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Government Capital Expenditure

Part of Opposition Day — [3rd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:05 pm on 2nd February 2009.

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Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Defence) 6:05 pm, 2nd February 2009

The debate has been global and national, with interventions of a constituency nature. I shall make some brief remarks.

The Financial Secretary said that the colleges programme is steaming ahead, but oh no, it is not. If the Exchequer Secretary does not believe me, I invite her to come to Colchester, where phase 1 of the Colchester institute is about to finish. In a few weeks' time, the entire work force will leave the site to join the dole queue because the much-promised phase 2 does not have the necessary finance. Given some of the interventions we have heard, I imagine that that story is being repeated in other constituencies.

I made two interventions on those speaking on behalf of their Front-Bench teams, when I asked about renovation and restoration before demolition, and about new build. Let me set out the significance of those comments. I welcome public investment in my constituency whether it is £100 million or £150 million, as promised by the Conservative-led Essex county council for new schools—or at least I welcome part of it, because some of it will not provide value for money. One of the aspects that will not provide value for money is the demolition of a perfectly good secondary school opposite the Colchester institute. The people of Colchester want phase 2 of the institute to be built before we start demolishing buildings to provide new ones. We need a bit of joined-up government.

Many hon. Members will know that I have been badgering the Government for 12 years about the resumption of council house building. It is a fact that Conservative Governments have built more council houses since the second world war than Labour ones. I made that point to Brother Blair and to the then Deputy Prime Minister, and I have made it to the current Prime Minister. We need to invest more in existing housing stock that stands vacant. In my constituency, the Government have in excess of 200 houses standing empty, for which they are paying rent approaching £750,000. Those 200-plus family houses could accommodate some of the families for whom the waiting list has virtually doubled under Labour. The houses are under the control of the Ministry of Defence, and I make a particular plea for the Government to engage in a bit of joined-up thinking, so that some of those families can move into houses that currently stand empty. I am sure that there are other houses standing empty across the country which should be brought back into use, and we could also buy up houses in new developments—but not flats, please. We need family houses, and I urge the Government to take that line.

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