(7 months ago)Commons Chamber
I am grateful to the Chair of the Committee. I would be happy to work with him should he require any further information or wish to discuss this matter further. If we go ahead with the proposal that I have made today, then the commissioners, once appointed, would report to me on a six-monthly basis and I would be happy to keep the House informed of the information they provide to me. We will ensure that there is an improvement plan in place for the city that is produced by the newly elected Mayor and their cabinet and supported by Liverpool City Council, but advised and guided by the commissioners. Then it will be absolutely essential that that plan is delivered. It will be for all of us in this House, and particularly for those Members of Parliament representing parts of Liverpool, to hold the council to account for the successful delivery of the plan. Our objective is to restore public confidence in the council as quickly as possible so that residents can have confidence that they have a well-functioning council in all respects, and so that all the legitimate businesses, developers and people wishing to contract with the council have complete confidence that Liverpool is a city open for business and they can work to drive up the city’s prosperity as we come out of the pandemic.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. My predecessors have used their powers of intervention very sparingly. They have done so on a small number of occasions, in Doncaster, Rotherham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Northamptonshire. Each occasion was very different, but in most of those cases the intervention has proved successful and has turned councils around. The commissioners will behave sensitively, support the elected leadership of Liverpool City Council, and ensure that confidence is restored, public services are delivered properly, and taxpayer money is spent wisely. This now requires leadership from the politicians in Liverpool—those who will be elected in the local council elections to come. I look forward to working with them, and if we do appoint commissioners, I expect the commissioners to work with them constructively and productively at all times.
(7 months, 2 weeks ago)Westminster Hall
I beg to move,
That this House has considered residential leaseholders and interim fire safety costs.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. It is also a pleasure to be back in Westminster Hall and to be able to debate such an important topic today. When I became the MP for Vauxhall in 2019, two and a half years after the horrific Grenfell Tower fire, I did not expect to find so many of my constituents still living in unsafe buildings, blighted by dangerous cladding and other fire safety defects. To date, I have received correspondence from and been contacted by more than 250 individual leaseholders living in 27 different unsafe building developments in my constituency. And that is just in Vauxhall. The sheer scale of the cladding scandal is truly shocking, and it has revealed the full extent of what can only be described as a systematic failure in building safety in this country. But because of the tireless efforts of campaigners and their supporters up and down the country, we know that safety is only one part of this story. Leaseholders who bought their homes in good faith now find themselves saddled with the financial responsibility and liability for problems that they had absolutely no part in creating.
Much has been said recently about this injustice, and I am grateful to colleagues across the House who have called for urgent action to protect innocent leaseholders. Understandably, much of the debate has focused on who should pay for the cost of the remedial works to remove and replace the cladding. However, I want to draw attention to an equally urgent but much less talked about financial aspect of this crisis. That is the eye-watering charges that are being passed on to leaseholders for compulsory interim fire safety measures while they wait for the remediation work to be completed.
Interim costs have life-changing impacts. The sheer feeling of hopelessness is shared by many leaseholders I have spoken to. One constituent wrote to me and said,
“I have worked hard. I have contributed to the communities in which I have lived. I have paid over £100,000 in taxes over the past three years. And yet I now find myself facing potential bankruptcy, homelessness and the collapse of my business through no fault of my own. My future is utterly bleak, and my life feels worthless.”
As soon as a building is assessed to be unsafe, residents are told that they must immediately introduce additional fire safety protocols or face an evacuation order from the fire brigade. The requirement for those interim measures can be met in two ways. One is by appointing a waking watch, whereby trained wardens continually patrol the building in order to be able to detect a fire. The second is the installation of specialist alarm systems. Faced with homelessness, leaseholders have little choice but to assume the costs for those measures.
Interim measures have become a frequent occurrence as the fire safety crisis has unravelled over the last three and a half years. Every week, new buildings have been discovered to be unsafe. Worryingly, a fire safety assessment is generally triggered only when the leaseholder tries to remortgage or sell, which in turn triggers the external wall survey or the now-infamous EWS1 process. It means that the true scale of the problem is still unknown, and it will only grow in the months and years ahead.
There is currently nothing in law to protect leaseholders from the financial responsibilities for such interim measures, which are typically passed on through increased service charges. The data on interim costs are patchy and incomplete. Government figures show that the average estimated cost of a waking watch in England is £17,000 per block, rising to over £20,000 in London. Per household, that translates to a bill of approximately £500 a month for each affected household. Alarm systems are not much cheaper as an alternative, with estimates ranging from £50,000 to £150,000 depending on the size of the building. Those figures are eye-watering, and they will recur month after month, year after year, until the cladding is removed and the building is deemed completely safe.
In February of this year, the Minister told Parliament that
“we are clear that waking watch regimes should only ever be used in the short term”.—[Official Report, 1 February 2021; Vol. 688, c. 690-691.]
On one development in the Kennington area of my constituency, however, they have been paying for a waking watch since July of last year, at a cost of £10,000 per flat. The remediation works are not expected to be completed before the end of next year, and the alarm system is deemed insufficient to meet the danger. The total cost of the interim measures for this one development is currently estimated to reach over £1 million. What really sticks in the throat for my constituents is not just that the interim measures are expensive and mandatory, but that their effectiveness has been called into question. One constituent told me:
“These guys add little practical value and sit around watching TV on their phones, and yet we have to pay for them under the threat of being evicted if we don’t. In a fire, they are not really going to be able to make a blind bit of difference through evacuating residents.”
We have to remember that such interim measures are a daily reminder to our constituents that the buildings they live in are unsafe. The amounts are unaffordable for most people at any stage in life, but many of those affected are young, first-time buyers whose dreams of home ownership have turned into an unaffordable nightmare, with their homes literally unsellable. Industry experts estimate that it will take between five and 15 years for all affected buildings to be remediated. The truth is that the costs are anything but interim.
Ministers have known about this problem for almost four years. They have repeatedly acknowledged that fire safety defects are not the fault of leaseholders, and yet it took the Secretary of State until December last year to announce any sort of help for interim costs. The waking watch relief fund, which offers a grant to pay for the installation of fire alarm systems, was a welcome step in the right direction, but it remains the only form of Government assistance that is available for interim costs. In their current form, the fund’s provisions are partial and insufficient. Leaseholders living in blocks below 18 metres are excluded from applying. The Government claim that this is because the risk of a life-threatening fire in lower buildings is smaller, but any building that faces an evacuation order if the interim measures are not established is, by definition, clearly not safe, regardless of whether it is 18, 15 or 12 metres.
One such block in Vauxhall, which is under 18 metres, failed its EWS1 assessment in October 2020, and its leaseholders have had to find more than £170,000 to pay for interim safety measures. It is estimated that the remediation work will cost in total £1.4 million. The developer of the building has gone out of business, and leaseholders were all excluded from any Government support schemes. I simply do not know how this situation can ever be fair.
Even if we focus our attention on just the buildings over 18 metres that can apply for the fund, the £30 million that the Government have allocated is drastically short of what is needed. The Government estimate that that will pay for a maximum of 460 buildings, but there are at least 560 eligible buildings in London alone. Lord Greenhalgh told the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on Monday this week:
“We recognise that the £30 million goes some way, but not all the way.”
Finally, the fund pays only for an alarm system purchased and installed after December 2020. That totally ignores the thousands of pounds that leaseholders have already spent on compulsory and expensive but ineffective waking watch systems. How can that be right or fair?
The Government, including the Minister, have repeatedly said in the House that no leaseholder should pay, so I ask the Minister whether he agrees in principle that innocent leaseholders should not be responsible for solving the problems that they did not cause. Why are we asking the same leaseholders to pay extortionate sums for interim costs?
I am grateful to the Minister for attending this debate today. I want to conclude my remarks by focusing on what can be done to fix this appalling situation. I have four questions for the Minister, which I hope he will answer. Will the Government agree to the principle that no leaseholder should have to pay for interim fire safety measures to mitigate the problems that they did not cause? Will the Government commit to including provisions within the upcoming draft Building Safety Bill to protect leaseholders from such costs, and ensure that they are picked up by the people who were responsible for causing them in the first place? Will the Government immediately extend the waking watch relief fund to match the number of buildings that we know are affected, and make sure that all leaseholders facing these costs can apply regardless of building heights?
The Minister has previously said that interim measures should be used only temporarily,
“because they are an entirely inadequate substitute for remediation.”—[Official Report, 1 February 2021; Vol. 688, c. 691.]
With that in mind, will the Minister ask the Government to mandate a timetable for the completion of the remediation work in all unsafe blocks to make sure that the interim costs do not have to be paid by leaseholders for years to come?
I thank the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) for securing this very important debate. She spoke eloquently and movingly about some of the tragic stories that she has heard about in her constituency in London. Sadly, those stories are reflected in my constituency and in constituencies up and down the country.
The costs of intermediate waking watch measures and of insurance premiums going up by thousands of per cent are just heartbreaking. Even as we speak in these debates, people are going bankrupt, and the Government do not seem to be listening to the howls of pain from leaseholders up and down the country, as they beg for support and assistance.
We are almost four years on from Grenfell and we are not getting this matter right; we are not helping. Unfortunately, the Government are actually making the situation worse by not working with leaseholders and the relevant groups, such as the UK Cladding Action Group—End Our Cladding Scandal. A variety of brilliant recommendations have been made by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, which is chaired by our wonderful colleague, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who is taking part in this debate. It is imperative that we help these leaseholders.
When we look at insurance premiums as a measure, which a lot of people do not recognise, we see that they may have gone up by 2,000% or even 3,000%. The Government are taking 12% in insurance premium tax on those rises, so the insurance premium tax take on those insurance premiums is currently higher than the insurance premiums themselves were a year or two ago. That is astonishing.
On waking watch, the fire services have told us that they have almost no control over it. Waking watch is not new; it was introduced years ago and was used, for example, if a hotel fire alarm did not work. At the moment, however, waking watches are being used by management companies as the first resort instead of the last resort. As a result, our local fire services do not have any ability to go in and help the leaseholders, who are being told, “Well, you need to have a waking watch”. There are no other options for them. The fire services should be given some powers to be involved in a responsible waking watch, when it is needed, or to consider what other evacuation orders or measures could be put in place. And the costs are just staggering. I have constituents in Vista Tower in Stevenage who are paying £15,000 a week and they just cannot afford it; that sum is impossible for them to afford. They are paying almost as much as some of their mortgage payments and they are now going bankrupt.
I urge the Minister—please listen to the pain of leaseholders up and down the country. Stop talking and start doing. Start helping my constituents and those in a similar situation up and down the country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) on securing the debate, and it is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) in highlighting the concerns arising in the debate.
Given the circumstances, I want to concentrate on two areas. The first is cladding on tall buildings. I congratulate the Government on securing funding to help to remediate that cladding, but the problem is that the cost of removing cladding on tall buildings is often dwarfed by the cost of the fire safety measures that must also be implemented. It is quite clear, as things stand, that leaseholders will be saddled with the costs of the fire safety measures that are required, as well as the costs of the cladding. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister would respond to the issue of what exactly is included in the remediation of cladding. At the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, there was some confusion when it was suggested that external areas that are not involved in the cladding, such as different balconies, will now be included in the grant scheme.
The other problem is that we are now told that once a fire assessment takes place, the remediation grants will not be available unless leaseholders sign up to fixing the fire safety issues as well, but those involve eye-watering sums of money. The arrangements, of course, are complex. I think we all agree leaseholders should not have to pay for the remediation, but the issue then is who should. I take the view that the taxpayer should not pay for it. The developers, building owners and indeed suppliers of materials should pay for the fire safety remediation, as well as the remediation of unsafe cladding. There is no doubt that the testing regime was unfit for purpose at the time in question, but emerging evidence from the Grenfell inquiry suggests that manufacturers deliberately decided to use the position on testing to cheat on the system. If so, they should be forced to carry out the remediation at their cost.
Equally, there is the challenge of insurance, mortgages and the values of the properties that are affected. Clearly, at the moment, leaseholders cannot be expected to wait for the introduction of the building safety Bill. It will take more than two years for it to come into operation, and leaseholders cannot wait. We need clarity on the point that the fees and costs will be picked up and that the leaseholders will not have to pay them. We also know that it will take an extended period to carry out the works.
I will rest my remarks there. I hope that we will get a response from the Minister on exactly what the scheme covers.
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) on securing this important debate.
In June 2019, a devastating fire tore through the timber balconies of Samuel Garside House in Barking. Residents lost their homes and possessions, and even their pets, and now live in fear, suffering sleepless nights and constant anxiety. Those residents were the first of many constituents impacted by the cladding scandal who have sought my help.
Leaseholders in Barking and Dagenham are not wealthy. Many live hand to mouth, and most cannot even afford contents insurance. Cladding has turned their dream of buying a home into a living nightmare. They face ongoing costs for interim safety measures, and cannot afford them. There are massive bills for waking watches, building insurance and EWS surveys, and the residents cannot sell or remortgage their homes.
At Academy Central, residents have paid £3,500 per household per year for a waking watch. Many cannot afford it and have been doing 24-hour control themselves, which places huge strain on their lives. At Rivermill Lofts, leaseholders have struggled to get an EWS survey. They have been quoted hundreds of pounds per flat, and only 70% of the households have paid up. In the meantime, their flats are worthless. At the Ropeworks, building insurance shot up from £70,000 to £650,000—that is 900%—in two years. At Barking Central, bills for interim measures have reached £6,500 per home. A third of leaseholders cannot afford that, and the cladding grant that they hope to get will not cover the costs of dealing with things such as flammable insulation or faulty firebreaks.
Many leases are buy-to-let, and the landlords often just do not care—at Arboretum Place, only five people turned up to discuss a way forward. The owner-occupiers cannot even begin to sort out the mess if the landlords will not engage. Responsibilities are diffuse, ownership is often shady and stakeholders shirk their obligations. I have had freeholders refusing point blank even to consider that they have a moral duty to help, developers refusing to turn up to meetings and insurers profiteering.
The Government said that leaseholders should not have to pay, but my leaseholders need Government action, not warm words. Developers, freeholders, builders, manufacturers and regulators should all contribute, but only the Government can force them to do so. The support package still has too many gaps—insufficient funding, arbitrary height thresholds, unaffordable loans and the ignoring of all the other defects. The issue will not go away—we will not let it—until the Government act comprehensively and thoroughly so that homes are made safe and leaseholders are not forced to foot the bills.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) on securing this debate.
The Government have done a great deal—I recognise that—with the money and funding made available. Equally, however, it is not enough, because the quantum of money available is not adequate and does not cover all the consequences of the regulatory failure that has put many people, including constituents of mine, in an impossible situation. It will be necessary for the Government to look again. Let me explain why that is important.
We have already heard about the dire position that many flat owners are placed in. Many of them have done the right thing in many ways—they have sought to buy their own homes—and they have done the things that my party has urged them to do. Now, they feel cut adrift. Many are people at the lower of the income scale, and many bought these properties as their entry into the housing market. Key statistics show, for example, that some 59% of the homeowners caught in this situation have an income of less than £50,000, and 33% of less than £35,000; when they are being hit with massive bills of tens of thousands of pounds, that is not very much—on properties that are unmortgageable or unsaleable.
In Northpoint, in my constituency, residents have collectively paid more than £0.5 million on a waking watch, on top of £120,000 for the installation of a temporary fire alarm. In some cases, the evidence shows that people are paying up to £50,000 a month. Also, as has been observed, insurance premiums have shot through the roof. In one London block, for example, the premium increased from £130,000 to £690,000. That is despite the fact that, in some cases, those buildings have been approved by the Department for the ACM remediation scheme and have put alarms in place. None the less, the insurance industry has, frankly, made unreasonable and unjustified levels of profit, and it needs to put its house in order, too.
We do need to pursue those at fault in the cladding scandal—the contractors and the builders—but that will take time, and it may take years. The leaseholders need help with cash flow. That is why the Government should be making available not just grants but loans to be recouped from those who are ultimately responsible. Only the Government have the cash flow to enable these people to move on with their lives. There is not just an economic cost but a massive personal and social one, too, for the victims of the cladding scandal.
I do apologise.
I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) on securing the debate and on talking so passionately, as others have, about the unaffordable cost to our constituents of waking watches and insurance bills. We all know that those costs are to pay for the symptom of the problem; they will never remedy the problem itself, but they will eventually end up bankrupting people.
My constituent Hayley Tillotson saved up for four years to buy her flat. She called it:
“The proudest moment of my life.”
Just before Christmas, she had to declare herself bankrupt and hand back the keys to her dream home. Why? Because the waking watch fee was the same as her mortgage, and she did not have the money to pay it. The point I want to make is simply this: despite the steps the Government have taken, without something else happening, these so-called interim costs will continue to be demanded in the months and years ahead because the buildings will not have been made completely safe. Why is that? Dangerous cladding is only part of the problem. The other part is that wooden balconies and walkways, flammable insulation and missing fire breaks have been discovered time and time again as innocent leaseholders learn that their block was not constructed even to the building standards of the time.
The Minister knows perfectly well that leaseholders do not have the money to fix those other fire safety defects. When the Secretary of State was pressed on that, he said that the taxpayer could not be expected to meet the cost of fixing any safety defect on any building of any height. That is a fair point, although successive Governments do bear some responsibility because they presided over the scandal. But the people who really should pay—the developers, the builders and the freeholders—should be asked for the money. The Government have created the means through the tax and the levy announced by the Secretary of State, so they should provide loans to fix the problem and recoup the money from those three sources.
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply to my written question about whether works to remove dangerous cladding that are funded by the building safety fund will be delayed if insufficient funds are available to fix the other fire safety problems. A press report suggested that that could happen, but his reply implied that it would not. Could he clarify that in responding?
The fact remains that until sufficient funds are identified, the costs will continue to drain the resources and the spirits of all the leaseholders caught up in this nightmare. The question to the Minister remains a simple one: he knows that leaseholders cannot afford to fix the other problems, so what is his plan for getting them fixed?
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) for securing the debate. May I say how impressive her introduction was? It is a reflection of the immense talent she brings to the House.
I will speak briefly, because I promised my constituents who live at the Ballymore development at High Point Village in Hayes that I would take every opportunity I could to raise their concerns. Like other Members, I find it virtually impossible to describe the distress that my constituents have experienced and are going through. It started the day after Grenfell, when they were concerned about their own safety, but it then took a long time to get a thorough inspection under way.
The developer has behaved totally irresponsibly and is failing to communicate effectively with my constituents. In addition, we are only now into the application stage for Government assistance to tackle the cladding costs and removal, and we have discovered that, as others have said, large measures will not be covered by the Government’s grant. I find it intolerable that the developer is now coming back and saying that all these other defects, which it is equally responsible for, including the wooden balconies, will not be covered in those costs. Therefore, my constituents feel that they will not be made safe, or, if they are, that it will be at a high cost to themselves and not the developers.
In the meantime, like other Members’ constituents, my constituents are being hit with increases in their service charges, particularly around insurance. There is no way that they can afford the waking watch costs that are being imposed on them. Like others, they feel lost. They are trapped in their homes. They cannot sell on. They are growing families. People are trying to move around the country to get a job, as a result of the job losses in my area, but they cannot, because they just cannot sell on. Their whole lives are being put on hold.
There has to be a sense of urgency from the Government now—a clarity about what is covered by the building grant put forward by the Government, to ensure that there is comprehensive cover. Secondly, all the interim measures have to be covered. Thirdly, there needs to be action from Government on the control of service charges imposed on many of our residents by some of these developers, whom most of us have lost confidence in, even if we had any in the beginning.
I close by re-emphasising the distress that this is causing my constituents—distress to the point that it is affecting their health. I think we have a number of mental health crises now as a result not just of what has happened to constituents because of the development of buildings that were not properly regulated or inspected and that were faultily built, but because of the distress caused by the laggard way in which the Government have handled this issue. I cannot stress enough the sense of urgency that there should be at the heart of Government about addressing these issues.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) for securing this important debate. She has long been a passionate supporter of all those who have been so terribly affected by this issue, and I have no doubt that we are all immensely grateful for her tireless efforts. I also pay tribute to our nation’s heroic fire and rescue teams, who put their lives on the line every day to keep us all safe.
The fact that we have been forced to have this debate at all is a matter of deep regret. Nearly four years after the Grenfell fire, the Government are still to learn the lessons of that tragedy and to take the action that is so desperately needed to ensure that everyone is safe in their home. Too many people remain stuck in unsafe flats that they cannot sell, pushed to the brink of bankruptcy by the colossal costs of waking watches and cladding removal, and in fear of going to sleep each night. In Merseyside alone, there are 25 buildings with waking watches in operation, and there are 65 across the north-west.
With the Fire Safety Bill, the Government had the opportunity to draw a line in the sand, but that Bill failed to go far enough or fast enough, and will have done little to address the very real concerns of the many thousands of people stranded in unsafe buildings. Similarly, the £3.5 billion announced by the Communities Secretary simply will not address the scale of this crisis. While it may help people living in buildings over 18 metres, those stuck in smaller housing blocks still face being burdened with debts that many of them can never even hope to repay. Let us be clear: leaseholders should be not be forced to shoulder the costs of other people’s mistakes, but despite saying on no less than 17 occasions that leaseholders will not be forced to meet the costs of fire safety measures, that is exactly what the Government now expect thousands of people to do. The Government also said nothing about addressing the issue of non-cladding-related fire risks, such as wooden balconies, despite the considerable risks that these pose to tenants.
Finally, as we consider the Government’s failure to step up and ensure the safety of leaseholders, we must not forget the role that 10 years of sweeping funding cuts to frontline fire and rescue have played in the undermining of all our safety. Since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, 400 firefighters have been lost in Merseyside alone. Across the country, thousands more posts have been axed and hundreds of stations closed. The tragic consequence is that response times have fallen and our fire service’s ability to tackle incidents and save lives has been critically undermined.
(8 months ago)Commons Chamber
I am proud of the action that we have taken to support renters throughout the pandemic. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the moratorium on evictions that I introduced early on with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor. We have chosen to extend that on at least one more occasion to the end of March. That enables people to be safe and secure in the knowledge that they will not be forced out of their homes. There are exceptions to it, but they are the right exceptions. There are exceptions for domestic abuse perpetrators, for those who have committed serious antisocial behaviour which is damaging the lives of their neighbours, and for those who are in egregious rent arrears of six months or more. We have to strike a balance between the interests of the tenant and those of smaller landlords as well, some of whom are in very difficult circumstances. We have also created a six-month notice period for evictions, which means that people have a very long period to adjust to changing circumstances.
I would be delighted to extend my praise to John Conway and his officers at the council. The statistics that my hon. Friend has just read out are a real tribute to the hard work that they have put in over the course of the year, in very difficult circumstances during the pandemic. To see Kettering Borough Council having a count of only one individual sleeping rough is an enormous tribute to what they have achieved.
(11 months ago)Westminster Hall
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the adequacy of funding for local authorities during the covid-19 outbreak.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. One day, there will be a public inquiry into the conduct of the Government during this pandemic and the decisions they have taken, particularly on the provision of finance to different parts of the country, and we will be able to learn what went well and what did not over the past few months. I hope that we will all support such an inquiry, so that further errors are not made in future.
Even before the pandemic, it would have been hard to argue that national Government were friends of local government and local services. Since the 2010 general election, the Government have reduced funding for local authorities by some £15 billion. The National Audit Office has found that Government funding for local authorities has fallen by 49% in real terms from 2010-11 to 2017-18, and that this equates to a 28.6% real-terms reduction. To put that in context, councils have lost 60p out of every pound they had a decade ago. The Institute for Fiscal Studies concurs, saying that local government spending has “fallen significantly”.
Let us never forget that this is not by accident: it was a decision made by Conservative Ministers and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners in the 2010-15 Government. National Government grants were gradually scaled back, so that poorer areas with great need were not provided with the additional funding they needed alongside local income generation. The cuts made in the name of austerity did not fall equally on the shoulders of people and local authorities: they hurt the poorest and most disadvantaged areas significantly, including areas such as Tower Hamlets, where my constituency is. The IFS says that deprived communities—those communities most reliant on public services—such as those in my constituency saw the greatest reduction in national Government funding.
There is another unfairness to the way in which funding was allocated, particularly Government grants, which have pretty much disappeared. That has made it very difficult for local authorities to deal with child poverty. Unfortunately, my borough, which includes two constituencies—Poplar and Limehouse and Bethnal Green and Bow—has the highest child poverty rate in the country. It is vital that the allocation of funding is fair and addresses the actual needs of communities. According to the Local Government Association, between March and June this year, councils have faced a bill of £4.8 billion because of extra costs and lower incomes due to the coronavirus pandemic. It estimates that the cost of the increased pressures on adult social care alone will be £533 million, and that the figure for public health will be £148 million. Future non-tax income losses due to covid will be about £634 million.
In summary, in terms of funding, the coronavirus pandemic has added even greater challenges to already pressurised local authorities up and down the country. And, of course, the worst challenges have been in poorer areas. I know that many other Members will want to speak of how their own councils have struggled with all those challenges while having to provide much-needed services during the pandemic.
In addition, local authorities have had to rise to the challenge of making up for the fact that the Test and Trace system has been inadequate. It is funded by the £12 billion provided to Serco and other private contractors, but local authorities have had to step in to serve their communities and make it work. They are taking on additional responsibilities because of the pandemic but not getting the necessary funding. The Government promised to provide that funding and it is falling short.
Although I welcome the £3.2 billion of emergency funding and the £300 million of funding for clinical commissioning groups, that still leaves a shortfall of billions of pounds, which is putting local authorities between a rock and a hard place. Labour, Lib Dem and even Conservative-run councils are struggling to balance the books. Some are going bankrupt or have declared bankruptcy. That is a big worry for communities, given that local authorities are on the frontline, cleaning the streets, looking after those who are vulnerable, dealing with the pandemic and providing support, including to the police service, which has experienced cuts, with 20,000 officers taken out of the system over the last decade. In reality, this means that communities such as mine in Tower Hamlets have faced £200 million of cuts over the last 10 years.
The extra costs of covid mean that a further £30 million will have to be found; otherwise services will have to undergo dramatic changes, which will have a damaging effect on people by 2024. At the same time, demand for services has grown. At the height of covid, my area also experienced the fourth highest age-standardised death rate in the country. The health inequalities and other factors that make people vulnerable mean that our local authority has to work closely with other agencies and their resources to protect people. Their actions have saved lives. There would have been an even greater number of deaths if local authorities and partners had not done that work, but they cannot continue to do it without support from national Government.
On education, schools are suffering and need support. Local authorities have worked closely with them to provide that support, but they need funding, as we saw in this summer’s debates about holiday hunger and child poverty. My local authority stepped in a long time ago to help keep children fed, but the food bank queues are astonishing. I would welcome the Minister visiting some of the food banks in my constituency. I joined others in visiting Bow food bank recently. The number of people using it has increased dramatically. They are not the usual suspects who need help because they are extremely vulnerable; middle-income families are also struggling because of covid, employment issues and lack of support. The need is greater, but the funding and resources are not there.
Other services under threat—and not just in my constituency but up and down the country—include those for young people with special educational needs and disabilities and those for young vulnerable children. It cannot be right that, in addition to the double whammy of the coronavirus pandemic and long-term funding cuts, the future life chances of the most vulnerable are being further damaged. We need the Government to act and use tomorrow’s spending review announcement to make sure that local authorities get the support they need to protect our communities.
I am sure that the Minister will say that there are limited resources. Of course there are, but the question is how the money is being used. We have to ask this. Is it right that, for instance, the towns fund—the NAO and others have pointed this out—which is more than £3 billion, is allocated in the way it has been rather than by focusing on indicators of need? That cannot be right. That kind of favouritism is what breeds distrust. It smacks of pork barrel politics and is absolutely unacceptable. How money is allocated and spent is crucial. Of course, there have also been scandals about personal protective equipment and other scandals.
It is right to say that the Government need to refocus their resources in a way that is fair and appropriate, because many local authorities and not just mine—Sunderland, Knowsley, Sheffield, Gateshead, South Tyneside, Oldham and many others—desperately need additional funding but are not getting it. I could go on, and I am sure other hon. Members will, about the number of local authorities that need support but are not getting it.
We need the Government to think quickly and act quickly to ensure that local authorities get the support that they need. If they do not, we will face, in the middle of a second wave of coronavirus—in the middle of a crisis like no other—more lives being put at risk not only by of the pandemic but by the failure to address the secondary effects of extreme vulnerability through local action and support, because local authorities will not have the capacity and resources to act.
I hope that the Minister will take on board my concerns and those of others about children and young people, adult social care and the wider issues of the underfunding and neglect of local government, which is at the frontline of delivering services and does not get the recognition and credit it deserves for the work it does. These are decent public servants who work very hard to deliver for our constituents. We need to back them up and support them, because if we are to fight and win the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, we are going to need them even more than ever before. We are also going to need a collaborative effort from the private and the public sphere to deliver implementation of the vaccine, as well as to improve testing and tracing, on top of all that they already do.
I hope that in today’s debate we can build consensus among Members of all parties to make the case for local government, because it is absolutely at the heart of addressing not only the challenges we face with the pandemic, but the long-term challenges of tackling inequality and genuinely fighting to level up. If the Government genuinely meant what they said in the election about levelling up, they need to put their money where their mouth is and deliver. I hope that the Minister will make that case later today to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, ahead of his statement.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) for bringing to the House the issue of the adequacy of local government funding during the covid outbreak, as it facilitates a much-needed debate on both the role of local governments in the crisis effort and the broader interaction between local and national Government.
It was important that any central Government approach to crisis management throughout the pandemic was measured against three key performance indicators. The objectives were, first, to provide adequate financial support to ensure that crucial local government services could continue; secondly, to equip local governments with the tools and flexibility they required to adapt their services to provide targeted support in the relevant jurisdictions; and, finally, that any such support did not create a precedent that would serve to create a further burden on an already overloaded state apparatus.
The figures as of 23 October, without taking into consideration the latest round of business grants, highlight that in my constituency alone, Wakefield Council received an extra £41.52 million to support its efforts in tackling covid-19. This ensured that critical services could continue, despite decreased tax revenues and the higher costs incurred by the pandemic.
In April, £850 million of social care grants, for both children and adults, were paid up front to cover the period from April to June 2020. Although the figures provided by central Government may not have been delivered on a like-for-like basis, they have provided unprecedented sums of money to local authorities, facilitating their ability to use discretion in targeting the needs of their districts as they see fit.
In a crisis, ring-fencing funds for one service may not be appropriate when jobs are at risk and the landlord needs his rent paid, for example. Decisions were made on the best information available at one point in time, and further support was provided where required. One such example was the £617 million discretionary fund, which served as an addendum to the small business rate relief grant and retail, leisure and hospitality grants, and allowed local authorities to distribute further moneys as they saw fit to businesses in need. At the time, I suggested that any underspend from the small business rate relief grant and RHL grants should be combined with the discretionary grant, as a method through which individuals who had been defined as the economically excluded could receive much-needed support on a case-by-case basis.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) for securing this debate. I want to begin by paying tribute to Wirral Council for the incredible support it has provided to my constituents during the pandemic. This includes instituting a greatly deserved pay rise for care workers, helping homeless people off the streets and into appropriate accommodation, co-ordinating mutual aid efforts and providing much-needed financial support to residents whose livelihoods have been devastated by the lockdown restrictions.
Despite all the difficulties that council workers have faced themselves, their commitment to the poorest and most vulnerable people in our community has always shone through. As a matter of local pride, I would argue that Wirral Council is exceptional, but I note that its efforts are being replicated nationwide and all hon. Members will have similar stories to share.
After years of being underfunded, marginalised and overlooked, local authorities have risen to meet the challenges of covid-19 admirably. This year has shown what a vital role councils play, not just in the provision of services, but as powerful advocates for those people whose voices are too rarely listened to by central Government.
I commend the resolve shown by the metro Mayors, Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham, when the Government plunged their regions into a tier 3 lockdown with only cut-price financial support, and I was deeply moved by the testimony of the newly elected leader of Wirral Council, Jeanette Williamson, as she opposed the Government’s callous decision to let children go hungry over the holidays. I was also very glad to work so closely with council leaders from across Merseyside in successfully lobbying for the reopening of gyms and leisure centres before the current lockdown was announced.
But now our councils face an uncertain future. Across the country, the threat of cuts to frontline services and even bankruptcy looms. Expenditures have soared while income in the form of business rates, council tax and parking charges has plummeted. Wirral Council faces a black hole of £60 million in its budget, and it is not alone. Last week, the County Councils Network warned that 60% of its members anticipate having to make a fundamental reduction in frontline services, while just one fifth are confident that they can set a balanced budget next year. At a time of spiralling unemployment and a public health crisis unlike any known in our lifetime, we simply cannot afford further cuts to already overstretched and underfunded frontline services. The human cost would be unthinkable.
In March, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government promised that the Government would support councils in doing whatever it would take to protect their communities. Now it is time to honour that promise. The Government should listen to the Local Government Association and provide a minimum of an additional £8.7 billion in core funding over the next financial year. Councils in areas as diverse as Wirral, Nottingham and Gloucestershire have also called for the cancellation of debt held by the Public Works Loans Board. That would massively increase the spending power of local authorities and allow them to make critically important investments in housing, adult social care and green development.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I begin by thanking and paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) for securing this important debate.
Day in, day out, our local authorities are on the frontline fighting the virus and providing essential services that we all rely on, from bin collections, street cleaning and libraries to children’s services, social care and homelessness support. I pay tribute to all council workers, especially those at Barnsley Council. During the pandemic, we have relied on them to rapidly reorient themselves in a way we could never have envisaged: being on the frontline of the fight against the pandemic as well as supporting their businesses and residents, all while continuing their everyday essential work.
For that, they were promised “whatever it takes”; they should do whatever was needed, and the Government would ensure that they were not left out of pocket. Sadly, the rhetoric has not been matched by reality, certainly not in Barnsley. Our council has done an exceptional job of supporting residents, but that has come at an expected cost at the end of March of £50 million, including around £34 million in support for the most vulnerable and social care and relief to support businesses. The council also estimates around £16 million of lost income from council tax, business rates and fees. The Government income compensation scheme is expected to provide only £2 million to cover that, with that shortfall leaving the council with a loss of £15 million. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated the figure nationally at £1.1 billion, and that was before the second national lockdown.
Of course, this follows a decade of austerity in which Barnsley received the biggest cut in Government support of any council in the country. My constituency cannot afford to be left behind by this Government for another decade.
Thank you very much, Mr Hollobone. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, especially with such kind strictures on the time limits. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) for securing the debate, and to all Members who have spoken so far, all of whom clearly care very much about their communities. This debate should be conducted in a cross-party spirit, and I am sure that the Minister will respond in those terms at the end.
These are extraordinary circumstances. There has actually been an extraordinary response from central Government in terms of the amount of money going to councils, but there has, more than ever, been some extraordinary leadership in local councils. I mean not only the leadership of the councils but the people carrying out their jobs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) mentioned. Everybody on the frontline has shown leadership in responding to the awful circumstances we are in.
To give the view from Staffordshire, Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council—a district council—and Staffordshire County Council told me that, by and large, they have had adequate funding from central Government to make up their covid-related losses. That funding has been timely, which they really praised. The Government acted quickly and allowed them to plan ahead, although I recognise what my hon. Friend says about those 5 pm press conferences, which definitely necessitated some late nights. It would be helpful if that was not repeated.
Simon Tagg, leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, says that the Government have listened and given funding to cover the shortfall across council budgets on homelessness, business support and leisure services. That is hugely welcome. Staffordshire County Council has had two leaders during this time, Councillor Philip Atkins and Councillor Alan White, both fine public servants. They estimate that, all in, they have received around £83 million this year in various grants from central Government. They reckon they will have an overall overspend of about £2 million, partly due to delayed cost savings, in addition to some lost income from council tax and business rates.
My councils of course have some asks of the Minister, and it would be remiss of me not to mention them. A lot are about collection fund losses. The Government have promised to bring forward proposals to share collection fund losses where councils will not get as much council tax and business rates in. I have been asked to ask the Minister to ensure that the Government will honour that promise and bring that forward as soon as possible, so that those councils can have some certainty in the year ahead. Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council would like more funding to cover the cost of council tax support for people claiming benefits. It expects a big increase in that bill when furlough finishes. Staffordshire County Council highlights long-term concerns around social care and the overall funding quantum for local government. It is essential that they have certainty, so that they can do all they can to help the economy get back on its feet and, of course, to level up.
North Staffordshire is one of the principal targets of levelling up in this country. We have had a lot of support from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. I look forward to our future high streets fund announcement and our town deal bid, both of which are coming soon. Councils need certainty about their underlying funding; otherwise, they may be forced to make cuts to the universal services that many people rely on.
I again thank the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow for securing this debate. I thank everybody in Staffordshire, including the leadership, the chief executives—Martin Hamilton and John Henderson—and everybody who has done their part to get us through this pandemic. I look forward to the Minister responding to my points.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) on securing such an important debate.
I will start by paying tribute to the council staff across England who have worked so hard to keep our communities safe in difficult circumstances throughout this pandemic. I have seen at first hand the efforts of council staff workers in Bradford West from the very outset of this virus—the hard work they do to minimise and prevent the spread of infection, get help to the vulnerable and support the care sector, work to sustain our businesses and the economy, keep essential services such as refuse collection and bereavement going, and much more, including setting up local Test and Trace services before there was any commitment or financial support from the Government. That has been the case for councils up and down the nation.
However, local government is at a crossroads. A decade that saw £15 billion cut from local authority budgets has ended with the impact of covid-19 driving up costs and cutting income, leaving councils across the country facing huge challenges to set a balanced budget. Many of my colleagues have mentioned those budget cuts, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) and for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum). The numbers do not look good for any of those constituencies.
Without proper funding, there is a real risk that councils will not be able to balance their budget, as they are legally required to do. Councils do not want to have to make those hard choices, but they have been left with little choice by the Government. Vulnerable people across the country will suffer the most if councils are forced to stop delivering the crucial services they rely upon. The tragedy of this is that after a decade of austerity, councils will be forced to cut back on funding again. Additionally, it has been reported that the Chancellor is considering a public sector pay freeze. Can the Minister clarify whether he feels comfortable clapping public sector workers as we entered the pandemic, and cutting their futures as we start to come out of it?
Since the beginning of the pandemic, councils have sent detailed financial returns to MHCLG each month, so this time around, the Government cannot feign ignorance. Ministers know exactly how much local government is out of pocket by. Despite the fact that at the Government’s daily press conference in May, the Communities Secretary said he would “stand behind councils”, it is clear to leaders of those councils that that promise will not be kept. Nor is this a short-term issue that will go away after covid; these funding pressures are cumulative. Councils are losing out on fees and charges from sources such as leisure centres and car parking: as my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) said, York has lost 8 million visitors due to covid-19.
There is no guarantee that there will be a return to normal next year, either, and it is not just me saying that. According to analysis by the cross-party Local Government Association, councils in England will face a funding gap of more than £5 billion by 2024 just to maintain services at current levels. The present national lockdown has no doubt made the funding crisis more acute. The same concerns have been raised by the Conservative-led County Councils Network, and the evidence from witnesses at the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government has been equally concerning. I also agree with the concerns that the chair of the all-party parliamentary group, the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), mentioned earlier.
I hope that the Minister can provide some clarity about how the Government intend to deal with the huge challenges facing local government, and that he will be able to answer some questions. However, before I get to those questions, I want to talk about places of worship. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) highlighted the role of mosques. I have seen at first hand the role of mosques in my constituency, but ahead of the spending review, I have also had some conversations with local churches. The churches, mosques and all places of worship in my constituency have already been picking up the pieces of 10 years of austerity from Government cuts, including through food banks; across the country, each church equates to £300,000. There has been no commitment to help where churches or mosques are picking up the council pieces. Can the Minister highlight what is going on with the funding allocated to places of faith?
I understand that the Prime Minister’s adviser, Sir Edward Lister, wrote to councils under tier 3 restrictions to advise that they would not be asked to set a balanced budget this financial year. Will the Minister clarify how that will work and whether it will apply to those councils that are subject to increased restrictions after 2 December? Will he also clarify how much has been paid to local government to date, through his Department’s scheme to replace lost income and fee charges? Will he say whether his Department is considering further financial support for councils returning to the higher tiers of local restrictions after 2 December? Can he confirm whether that will be based on need or per head of population?
The Transport Secretary highlighted today that the Government would not engage with regional Mayors as we enter the new tiered system. Have the Government abandoned their pledges on devolution, and should we expect further Whitehall rules for the future of this Government? Finally, will the Minister clarify when the local government financial settlement for 2021 or 2022 will be published? My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali), who secured this debate, laid out very eloquently the challenges that are faced. Councils have to make a choice: will they cut library services, refuge services, frontline workers, bin collections—what will face the axe next? Councils are between a rock and a hard place when making these decisions.
We have already seen the fiasco where the Government took the decision to centralise Test and Trace and give the contracts to Serco. My understanding is that Serco did not even have any penalties in its contracts. In my constituency, and others I have seen with a high prevalence of covid-19, people have been door-knocking and managing to test, isolate and track people locally. They have managed to isolate outbreaks, but the Government are not putting their money where their mouth is. That is an added pressure to those that councils already face.
We have had 10 years of austerity, followed by covid and a Government who have gone into national lockdown instead of taking a circuit breaker, which we advocated. That has had even more of an impact on our councils. They really need certainty. In Bradford, our councils have already had so many cuts, as have the councils of every Member on both sides of the House. Nobody is denying that we have had cuts for the last 10 years. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will be putting their money where their mouth is? Did they mean it when they said, “We will do whatever it takes”? Will he give the councils that reassurance?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to be back in Westminster Hall after such an absence. It is an important Chamber in which to hold debates such as this one, to raise issues such as local government finance and so on. I am hugely grateful to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) for securing the debate and for opening it in such a pragmatic, sensible, level way, which highlighted some of the issues facing local government. I thank her for the tone in which she opened the debate and I thank hon. Members for their contributions. I will do my best to address all the points that have been raised.
First, may I place on the record my thanks to local government? The work that those who serve in local government have done in these extraordinary times has been remarkable. They have risen to help us as a country respond to the incredible challenges we are facing and worked tirelessly to help us through the pandemic. From their incredible work protecting rough sleepers, offering over 90% of them accommodation within just a few days of the start of the pandemic, to the work they have done on testing, alongside NHS staff, to keep our parks, public spaces and schools open, and helping vulnerable people, including victims of domestic abuse, the response has been truly remarkable. I know that if the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister were able to attend, they would put on the record their thanks for the remarkable work of councils, councillors and officers around the country who have done so much to support their communities, their businesses and vulnerable people.
Much of today’s debate has been about the response to the pandemic, so I will start my remarks there. In responding to the pandemic, we have built on what was a good local government finance settlement for this financial year: a 4.4% real-terms rise in core spending power for councils. We were genuinely grateful for the Opposition’s support for that finance settlement and hope to have their support again. Clearly, they will look at the detail carefully when the Chancellor makes his statement tomorrow and when the settlement is published, but we were grateful for the cross-party support this year, which we hope will be forthcoming again.
We have been determined that no local authority should face unmanageable spending pressures because of coronavirus, and we will continue to deliver on that commitment. That is why, following the announcement of the winter plan this week, we have allocated up to £8 billion this financial year to support councils throughout the pandemic. Crucially, that includes £4.6 billion of non-ring-fenced spending so that councils can make decisions at a local level about how that money is spent and how resources should be deployed, because councils know their communities best and are best placed to make those decisions.
A number of hon. Members mentioned the financial returns that we have asked councils to submit throughout the pandemic. I am grateful to councils for doing that so diligently. Our information shows that councils spent £3.6 billion from March through to the end of September on covid-related pressures, so we hope and expect that £4.6 billion of non-ring-fenced money has helped councils with those expenditure pressures.
It is worth putting on the record the other support that local government has received from Departments across Whitehall since the start of the pandemic. That has included: £1.1 billion for the infection control fund, which has helped support adult social care providers to reduce the rate of transmission both in and between care homes, and to support the wider workforce, which has been vital; £300 million of support for councils’ Test and Trace activities; £485 million to support implementation of the national restrictions, which has been extended to the end of the financial year; £91.5 million for councils to ensure that rough sleepers do not return to the streets, as announced in September; £170 million for the winter grant scheme to support families and children; and over £22 billion in grants and reliefs for businesses at this challenging time. We believe that funding package is unprecedented.
Hon. Members commented on what extra financial support will be available now. I reiterate the point made yesterday by the Prime Minister, who confirmed further support for councils as we return to the tiered system of local restrictions with the extension of the contain outbreak management fund for the rest of the year. That will mean a payment from the Department of Health and Social Care to upper-tier local authorities of £4 per person per month in areas with very high restrictions for the rest of the financial year.
Hon. Members made points about the distribution of funding throughout the four tranches of local government finance support since the start of covid. We have distributed non-ring-fenced funding using a covid relative needs formula. It is important to state that the formula accounts for the main drivers of covid-related expenditure. Yes, of course that includes population, but it also includes deprivation, which is crucial, as well as the various cost adjusters for delivering services in different parts of the country. We think that was the right system when considering how to distribute money between councils.
Members also pointed out that it is not only additional covid spending pressure that councils have faced; many have also had to deal with tax and income losses. That is why, alongside the funding we have put into local authorities, we have introduced measures to help them manage the loss of income from tax and transactional services, sales, fees and charges. That is a substantial scheme. It compensates councils for lost income from key services, such as car parks and libraries, which are normally funded through sales, fees and charges but clearly have been largely closed or underused during the pandemic. Alongside that, we have given councils the flexibility to spread their tax losses over multiple years, rather than the usual one year. We have committed to set out further details at the spending review—we do not have too long to wait—on how we will apportion the lost tax income between central and local government. I know that councils are keen for clarity on that point, and it will be provided shortly.
There were a number of representations about the spending review itself. I understand that this is a perfect time for that conversation to happen, and those points have been made. I will answer some of the points specifically, but the representations about spending for local authorities, an increase in core spending power, social care funding and the share of the council tax burden and grant have certainly been heard. Those points were well made.
The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum) mentioned the one-year spending review and how it would have been more suitable to have a longer-term settlement. I understand that point, but unfortunately we are in a place now where long-term planning is difficult to pursue, so we think it is right to concentrate on the covid-19 response. However, we absolutely share councils’ desire to return to longer-term financial planning. That has been a key ask of councils, and once we are through the pandemic we aim to hold a multi-year spending review settlement.
The hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) asked a number of questions, which I will try to address. She asked about engagement with regional Mayors. That is a really important point. The Secretary of State and I spoke to all regional Mayors across the country last night. We have an open offer of conversation and continued engagement with them. We also had a webinar with local authorities yesterday, which every leader and chief executive was invited to. Hundreds of councils joined that call, and that engagement is hugely important to us as we progress through this period. We actually continue to have regular webinars and discussions with council leaders across the country, answering their questions on an almost weekly basis, which has been hugely informative.
I hope that I have answered part of the point that the hon. Member for Bradford West raised about the £4 per head in new funding. If she wants more detail on that after tomorrow, I am happy to set it out for her in writing. She asked about lost income and how much of that is being paid out. Most councils have now been informed about the first tranche of payment that is being paid out—millions of pounds. I am happy to share the details with her if that is desirable. She also mentioned public sector pay in local authorities. It is important to note that local authorities, working with unions and other employer bodies, take these decisions externally of Government, but she is absolutely right to put that on the record.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) made sensible and important points about the long-term sustainability of funding and about funding reform. We would have liked to come forward with the fair funding review this year. Clearly, that is not possible in the current circumstances, but we continue to have that conversation. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) talked about the funding challenges facing counties and made important points about the spending review and the settlements. Those representations have absolutely been heard.
My neighbour, the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), who has understandably left the Chamber, made important points about the specific circumstances facing her local authority, which is unique in a lot of respects. I point her towards the sales, fees and charges scheme, which compensates councils for 75% their losses beyond the first 5% of planned income. I am always happy to meet her to discuss those unique circumstances. She also asked for certainty about leisure centres. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will shortly set out more detail about the £100 million scheme for leisure centres. She makes an important point about the importance of those institutions for people’s physical and mental health. She is quite right to raise that.
The hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) talked about the genuinely unique circumstances that face her council. I hope she feels that we are working with her constructively. It is a unique situation and I am always happy to meet her and her council leader to discuss it, if that would be of use. I absolutely recognise the point she raises.
The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) also raised the unique circumstances facing her local authority. I know that we are planning to speak soon, and I look forward to addressing the issues then. She also mentioned the spending review and local government pay, which I hope I have covered in my remarks.
The right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) raised a number of issues. I join him in putting on the record my thanks to the incredible organisations in his constituency and his local authority for the work they have done on rough sleeping, which I know is a huge challenge. I know how committed they are to that issue and to supporting people. I thank them for the work they have done in the “Everybody In” campaign. He also made passionate points about those with no recourse to public funds. I think we have made changes on that issue during the course of the pandemic, including extending the derogations to ensure that everybody can receive that basic safety net of support, further than the areas it had already been extended to.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) talked about some of the excellent work that his council has done, paying out grants and supporting businesses, and I commend it for that work. He also had passionate views about local government reform and the timings. He will be able to make that argument through the process in the right way. I know he feels strongly about the matter.
I want to thank again the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, who made a number of hugely important points. She talked about targeted funding. I hope she feels that we are doing that through the equalisation we did last year, to ensure that the local authorities affected most by the social care precept are seeking that extra support. I thank her and I am at her disposal, if she needs to talk about that further. I would like once again to thank all local authorities up and down the country. I believe that this unprecedented package of support is supporting those councils and I thank them for their work.
(1 year ago)Commons Chamber
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Our planning system is critical to delivering on some of the most important challenges that we face: the desperate need for new homes to address the housing crisis and the urgent need to tackle the climate and ecological emergency, decarbonise our economy, and protect and enrich our natural environment. To meet those challenges, our planning system must establish a clear and ambitious vision for our country, set high standards for design and environmental performance, give strong protection to the buildings, spaces and landscapes that people value, and actively support the involvement and engagement of a wide and diverse range of voices in decision making.
Yet the Government are not concerned with reforming the planning system so that it can address those urgent challenges. They are applying the usual, natural Tory instinct to deregulate, regarding the planning system as red tape to be cut through rather than as a valuable toolkit that must be further improved to secure genuinely progressive, sustainable planning outcomes, particularly in terms of the provision of new, genuinely affordable homes.
The reforms proposed in the planning White Paper are undemocratic. They will reduce the opportunity for local people to have a say on planning applications in their neighbourhood. By front-loading community involvement to the plan-making process, communities will be denied the opportunity to have a say on the specifics of new development. Under the Government’s plans, communities will have a say on only the broad designation of the site and an identikit pattern book of designs. There will be no opportunity for residents to have their objections heard and considered by a democratically accountable planning committee.
The Tories are going even further than that, and removing the need for planning permission altogether in a wide range of circumstances. In 2013, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition Government relaxed planning rules to make it possible for empty office or light industrial buildings to be converted into housing without the need for planning permission. That policy resulted in some of the most appalling housing the country has seen this century, in unsuitable locations with no amenities and often not adhering to even the most basic standards of design.
The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the injustice and inequality of our housing system. The Prime Minister’s instruction to the country on 23 March to stay at home had profoundly different consequences for people depending on their housing situation. The experience of lockdown for people living in cramped, overcrowded, damp housing was worsening physical and mental health, family relationships strained to breaking point, an impossible environment for home schooling and, for those in the private rented sector, often the fear that as soon as the eviction ban was lifted they would be made homeless. Lockdown provided, lest we need it, a stark reminder of the public health consequences of inadequate housing, and the urgency of delivering the genuinely affordable homes that my constituents in Dulwich and West Norwood and so many people across the country desperately need.
The Government’s planning reforms allow building owners to convert shop units into housing without the need for planning permission. That will not result in high quality, affordable sustainable homes or thriving town centres and high streets; that will result in high streets and town centres across the country being undermined by gaping holes in their retail frontage, reducing further the critical mass of reasons for shoppers to visit and support local businesses, when across the country our high streets and town centres face a perfect storm of economic challenges.
We need a vision for every part of our country, based on high quality, low-carbon jobs, distinctive and special town centres at the heart of every community, good public transport connections and genuinely affordable homes. We need a planning system with the core purpose of addressing the climate emergency, delivering the new homes we need, improving public health and involving everyone in shaping the future of their neighbourhood to deliver those vital outcomes. The deregulated, identikit, box-ticking, algorithm-generated mess set out in the White Paper will not.
My constituency, like my hon. Friend’s, contains areas of high urbanisation as well as areas of environmental sensitivity. Does he agree that those factors should be taken into account in the final algorithm the Government are currently consulting on?
People in Wirral West care passionately about the environment and the green belt and green spaces that make Wirral West such a beautiful place. They care, too, about nurturing wildlife habitats and addressing the urgent issue of climate change. In some areas, flooding is an issue that really brings that urgency home. There are numerous campaigns to protect green belt and green spaces, including campaigns against proposals to build a golf resort in Hoylake, against building on ancient glebe land in Rectory Road in West Kirby and against the development on green belt right across Wirral West. I fully support my constituents in those campaigns.
Currently, people have a legal right to oppose specific developments when individual detailed development applications are submitted, but this Government seek to do away with all of that. The Government’s White Paper is a developers’ charter. It sweeps away the right of local people to challenge developments on their doorstep, tearing up democratic rights that have been there for over half a century. The Government have plenty of rhetoric about putting local communities at the heart of the new planning system, but they have failed to deliver—in fact, worse than that, they are taking rights away.
Instead of improving local accountability, this Government seek to take away the voice of local people. Constituents have written to me with their concerns that, under the Government’s proposals, while local people will have a say about whether their areas will be growth, renewal or protected zones, once those zones are set in place, they will have no say at all on individual developments. I share their serious concerns. As the Wildlife Trusts have pointed out,
“public engagement in planning tends to be when individual detailed development applications are submitted and the impact that these will have on local people, infrastructure and nature becomes clearer. Under the new system, public engagement at this point would not be possible.”
We on the Labour Benches oppose this attempt to prevent local people from formally objecting to inappropriate developments in their neighbourhood. We want to see local people given a bigger say on the development of their neighbourhoods, not less.
The Government have said that their reforms will ensure that
“Valued green spaces and Green Belt will continue to be protected for future generations, with the reforms allowing for more building on brownfield land.”
However, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England has warned that the Government’s proposals
“would weaken protection of green space designated for growth or renewal, and offer no additional safeguards for those earmarked for protection.”
According to the CPRE, the Government’s proposals give
“no consideration to the importance of undesignated green spaces near to where people live.”
There is no guarantee on protecting existing green spaces and green-belt land.
The Government’s proposals risk delivering a dystopian nightmare in the heart of our communities, with no regard to the consequences for the environment, flood risk, climate change or quality of life. Let us be clear: our country desperately needs new homes, and it needs those developments to be on sustainable and brownfield sites. The “Planning for the Future” consultation document refers to driving up the provision of affordable homes, but the Royal Institute of British Architects has described the Government’s proposals as “shameful”, adding that they will
“do almost nothing to guarantee the delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes.”
RIBA says that the proposals
“could also lead to the creation of the next generation of slum housing.”
Could there be any more indictment of the Government’s proposals? The Government must respond to the outcry from people right across the country and drop these reckless proposals.
(1 year, 8 months ago)Commons Chamber
The Department has regular conversations with the Treasury about all sorts of matters. We are investing £1 billion in social care funding, and £500 million is available to local authorities. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that campaign.
(1 year, 8 months ago)Westminster Hall
Does my hon. Friend agree that when we talk about the settled community, we do not just mean residents—although they can be deeply troubled by this issue—but people who are seeking to earn a living through their businesses in local communities? Within the past few days, a business has written to me to say that it is having repeated difficulties because of wrongful occupation of a business site in my constituency. I know that is not the only place where this is happening; it is a repeated occurrence.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree—perhaps he will not—that historically, planning laws have discriminated against Travellers who live a nomadic lifestyle, the percentage who are not in the bungalows he describes? Those laws have sealed up areas in which Travellers have traditionally stayed; have prevented Travellers from being able to move easily from site to site; and have created hostilities not because they have given preferential treatment to Travellers, but because they have given them discriminatory treatment. Is it not an indictment that five councils in this country have still not identified any Traveller sites, and very few have identified their full limit? That is the discrimination in the planning system, not the other way around, as the hon. Gentleman seems to suggest.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Regarding his last point, he will know that although the Government did not use this phrase, they effectively committed in the Conservative party manifesto to what is known as the Irish option, making acts of deliberate trespass a criminal, rather than civil, offence. However, he will also know that doing so will require primary legislation. I ask him to press the Minister to give us some timings for when that legislation will be introduced in the Commons, and to confirm which Department will be leading on it.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He will know that in the Republic of Ireland, the criminalisation of trespass is part of a much wider, holistic package of equalities, rights and social programmes for Gypsies and Travellers that do not exist in this country. When pressing the Minister on the progress of this legislation, will he join me in pressing him on the flawed nature of the Home Office consultation, which was conducted during Dissolution and with questions that were, at the very least, loaded?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing the debate. He is clearly trying to find a delicate balance between integration and making sure that councils do what they should be doing, and I appreciate that; it is the way I like to view this issue as well. Following on from the thoughts that he expressed in his last few words, does he agree that in order to build relationships with the Traveller community, there needs to be more encouragement for their children to attend local schools and clubs, and that we must ensure they are a valued and heard part of our community? Further, does he agree that this relationship, which is something that he and I both want to grow, will be solidified by mutual respect and a future in which the Traveller community is accepted within the wider community?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out that it is a small minority of Gypsies and Travellers who are on unauthorised encampments. As he said, three quarters are in bricks and mortar, even if they do not wish to be. Does he think that the failure of local authorities to provide sites, whether they are transit or permanent, and the lack of provision of social housing, is a factor in the necessity for Gypsies and Travellers to stop in unauthorised areas or on land without planning consent?
I apologise for having a second bite at the cherry. It is true that the provision of sites varies around the country. Basildon Council has a number of sites, but part of the problem is that the Travellers often do not want to stay on them. They want to go where they like. Providing sites is not a panacea, if the people for whom they are theoretically provided ignore them.
In local plans, councils must identify land that is acceptable for private housing and for business to meet the needs of the local community. If they do not identify suitable pieces of land, the local plan will be rejected. Why can councils fail to identify pieces of land suitable for being converted into sites for the Traveller community and have their local plans accepted?
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that in its local plan, Kettering Borough Council identified a number of sites, sufficient for local need, that can be purchased and that, if purchased, will be given planning permission only for Traveller sites? If he is, there should not be overcrowding, because there would be other sites for Travellers to go to. Overcrowding is surely a sign that there is not enough provision. If there were too few houses, the local plan would be rejected, unless the council identified sites that could be converted only to housing. Has Kettering Borough Council identified more sites for conversion only to Traveller sites, and for which it will not allow any other planning use? If it has not, surely it has under-provided in its local plan.
Is it the hon. Gentleman’s view that such a change in the law should apply to any planning situation? We hear examples all the time of illegal structures being put up, alterations being made to buildings and even new buildings being built, against which the local authority takes enforcement action. Is he saying that the change should apply in all cases, not just to Gypsies and Travellers?
My hon. Friend is talking about the huge increase in retrospective planning applications. The Times ran an article quite recently showing that there were 39,200 retrospective applications over three years, and only one in eight of those was rejected. If somebody develops land without consent, there is a good chance that they will ultimately get consent. There is a huge incentive for Gypsy and Traveller encampments, because in most circumstances the land is acquired at agricultural value and once consent is achieved, it has a worth as developable land. There is a big incentive for people to try to abuse the system in that way.
I am not going to impose a time limit at this point, but I would ask speakers to take into account the fact that there are seven people hoping to speak in this debate. If speakers exercise a little restraint in the length of speeches, we should be able to get everybody in with a reasonable amount of time left for them to speak. I call Andy Slaughter.
I thank my hon. Friend for putting that point on the record. It is something I am very happy to talk about further.
Let me touch a little more on site provision. Last February, the Government reminded local planning authorities of their planning obligations to assess the need for sites and to make transit sites available, and, crucially, about the need for joint working between authorities on the setting of pitch and plot targets. It should be emphasised that enforcement becomes much easier once an alternative authorised site exists. Making adequate site provision in plans should reduce the number of unauthorised developments and encampments, and subsequently reduce the disruption they can cause to the wider community.
As such, we have committed to finalising the 2016 draft guidance on assessing housing need for those residing in caravans. That guidance will help local authorities to assess housing need for caravans, but it is not just about ensuring provision; it is about ensuring appropriate provision. Our policy makes it clear that, when assessing the suitability of sites in rural or semi-rural settings, local planning authorities should ensure that a site’s scale is not such that it dominates the nearest settled community.
I would be absolutely delighted to do so.
In our response to the consultation, we committed to introducing guidance making it clear that the Secretary of State is prepared to review cases where concerns are raised that there are too many authorised Traveller sites for the local community to support effectively. The guidance will also assist local authorities in making better decisions about whether to approve Traveller site applications, and sets out a range of circumstances for planning authorities to consider when determining such applications.
Let me touch a little on enforcement in respect of unauthorised encampments. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) has particular concerns about this issue, and I thank him for putting his points on the record. On trespass, we are absolutely aware of concerns about the effectiveness of powers available to tackle unauthorised encampments. Local authorities can of course use temporary stop notices when they are concerned that unauthorised development has taken place. Those require that any activity in breach of planning control must be ceased for 28 days. However, we want to go further, so we are minded, following consultation, to extend the 28-day temporary stop notice period.
Furthermore, on 5 November, the Home Office launched a consultation seeking views on criminalising the act of trespass when setting up an unauthorised encampment. I know that hon. Members had questions about some of the proposed amendments, which include increasing from 3 months to 12 months the period for which trespassers directed from land are unable to return, lowering from six to “two or more” the number of vehicles that need to be involved in an unauthorised encampment before police powers can be exercised, and enabling the police to remove trespassers from land that forms part of the highway. That follows the Home Office’s commitment to consult on a specific set of measures to enhance the powers police have to direct trespassers to leave unauthorised encampments. That consultation closes on 5 March 2020. A couple of colleagues asked who will have responsibility for leading that work. I can confirm that the Home Office will lead, and the Government will respond to the consultation in the autumn.
A number of Members touched on the importance of improving outcomes, so let me update the House on the work we are doing to improve outcomes for the travelling community. We are working to address the disparities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities to ensure that they have the same life chances as other members of the community. As we heard, on almost every measure, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are significantly worse off than the general population. We have been working on that, and we recognise that we need to go further. We are committed to developing a cross-Government strategy to tackle inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities across a range of outcomes highlighted by the race disparity audit, including housing, education and health.
I am afraid I cannot, because of the time.
We are in the early stages of developing that strategy and will engage extensively with policy makers, practitioners and, of course, the communities themselves as we take the work forward. We will provide regular updates on progress in the coming months.
I thank hon. Members again for their contributions. I understand the importance of some of the issues that were raised. I am happy to work on a cross-party basis with colleagues across the House as we take this work forward, and I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss it.
(2 years ago)Commons Chamber
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that example of positive work in his constituency, and I am happy to look at how such initiatives can be expanded more widely. We of course have the rough sleeping initiative, which is being expanded, as are the funding and services made available. I am happy to go away and look at the example he has raised.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The Homelessness Reduction Act was genuinely a groundbreaking piece of legislation. For the first time, we now have some proper evidence about the importance of prevention. We see that the biggest group that has been helped by that Act is single men, because they can often end up on the streets. As we have seen, 88% of the 726 people who died last year were men. The Act is helping us to make substantial progress, but he is right about the importance of focusing on this issue.
(2 years ago)Westminster Hall
That is certainly true. Too often, the operator or owner has encouraged the park home resident to use a lawyer who works for or is recommended by the park home operator.
I shall now resume my place so that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch can start his debate.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I hope that in due course you will be correctly described on the nameplate that currently refers to the missing chairman.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) for moving the motion and ensuring that we got under way as quickly as possible, and I thank you, Mr Hollobone, for coming along at very short notice to fill the vacancy.
I welcome our new Minister. When he looks back at his career many years hence he will recall that his first debate was one with procedural irregularities that, with a bit of help from the Clerk, had to be overlooked.
When this debate was selected, I had the privilege of being able to speak to the Housing Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey), who told me that she would have liked to be able to respond to the debate because the subject is close to her heart. She is, however, in Manchester doing a lot of other debates, but she said that in her absence her new junior Minister would be well briefed and able to respond, and she offered to meet me to discuss my concerns and would attend an early meeting of the all-party group to discuss our concerns.
Sixty years ago, in 1959, Sir Arton Wilson produced a report for the Government that found that the legislation applying to people living in caravans was both unclear and insufficient. The Government’s response was quick, enacting the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. The Act stipulates that occupiers of land must acquire a licence from the local council before using the land as a caravan site. The Act defines a caravan site as,
“land on which a caravan is stationed for the purposes of human habitation and land which is used in conjunction”
therewith. Section 29 defines “caravan” as including,
“any structure designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another”.
Over the years the term “caravan” in relation to permanent residential accommodation has been replaced by the expression “park home”. In law and practice, however, park homes—and mobile homes—are caravans. They are chattels rather than real estate. Section 1(1) of the 1960 Act provides that
“no occupier of land shall...cause or permit any part of the land to be used as a caravan site unless he is the holder of a site licence”.
Section 1(2) provides that any occupier of land who
“contravenes subsection (1)...shall be guilty of an offence”.
Section 3(3) provides that a local authority may issue a site licence only if
“the applicant is, at the time when the site licence is issued, entitled to the benefit of a permission for the use of the land as a caravan site granted under Part III”
of the 1947 Act.
Local councils have the power to refuse, revoke or impose limitations on a site licence if it is deemed necessary. The conditions that can be attached to such licences are set out in legislation. The most recent addition was the Mobile Homes Act 2013, a private Member’s Bill facilitated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) when he was Housing Minster, which was brought before the House and ably carried through to enactment by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), whom I am delighted to see in his place today. He used his place in the ballot to ensure that such an important issue would be the subject of private Members’ legislation in the absence of parliamentary time for Government legislation.
The 2013 Act contained a power for the Government to introduce a fit and proper person test for anyone applying for a site licence. That provision has been the subject of a recent public consultation, to which I am sure my hon. Friend will refer in closing. There has therefore been extensive and growing regulation of those who own or operate sites for residential park homes, but none of the legal protections afforded to residents of such homes by the 1960 Act and subsequent Acts applies if the site on which the park home or caravan is situated is unlicensed. The main purpose of this debate is to raise public awareness of that issue, and to highlight the failure of local authorities to enforce the requirement for site licences.
The unwillingness of local authorities to protect vulnerable residents is leading to a proliferation of unlicensed sites on which residents are at the mercy of unscrupulous site owners. The problem has become even more widespread because of recent controversial planning decisions that have enabled many caravan parks that were previously used and licensed only for touring and for non-residential purposes to be reclassified as year-round fully residential sites.
One such decision is that of 15 February 2018 in respect of two appeals against the refusal of Christchurch and East Dorset Councils to grant a certificate of lawful existing use for the permanent residential use of 45 caravans on land on the north side of Matchams Drive. At the time of the appeal, the site was subject to a licence granted to the Bournemouth and District Outdoor Club for use by touring caravans, but following the appeal decision the site is being developed and used for the siting of permanent residential caravans, despite no variation of the original site licence having been granted and without any transfer of that licence to the new owners.
Paragraph 49 of the appeal decision in respect of Matchams Drive, which is now being renamed Silver Mists, referred to the fact that the site licence conditions would protect infrastructure with respect to issues such as hard standing and drainage. The inspector said that the council retained control
“by virtue of the manner in which the licence is framed. This might include the need for planning permission for certain works, as set out in the licence”.
He went on to say, in paragraph 58:
“Trees on the site are the subject to a Tree Preservation Order…and that would apply irrespective of the outcome of this appeal.”
In paragraph 45, he stated:
“The site is secluded with a perimeter fence and gates. When entering the site it is surrounded by mature planting. There is nothing in the LDC application that would lead to a finding that this would change.”
If you visited that site today, Mr Hollobone, you would see that it is more like a moonscape—devoid of vegetation, with monumental earthworks having taken place and most of the trees and vegetation having been removed, despite the site being in a protected heathland habitat. These issues should have been controlled by the local authority through the site licence process, but there has been a reckless failure to take action. One of the park homes that is currently being advertised on that site is 50 feet by 20 feet, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and priced at £379,950, but it does not say anywhere that it is on an unlicensed site.
Silver Mists is within 400 metres of protected heathland. Under the severe restrictions in the habitats directive it would never have been given planning permission as an ordinary residential development, but there will now be 45 new permanent dwellings on the site, making a mockery of the protections that Natural England seeks to enforce on environmental grounds. Paragraph 3.4 of the supplementary planning document, “The Dorset Heathlands Planning Framework 2015-2020”, states that
“caravan and touring holiday accommodation”
“likely to have the same effect”
on the heathland as residential development. That is not the opinion of Natural England, but that organisation seems unable to enforce its own rules against caravan sites, even though it imposes the same rules with total inflexibility and rigour on any new proposed residential development, however small.
Although the issues relating to Silver Mists are matters for the new unitary Dorset Council, the largest number of unlicensed sites in my constituency are in the new Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole unitary authority area. The property section of the current edition of the Christchurch Times, a popular weekly newspaper, contains two full pages of advertising that promotes park homes provided by RoyaleLife. These include New Forest Glades in Matchams Lane and New Forest Glen, currently known as Tall Trees, in Matchams Lane. Despite their names, both sites are well outside the New Forest. What is more serious, however, is the description of the homes, which are offered for sale as “single storey” and coming from “the UK’s largest bungalow provider”. They are not bungalows. The “Collins English Dictionary” defines a bungalow as
“a one storey house, sometimes with an attic”.
It also quotes the origin as coming from the 17th century Hindi word “bangla”, meaning a house of the Bengal type. To describe a caravan as a bungalow must surely be a breach of advertising standards.
The promotional material omits any reference to the fact that the homes are caravans or park homes—and, therefore, chattels rather than interests in land. It highlights one of the consequences flowing from such status—the exemption from stamp duty—but fails to mention liability for 10% to be paid on resale. Furthermore, it does not refer to the fact that, as caravan sites, they have to be licensed under the 1960 Act, but are not.
New Forest Glades, formerly known as Port View Caravan Park, benefits in planning terms from a certificate of lawfulness permitting the siting of caravans for residential use on the land identified in that certificate. An application has been submitted to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council for a caravan site licence, but the land identified in the application is not co-extensive with the land identified on the approved plan. When I first complained to the council I was told that the applicant had not even paid the required fee for the application. The council is advising the applicants that unless their current application is amended it will be refused. New Forest Glades is, therefore, being heavily marketed as a site for expensive new luxury bungalows, some of which are, I believe, already occupied. The caravans are not bungalows and do not even enjoy the benefit of a site licence, and gullible members of the public are being seduced by sharp marketing and misleading advertising into buying homes that are no more than chattels on unlicensed and therefore illegal sites.
(2 years, 3 months ago)Commons Chamber
The point that the hon. Lady makes is one that I recognise and one that I did address at the Local Government Association conference. We are approaching a spending review—a new period for the overall funding for local government—and I want to ensure that we give certainty as early as possible. That is what we are working to achieve, so the planning that she and others want for councils is absolutely what I want, too, and it is why I am doing all I can, within my powers, to see that that happens.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the issue in his own area in Northamptonshire. Equally, I can say to him that I will continue to work with him and colleagues in relation to advancing this issue in terms of the reforms that are needed and implementing them speedily. I can give him the assurance that he seeks on working with colleagues at the Department for Education. Indeed, I can confirm to him that I will continue to listen to him and see that changes are implemented as effectively and quickly as we can.
(2 years, 4 months ago)Commons Chamber
Again, I am absolutely delighted that the hon. Gentleman has asked that question, because we have actually put aside £9 billion for our affordable homes programme to deliver a quarter of a million affordable homes by 2022, including 12,500 for social rent. Let me repeat: we have given councils the ability to borrow against their housing revenue cap. We have taken the cap off. Please will councils get on with it? [Interruption.] As the hon. Gentleman is chuntering from the Front Bench, may I tell him that wonderful councils such as the ever present Conservative South Derbyshire District Council are doing exactly that?
Following the meeting I had with my hon. Friend, we were pleased to facilitate meetings for the chief executives of the various councils and health bodies with officials from the Department of Health and Social Care and my Department. Those conversations have been very constructive, and I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the Social Care Minister and I would both be delighted to meet him and other MPs once the proposals have been fleshed out in detail.
My hon. Friend is spot on. Delayed transfers of care undermine patients’ dignity while putting pressure on beds and costing the taxpayer money. Although we have seen fantastic progress nationally with delayed transfers of care halving since the peak, Northamptonshire is obviously not in that place. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the opportunity that greater integrated care could bring, and we are delighted to work with him and others to make that a reality.
I recognise the important point the hon. Gentleman the Chair of the Select Committee has highlighted on building safety. It is why I took the exceptional step of making £200 million available for remediation. It required a ministerial direction to be able to do so, because of its significance. Clearly, we have the ongoing testing of non-ACM materials. I will be advised by my team—the expert panel—in relation to the next steps, and I am clearly keeping the situation under careful review.
My hon. Friend is quite right: one of the problems with housing development in the past in this country is that we have tended to build the houses first and cope with the infrastructure last. We have attempted to reverse that equation, and we now have £5.5 billion dedicated to housing infrastructure, which is specifically designed to release land to build the houses the next generation needs. I would be more than happy to meet him to discuss the possibility of a North Northamptonshire bid to the housing infrastructure fund either now or in the future.
(2 years, 4 months ago)Westminster Hall
That sounds to me like an excellent proposition—I agree.
With absolutely the best interests at heart, the Government have introduced very good schemes, such as Help to Buy and so on, and I believe there are more on the way, but the challenge we have is that if a local authority complies and creates enough housing stock as part of those schemes, that squeezes the amount that can be available for truly affordable housing. Where I am in Devon, that has been a huge challenge for Teignbridge District Council. Once the percentages of affordable homes are agreed, they should be pretty much immovable, except in extremis. It should not be in the gift of the developer to change that.
How are we going to pay for all of this? I think we all accept that the fundamental link between salaries and the cost of a property has been broken and needs to be fixed. We need to look at how to share more fairly the benefit and the burden of the windfall that comes, first, as a chunk taken by the owner and, secondly, as a chunk taken by the developer. How might we do that?
Owners already pay a tax, so they do have to make some contribution. In addition, they should be required to set aside a fund for infrastructure provision, which is one of the biggest challenges for any housing development. That would be important. That money should be provided up front.
At the moment, the owner getting paid generally depends on the developer getting planning permission. It should be conditional not just on that but on the delivery of the infrastructure and, potentially, the affordable housing. There has to be some way of tying the owner to a greater responsibility for delivering the homes.
What can we do with regard to the developer? The developer is generally already required to make a contribution to the infrastructure, but, by and large, it is not an up-front contribution. We need to make changes so that it is. We need to look at putting infrastructure in place before we build even one house. There will be some occasions when, for practical reasons, the houses have to be built before the roads are, but the principle is important.
We then need to ensure that the developer is held to account on developing the types of homes that the council needs. Whether an area needs flats or two-bedroom homes or three-bedroom homes, or whatever, will be in the council’s local plan, with more information in the neighbourhood plan. Often, the developer brings an argument that they cannot provide what is required—that they need to provide executive homes, because that is all they can afford to produce. That is not the right answer. The council ought to have the power to ensure that, when it grants planning permission, it is to provide the houses or flats that we actually need. There might be a question about whether a developer would then continue to develop. If that were a national policy, rule or regulation, they would continue to develop, on the assumption that they want to stay in business.
What about the council? In this whole process, they do not have the relevant power or resource. By and large, they cannot say to a developer, “No, you are not providing the sort of houses we need.” They need the CIL money, they need the new homes bonus and they know that if they lose an appeal brought by a developer, they will have to pay the costs. That rule needs to be changed. Councils need to be free not to give planning permission where they feel it appropriate, without having over their heads the real burden of paying fees if they are then proved wrong.
On brownfield sites and empty properties, councils need to be given the power to enforce. That means ensuring that they are properly funded to do so and that the legislation has the teeth to make that happen. Without that, those who own brownfield sites or have vacant properties will not be willing to do much about them.
I want to touch on the environmental impact. This is a huge issue; it has had a significant impact in my constituency. There is a much fought-over development in Newton Abbot, called NA3. It is currently being reviewed by the Government, because the local authority did not make a decision in sufficient time. The developer has effectively said that they want it to be looked at in more detail, and that process is ongoing as we speak. I will not refer to the details exactly, as the matter is currently in train, but the way the system works means that no account has been taken of the real number of houses we need, nor of the real value of that particular piece of land, which offers much in environmental support and opportunity for the area as a whole.
Another example is Kingsteignton, one of the smallest towns in the country. It started out as a very small village and just got developed and developed. The character of that village has largely been destroyed and it has become a small commuter town—a dormitory suburb of Exeter. It was never developed to be a town, so there is no physical centre such as a cluster of shops that people can go to, to give a heart to that community.
There are a number of things that might be done to address these issues. I start with carbon impact, which is slightly dislocated from my previous point. There used to be carbon impact targets. As I understand it—the Minister may correct me—they were abolished in 2014 or 2015. It seems to me that everyone feels very strongly, and rightly so, that if we are to do our bit, we need to ensure that new housing is developed with the lowest carbon impact possible. That is not the case at the moment. Many constituents say to me, “Why are solar panels not mandated nowadays on new developments?” Not to mandate them on industrial developments certainly seems to me to be madness. That needs to be re-examined, and I hope that with the new focus on environmental matters, the Government will do that.
If the Government are really serious about trying to ensure that there are beneficial rather than adverse environmental impacts, they need to look at investing in and supporting investment in new technology to enable us to build new, high-quality, environmentally friendly houses and homes.
My other concern is about the green lungs. In communities that have been further built out, we have tried to retain small areas of parkland and so on, so that people feel the area is a home, and they have somewhere they can take their children and their dogs and so on. In a large conurbation like London, that is difficult, and we are where we are, but there needs to be a greater focus in planning on retaining the green lungs going forwards. I am concerned that we now seem to be continually reducing the footprint that a property has, and reducing the amount of land/garden. Mental health is also a big issue today, and greenness and space are very important to mental health. The link between planning, housing and mental health does not need me to prove it. It is already there for all to see.
The Government should be looking at a new strategy. Alongside looking to develop new towns—I know there are some already—they should be looking at new villages. I appreciate the appeal of new towns with their greater population, but our villages are one of the beautiful things about our green England, and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Why is it that we cannot have a new villages strategy? They might be the template for environmental pilots. If the Minister in any way accepts any of that, the national policy planning framework will need to be reviewed and fundamentally overhauled.
Let me now look at the issue of infrastructure. I have talked a bit about the funding and when the money comes forward, but I am still amazed that, although there is an obligation to put in a telephone line and connect to water and electricity, there is no obligation—unless the Minister says it has changed—to put in broadband. It seems to me that planning should not be given unless the developer makes a commitment to put in broadband, by which I mean a broadband connection to BT—not because I love BT, but because it provides the physical infrastructure. In some areas where in theory there has been a commitment to provide broadband, it has been access to Virgin or one of the other suppliers. As they do not have control over the physical network and infrastructure, the reality is that the community cannot get broadband. I am hopeful that the Minister is looking at some of the challenges.
Infrastructure is not just about electricity or broadband but about having enough schools and health provision. One of the things that has continued to surprise me is that some very important consultees are not statutory consultees. One of those is health. Although the Minister’s predecessor would say to me, “But they can be consulted, and usually they are,” my response has always been, “Well, that’s true, Minister, but the reality is that if there is no statutory obligation to do it thoroughly and properly, you will probably not do it to the degree that it needs to be done.” I am certainly aware that there are many areas in my part of Devon where we do not have adequate provision for health services, which is a real issue.
Part of the infrastructure is normally funded through the council. One of the things that has been a barrier to councils is their inability to borrow against future receipts of CIL moneys or the new homes bonus. If we could change that—at one point, one of the Minister’s predecessors started looking at it—it would make a significant difference. Although the CIL and NHB moneys go to the council, there is no obligation for them to use that money in the local area where the development takes place. I appreciate that where there is a neighbourhood plan—I am certainly a great fan of them—it is a win-win for that neighbourhood, because they get an element of the money to use in their own area. Although that is a good start, I do not believe that it is adequate.
Let me now turn to the final area where I think we should have different thinking, new targets and a new approach: the community. How does the community benefit from all this? Looking back in history, the concept of planning and planning approval was introduced because it was believed that landowners had too much power to build anywhere—rightly so, because they own the land—and it was therefore thought more appropriate for there to be some control, hence the planning process.
It seems that there is a stakeholder missing from this agenda: the community. I have talked about providing homes and ensure that we have stable and mentally healthy communities, but we will not do that unless the community is involved. I know that there is a requirement in the NPPF to look at environmental and community issues, but there are no real teeth to it. It seems that the concept of community interest is very limited and needs to be reviewed. At the moment, we generally look at the impact of any plan put forward on productivity—rightly so—but we do not look at the impact of that development on the community’s quality of life, which is important. If we are so focused on the need for healthy communities and on reducing our mental health issues, that is critical. If we are to achieve this, the NPPF will need to be changed.
In trying to put the community at the heart of all this, we need to look at a viable villages initiative. I have referred to the issue before. One of the challenges is that most of the large developers will not develop small villages. The small developers find it more expensive because they do not have economies of scale, and many have gone out of business. Without support from the Government, we will not change that. Unless we look specifically at how we will ensure that existing villages remain viable, so that there are still enough children to attend the schools and enough people to go and drink in the pubs, we will find that our villages die. Wherever they are in the country, that will be a loss. We need to look at how we do that, be it through simplifying the planning permission or through Government grants and support for small builders. I am sure that the Minister is better placed than I am to address that.
I have an old chestnut: engagement with the community. I have raised this with just about every Minister who preceded the current Minister, whom I shall also ask to consider it. For all the reasons I have expressed, I believe that the community should have a right of appeal in the planning process. The Minister’s predecessors have always said to me, “You can’t, because you’ll create a nimby world where anybody who doesn’t like something simply puts up their hand.” I would say no. Indeed, a piece by the National Federation of Builders that was based on an article I wrote said, “You can’t do this.” I am sure its concern was that, should we get the community involved in nimbyism, it would simply block development.
If we were to manage the process properly and say that only a town or parish council could appeal, and if appeals had to be made on planning grounds, it would minimise the room for manoeuvre and for nimbyism to creep in. I recommend to the Minister that he look at this again. The intention is not to take power away from district councils; it is to get a better, joined-up system that works for communities, councils, central Government and all of us who want more houses in the right places. We want communities, not just blocks of flats.
I thank the Minister for his patience. Owing to the actions of a number of Governments over the years, our planning system is now broken. Although I commend the Minister’s predecessors for working hard to change that—much of what went into the NPPF and the new plans was good—it remains broken. It cannot just be a numbers game, which is what we focus on now. The system must take into account some of the other issues that have been raised. We have to look at how we will link house prices to wages, and I have made some proposals on how we do that. We absolutely need to address this key issue, so that people on average wages in Devon can actually afford to buy a house in a sensible timeframe, rather than having to rely on the bank of mum and dad and/or wait until they are 40. As Maslow said in his hierarchy of needs, a home is the most important thing for human survival.
It seems to me that the community must and should have a voice. I hope that the Minister will take my suggestions, and that he will look at them and digest them. I very much hope that he will stand up and say that many of these are good ideas. Indeed, it would be even better if the Minister were able to tell me that the present Government were already looking at them. I shall now sit down and look forward to hearing the Minister’s and other contributors’ thoughts on this very thorny issue.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I want to focus my remarks on land banking. Hull is a growing, successful city that is attracting significant investment and undergoing positive change. The council has already granted numerous housing, commercial, industrial and educational permissions, the majority of which have been implemented.
I completely agree, and I look forward to going to see those properties on Friday.
We have a problem with landlords not implementing their permissions in full, and with one landowner in particular. The problem is not just that sites are not being developed, but that landlords are failing to manage their responsibilities for them. There are patches of land across the city—I will talk about the details in a moment—that are being left to go to ruin, and landlords are not taking full responsibly for health and safety.
The Lord Line building is a site of personal significance to the people of Hull, as it is one of the last buildings relating to Hull’s fishing heritage. It is the site of the dock where the fishing boats used to come in and out of when we were the capital city of the UK for the fishing trade, but it has been left to go to ruin. Youths go in there for reasons that I do not want to elaborate on here. We can see from the discarded needles, the bricks thrown from the top of the building, and the fire engines that attend the site regularly that it is not being properly safeguarded or protected. There will end up being a tragedy there, because people keep going to that building and it is not being looked after.
The owner of that land also owned the former Rank Hovis Clarence Mill on St Peter Street. They pledged to clear the building and promised a Radisson Blu hotel in its place. The demolition and clearing work still had not started by 2015, and in 2017 the permission expired and was not renewed. They bought the Heaven & Hell nightclub in March 2011. They said that they were going to put a £15 million development called Manor Cube on the site, and stated that the building work on the hotel would be completed by July 2013, but by that time no work had been completed.
The Lord Line building has been left to go to rack and ruin, causing great upset in the fishing community in Hull. The company—Manor Properties—seems to have a habit of promising pie-in-the-sky, wonderful, big dreams to the people of Hull, while letting the areas go to ruin.
There are a few points where I feel the Minister can tighten up the existing legislation to prevent this from happening again. We could have enhanced compulsory purchase orders where a site is allocated and consent is not implemented in full. Those powers could enable the local authority to acquire the site at 50% of its market value, provided that it commences development within 12 months of acquisition and at least 50% of the development is completed within three years. I know that the council would develop that land, but it does not have the power to purchase it. If a section 15 notice has to be served due to a lack of maintenance and dereliction on a site, allowing it to be acquired at 40% of its market value could also help the development.
The Minister should also focus public sector funding on unlocking those sites by providing additional grants and loans. The rules are set up to prevent the council from being able to compulsorily purchase the sites, but when people come into my city on the A63, they see this abandoned building on the way in. That is not the advertisement that I want for my city. People walking around the centre see patches of land that have been left or underdeveloped. The Minister could change that by just tightening up a few bits of legislation.
Removing VAT for any conversion works undertaken to properties’ heritage action zones would also help us. The Minister should change the rules about what constitutes a material start, to prevent landowners from undertaking minor works.
When I first came to the House in 2008, I began work on a paper called “Open Source Planning”, which set out an important distinction and led to the abolition of the top-down targets that had existed under the Labour Government. It took a little while to get rid of them, but we have not replaced them. The Chancellor’s target of 300,000 houses is an aspirational or soft target, because it cannot be achieved on its own without consequential changes to the planning system. We have already made a large number of changes, and there are more on the way.
The main target that we should be aiming for is one based on housing need. Under previous Administrations, it was left to individual councils to come up with the figure for housing need and methodology to calculate it. That was incredibly expensive for councils and led to an enormous number of court cases, as developers challenged them. I was very pleased when the Government asked me to sit on the Local Plans Expert Group and come up with a new methodology. We were the first to introduce a methodology based on Office for National Statistics figures. Although there are some problems with it, which I am sure the Minister is aware of, it is a very useful starting point.
Unfortunately, many other deals—for example, growth deals—have subsequently come into play and overridden those figures. The councils concerned have come up with other figures to replace the need figure that is based on, for example, strategic housing market assessment surveys that are quite old. We and councils must have an overriding desire to go back and take those figures out to the public to discuss what is being done and ensure that there is public buy-in.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) mentioned the NPPF. I am very pleased to have been involved in the original version of it. All we tried to do with it was to boil it down from thousands of pages to 50 to make it accessible to everyone.
The best targets are those in neighbourhood plans. They have been developed by the community, and the figures from the district council that they have been built on are merely the minimum figures. The community can add to them whenever it wishes. Neighbourhood plans are very good at protecting the open and green spaces that the community wishes to include. There is a great need to protect the people who spend a couple of years producing a neighbourhood plan, which is why I introduced a private Member’s Bill to take away the right of appeal if a developer has definitely gone against a neighbourhood plan.
I do not think the system is broken. We have gone out of our way to try to fix it. I would point to the fact that the viability calculations that developers have to produce are public. They are available and have to be discussed, and local councils should have access to them. I agree with what my hon. Friend said about carbon impact, but I believe—
Thank you, Mr Hollobone; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) on securing this particularly important debate.
Since 2010, housebuilding has fallen to its lowest level since the 1920s. Rough sleeping has risen every year, rents have shot up faster than incomes, there are almost 200,000 fewer homeowners and new affordable housebuilding is at a 24-year low. Meanwhile, average house prices are at a record high of almost eight times the average income, yet we wonder why home ownership is at its lowest level in Britain since 1985.
In reality, although 1.2 million people are on housing waiting lists across our country, this Government delivered just 6,464 social homes in 2017-18. That is simply diabolical when compared with the 150,000 social homes delivered every year in the mid-1960s. The evidence is clear: it has been done before and can be done again.
The housing crisis is about the reality behind those statistics. I am tired of the endless reports, countless debates, fruitless words and lack of action. The Government have a house building target of 300,000 new homes per year, but they simply cannot keep willing the completion of more homes without finding the means to provide them. Here are some of those means.
(2 years, 6 months ago)Commons Chamber
I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the situation. I absolutely see local government as an ally, which is why I have championed its work and what it delivers for local people. I should hope that he notes that Kirklees Council will have access to £302 million in 2019-20. It is also worth highlighting that average spending power per dwelling for the 10% most deprived authorities in 2019-20 will be around 22% more than for the least deprived. It is not right to say that this Government focus on one area over another. We want local government to perform for communities across the country.
I commend Kettering Borough Council for the work it is doing, and indeed Conservative councils up and down this country. It is worth highlighting that, on average, Labour councils in England impose bigger council tax increases than Conservative councils, reminding us that you always end up paying more under Labour.
I firmly recognise the stress, strain and anguish that so many people continue to live with as a consequence of ACM cladding on the outside of a number of these blocks. A growing list of companies, such as Barratt, Mace and Legal & General, are doing the right thing and taking responsibility. In addition, warranty providers have accepted claims on a number of buildings. I urge all owners and developers to follow the lead of those companies and step up to make sure this work is done. This is a priority for me; I know the work needs to be advanced more quickly, and I am considering all other options if it is not.
I thank my hon. Friend for his engagement with the process of reorganising local government in Northamptonshire. I am pleased to tell him that the Department’s consultation on this matter has now closed. The Secretary of State is considering the responses and he intends to announce his decision to the House as soon as is practical.
(2 years, 7 months ago)Commons Chamber
The hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, is obviously aware that there is an ongoing consultation on the formula. He highlights a point in relation to the primary formula and the way in which deprivation plays into that. We will look closely at the evidence that is presented to us and I encourage him to take part in that consultation.
I warmly commend Kettering Borough Council for the work that my hon. Friend outlined, and indeed councils for the way in which they have risen to the challenges. I commend all the work of the members and officers in Kettering for being able to deliver good-quality services in an efficient way.
(2 years, 8 months ago)Westminster Hall
I thank the Minister for his speech. It is good to know that the Government are listening, that they are supportive and that they are committed to regional growth, especially in the south-west.
I thank all colleagues for taking part in this debate; we have heard some very powerful speeches today. Collectively, we are a good team for our region—we are all committed to working across the parties and to doing the best for our constituents. We already represent a wonderful region. If we can just get our infrastructure right, my firm hope and belief is that our best is yet to come.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered economic growth in the South West.
(2 years, 8 months ago)Commons Chamber
I can assure my hon. Friend that we are working with the Ministry of Defence on support that can be provided to veterans who need our help and backing because they have ended up, for whatever reason, on the street. He is right to say that we need better data, and that is what we seek to achieve.
I am pleased to say that our rough sleeping strategy is intended to give that prioritisation, through work not only by my Department but across Whitehall. My hon. Friend is right about that need, and that is what we are determined to provide through the strategy.
(2 years, 9 months ago)Westminster Hall
What my hon. Friend says is absolutely right. That is a misuse of the Law of Property Act 1925. That is why we are looking to the Government to make some legal changes. This is not just bad behaviour; this is clearly a deliberate strategy and the company has obviously taken very expensive legal advice in order to develop that strategy. To stop them, we will need some legal change.
I heard from somebody who lives in the west midlands—I do not know whether it was a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey)—who said that he had had a 17-year battle with Greenbelt and that he was charged legal fees of £25,000. Obviously, the ordinary homeowner cannot afford to shell out on legal fees like that.
Despite their name, property management companies appear to have no interest in actively managing the land they acquire. On the website of London and Economic Properties Ltd, a Wiltshire-based firm that manages the Middridge Vale development in Shildon in my constituency, property is listed under its “investments” section. The company boasts of its
“enviable track record, investing across the property spectrum to deliver profits for shareholders.”
There is no mention of homeowners. It says of the land at Shildon that it
“benefits from grant income from the Forestry Commission as well as a housing levy from the adjacent housing development which…will provide an annual payment in perpetuity of £100 from each of the 278 houses”.
There is no mention of the company’s obligations as the caretaker for the site. Ultimately, that is the problem: these extortionate fees and poor service are the result of a culture that sees housing as an abstract investment, rather than the foundations of our families and communities.
This is a massive scam. The House of Commons Library gave me figures that suggest that perhaps half a million people have been affected by this problem in the last 10 years. That means that somebody or some people are coining in about £100 million a year.
What change is needed? The Government have outlined their commitment to reform the process for those buying a new build home to obtain redress. They intend to bring forward legislation to require all developers to belong to a new homes ombudsman. They have also said that they hope to offer freeholders the same rights as leaseholders to challenge the reasonableness of charges at a property tribunal. Can the Minister say when that will be done? When will he bring forward these measures?
Legislation to improve access to dispute resolution is helpful, but it does not tackle the root problem. The Freehold Properties (Management Charges and Shared Facilities) Bill, which I introduced in November, recommended three changes for homeowners who are already caught in this trap. First, it would cap and regulate estate maintenance fees, to give homeowners financial stability and allow them to buy and sell their homes knowing that costs cannot increase indefinitely. Secondly, it would introduce measures to ensure that shared spaces are maintained to a proper standard, perhaps through something similar to the new homes ombudsman. Thirdly, it would contain provisions for residents if they chose to opt out of their management company and to self-manage, if that was what they wanted to do.
For estates yet to be built, the planning regulations need to be tightened, to require them to be built to an adoptable standard. Local authorities are currently often willing to adopt spaces in exchange for an agreed sum from the developer to cover upkeep for a fixed period. For example, Durham County Council asked for 15 years’ worth. That is a reasonable ask of an industry that can afford to pay its chief executive officer bonuses of £75 million.
Many of these estates were built with support from the Government’s Help to Buy scheme, financed by taxpayers. I would like the Minister to tell us this afternoon that the Government are going to stop providing support to any development using that model. Will the Minister also refer the mis-selling aspect of this to the Financial Conduct Authority to investigate, and to the Law Society, to strike off lawyers who have worked unethically in the interests of property dealers while taking fees and purporting to work for homebuyers?
A situation has arisen whereby the private estates model is rapidly becoming the norm for new developments, with those who have saved hard for their homes bearing an unfair burden and builders treating them as a cash cow. Homeowners do not want sympathy and understanding. They want action, and they would like to see action now. I hope the Minister will be able to make a clear, timetabled commitment this afternoon. I am looking forward to hearing his response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) for securing this debate and for the work she is doing with her Bill to regulate freeholders and to ensure that freeholders have sufficient rights.
Under section 19 of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, the creation of schemes of management allows landlords or scheme managers to receive and require fees from management charges. I welcome the work to support new builds, but the Government should go further than that—I wonder whether my hon. Friend agrees—and strengthen the legal position of all freeholders so that they have access to information about where the money they are being forced to pay is going and what it is being spent on.
As it stands, the balance of power is not appropriate or fair. Freeholders are not able to ask for details of where the money they are charged as part of estate management schemes goes. However, management companies are able, by law, to use enforcement agents to collect the money. Does that seem like a reciprocal relationship?
I have residents in my constituency who are freeholders but who are still obligated to pay management fees, separate and additional to service charges. Residents are concerned about the lack of transparency, and they have a feeling of helplessness when trying to find out where the money is being spent, or how much money is left in the pot. Despite paying into this opaque fund, the freehold residents are entirely powerless to compel enforcement of the management scheme.
Freehold residents are unable to ensure enforcement of the scheme that they pay into and cannot hold anyone to account over expenditure. We need transparency, for them to be able to hold it to account. I understand that the Government are legislating to give freeholders the equivalent rights to leaseholders when it comes to challenging service charges. Will the Minister extend that to management charges as well? If not, will he explain what the difference is?
(2 years, 10 months ago)Commons Chamber
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I commend St Mungo’s for its excellent work, for what it does out in our communities and for the difference it is making. I had a conversation with the chief executive of St Mungo’s this morning on some of the work it is doing now and, equally, on how, through our rough-sleeping advisory panel, we continue to work with those across the sector.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about giving help in hostels, and that point was also made to me last night. Within our rough-sleeping strategy we have a navigators programme, which is aimed precisely at guiding people through what is sometimes a complex system to ensure they get the support they need.
I can assure my hon. Friend that our rough-sleeping initiative is targeted at the 83 areas with the highest pressure and the highest demand. Obviously we will continue to reflect on that as evidence emerges. If the patterns change, clearly we will redirect resources, but he makes an important point about London and the north-west, where a lot of resource is being provided. Indeed, Manchester is one of the areas where we have our Housing First programme, which is aimed at providing help more quickly.
(2 years, 10 months ago)Commons Chamber
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. I will certainly look into his letter of 25 November and revert to him in relation to the points that he makes. But I would also highlight how we have been supporting the west midlands area in relation to issues such as rough sleeping, which he highlights, with our Housing First programme to ensure that we are getting the help that is needed to the most vulnerable people, getting them off the streets and getting them the support that they require.
I understand that Northamptonshire has estimated that the potential benefit is in the order of £18 million in relation to the business rates retention arrangements, with the growth in business rates. That is the change that we want to see across the system. I recognise the continuing issues and challenges within Northamptonshire. I can certainly commit to my hon. Friend to continue to work with colleagues on this.
(2 years, 11 months ago)Commons Chamber
The short answer is probably very few, which is the point my hon. Friend is making. We need people who are prepared to come forward to advise Government and provide support. It is important that we continue to attract skilled, talented people to do that, and the Government will continue to champion freedom of expression and speech.
(2 years, 11 months ago)Commons Chamber
We are already taking such steps. On 18 October, we convened a meeting between leaders and chief executives of the Northamptonshire councils and representatives of the local health services to start discussions on how, in future, adult social care may be best provided and integrated with health.
(2 years, 11 months ago)Westminster Hall
That is certainly a frustration for the many patients who suffer. I hope that the Minister will address progress towards the outcome that we would all like to see.
There are changes that patients can make to their lifestyle to help to manage the condition, including specific exercise programmes and altering their diets. It is also important for them to avoid being around second-hand smoke and other environmental pollutants, such as open fires, petrol fumes, paint, solvents and dust, and that they avoid coming into contact with anyone suffering from a cold or the flu. However, that is often not enough. There is a need for Government action. We would like the Government to look at the prescribed specialised services advisory group’s recommendations and address the specific recommendation for a national, highly specialised service for patients with severe alpha-1.
A Department of Health and Social Care paper sets it out that that service, referred to by the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western), should be operational by April 2019, which is only six months away. However, I understand that the formal development of the service has not yet commenced, and that it is highly unlikely that it will be operational by the original deadline.
The need for progress on the service forms one of the two principal objectives of the alpha-1 patient community, and I look forward to the Minister’s commenting on that. The second particular ask is to ensure that alpha-1 antitrypsin augmentation therapy—access to Respreeza, the only licensed treatment—will be available. I hope that the Minister responds positively to that.
It is the view of the alpha-1 patient community that the Government should focus on five key areas. The first is that that highly specialised service should become operational in a timely fashion. Secondly, patients should be involved at all stages in the development and implementation of the service to ensure that the patient voice is fully heard and taken into consideration. Thirdly, we are calling for a review of the impact of the NICE highly specialised technologies guidelines on patient access to rare disease treatments.
Fourthly, we are looking to apply a broader decision framework to the NICE process of evaluating the value of rare disease treatments, looking particularly at the social and societal benefits that impact patients and carers. Finally, we ask the Government to consider the appropriateness of introducing a more formalised process of conditional approval of rare disease treatments in England, such as alpha-1 augmentation therapy, as is being implemented in Scotland.
I shall conclude by referring to an email I received from a patient only yesterday that sets out her concerns with alpha-1 and its misdiagnosis. The sufferer emailed me to say that her mother died from antitrypsin deficiency, and that she now has the lung version of the disease. She is 48-years-old, and two years ago was a runner, but can now barely run for a bus or climb stairs. Her lung function has dropped dramatically in just one year. She is an ex-smoker and acknowledges the harm that smoking caused with respect to the condition. Had she been diagnosed earlier, she would have been able to make better lifestyle choices. The bit that got me was when she said that the deficiency for those who are symptomatic progresses at a very fast rate, and that, for many, it will end in gasping for breath for a long, drawn-out period, until such time as their lungs stop functioning completely. She says it feels like being eaten alive.
If the Government can work towards the two principal objectives and five key recommendations of the alpha-1 patient community, there will be a huge benefit to a significant group of people. It is our hope that the present and future needs of patients suffering this rare condition may finally be met.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) on securing this important debate on the need to raise awareness of alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency disease. I was unaware of the condition until I heard about the debate, and it has been enlightening to learn about it and the number of people it affects in this country. He set out, with great clarity and passion, the concerns of alpha-1 patients across the country.
With up to 8,000 rare diseases identified so far—a number that steadily grows as our diagnostic tools improve—the Government remain dedicated to improving the lives of all those living with a rare condition and to implementing the 51 commitments of the UK strategy for rare diseases, which was reinforced in the Prime Minister’s speech in June, in which she set out her future vision. That vision will be underpinned by increased funding for the NHS, so that the UK can lead the world in the use of data and technology to prevent, and not just treat, illness; to diagnose conditions before symptoms occur; and, importantly, to deliver personalised treatment informed not only by a general understanding of disease but by our own data, including our own genetic make-ups.
As we have heard from hon. Members, people with alpha-1 have low levels of the protective enzyme alpha1-proteinase inhibitor. That means that they are more vulnerable to body tissue damage from infections and environmental toxins—tobacco smoke, in particular. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby said, there is no cure for alpha-1, and treatment is focused on alleviating the symptoms.
My hon. Friend referred to the ongoing highly specialised technology evaluation by NICE of the drug Respreeza. That is a type of therapy called replacement therapy. It aims to boost the levels of alpha-1 antitrypsin in the blood. As those in the Chamber will know, NICE is an independent body and its highly specialised technologies evaluation committee makes recommendations on the use of new and existing highly specialised medicines and treatments within the NHS in England.
I am confident that NICE has in place a robust framework for evaluating technologies for rare diseases. As was said, it has not yet published its final guidance on the use of Respreeza for treating emphysema in patients with alpha-1, but it recently consulted on its draft guidance. As we heard, NICE’s evaluation committee is due to meet again to consider its recommendations in March 2019. That is to enable the company that makes Respreeza to prepare and submit additional information for the committee to consider. I am assured that, in developing its final recommendations, NICE will take fully into account all the comments that it received in response to the consultation, along with any additional information provided by the company. We look forward to hearing NICE’s recommendations after consideration has concluded.
As my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) mentioned, Ministers agreed with the advice of the prescribed specialised services advisory group that services for people diagnosed with alpha-1 should be nationally commissioned by NHS England and not by clinical commissioning groups. May I reassure my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman that NHS England is engaging with NICE on the HST evaluation of Respreeza? Once final guidance is received, following the evaluation committee’s meeting scheduled for March next year, NHS England will consider the commissioning implications in consultation with the specialised respiratory clinical reference group.
Should Respreeza be recommended by NICE, it would be for NHS England to make funding available within 90 calendar days of the positive evaluation. Should that be the case, NHS England would want to be assured that the centres initiating the treatment had the appropriate expertise and resources in place. NHS England is committed to involving patients in the development of new services, and routinely does so in line with the specialised commissioning framework, and with dedicated working groups that inform service specification and have patient representation.
As my hon. Friend said, alpha-1 is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. It is sometimes diagnosed late, as in the case of his constituent, Mr Leadbetter. More can be done to diagnose rare conditions earlier. Whole genome sequencing is increasingly utilised as a diagnostic tool for rare diseases in individuals with unrecognised signs and symptoms. I am pleased to report that about 25% of rare disease patients who have their genome sequenced through the 100,000 Genomes Project now receive a diagnosis for the first time.
The genomic medicine service was launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on 2 October 2018, making the UK the first in the world to integrate genomic technologies, including whole genome sequencing, into routine clinical care. The first national genomic test directory also became operational from October this year. It specifies which genomic tests are commissioned by the NHS in England, the technology by which they are available and the patients who will be eligible to access them. Alpha-1 is included in the new directory, which will be kept up to date on an annual basis to keep pace with scientific and technological advances.
Let me refer to one or two of the comments from hon. Members. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about the prevention of disease and clinical trials having taken place. Improving the lives of people with alpha-1 through research is critical. We support continued research into rare diseases through the National Institute for Health Research. That has established 20 biomedical research centres that develop new treatments for patients with a range of rare diseases.
The hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) referred to a UK-wide campaign to raise awareness of this condition. I fully agree with her and support the notion that we should always be working together to raise awareness of alpha-1. Many of our initiatives are aimed at raising awareness of rare diseases among healthcare professionals and the general public; it must be extremely difficult for a GP to have knowledge of, spot the symptoms of, and recognise up to 8,000 rare diseases. Health Education England and Genomics England have produced a range of educational materials about rare diseases aimed at those very people—healthcare professionals, including GPs, as the first point of contact in the NHS. Information about rare diseases is also provided for patients and their families.
Let me refer to some of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby. He talked about allowing patients to be closely involved at all stages of the development and implementation of the service that we are discussing. NHS England routinely involves patients in the development of new services, in line with the specialised commissioning framework, and there are dedicated working groups that inform service specification development. My hon. Friend talked about a review to reflect the impact that the changes to the NICE HST guidelines have had on patient access. NICE’s methods and processes for assessing drugs have been carefully developed over time and are internationally respected. It continues to keep its procedures under review. That includes extensive engagement with patient groups.
It is absolutely a matter for NICE to make its recommendations, but I think that, if this was approved, we could have a situation in which it could be available by at least April 2020. I hope that that is some encouraging news for my hon. Friend.
I probably need to wrap up the debate, but my hon. Friend also talked about the Government considering the appropriateness of introducing a more formal process of conditional approval for rare disease treatments such as alpha-1 augmentation therapy. The Department has no plans currently to establish a new assessment process for the evaluation of rare disease treatments. NICE’s methods and processes for developing its recommendations have been developed over the past 20 years through extensive engagement with interested parties.
Finally, let me assure my hon. Friend and all other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate that the Government are dedicated to improving the lives of all patients with rare diseases such as alpha-1. The publication of the UK strategy for rare diseases in 2013 was a significant milestone in that respect, and the strategy is now being implemented across the UK. The strategy set out our strategic vision and contains 51 commitments concentrating on raising awareness, providing better diagnosis and patient care, and ensuring a strong emphasis on the importance of research in our quest better to understand and treat rare diseases. Research is at the heart of better treatment and, we hope, prevention. That is why in 2017 the NIHR BioResource for Translational Research in Common and Rare Diseases was launched, supported by £36.5 million of NIHR funding.
I thank those who have come to listen to the debate, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and everyone present for contributing to it and for highlighting and discussing these issues. For their constituents and for all those who suffer from alpha-1 or any rare disease, I hope that I have helped in some way to assure them that the Government and the NHS are working hard to tackle these conditions and to help improve the lives of, and treatment pathways for, all patients.
Question put and agreed to.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered local involvement in shale gas development.
Thank you for your guidance at the start of this well-attended debate, Mr Hollobone. Many right hon. and hon. Members have been emailed by constituents asking them to come along and support Mark Menzies in his debate. If it is any consolation, I, too, have been emailed by constituents asking me to come along and support Mark Menzies in his debate. I assure those constituents that I am supporting Mark Menzies in his debate.
Throughout my time as a Member of Parliament, I have lived with shale gas. I have seen several sites in my constituency developed, and some have been developed and abandoned. I could talk about that for some time. When I was elected in 2010, it came as a surprise that in 2008 the previous Labour Government had awarded a shale gas exploration licence for the area that covers my constituency and some of my neighbouring constituencies. At the time, it was not well known about and the level of awareness was quite low. The company did not even have a website, so finding out what was going on took some doing.
Since its introduction in the UK, shale gas extraction has become a contentious issue. Individuals on both sides offer passionate arguments, as I have witnessed throughout my tenure as a Member of Parliament. My contribution today will largely focus on the proposed planning changes that have been out for consultation.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) referred to some planning experiences that arose while working with North Yorkshire County Council in Kirby Misperton. The second consultation was about bringing shale gas production sites into the NSIP regime, and I can see some of the benefits of that. One important aspect is getting consistency in decisions that are taken across the country. For example, in Kirby Misperton, there was a sensible addition: 400 metres, or half a mile, was added between the shale gas exploration site and residential properties. No such conditions were placed on either of the sites at Preston New Road, or on the application at Roseacre Wood. When planning inspectors are making those decisions—and they are different planning inspectors all the time—and those decisions are going up to the Secretary of State, inconsistent decisions are being made time after time.
Taking permitted development off the table—it is an absolutely crackers idea—I ask the Minister to look into how we can move to a planning regime where there is consistency, and where we avoid some of the decisions that go against local communities and that ignore traffic issues, population density, and the proximity of residential houses. I ask him to look at how we can come up with a workable framework. For example, there are no rules—
Mr Hollobone, your words are echoing in my ears. I will condense my remarks to allow other hon. Members in, but I have been very generous in taking interventions, as I hope you recognise. I will take one last intervention, and then make some progress.
I do indeed.
Mr Hollobone, let me plough on and bring my contribution to a conclusion. I ask the Minister to look at how consistency can be brought into the planning process. It is important that communities do not face years and years of uncertainty, and that we have consistency. It is also important that the industry knows where it stands. When that planning process is developed, it might well take lots of potential sites off the table altogether, so that the industry can stop wasting its time pursuing sites that, quite frankly, are not suitable.
Central Government’s involvement in recent years has brought some benefits. We have seen much more regulation and understanding of the industry, and I commend the Government on the creation of the Oil and Gas Authority. Indeed, that was something that I called for, campaigned for and pushed on right from the outset. We need an organisation that recognises that shale gas is very different, and that can pull together the work of the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency, mineral rights authorities, BEIS, and other organisations. We need to create a level of expertise within Government that can help ensure that, if this industry develops, it does so in a safe way.
One of the changes that came in was a traffic light system—red, amber and green—and we have seen seismic events triggered at Preston New Road in recent days. Four of those events have been classed as red events, and have led to a cessation in activity. I put it to the Minister that for six years, the industry was not approaching me or anyone else to say that the threshold was far too low, but we now hear calls that a seismic event should need to be a 1.5 or a 2 to trigger a red event. I am sorry, but that ship has sailed. The industry had six years to make the case for that, and no case was made.
Bearing in mind your advice to allow other Members in, Mr Hollobone, I will conclude, because I know that many other people wish to speak in this important debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I will go on for as long as I can.
The Government’s proposals to fast track fracking are a shameful clampdown on local democracy and disregard the autonomy of residents and communities. Under the Government’s proposals, councils and residents will be deprived of a say on incredibly disruptive work being forced on their area. Communities have already been sidelined in the Government’s reckless pursuit of fracking. In my county of Lincolnshire, which is one of the areas most threatened by long-term fracking, £53 million of Lincolnshire County Council’s pension fund is invested in companies associated with shale gas development. The relationship between shale gas industries and Government officials at national and local levels threatens our democracy and our environment, and it must end.
Rather than imposing an unpopular and dangerous method of extraction on communities, the Government should follow Labour’s lead and commit to banning fracking outright, because shale gas is completely incompatible with this country’s climate commitments. The majority of fossil fuels will need to remain in the ground if we are to have even a chance of avoiding catastrophic temperature rises, and as a 2015 Government report found, fracking poses a uniquely damaging threat to our environment, including air pollution, water waste and earth tremors. At a time when we urgently need to transition to a green economy, the Government must abandon their senseless commitment to fracking, and stop their undemocratic assault on the power of communities and on local authorities.
Fracking is one of the No. 1 issues that my constituents email me about. That is why I am here speaking today. I receive more emails on it than on Brexit and the tree-felling programme in Sheffield, which is another environmental issue. One person said:
“I asked myself, ‘would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no. I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.”
That was not one of my constituents; that was Dr Howard Zucker, the commissioner of health for New York State. The New York State Department of Health concluded that fracking should be banned due to the significant public health risks. That led to a state-wide ban.
Some of the dangers that come with fracking include earthquakes, as we saw earlier this week with the 1.1 magnitude tremor at the Little Plumpton site in Lancashire. In Oklahoma, earthquakes rose from two a year to an average of two a day. One recent study has shown that in Pennsylvania, hospital admissions for cardiology and neurology are higher in counties with more fracking. A letter to the British Medical Journal earlier this year signed by Professor Hugh Montgomery, Dr Clare Gerada, Dr Sheila Adam and several other health professionals called for fracking to be halted due to the health risks. Numerous studies have highlighting significant risks. For example, a study in December 2014 found that fracking operations use and create chemicals linked to birth defects.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. People from many different communities and, as we have seen today, from different political persuasions have been united by the proposals. In my area, Labour, Conservative and independent councillors have voted unanimously to oppose the Government’s approach on fracking. We have an application in my area from IGas that has been rejected by the council and is going to review and appeal, but at least in that case there was a local process and local people had a say. The Government seem to have decided that in future, local people will have no voice at all.
Is there not real concern about the level of seismic events in Blackpool from just one well? Imagine how many events we would have if hundreds of wells were coming through that local people had no say about. Is that not a real concern? Local people should have an opportunity to have their concerns dealt with in a legitimate, open and transparent process. If we are truly going to take back control, that should mean a genuine democratic procedure, not a stitch-up that benefits private interests.
(2 years, 11 months ago)Westminster Hall
My hon. Friend, perhaps unsurprisingly, has anticipated my next point—we tend to be on the same wavelength. The Trussell Trust says that in areas where universal credit has been rolled out, it sees a disproportionate increase—my hon. Friend reports a big increase in Wirral—in food bank referrals, as opposed to a lower increase in other areas. The Chancellor is putting some money back in for universal credit, to ameliorate the cuts made by George Osborne in Department for Work and Pensions budgets, but that will not prevent millions of poor and vulnerable people from losing money. They will just lose a little less—and that is without the administrative chaos and design features of this benefit that cause poverty and destitution in Liverpool. Only the Liverpool citizens support scheme, the mayoral hardship fund and the discretionary housing payments, on which the Mayor spends more than central Government provide in moneys, stand between many families and destitution.
The Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, has repeatedly invited Ministers to Liverpool to inspect the books and tell him just what else he is supposed to try in order to deal with the funding crisis that austerity has created, but not one has taken up the challenge. Indeed, he even sent train tickets to Eric Pickles, when he was Secretary of State, to facilitate a visit, but he did not use them. Perhaps this Minister can take up the offer to inspect the books and see what else he can suggest that Liverpool City Council do; we would be most happy to welcome him. If not, perhaps he could indicate that the Mayor of Liverpool’s suggestion of a royal commission on the funding formula will be seriously considered. After all, with things going as they are, soon there will be no consideration of levels of deprivation or need in any of the ways in which funding is allocated to local authorities, nor will any account be taken of the ability of the people of a local area to pay for all that is needed themselves; there will be no elements of redistribution. That is a recipe for entrenching disadvantage and ending social solidarity.
According to the Local Government Association, 168 councils will soon receive no revenue support grant at all and will rely only on business rates and council tax for their income. That disadvantages Liverpool again, because the council tax mix and base is so low. For example, Liverpool has more people than Bristol, but raises £38 million less in council tax, because almost 60% of Liverpool properties are in band A, compared with an average of 24% across the country, and 90% are in bands A to C, compared with 66% nationally. In addition, almost 36% of council tax payers are eligible for a discount because of their circumstances, whereas the national average is 16%. However, Government funding takes no account of these issues. It makes a big difference. If Liverpool was at the national average for these things, that would have meant an additional £97.7 million in council tax available to be collected every year. As it is, Liverpool can raise only £167 million in council tax. Similarly, less is raised in business rates in Liverpool than in many other places, because of the density and mix of local businesses.
Forcing the people of the city to rely, for meeting higher levels of local need, on weaker business rate and council tax yields is not a fair way to fund local services. I therefore finish by asking the Minister to have the courage that his predecessors lacked and visit Liverpool to inspect our books and make some suggestions as to what else, if anything, can be done. I also ask him to address the question of establishing a royal commission on local Government funding to ensure that the Government of which he is a member do not entrench existing deprivation and remove elements of redistribution that have in the past ensured social solidarity and improved life chances and equality between different areas of the country. We need that now more than ever.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) on securing this important debate and on the excellent way in which she opened it.
Local government is vital. It is responsible for essential services such as education, social care and road safety. It is a lifeline for people in need. It drives regeneration and civic pride. In Liverpool, the City Council, with Mayor Joe Anderson, has protected people from the brunt of ongoing and severe Government cuts. It has displayed innovation and civic leadership. By 2020, more than 64% of central Government funding will have been removed from Liverpool. That is a real-terms loss of £444 million. For the fourth poorest local authority in the country, that is a great injustice.
The Chancellor’s statement that austerity is ending rings hollow in Liverpool. Government cuts continue as the council struggles to care for people who need social care and children who just want a chance in life. Nurseries remain underfunded and schools still struggle. The impact of the Government’s cumulative cuts in benefits, often affecting working people, takes its toll. Universal credit threatens to make people poorer. We do not know what the Chancellor’s reassurances in the Budget will mean to people on the ground—not very much, I suspect. Rhetoric needs to be matched with positive action.
Despite increasingly vociferous warnings, fire and police services are denied the essential cash that they need to protect the community. Cuts in fire services are causing increasing public concern; and in Liverpool and Merseyside as a whole gun crime is now increasing. Over the city hangs the threat of Brexit—threats to the economy, to EU-funded initiatives and to the European collaborative research that is so important to our universities and to the city of Liverpool.
I call on the Government to change course and match their words with positive change. They must revisit their plans to put an even tighter squeeze on local services by changing local government funding after 2020 to eliminate central Government support for Liverpool. That is grossly unjust in a city where there is a low council tax base and a 1% rise in council tax raises only £1.4 million; a 1% increase in a place such as Surrey raises £6 million.
Liverpool has a responsible and innovative council protecting Liverpool people from a Government intent on cutting back. I call on Ministers to match their rhetoric with deeds, stop the cuts and give Liverpool a fair deal.
No. I will try to make some progress.
When it comes to that point, I am convinced and confident that those factors are taken into account. Indeed, as we restructure the fair funding formula, they will continue to be taken into account fairly and accurately.
Beyond Government grants, driving economic growth locally is the only sustainable way to ensure that we can raise the money we need to fund our services, and business rates retention is one such opportunity. I am delighted, and I am sure hon. Members here will join me in recognising, that Merseyside is in the fortunate position of being a 100% business rates retention area, which means that the local councils keep all the growth they generate from those rates. That is not something that is enjoyed by every local authority—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Hollobone. I think the hon. Lady was being snide about the fact that Merseyside is a business rates retention pilot. I am sure that the £54 million that Merseyside will keep this year in additional funding as a result of the pilot is nothing to be snide about, and will make an enormous difference on the ground, helping the people I know she cares about. Many other local authorities across the country would be happy to be one of the pilot areas, so if she thinks that Merseyside would rather not be one and would give up the opportunity to others, I would be happy to talk to her afterwards.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who mentioned the importance of early intervention. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the point of order. That great work in the last year builds on three successive years of reductions in referrals to children’s services.
We talked about the importance of local authorities in building strong communities and the Government back that, whether through the funds for Liverpool City Council from the controlling migration fund, ensuring that communities are connected through the roads fund that was announced yesterday, or bringing high streets together and creating pocket parks—something that Liverpool has benefited from. Whether through building economic growth, supporting communities or helping the vulnerable, the Government are determined to recognise the role that local government plays and to back it with what it needs.
(3 years, 4 months ago)Commons Chamber
More affordable homes have been delivered in the past seven years than in the last seven years of the last Labour Government. It is a bit rich to press us when we have delivered 217,000 completed new homes in the past year. This Government have committed £9 billion to affordable homes—the hon. Lady should reflect on that—as this issue is our priority.
We have identified additional funding for affordable homes and social rent. I will be making a further announcement regarding what this means outside London. I will return to the House to update Members on the matter, as I recognise its importance.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important topic. She will know that in the past I have spoken about greater provision of Changing Places in this House. Building regulations set the access requirements for new buildings, while the Equality Act requires providers to make reasonable adjustments. If someone feels they have been discriminated against, there are several means of redress, and the Equality Advisory Support Service can provide help and support in that process.
I certainly would encourage residents to take part in the consultation. My hon. Friend has rightly highlighted the challenge and need for the county to come together around this. We will obviously look to the consultation and the proposals as they are forthcoming to provide that long-term stability and solution.
(3 years, 5 months ago)Westminster Hall
I am afraid I cannot give my hon. Friend a specific quantitative mechanism or definition that needs to be met. I re-emphasise the guidance, which states that a good deal of local support is needed. I have tried my best to elaborate on how that will be interpreted by the Secretary of State when he considers proposals in the round, along with all the other criteria that he has to balance.
I am keen to give my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset a minute or two to wind up the debate, so in conclusion—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Hollobone. I was not aware of that; I appreciate the extra time.
It is important that the councils of Somerset think long and hard about how best to serve their communities and about how to deliver the public services that people rely on, whether adult social care, children’s services, strategic planning or transport. It may well be that innovation and re-organisation will help to deliver for the people of Somerset, but it is crucial to note that that decision should be taken by the people of Somerset themselves. It will not be for the Government to impose a top-down solution.
(3 years, 5 months ago)Commons Chamber
I gently remind the hon. Gentleman of my earlier answer, which was that council reserves are some £20 billion across the country and are actually higher today than they were when we came into office. Councils will be able to increase spending on social care in real terms every year up to the end of this Parliament, and we are already seeing the results in action: delayed transfers of care are down by 34% in England. This is a Government who are delivering for people across the country.
I am sure my hon. Friend will forgive me for not being drawn on Northamptonshire specifically, given the circumstances there and the decision to be made. In general, he is absolutely right to highlight the importance of getting people swiftly transferred to appropriate social care. That has been a focus of the funding that the Government have put in, and the better care fund is ensuring that joined-up care is happening. As I have said, delayed transfers of care are down by almost a third in the past year.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting the importance of the green belt, about which I agree, and I share her desire to see more development on brownfield land. Yes, there are issues relating to funding for remediation, but there will obviously be careful consideration of the national planning policy framework, too.
My hon. Friend raises an absolutely excellent point. I know that he will welcome the Government’s increased funding for pothole remediation after the winter that we have had, but I will take his point on board and ensure that local authorities are deploying those funds as quickly as possible.
(3 years, 7 months ago)Commons Chamber
The hon. Gentleman has highlighted the fact that it is the responsibility of DCMS to look at the statutory requirements around libraries. I will make sure that my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State there, hears his concerns.
Again, let me thank my hon. Friend, who represents a constituency in Northamptonshire, for all his work and caring concern. He has raised three very important matters. On the question of the headquarters, he will know that Northamptonshire is an independent council—independent of central Government—that has to take its own decisions, but we are very alive to that situation and we are in touch with the council. It knows that there are certain requirements that it must meet. I am sure that if anything happened, it would be something that the commissioners would want to look at carefully. On the library, it is the responsibility of DCMS, but we are in touch with that Department, too. I will certainly get in touch with the Home Office on the other issue that he raises.
(3 years, 7 months ago)Commons Chamber
What the hon. Lady highlights is the complexity of some of these situations, which I am sure she appreciates. Despite that, we must, as she suggests, do whatever we can to help the individuals in these very difficult circumstances. That is why we are looking closely at the recent legal judgment; I believe it is the first time that a tribunal has looked at that kind of case. That is why we have provided more funding for the Leasehold Advisory Service, so that leaseholders can get more instant support. We are looking at what more can be done and are keeping the situation under review.
My hon. Friend speaks with experience and is absolutely right to ask that question. The door in question should have had resistance for 30 minutes. It must be tested against and meet the British standard, BS 476-22. There is a testing centre for such products, and testing centres must be accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. I do not want to make any judgments on what happened in this case, because it is subject to a live police investigation. The police have said that they are getting full co-operation from the manufacturer. It would be wrong of me to get into that, but I reassure my hon. Friend that the police are doing their work with that particular door and doors of that type, and we are doing the much wider necessary testing.
(3 years, 7 months ago)Commons Chamber
I am happy to join the right hon. Gentleman in commending the work done in Exeter. We should all try to learn from one another, and councils can learn from each other. It is important that we keep up funding wherever it is necessary to address the causes of addiction, whether that is drug or alcohol addiction. That is why we are providing a total of £1 billion in funding up to 2020, including for a number of projects that are specifically designed to help with addiction problems.
My hon. Friend is right to point to the causes of homelessness. Of course, a number of people who sleep on our streets are not from the UK. Everyone deserves help, but we must look carefully at the causes of homelessness. My Department is working carefully and closely with the Home Office to see what more we can do.
(3 years, 8 months ago)Commons Chamber
I thank my hon. Friend for his question on a topic that he and his Northamptonshire parliamentary colleagues have consistently raised on behalf of their constituents.
As Members will be aware, on Friday 2 February, Northamptonshire County Council’s finance director issued a section 114 notice to stop new spending and put in place a process for the council to meet within a specified time to consider the financial situation. It is important to note that a section 114 notice does not automatically mean that existing services will stop. Northamptonshire’s finance director has confirmed that statutory services to safeguard vulnerable people will continue to be delivered and that council staff will continue to be paid.
Local authorities have a legal duty to balance their budget, and section 114 notices are part of the accountability framework that guards against irresponsible financial management. It is for the council to decide what steps it needs to take to balance its budget. I understand that the full council will meet on 22 February to consider the situation.
Local government is, of course, independent of central Government, but, that said, the Government have been aware of concerns about Northamptonshire County Council’s finances and governance for some time, which was why the Secretary of State appointed an inspector to undertake an independent best-value inspection on 9 January. That independent inspection is due to report on 16 March, and as the Secretary of State made clear in the written ministerial statement of 9 January, it would be inappropriate for the Government to comment while the inspection is under way, specifically to avoid prejudicing its outcome. The Government will address the wider issue of funding for local government in tomorrow’s debate on the local government finance settlement.
Issuing a section 114 notice is a serious step. I understand that this development will be causing some concern in my hon. Friend’s constituency and across the county. However, it is also a sign that the council is taking its responsibility seriously. The Secretary of State and I will take a keen interest in the steps that the council takes to resolve these matters and ensure that it continues to deliver for the communities that it serves.
I thank my hon. Friend for his questions. I know that this is something that he is thinking about deeply on behalf of his constituents. Let me take in turn the points that he raised. With regard to the fire service, he will hopefully be aware that the Home Office is considering that application and will make its decision in due course. On his points about the financial situation, he is right to say that there are a range of issues that were highlighted in both the independent audit reports and the LGA peer review, which, as he rightly pointed out, cited both culture and governance issues at the council.
On the process from here, Ministers do not have direct contact with the inspector—he is rightly independent—so it is not possible to direct him to report earlier. I would point out that the 16 March deadline means that this inspection will conclude in much less time than was allowed for the Tower Hamlets and Rotherham inspections, which, hopefully, should give my hon. Friend some comfort regarding a rapid resolution.
Finally, if the council meeting is not successful, the finance director has the option of issuing a further section 114 notice. However, it is important to note that he, as the statutory official, has the flexibility today and in the future to authorise any payments that he sees fit and for which there is a sensible case, including, as he has guaranteed, to safeguard vulnerable people. At the point at which the council is ready to make formal representations to my Department for anything that it might require, we stand ready to engage with it.
(3 years, 8 months ago)Commons Chamber
I am somewhat disappointed that from this case and the detailed specifications that need to be retested, the right hon. Gentleman has jumped to conflate a much wider range of issues relating to Grenfell. I think that he has done it deliberately, and it is not a responsible thing to do. [Interruption.] Let me now answer his questions directly—and perhaps the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) would like to listen rather than commenting without understanding the facts.
The right hon. Gentleman asks why there was no new advice. There is no new advice because the existing advice is sound. He said that there had been no action. I gave details of the very specific action that has been taken in relation to Celotex. Indeed, on first hearing of this, I ensured at director level in my Department that the managing director of Celotex was contacted. We understand how seriously the company takes the testing issue, and we understand that it will act as soon as reasonably possible to have the product retested. I know the right hon. Gentleman would not suggest that that should be done in a rushed way. We want it to be done correctly, properly and responsibly, so that we understand and can give the reassurances for which he fairly asked.
The right hon. Gentleman suggests that homes were not safe. He already knows that as part of the building safety programme, inspectors have identified 284 buildings with cladding that does not comply with the requirements in the regulation, and the fire service has visited every one of those buildings. There are interim measures in place, including measures relating to car parks and ensuring that fire wardens are present, so that we can confidently say that every home is safe.
The right hon. Gentleman asks why the renovations had not been conducted more quickly. We need to engage with construction services responsibly to ensure that the renovations are carried out correctly, accurately and in a way that can reassure tenants and the wider public, and that obviously cannot be done in a hurry. We have reviewed the advice regularly, and it remains sound. We are taking every action that is necessary, both in relation to this case—which was the pretext on which the right hon. Gentleman based the urgent question —and in relation to the sensitive and important wider issue of housing and cladding as it affects local authority and housing association tower blocks and those in the private sector. That is exactly what the public would expect.
I have had personal conversations with local authorities that have been affected. We have made it clear that carrying out the necessary remedial works is the responsibility of the building owner, whichever sector it is in, but that when they need financial support or flexibility, they can come to us. As my hon. Friend suggests, we have not declined any such request.
(3 years, 8 months ago)Westminster Hall