Housing Improvement Grants

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 17th May 1995.

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Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West 2:30 pm, 17th May 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make more resources available for housing improvement grants. [23206]

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

I cannot anticipate the public expenditure round, but local authorities are free to add to renewal allocations from their own resources, particularly where they have gone for a large-scale voluntary transfer.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

With regard to the Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) on Question 10, had it not been for the Greater London council there would be no Coin street development.

I thank the Minister for his offer this morning to come to Newham to discuss the matter of improvement grants, but may I remind him that my borough has 2,000 homes with outside lavatories and 1,200 without inside bathrooms? My local authority is one of the best at providing improvement grants, but 4,000 households are still waiting for grants. There has been a dramatic fall in the number of mandatory grants, and the Government know that. We are still waiting for their long-term proposals on improvement grants. When can the House expect to hear them?

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

The hon. Gentleman knows that this is a complex subject, but we hope to announce our proposals before too long. He will know that some local authorities underspend their allocations, just as others find themselves running short. We try to use the underspend to help those authorities which have a problem, and I shall be happy to talk to him about Newham. In the hon. Gentleman's own neighbourhood, Redbridge benefited by an extra £613,000 from the reallocation, while Waltham Forest received an extra £185,000. The constituency of the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) benefited by an extra £691,000 and—proving that silence is golden—Sandwell benefited by an extra £2 million.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin , Colchester North

When my hon. Friend considers such demands for increases in public expenditure, will he remain mindful that it is Government policy to try to reduce public expenditure? Who in his Department is responsible for the fundamental review of public expenditure, and what reductions does he expect his Department to achieve?

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

In our Department, as in all others, all Ministers take an interest in that subject under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We recognise, as I am sure my hon. Friend does, that the first duty for the maintenance of their homes lies with owner-occupiers. However, I recognise problems will arise with particular individuals and we must pay attention to those.

Mr. William O'Brien:

In considering the grants procedure, will the Minister ensure that the 2.6 million houses in desperate need of attention will be considered in the mandatory grant which, I hope, will be operated taking account of inflation? Will he ensure that the discretionary grant is well funded and ring-fenced so that local authorities have an opportunity to meet the demands made on them by people living in sub-standard properties?

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

I have told the hon. Gentleman before that we have not reached a conclusion about the future regime. His opinions, however, seem to be far removed from the vast majority of Labour-controlled authorities that I have met throughout the country, which want to get away from a mandatory scheme so that they can concentrate their renewal strategy where it is most needed. Even with the present arrangements, however, the reallocation benefit of the underspend to the hon. Gentleman's authority of Wakefield was nearly £500,000.