Local Government Officials: Bullying

Rachael Maskell Excerpts
Thursday 9th May 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis
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Here is one scenario posted on the internet by a despairing councillor:

“We have a Parish Councillor who continually harasses the Clerk out of hours, at home and by email, about pretty well everything the Clerk does. The Clerk is respectful, knowledgeable and more than capable; but this individual said to the Chairman ‘I can question the Clerk because I am a Parish Councillor’. We have lost three Clerks in less than three years because of this dreadful man and I fear we are going to lose this one.”

Given findings such as the academic survey I mentioned earlier, this is clearly a situation that must not be allowed to continue. Apart from the impropriety aspect, the turnover of staff caused by bullying is economically damaging, leading to severe loss of efficiency in the affected parish and town councils. Then there are the additional recruitment and training costs for those councils which lose their clerks through resignation. Several councils have also been taken to court for constructive dismissal claims relating to harassment. Once again, this would be much less likely to arise if there were proper regulation and proper enforcement.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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I am really grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for bringing forward this debate. I have a long-term interest in looking at workplace bullying across the piece and am bringing forward a private Member’s Bill on 7 June to ensure we have a legal definition for bullying, which we currently do not have in our suite of legislation. I hope he will be able to support the Bill. But beyond that, we must ensure there is a route to an employment tribunal so that people are protected at work. Would he be minded to work with me and support that, and to find the mechanisms to put positive behaviours into all workplaces?

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis
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This is the first I have heard about the hon. Lady’s initiative. It sounds absolutely admirable and I would be very interested in supporting her efforts. I particularly commend the idea of a clear and legal definition of bullying, because we all know that there are sometimes subjective approaches to the subject, where even a word of legitimate criticism is interpreted as that, unjustifiably, so she is definitely on the right track.

The SLCC states:

“Throughout the sector, there are growing concerns about the impact bullying, harassment and intimidation is having on Councils, Councillors and staff and the resulting effectiveness of those local councils”.

The three national associations are fully aware of the issues, but without Government intervention it is unlikely that they alone can solve this dreadful problem. The preferred approach of the NALC is to focus on certain recommendations, previously made by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which have yet to be adopted. Indeed, the NALC assisted me in the drafting of early-day motion 611, tabled in November 2022 and supported by 27 hon. and right hon. Members, which specifically asked the Government to:

“re-visit its response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life report on local government ethical standards and introduce the report’s recommendations in full including tougher sanctions such as suspension for poorly behaving councillors.”

In addition to that, however, the SLCC and the ALCC have indicated their endorsement of an alternative option formulated by Mr Derek Biggs, the hugely experienced and highly respected former town clerk of Totton in my constituency, to whom I am indebted for his insights. This way forward, which I fully support, would be for the Minister to agree to set up a working party of experts in the area of town and parish councils to examine the issue in depth and recommend practical solutions to deal with it. The working party’s brief would be to ensure the design and establishment of an appropriate, independent enforcement body, and to propose legislation providing for penalties sufficient to act as a deterrent to transgressors. That would be one way of finally dealing with those who ignore the proper standards of behaviour that are rightly expected and approved by the Government. We really need to work together and end their sense of impunity in respect of unacceptable conduct in town and parish councils.

Oral Answers to Questions

Rachael Maskell Excerpts
Monday 22nd April 2024

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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My hon. Friend has raised this matter in the Chamber before, and it is a great example of why it is so important that Bosworth has this Conservative Member of Parliament to highlight the challenges and failures of the Liberal Democrat council. Ultimately, the Government will not hesitate to take action against councils that are not fulfilling their obligations. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done so over the past few months, and we will continue to do so, because we expect councils to do their job and put their plans in place. When Liberal Democrat councils fail to do that, we will call them out.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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York has one of the worst housing crises in the country, yet we have not had a local plan to restrain developers for 68 years. Why has it taken this Tory Government more than 14 years to deliver a local plan for York?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am relatively clear that the Labour party has been in charge of York for a substantial proportion of the last 14 years. If the hon. Lady wants an answer to her question about why there is no local plan, she should look to her own party.

Oral Answers to Questions

Rachael Maskell Excerpts
Monday 4th March 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My right hon. and learned Friend, the former Attorney General, raises a very important point. We want to do everything we can to encourage charitable giving. I will look closely at the case he mentions, and raise it with the Cabinet Office and Orlando Fraser KC, the distinguished chair of the Charity Commission, who is doing such a good job.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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There are businesses in York that have not been able to trade for over four months because of flooding. The flood recovery framework precludes them from getting funds, whereas those in the Tory shires are able to access funds. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the fact that businesses in my constituency cannot get funding? Let us find a way forward so that they do not miss out.

Local Government Finance

Rachael Maskell Excerpts
Wednesday 7th February 2024

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds), and to all hon. Members who have made the case for the real reform we are seeking from the Minister today. I appreciate his listening to the debate.

City of York Council is a small authority, but like so many, it is on its knees. The last Lib Dem-Green administration drained the reserves, and therefore real pressure has been put on the new Labour administration. I am grateful to Councillor Claire Douglas, who has taken up the leadership in York, for her work to try to address the big issues of inequality facing our city by driving through innovation—not least the already-delivered lifting of the blue badge ban, delivering free school meals into schools where there is the greatest deprivation, and reforming services.

However, it is apparent to us all that not only is local authority funding insufficient, but the funding formula itself needs addressing. It is just sad that we have had to wait 14 years to get to this point. We really need that reform to be brought forward, and I agree that if there can be cross-party talks—even at this late hour—we would welcome them, because meeting statutory requirements will clearly be incredibly challenging for all local authorities. While York, unlike other authorities, will scrape through this year and avoid a section 114 notice, we know that the starvation of funds from central Government has meant that the city is under significant stress.

If we do not address the funding formula, we are all going to struggle, and this is not just about local government. The design of the formula and how it operates crosses all areas, and therefore I ask the Minister to consider it with other colleagues. It is not working for health, education, the police, fire, or the broad rental market area, which I will turn to shortly. That puts more and more pressure on local government, as it has to integrate its services more with those of others while addressing all the challenges.

York is by no means the poorest place, but it is by no means the most affluent. We are a post-industrial city in the north and experience many challenges, yet we are the worst-funded upper-tier authority if all the services are added together. That does not ring right—and it is not right, because we have some of the deepest areas of deprivation in the country. We are the eighth lowest upper-tier local authority on a stand-alone basis. In real terms, my local authority is £33 million worse off than in 2010, but accounting for the rise in service demand in adult and children’s social care, we have lost £40 million in much-needed funding since 2010.

If we look at education—I am grateful for what was said about the dedicated schools grant—we have the 17th lowest funding in the country, which again does not meet the area’s needs, and we sit in the bottom third for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, which causes real stress. We need the Education Secretary to step up and really invest in those children, because we are seeing a significant rise in the number of children with SEND, and in York it is higher than across the country. We need to understand why that is, but also how we can fund it. School transport falls to local authorities, and it is another area under significant stress. Children need EHCPs to get additional services from different agencies, and 98% of appeals are successful, yet the costs to local authorities, parents, children, schools and all the agencies do not add up. We therefore need reform to ensure that those children get the necessary timely support.

We also have an ageing population. Like rural areas, it happens in urban areas too, but the age is rising faster in places such as York, and the pressures falling on social care budgets are significant now. In the spirit of cross-departmental working, we know that the Health Secretary has invested heavily in emergency departments at the front door of hospitals, but it is the back door of hospitals that need the funding, and that is for social care. A quarter of the patients in York Hospital are waiting for discharge. If that can be sorted out, our NHS would be able to function. Again, that spirit of cross-party working is needed in the light of where we are today, and such a plan would take the pressure off elsewhere on the wider piece of Government funding.

The same goes for police and fire funding, and I must highlight—I had a useful conversation with a former Home Secretary about this—that if we do not fund local authorities correctly for youth services, we will be paying for that out of the police budget. All these things are interconnected, which is why I urge the Minister not just to look at local authority funding, but to look at this in the round. Of course, public health is another example, and it moved into local government for a reason, as Professor Sir Michael Marmot would highlight, to address the social determinants of poor health, ensure people can have greater equality and address issues around having longer healthy lives. However, if we are not making the crucial right investments, we will again see the fallout in other services.

I want to understand why we have this real disparity in the funding formulas. We have heard today about the council tax regime, which was introduced in 1991, but business rates are another massive challenge. I am pleased that those on our Front Bench have said they will reform that area, because we need that reform urgently.

The Minister will know that York is a place that floods. I am really grateful for the support we have had to build flood defences, but we now fall below the threshold for triggering the Bellwin scheme. Those businesses that still flood are not getting the support they would otherwise have had, so it seems as though there is almost a perverse incentive. It would be really helpful not only if he looked at that, but also if he would ensure that there is business rate relief for flooded businesses while they are not able to trade. I would be grateful if he will comment on that.

Turning to the broad rental market area, York is an incredibly expensive place to live. Bearing in mind what said about it being a post-industrial city, the costs are driving people out of our area. We do not have the supply of social housing that we need right now. As a result, the local housing allowance is just £650 for a two-bedroom property, yet the cost in the private rented sector is £1,026. The disparity is such because the broad rental market area is just too broad. As a result, people are being pushed out, which is impacting on our economy. It is a comparatively low-wage economy, with the gig economy, the hospitality sector, retail and tourism, and the disparity is putting more pressure on local authorities to find support for housing and, increasingly, to address homelessness issues as well. Again, these things are out of kilter, and we need to bring them together to ensure that the system works for local government.

I look at the inequality between York Outer and my constituency; the centre of York is where the greatest strains are felt. Those strains are clearly being felt by families right now, and I urge the Government to carry forward the household support fund. Perhaps the Minister could have a word with the Chancellor about that ahead of the forthcoming fiscal event; it would really help our city. There was a debate on the subject in Westminster Hall last week. That disparity needs addressing for people in my constituency.

It was disappointing to hear that the fair funding formula will not happen in this Parliament, and that we will have to wait for the next Parliament—my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) also heard that message clearly—because that needs to be brought in across the piece. Look at health, and what happens under the primary health trusts, or the primary care groups, as they were back in the day. My predecessor, Sir Hugh Bayley, made the case that York, which was lowest funded in that arena, lost out, and that put pressures on local government. It is ironic that the Carr-Hill health funding formula was devised in the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York, yet somehow it perversely means a disadvantage for York.

In recent times, real pressure has been put on services, and I wish to highlight what that means to York. There has been a 15.8% increase in the cost of children’s social care. I congratulate our team on the council, which has cut agency spend. I met the director of children’s social care the other day, and he said that the team has two agency staff left, and that the department has cleared out agency staff to cut costs. Where will the additional headroom come from to pay for that? The cost of adult social care has risen by 12.5%. The cost of social protection housing services has risen by 26.1%, yet the minimum wage increase was 9.7% last April and 9.8% this April. It all adds up. The average rise that local authorities get is around 4%. That is squeezing resources more and more, and the disparity is taking its toll. We must protect those most in need, and certainly the voluntary and community sector to ensure that we keep its vitality. Clearly it delivers so much. We need a cushion, not a knife, and the fact that we face the challenge of cuts, rather than getting protection, is extremely worrying.

In his opening remarks, the Minister talked about other sources of revenue that local authorities have had, including levelling-up funding, the towns fund and the high street fund. York has not had any of that money. It seems that whether it is received depends more on political affiliation than need, so we have missed out on that, and additional resources have not been put in place. After 14 years, we need not only more funding in numerical terms, but a funding formula that works. If that is for the next Government to do, we will deliver it; it is so urgent and overdue. My constituents are smart; they know what is happening, and they are concerned. They are feeling the pinch. They are being stretched as far as they can, and we must ensure that they get opportunities. My constituents deserve so much better; my constituents deserve a Labour Government.

Long-term Plan for Housing

Rachael Maskell Excerpts
Tuesday 19th December 2023

(6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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My right hon. Friend is right that we consulted on that subject. In recognition of that consultation, we have chosen not to take forward the over-supply point at this time, but we are open to looking at it and reviewing it in the future. I accept Basingstoke’s particular circumstances, and have spoken to her separately about the recognition that there has been substantial building in Basingstoke over many decades. I am happy to talk to her about the exceptional circumstances provision and look at exactly how that may apply to Basingstoke.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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York is now the 15th least affordable place to live in the country. My constituents will have no confidence in what the Minister and the Secretary of State have set out today, because they have been waiting for a local plan for 76 years and counting. The sticking point has been with the Government Department, not the will of the Labour council. When will York receive its local plan, be able to protect the precious space we have and build the tenure of housing we need, as opposed to developers moving in and building luxury flats that no one can afford?

Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill

Rachael Maskell Excerpts
2nd reading
Monday 11th December 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I actually agree that commonhold is the ideal form of tenure, but there are certain technical questions about when commonhold can apply, not least if a building also has commercial uses on the lower floors.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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When we come to clause 27, will the Secretary of State clarify whether “best value” applies to leaseholders or to freeholders? It certainly seems that leaseholders do not get best value when testing what additionalities and enhancements are put into their schemes.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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That is certainly true and I quite agree.

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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Broadly on the whole question of insurance, I am due to meet the chair, Baroness Morgan of Cotes, and the chief executive of the Association of British Insurers later this week to address not just that question but some other related questions.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I won’t at this stage.

I freely admit that this Bill does not go as far as some in the House and elsewhere would like. Strong arguments have been made about how property agents can be better regulated and Lord Best in another place has made arguments that I find incredibly persuasive—so why not legislate for them now? Well, as I mentioned earlier, this Bill has many clauses, deals with technical aspects of property law, requires close scrutiny and is likely to face a lobbying exercise from deep-pocketed interests outside attempting to derail it. Legislating to give effect to Lord Best’s proposals and to set up a new regulator—I am always a wee bit wary about setting up new quangos but on this occasion he makes a good case—would require significant additional legislative time of a kind we simply do not have in the lifetime of this Parliament. There are changes we are making overall in order to deal with some of the abuses for which managing agents are responsible, but there is still some unfinished business. I happily grant that, and there are organisations like FirstPort, which many of us will be familiar with from our work as constituency MPs, that require some gentle direction towards behaving in a better fashion.

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Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
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I absolutely agree, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his fabulous work in this area. Transparency is incredibly important because it is the first step towards getting accountability.

We spoke before about pets—we all love our pets—and the Secretary of State has rightly protected the reasonable right of tenants to keep pets, yet it is not clear whether he intends to extend that right to leaseholders. I have seen leases that contain an outright ban, so I hope he ensures that the Bill reflects that. It is just one example of the restrictions that terms in leases increasingly impose, but I could cite many more—for example, basic modifications or decorations to flats, or the right to conduct business from home. I know that some Government Members may not be keen on working from home, but it is quite another thing to say that someone could lose their home over it. They might be more sympathetic if I point out the impact on the self-employed, who are often banned from running their own business from their own home.

There are basic principles at stake for the Opposition, and I hope the whole House can agree that people’s rights to bring up a family, to care for a loved family pet, to own and run their own business, and to pay a fair price and receive what they have paid for are basic British rights and values. The incredible thing is that they are being denied to people in their very own homes—homes that they own. That is surely at the heart of today’s debate, because for leaseholders, their flat or house is not an investment; it is their home—a place to live, to grow up, to grow old, to raise a family, to get on in life and to be part of a community. A home is more than bricks and mortar; it is about security and having power over your own life.

As a leaseholder, someone may have ownership but not control. The dream of home ownership has already slipped away from far too many, but it is less of a dream and more of a nightmare for too many who now achieve it. From what the Secretary of State has said, there is some agreement between us on the problems those people face, but the contents of the Bill do not quite match up to his sentiments or the energy that he brings to the Dispatch Box. So I hope that in winding up, the Minister will not just tell us exactly how far the Bill addresses the problems raised today but accept that we can work together in later stages to go further.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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This is a point that I wanted to make to the Secretary of State as well. There is a long-standing injustice for leaseholders who experience flooding as they currently do not have access to the Flood Re scheme. Will my right hon. Friend seek—I hope she will—to ensure a level playing field for leaseholders and freeholders in accessing the Flood Re scheme?

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
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I thank my hon. Friend for that. Just as the Secretary of State earlier brought enthusiasm to the Dispatch Box on cladding and some issues we faced there, I hope that, in Committee, we can explore that and the effect on people who have been affected more and more by flooding.

The Secretary of State may not have the support of his Prime Minister, or his Back Benchers—[Interruption.] Many of them are not here at the moment—watch this space!

On the Labour Benches, we are united behind the decisive action that leaseholders need. If the Government cannot deliver it, we are ready to do so. A Labour Government will make commonhold the default tenure for all new properties as part of our commitment to fundamentally and comprehensively reform the leasehold system. We will also enact the Law Commission’s recommendations on enfranchisement, commonhold and the right to manage in full.

The fact is, unless and until leaseholders of houses and flats get a renewed commitment from Ministers on all the Law Commission’s recommendations, leaseholders will reasonably conclude that the Government have scaled down their ambition with the scaled-back Bill before us. Leaseholders deserve to know the real reason why they are being fobbed off with such limited steps. Unfortunately, the answer, as ever, lies in the chaos of this Government. The Secretary of State has talked a good game, but he might be the only functional cog in a dysfunctional Government—there is a compliment in there; I am trying. [Laughter.] I hope that he will face down his Prime Minister and his own Back Benchers and accept Labour’s proposals to make the Bill meet the challenges of the moment. But if he does not, a Labour Government will.

Oral Answers to Questions

Rachael Maskell Excerpts
Monday 4th December 2023

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Absolutely. Again and again, we find that Labour-run local authorities, despite their much-vaunted relationship with trade unions, are incapable of resolving these disputes. Whether in Birmingham or Warrington, Labour must do better, otherwise working people suffer.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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On public services, City of York Council area comes 152 out of 152 when it comes to public funding. As a result, services are now having to be cut in the area, as the council has £55 million less than when we last had a Labour Government. How will the Secretary of State ensure that fair funding stretches across all public services when looking at the new funding formula?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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We are absolutely committed to making sure that local authorities receive the resources they need. Having had conversations with the leader of City of York Council, I appreciate the constraints under which it is operating, and we hope to be able to say more in the local government finance settlement.

Housing in Tourist Destinations

Rachael Maskell Excerpts
Tuesday 28th November 2023

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles, and I congratulate the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) on securing this debate. Also, I welcome the new Minister, who is the 16th Housing Minister of this Government; the fact that there is such churn in the Department may well be part of the reason why we are struggling so much.

There is a danger that this debate could descend into the sketch about the four Yorkshiremen, as we all talk about the challenges we face. Nevertheless, I will speak as a York woman—at the centre of that—and say a little about York. We have a thriving tourism industry in our city and we really value it. Last year, 8.9 million visitors came to York. Tourism creates 17,000 jobs in the city and is a vital part of our economy, generating £1.7 billion. The city centre generates £1.2 billion. We know how important tourism is to our post-industrial city; in the last 40 years or so, it has really played an important role in our economy.

As everyone has said, though, tourism has its serious consequences. For York, the situation is descending, as many colleagues have said of other areas, into a dire housing crisis. There are consequences from having significant levels of tourism. We can look, first, at house prices in York, where demand outstrips supply. We know that has a real impact on affordability, the ratio for which is 10.9 in York. Last year, the cost of housing in the city went up 23%, pricing people out of local housing. York has the fourth highest rent in the country behind Oxford, Brighton and London.

Some people cannot get into social housing because we simply do not have the supply. If they have to go into the private rented sector, in the BRMA—the broad rental market area—people get just £650 when they are having to pay £1,045 for a two-bedroom property. Will the Minister ensure that there is a deep dive into what is happening with the BMRA? The price is set around such a broad region, and the lower prices in North Yorkshire mean that York is more of an outlier than the other high-priced areas because of the differential in prices. As a result, people cannot go into the private rented sector, so sadly have to go into hostel accommodation or on to the streets. That has to change.

With such high demand, rent is rising faster than the national average. The average increase was 4.9% in England last year and 6.3% in York. It is becoming more inaccessible to rent or to buy and, as so many colleagues have said, that is partly because of the rise in short-term holiday lets. According to AirDNA, we have more than 2,000 such lets in the city, with a 29% increase between August 2021 and August 2023. As a result, we are struggling. We need to bring in regulation.

It is 891 days since I first raised this issue in the House and we are no further forward. It has been 355 days since I introduced a private Member’s Bill in the previous Session. As we heard, the consultation closed on 7 June but we are still waiting for the outcome. Will the Minister say when the Government will bring forward the response to the consultation and legislate to help constituents like mine?

We have heard about using local revenue to address this issue, but there is also national revenue. We have to make sure that whatever system is introduced is compatible with His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, because many people do not pay tax on their property to the Treasury. Some estimate that as much as £6 billion is missing. There is a lot we can do with £6 billion, so we need to address that deficit.

There is a particular issue with the impact of our visitor economy on housing. Will the Minister—and, indeed, the shadow Minister—consider setting up a taskforce to look at the specific issues that press down on the urban, rural and coastal communities with a prevalent visitor economy to ensure that we can address the issues in such areas? The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay mentioned the impact on the local economy—people are clearly needed in the jobs but unable to live in the area—and our vital public services are not able to provide the staffing required to serve the local community. We also know about the impact on our communities.

Finally, I want to raise the issue of York’s local plan. We are still waiting for its approval. Next year we will mark 70 years as a city, without a local plan. Developers are taking advantage of the lack of a plan and, as many colleagues have said, building high-value accommodation when we have a real need for social and affordable housing in the city. I ask for that plan be expedited so that we can get on and start developing the housing that the city needs.

Charles Walker Portrait Sir Charles Walker (in the Chair)
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A beautifully timed speech, might I say.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Rachael Maskell Excerpts
Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I thank the Chair of the Health Committee for all the work he is doing on this issue. I will read his report with great interest. I draw the House’s attention to the work that the Government and the Department are doing to tackle the damp and mould that is in so many houses and that caused the tragic death of Awaab Ishak. It is always right that we look to see what more we can do.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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Will the Minister give way?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I need to make progress.

On the important issue of building in flood risk areas, which was raised in the other place, amendment 80 is well intentioned but would have wholly impractical implications. Under the amendment, a ban on residential development in land identified as flood zone 3 would take no account of flood defences and where, in reality, it is safe to build. For example, some 60% of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham lies in flood zone 3, as do many parts of Westminster. Planning policy and guidance make it clear that residential development is not compatible with functional floodplain, and should not be approved.

There is strong policy and guidance in place to prevent residential development where that would be genuinely unsafe. In high-risk areas, such development is only acceptable when there are no reasonably available sites with a lower risk of flooding, when the benefits of development outweigh the risk, and when it can be demonstrated that the development can be made safe for its lifetime without increasing flood risk elsewhere and, where possible, will reduce flood risk overall.

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Let us look at the Opposition’s record. Just last month, the Leader of the Opposition claimed that Labour was the party of the builders, not the blockers, yet in the next breath he ordered his Labour Lords to stick to defective EU laws, blocking 100,000 homes and voting down Government plans to unblock nutrient neutrality and protect the environment, meaning that desperately needed affordable homes, care homes and brownfield regeneration projects in town centres still languish unbuilt—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the shadow Levelling Up Secretary, the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), asks why we did not accept their amendments. She never put forward any proposals. She did not put forward any amendments. Labour Members voted ours down without a single plan of their own. No surprises there.
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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Will the Minister give way?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I am not giving way.

The Leader of the Opposition says that his is now the party of the yimbys. We all want housing for our own children and grandchildren—I am a mother of four; my second grandchild, Henry, was born just last night—so this Government stand squarely behind the aspiration of families across the country to buy a home of their own and get on the housing ladder. But what have we seen from Labour? At least 19 members of the shadow Cabinet have conspired to block houses being built in their own constituencies, including the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne and the Leader of the Opposition himself, who just two years ago voted to protect the right of communities to object to individual planning applications. That is what he voted for in this place, yet he now says that local communities will be completely ignored. Presumably what he means is that what is okay for him is not okay for anyone else. He wants to rip up the protections for precious green spaces, not just on the green belt but on the brownfield sites. Of course these are a vital aspect of our brownfield-first planning policies, but they often also form a vital green lung in heavily urbanised areas—[Interruption.] There is an awful lot of chuntering from Labour Front Benchers. They do not like what I am saying, but I will not be shouted down in standing up for house building across the country.

I would like to refer to a quote:

“Green space is vital in our communities to give children a safe place to play and to enhance community well-being.”

Not my words but the words of the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, who went on to say:

“I wanted residents to know they have my support in their bid to stop contractors entering the site to start building.”

I hope that the Leader of the Opposition has explained his position clearly to the residents of Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth, who I am sure will be interested to know exactly which sites on their green belt, urban brownfield and rural farmland the Labour party would like to determine, at the stroke of a north London lawyer’s pen, should be built over with zero regard to local communities.

--- Later in debate ---
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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Having served on the Bill Committee for six months, I have to say to the Minister that I found it really disrespectful that she would not take my intervention; I am here to scrutinise the legislation. I say to my hon. Friend—the future Housing Minister—that I welcome our adoption of these measures to ensure that we get the right tenure, not least because of the housing crisis that I see in my constituency. Let me push him further by asking whether we will accept the principles of Lords amendment 46 on healthy homes and the built environment, because we know that housing is about not just bricks and mortar, but the environments in which people live.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
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I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and I thank her again, as I did at the time, for the many months of work that she did on the Bill Committee. She is right to raise the point about healthy homes; we fully support the principles of that campaign. We disagree with the Government’s suggestion that the issue is already well addressed, and I gently encourage the Minister to continue the conversations that I believe the Government are having with Lord Crisp and the other proposers of that amendment in the other place.

To conclude, while we welcome a small number of the concessions that the Government have felt able to make to the Bill, we believe that most do not go far enough. This unwieldy and confused piece of legislation is flawed on many levels. We have an opportunity today to make modest but important improvements to it. On that basis, we urge the House to support the many reasonable amendments that the other place has sent to us.

Oral Answers to Questions

Rachael Maskell Excerpts
Monday 10th July 2023

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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Local authorities have a huge amount of freedom. They have been given the tools by the Government through legislation, through developer contribution powers and through Homes England grants to deliver affordable homes. The hon. Member will also know about the wider work we are doing on second homes to enable local authorities to raise council tax. I hope he can see that the direction of travel will help alleviate some of the pressures he has highlighted.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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The Government are notoriously bad at disposing of public land—I need only look at NHS Property Services and the seven-year wait on the Bootham Park hospital site, and at Ministry of Defence land—so will the Minister look at how that can be co-ordinated and handed over to Homes England so that we can get building the housing that is desperately needed in places such as York?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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The hon. Lady will be pleased to hear that this is a priority for us. I take issue slightly with her comment that we have a poor record of disposing of public land. Often, that public land is needed by hospitals and the MOD. So we are working closely and looking at where such land can be brought forward for housing. If it can, we absolutely will be doing that.