wetherby, Councillor Ryan Stephenson from Harewood, and Councillor Matthew Robinson have been at the forefront of fighting back against Leeds City Council, but it is a Labour majority council by quite some margin. Even the independents—I pay tribute to Councillor Mark Dobson, who is an independent in Garforth in my constituency—have been fighting against the Labour council on those numbers, but they just get ridden roughshod over.
On 1 August, I will be at a site allocations plan inquiry arguing why a grade II listed parks and gardens site should not be built on. I will be doing that because Leeds City Council refuses to reassess the numbers it came up with on the basis of totally out-of-date migration figures from the early and mid-2000s, when numbers were much higher than they are now. Even now, demand is declining, although the council says that it is going up. The inspector has said, “It is not my job to assess the numbers. That was done in 2012. We are here to judge the soundness of the SAP.” How can we possibly judge the soundness of the plan when we are dealing with fantasy numbers?
We have lost every PAS site appeal in my constituency. The only one left is Scholes. The plan to try to save that PAS site and build somewhere else on the Parlington estate would increase the traffic flow through that village by 300%—that is Leeds City Council’s highways department’s own figure. Even the solutions that Leeds City Council comes up with to try to save a village actually destroy that village by shifting the problem elsewhere.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), and I congratulate him on securing this debate. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert). It has to be about how many houses we build, not how many permissions we have. Quite simply, in my constituency alone, almost 75% of the planning permissions have gone unbuilt. How on earth can someone put forward a plan that says, “Actually, Elmet and Rothwell needs another 12,000 houses,” when 75% of the permissions granted have not yet been built? The whole thing needs to be reassessed.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to feed back to his Department that, unless the numbers are accurate, these processes are completely unsound. All we are doing is giving a licence to build on the green belt and greenfield land, rather than tackling brownfield land, which consequently means there is no affordable housing.
(2 years, 6 months ago)Westminster Hall
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) on securing the debate and on his dedication to pursuing the cause. He is a living embodiment of the values that he quoted from the Conservative party manifesto about making a commitment to one’s community.
I approach the debate with some trepidation, not only because of my hon. Friend’s long and distinguished experience in this place, but because he held my position as a Minister with responsibility for local government, which is something I am new to. As a small boy growing up in Southampton, his was one of the first MP’s names that I knew. It is a great honour to respond to him. There is a lot to get through.
The Government’s aim is to enable the people of Christchurch to have as good a deal as possible with their local services. Those services are mainly the responsibility of Dorset County Council, but Christchurch Borough Council is responsible for about 20% of them. Those services are important to the local people.
Although I agree with my hon. Friend and share his joy that we will be leaving the European Union, a difference between him and the Government may lie in our belief that the proposed governance changes, for which we are seeking parliamentary approval, will benefit people across the whole of Dorset, including the residents of Christchurch borough.
With respect, it is important to note that that is not only the Government’s view, in contrast to what was just said. It is a view shared by many other people and organisations across Dorset, including Dorset County Council, which has major service responsibilities in Christchurch, as I have said; approximately 79% of councillors across Dorset; and major public service providers and businesses, particularly those with responsibilities for health, police, fire and rescue, and rail services across Christchurch and the wider Dorset area.
A number of my right hon. and hon. Friends with constituencies in the area share that view. On 29 November, they wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and urged him to support the proposal that the Dorset councils have submitted, because it is the option that commands strong local support and does the job that needs to be done. They state that
“the further savings required to be made, if our councils are to continue delivering quality public services, can only be done through a reorganisation of their structures”.
The view is also shared by a third of the elected councillors to Christchurch Borough Council, who wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and stated:
“We are acutely aware of the constraints on local government funding and the financial pressure that upper tier services are facing. We therefore consider it our duty to respond to these challenges by supporting the restructuring of local government in Dorset”
The representative household survey commissioned by the nine Dorset councils estimated that 65% of residents across the whole of Dorset support the proposal. Of those nine councils, eight support the proposed change and have formally consented to the necessary secondary legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch raised a number of specific points, which I shall do my best to deal with. The Secretary of State has had careful regard to the local advisory poll and its results, but as a poll of only 6% of the whole area’s population, we do not see it as casting doubt on his conclusion that there is a good deal of local support across the area.
On council tax harmonisation, as the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), told the House in a written answer on 18 December, it has consistently been
“for those implementing any unitary proposal to put to the Secretary of State their proposals”
for council tax harmonisation. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch that it is for the Secretary of State to specify in secondary legislation the maximum period for harmonisation.
Although a maximum period of five years has been specified in previous restructuring, the Government have made no such specification to date. We intend to introduce secondary legislation on council tax harmonisation in June or July. In deciding the maximum period to specify, we will have regard to local preference, the impact on individual council tax bills across the areas concerned and the financial implications for the authorities.
I have highlighted the considerable support for the proposals by business. On the specific question about the timing for the combined authority, the Government have written to the various local authorities about their proposals for a combined authority. We await a response to those questions to take that proposal forward or not, as local authorities see fit.
My hon. Friend asked about the timing for laying the regulations before the House. Of course, it would not have been appropriate to lay them 13 months ago, as he said, because it was not clear exactly what proposals would emerge from the locally driven process. As I am sure he is aware, the regulations are specific to the proposals that have emerged, so they could only have been laid after the proposals were finalised. On consulting, all council executives were shown copies of the regulations and asked for their opinions.
On the comparison with Northamptonshire, it is important to note that the situations are markedly different. In Northamptonshire, the proposals for restructuring are the result of a best-value inspection, whereas in Dorset, they have come bottom-up from councils themselves. In both cases, there has been extensive consultation. The year-long development of proposals in Dorset means that there has been considerable and adequate engagement of local communities in that process.
In conclusion, if Parliament approves the draft legislation that we have laid before it, it will provide the people of Christchurch with more sustainable local governance and safeguard the delivery of local services. I accept that my hon. Friend does not share that view, and there will be an opportunity for it to be considered and debated by Parliament when considering the secondary legislation, which I look forward to doing with him and others in the coming weeks. I will close as I started, by commending my hon. Friend’s dedication to his local community in pursuing the matter with such verve.
Question put and agreed to.
(2 years, 7 months ago)Commons Chamber
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. As ever, he makes a telling point: choices would be different in Scotland. We would choose not to have to mitigate something as horrendous as the bedroom tax, which was so ill thought out that the Tories did not take into account the fact that there are virtually no houses in the highlands and islands that do not have more than one bedroom.
Since its establishment, the Scottish welfare fund has helped more than 275,700 households. The fund provides crisis grants when someone experiences a disaster or emergency and community care grants to enable independent living. We have also extended the Scottish welfare fund on an interim basis to mitigate the UK Government’s decision to remove housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds. In 2016-17, more than 17,500 applications for crisis grants were made because of delayed payment of benefits—that is around 10% of all applications. Between July and September 2017, that increased to 14%, clearly showing the impact of the Government’s harsh welfare cuts.
We have restored the council tax support cut in Westminster through the creation of council tax reductions, protecting the incomes of more than half a million people on low incomes. We have extended the child allowance in the council tax reduction scheme by 25%, benefiting 77,000 households by an average of £173 a year, or £15 a month. That boost for low-income families will help nearly 140,000 children across Scotland.
Following the UK Government’s decision to scrap the UK-wide scheme, we have safeguarded support for 2,600 disabled people through the Scottish independent living fund. We have now created an extra £5 million fund to support young disabled people to make the transition into adulthood.
To conclude, I urge the Minister to listen to hon. Members and to stop shifting the responsibility for his Government’s austerity agenda on to local authorities across the nations of the UK.
I rise to support the motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and other right hon. and hon. Friends, in particular the part that suggests that
“councils are reaching a financial breaking point”
and calls on the Government to
“initiate a review into the funding of local government to ensure that the sector has sustainable funding for the long term”.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State is leaving at this point, because I hoped he might listen to what Back Benchers have to say—but apparently not. I think the level of cuts is too great and threatens the very future of local government as we know it.
Two councils cover my constituency of Garston and Halewood. Liverpool has lost 64% of its central Government funding, or £420.5 million in real terms since 2010. At the beginning of the Lib Dem coalition Government—I am sorry the Lib Dems have absented themselves, because they cannot absolve themselves of responsibility for the cuts that have happened and that continue to happen as a consequence of the Government they supported and were in—we lost £350 million from Building Schools for the Future, £127 million from the housing market renewal initiative, and all the money that recognised the levels of deprivation in Liverpool.
Consequently, the council now has 3,000 fewer staff. It has taken out most of its middle management and saved £5 million a year by cutting the performance-related bonuses of its remaining staff. Councillors’ allowances have been frozen since 2010 and special responsibility allowances have been cut by 10%. There remains a £90 million gap to be filled over the current three-year period.
The other authority, Knowsley, is smaller but has been bashed equally hard by the Government. It has lost 45% of its Government funding so far, which is over £100 million. That is £485 for every person in the borough, which is double the England average of a loss of £188. Consequently, the authorities are struggling to meet the requirements they have to support their residents.
The future the authorities face will be even more difficult, because by 2020 Government grant will be cut further and they will have to rely on council tax and business rates. Liverpool has the further disadvantage that 60% of its properties are in band A—the lowest yielding council tax band—and 90% in bands A to C. The money raised by council tax in Liverpool is £72 million below the average UK figure. It can raise only £1.4 million for every 1% increase in council tax.
The council tax base is such that it will never be as easy for a city like Liverpool to do as well as more affluent areas on the basis of council tax and business rates alone. Last year, 72% of Liverpool City Council’s funding came from Government grant and only 11% from council tax. It has to spend more on adult social care than it can raise in council tax. That is the situation it faces. It is doing what it can. It has built almost 11,500 new band D properties since 2010, yielding an extra £13.5 million a year in council tax. It is doing its best to grow the council tax base, but it is difficult.
Knowsley has made particular efforts to grow its local economy to deal with similar issues, and has managed to do so pretty well. However, it has to spend 80% of its resource on statutory services that it cannot avoid and adult social care, so there is not much space for it to make further savings. It can raise only £477,000 for each 1% increase in council tax. It is therefore fantasy for the Secretary of State and Government Members to argue that this is about efficiencies and just doing things a little bit better. It is far more fundamental than that.
When the Minister responds, I wonder if he might deal with the admitted errors that have been made in section 31 grant calculations in respect of authorities such as Knowsley. Apparently the council was told, after the legal deadline for setting its budget, that there was going to be clawback, because the Department had miscalculated the money due under section 31. To repay that money, Knowsley Council might have to raise council tax by an extra 2%. It cannot do so, however, as it has already set its budget. I hope the Minister will deal with the mistakes made by his Department. The effect on poorer councils such as Knowsley and Liverpool could be devastating. It is bad enough to lose 64% of resource and bad enough to lose 45% of the money used to carry out statutory duties, but to then have further monies clawed back because of a mistake by the Government is completely unconscionable. I hope the Minister in his reply will at least be able to give me some assurances about that clawback and what the Department is going to do about it.
Break in Debate
I welcome the funding settlement approved by this House last month, which will see my own local authority of South Gloucestershire given an additional £3.2 million in funding. This will have a number of positive consequences, based on the budget agreed a week after this funding was announced.
The school improvement fund will double, meaning that more help will be available to ensure our children get the most out of their education. I am most proud of the fact that the extra £3.2 million will allow the council to act to help care leavers, meaning that they have increased opportunity to meet their own potential. As well as receiving council tax relief, care leavers will benefit from a programme to encourage apprenticeships. I have spoken many times before about the power of apprenticeships to encourage social mobility. I am very proud to see the money being put to such good use, so our youngsters can fulfil their true potential.
The Conservative leaders of South Gloucestershire Council have ensured that the budget is balanced for this year. It is regrettable, however, that that balance was achieved with a 5.99% increase in council tax. The introduction of council tax referendums from 2012 was the expression of a key Conservative principle that taxation should be by consent, with a mandate and as low as possible. It is, however, no surprise that when the threshold for a referendum is a 6% increase, we see a number of councils raising tax by 5.99%. A cynical observer may suggest that they do not want the public scrutiny that would come with a debate and a referendum. The lesson of Northamptonshire County Council is that financial obligations cannot be dodged and that the political leadership of our councils cannot be abandoned.
Order. Just one second. We are not going to be able to get Members in. Members have had six minutes each and I have now dropped the limit to four minutes. We are in danger of being self-indulgent if we are not careful. Some people will not get in and that is unfair when this issue matters to every constituency.
Apologies, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was just being polite.
South Gloucestershire Council managed to balance its budget, but if councils are struggling to balance their books and need more money, they should not be afraid to make that case to their residents and ask them to fund the services they need. That would require real political leadership and potentially expose some uncomfortable facts, but it would be the responsible course of action. I sincerely hope that, buoyed by the funding increase this year, South Gloucestershire Council takes this opportunity to look carefully at the governance of the council and how effectively it works.
(2 years, 8 months ago)Commons Chamber
The hon. Lady’s local authority, Bath and North East Somerset, was part of a business rates pilot in 2017-18. As I said, we have extended that pilot, which gives the local authority the ability to take advantage of that and put in place incentives for local businesses to see growth. The council estimates that it can see millions of pounds of extra income from that, which I would have thought she would support for her local community.
The business rates pilots will help to test the system, to see how well it works in different areas and different circumstances. The purpose of the pilots was to have a broad distribution across north and south, urban and rural, and small and large. The pilot areas will keep 100% of the growth in their business rates if they expand their local economies, which is double what they can keep now. I can confirm that I will open a further bidding round for pilots in 2019-20 in due course. In expanding those pilots, we have responded to what councils have told us, and we are doing the same in other areas.
Rural councils express concern about the fairness of the current system, with the rural services delivery grant due to be reduced next year. In response, I can confirm today that we will increase that grant by £31 million in 2018-19. That is £16 million more than was proposed in the provisional settlement, taking the total figure to £81 million—the highest amount ever paid in rural grant, at a little over the sum paid in 2016-17.
We recognise that the so-called negative revenue support grant is causing concern. Changes in revenue support grant have led to a downward adjustment of some local authorities’ business rates top-up or tariff for 2019-20. We know we must address that problem, and we will consult formally on a fair and affordable set of options for doing so, with plenty of time to reflect on the findings before next year’s settlement.
Following discussions with the sector, we are continuing with the capital receipts flexibility programme for a further three years. That scheme gives local authorities continued freedom to use capital receipts from the sale of their own assets, to help fund the transformation of services and to release savings.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Such certainty is of course very important for many local authorities, including his own, and I hope I can now make the situation clearer. It is our intention to deal with the problem of the negative RSG, but we have yet to determine exactly the best way of doing so and providing support to the local authorities affected, and that is why it is right to consult on it. I absolutely commit to him that we will do so, and when we do—our plan is to do it in the spring—I hope that he and others will make an input to make sure that we get it right and really deal with this problem for his authority and many others.
(2 years, 8 months ago)Commons Chamber
I certainly would condemn that, and I will share an example with the House shortly of a similar case that I regard as outrageous.
Today, we have the opportunity to tackle this issue. I know that the worst abuses feature in the emails and postbags of all Members of Parliament. Not only my constituents in East Yorkshire but motorists right across the country are angry and calling for action.
One such motorist is Mr O’Keefe. He was driving in a private industrial estate, searching for a particular outlet that he was having difficulty finding, when he stopped in an empty lay-by for 15 seconds to check his satellite navigation settings. It transpired that he was caught by a passing security van equipped with a camera, and a week later he received a ticket for £100 for stopping in breach of a sign situated further back on the road that he had passed at 30 mph. The parking company agrees with his version of events—it accepts that he was stationary for only about 15 seconds—but when he made a complaint and then appealed to the Independent Appeals Service, he was fobbed off in both cases and he continues to receive threatening letters.
Even homeowners have been hit, as the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) said in his intervention. A case was brought to my attention concerning residents in a Salford block of flats to whom over 200 tickets were issued for parking in their own car park in just one month. They were given a day’s notice to display a newly designed permit by the management firm, which posted warning letters and the new permits through residents’ letter boxes only one working day before it enforced the new regime. Some of the residents were away on holiday and others did not receive the new parking permit, but they found that their vehicles, parked in their own dedicated spots, had a penalty of £100 stuck to the windscreen. At least one resident who had been away on holiday came back to find tickets to the value of £2,000 on his car. The dispute is ongoing.
That is a fair point. My Bill seeks to deal with that, and I will come on to it in a moment. If we have a statutory code of conduct, certainly consequences will flow for a company not adhering to it.
Break in Debate
I am aware that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) is poised to introduce his Bill, which addresses an important issue. Also the Minister, to whom I shall shortly be acting as Parliamentary Private Secretary, will be cross with me if I give her cause to have to reduce her no doubt excellent speech by too much. There may even be some colleagues who are in a rush to get home because their own parking ticket expires soon.
As we have heard from colleagues across the House, this is a very good Bill, which I am pleased to support. However, a number of concerns have been raised by other Members that I also want to underline. The fact that private parking companies use the PCN abbreviation as “parking charge notice”—compared with the “penalty charge notice” issued by the police and civil authorities—is wilfully misleading and should be stopped. We should also look at the way in which private parking companies are allowed to design the waterproof wrappers for tickets, the tickets themselves and the language on them. There is a clear attempt to make these tickets look like they have come from the civil authorities or from the police.
In my experience and the experience of many of my constituents, signage in private car parks is inconsistent. At best, that could be down to poor maintenance or a mistake. At worst, it could be argued that the poor signage is again a deliberate act to confuse or deceive.
Another development that I have found unhelpful is car parks where people can park only with an app. Some of these apps are absolutely excellent. It is not the case that people can park in car parks on the Great Western Railway network only by using the APCOA app, although that app is very good; many Members will have had experience of using it. That is not so in other car parks, one of which belongs to a very fine hotel in Bristol that insisted that people used an app to pay for their parking.
Some years earlier, when the company was in a very different guise, I had used an online parking facility with that company and given over my car details. I could no longer remember any of the log-in details, and it turned out that there was no facility for me to reset my membership or to be able to access the app. However, because I had entered the car park, I would be charged, and if I was unable to pay through the app, then I would have to accept the ticket and appeal it. The fact that the company could do that was quite extraordinary, especially as I had entered the car park and incurred the charge before any of this became clear to me. That could have been a unique and extraordinary happening experienced by almost nobody else, but it does perhaps indicate how unregulated and unreasonable the private parking industry can sometimes be.
What underlines all the things we have heard today better than anything else is that in all our experience when dealing with casework, we have heard time and again that when these private parking companies are challenged, they capitulate almost immediately. Very rarely do they stand their ground, and that indicates exactly how thin the ice they are skating on is. I agree with colleagues across the House who have said that access to DVLA data is, very clearly, a privilege for companies that behave correctly and should not be allowed for those who repeatedly behave very badly indeed. I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill.
May I correct my hon. Friend? My understanding is that the DVLA does refuse to give access to rogue parking companies, so the threshold beyond which a company is regarded as “rogue” is perhaps what needs changing. That is the point.
Nobody leaves their house because they want to go and do some parking; parking is simply a means to an end, and it should be as easy as possible. The millions of people across the country who use private parking facilities every day deserve a system that is fair, transparent and consistent, but as we have heard from Members on both sides of the House, it is clear that the current private parking system has at times failed each and every one of these tests.
I join hon. Members across the House in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) on bringing the Bill to its Second Reading. It rightly seeks to address an issue that comes up time and again in all our postbags and inboxes. As we have heard, there is currently no standardised, central and independent regulation of private parking operators. Today, there are two different trade associations, each with its own code of practice, and, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) mentioned, the industry is largely self-regulating.
That has led to a range of issues for hard-working constituents doing their best to abide by the rules as they go about their day-to-day business. As we heard, people are being charged unreasonable amounts of money for what are clearly very minor and honest mistakes. My Department has received a case where someone accidentally mistyped their registration number into a parking system, and for the sake of a 50p ticket received a £45 fine in the post—90 times the cost of the original parking ticket.
As we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Solihull (Julian Knight) and for Clacton (Giles Watling), also problematic is poor signage. To park in a private car park is essentially to enter into a contract, but signs are often poorly lit and have unreasonably small text, meaning that drivers are completely unaware of the contract they have just entered into. As my hon. Friends the Members for Havant (Alan Mak), for Torbay (Kevin Foster), for Wells (James Heappey) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) set out, however, unjustifiable charges and poor signage are not the only problems facing motorists.