Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th October 2017.

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Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Labour, Liverpool, Walton 12:00 am, 30th October 2017

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Since my last departmental oral questions, I have announced plans to require all private landlords to join a redress scheme and for all letting agents to be regulated; a clampdown on rogue managing agents; and plans to improve the process of buying and selling homes. Anyone who works hard should be able to afford a place they can call their own, and we will continue to do everything possible to make this vision a reality.

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Labour, Liverpool, Walton

Does the Secretary of State not understand that people outside this place simply cannot grasp his reluctance to accept that sprinklers in tower blocks are necessary fire safety works? Coroners for both the Lakanal House and Shirley Towers fires recommended them, yet his Department is turning down requests from councils and housing associations to pay for them. We do not need another review; we need common sense.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The hon. Gentleman says coroners recommended them for Lakanal House. It is worth reminding him that when the then housing Minister, John Healey, who is sitting opposite me now, was asked about the Government paying for sprinklers, he responded in Parliament:

“The resources local authorities receive for management and maintenance and major repairs should enable them to implement necessary fire safety measures”.—[Official Report, 16 September 2009; Vol. 496, c. 2209W.]

So there was no new money. What this Government have said is that we will help every local authority with any essential fire safety measures.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend is right to raise this. Some councils have already come together and put forward restructuring proposals. We are considering each of them very carefully, and if Northamptonshire comes forward with one, I will look at it very carefully, too.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Housing

Some 3.5 million families with a variable rate mortgage face higher costs if the Bank of England puts up interest rates this week, so why are the Government, at this of all times, scrapping support for mortgage interest payments?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

This Government have made it clear that it is our ambition to have more people own their own homes. There are a number of areas of intervention; one of the most prominent is the Help to Buy scheme, which is helping hundreds of thousands of people, who otherwise might not have been able to buy a home, to get on the housing ladder for the first time. Ultimately, if the right hon. Gentleman, like me, wants to help more people own their own home, he should support this Government with our housing White Paper and the other measures we take.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Housing

The Secretary of State is flannelling. Home ownership is at a 30-year low, and he does not seem to appreciate that 126,000 households, including 60,000 pensioner households, get help from the current scheme. From April, they and anyone else struggling with their mortgage costs will be offered a loan, but a loan is no good for those already struggling with the cost of the loans they have. Under Labour, with our mortgage rescue scheme, help was there when it was needed for families facing repossession. [Interruption.] Kevin Foster is laughing; I ask this of the Secretary of State, who takes the subject more seriously: will he use the Budget to scrap the Government’s current changes and back instead a new home ownership guarantee scheme, as Labour proposed at the election?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The right hon. Gentleman talks about what happened on housing under Labour, so let me remind him: when he was the housing Minister, house building fell to almost its lowest level for almost 100 years, and the number of social units available for rent declined by 410,000. So we will not be taking any lectures from the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Conservative, North Cornwall

Will the Secretary of State look at what can be done to lift restrictive planning conditions that are holding back long-term economic growth?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma Minister of State (Communities and Local Government)

Planning conditions should, of course, only be imposed where they are necessary and meet the other requirements of national policy. What I can say more widely is that we are making changes in the planning system: planning fees are being increased, which will ensure there is more money in the planning authorities; and we are also looking at requiring an increase in build-out rates.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons)

In Bristol, university expansion means that a significant increase in student numbers is putting pressure on stretched local services right now, yet student accommodation providers contribute almost nothing to the costs. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss bringing student accommodation within the scope of business rates, like other businesses, to help to ease this strain on Bristol and other councils?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

I can confirm to the hon. Lady that we have no plans to change business rates by bringing student accommodation into their scope as she advocates.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact

Young people in Sutton and across London are depending on local action to help them to secure affordable housing. What lessons can the Government learn from the Mayor of London’s poor record on housing?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend raises an important point. It has now become apparent that, despite all the talk from this Labour Mayor of London, not a single home for social rent was started during his first year in office. According to the National House Building Council, housing starts are down by a third in the last quarter. That is his track record. He needs to live up to his words and build more homes for Londoners.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham North

In 2016, the Department for Communities and Local Government provided a transition grant to some local authorities. The calculations and assumptions for this were not published, and 80% of it went to Conservative councils. Will Ministers pledge today to make previous and future calculations available, and will they confirm from the Dispatch Box that future funding will be based on need rather than on anything else?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

This was part of an historic four-year settlement, to which 97% of local authorities signed up. Yes, there were some challenges relating to the transition that certain places would have to make as a result of the formula at that time, and it has been widely recognised that that was dealt with in the right way. Labour authorities such as Lancashire benefited from it at the time.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

Last year, the Federation of Small Businesses reported on the untapped potential of women in enterprise. However, Analysis Legal in Bramhall in my constituency was set up by a group of female lawyers and is going from strength to strength. Does the Minister agree that encouraging more women into business and supporting female entrepreneurs is key to the success of the northern powerhouse?

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. That is why I am in active conversation with groups such as Northern Power Women, which have sought to find ways to champion visible and diverse role models of leadership in the northern powerhouse. After all, we should not ignore 51% of the talent pool.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington

In an earlier question, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) stated that the introduction of family hubs should be accelerated, and that was implicitly welcomed by the Minister, who stated that it was down to councils use their budgets as they saw fit. Does the Minister agree, however, that the 60% real-terms cut to the children’s centres budget in Warwickshire and the planned reduction of 39 children centres to 12 family hubs should be stopped, and that the council’s significant reserves should be used for the maintenance of—

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying, although I think he should look back over the records of Warwickshire County Council, which clearly show a motion being put which was seconded by the then Labour group leader, who advocated the reduction in funding that the county council is now making in that area.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

Can the Secretary of State confirm that his Department is liaising with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that ports such as Lowestoft have the necessary infrastructure and supply chain to take advantage of the opportunities arising from the forthcoming Fisheries Bill?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I can absolutely confirm that to my hon. Friend. We are working very closely with DEFRA and the Department for Transport to ensure just that.

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Defence)

With the First Minister of Wales meeting the Prime Minister earlier today amid the continuing lack of clarity over Brexit, can the Secretary of State reassure me that the Government will respect the devolved nations and regions of the UK and not use Brexit as an opportunity for a power grab?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Of course we will respect the powers and responsibilities of the devolved nations, and we will make a resounding success of Brexit.

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Conservative, Rochester and Strood

The proposed revised housing formula will add a further 8,000 homes to the current target of 30,000, which is unsustainable and undeliverable without large investment in infrastructure. Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me and Medway colleagues to consider the disproportionate burden on the Medway towns?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma Minister of State (Communities and Local Government)

I will of course meet my hon. Friend. I should just point out that Medway does not have an up-to-date plan at the moment, and I would encourage responses to the consultation proposals that we have set out.

Photo of Tonia Antoniazzi Tonia Antoniazzi Labour, Gower

In the light of the recent announcement that the Welsh Government will continue with their council tax reduction scheme, which has reduced council tax for almost 300,000 low-income and vulnerable families and has excluded 220,000 completely, will the Minister consider seriously the Welsh Labour Government’s excellent approach and the situation in England, where households pay around £190 more?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

As I explained to the House earlier, the local council tax support scheme gives help to over 4 million people who are on low incomes and may otherwise struggle to pay their council.

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee

The Secretary of State will be aware of the concerns expressed by the leader of Leicestershire County Council about the letter he received about money going back to the NHS, rather than sticking with the social care authority, and about delayed transfers of care. Will he comment on that and on discussions he has had with his colleague the Secretary of State for Health?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My right hon. Friend is right to raise that. Delayed transfers of care are a shared endeavour between councils and the NHS. There has been good progress in Leicestershire, especially from using the better care fund, and this is a good opportunity to commend Leicestershire on its improving DTOC position.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Labour, Norwich South

Will the Government commit to fast-tracking their private rented sector consultation so that landlords are required to use their own funds to bring properties up to energy performance certificate band E by April next year?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

That would have been done sooner if the previous Labour Government had taken the private rented sector more seriously, which they refused to do. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman welcomes our consultation.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

Given the understandable short postponement of the business rates retention scheme, will the Secretary of State meet me to consider the particular funding pressures that changing demographics are placing on outer-London boroughs?

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Scottish National Party, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

Scotland secured €941 million in the 2014 to 2020 funding period split across the European regional development fund and the European social fund. What plans do this Government have to ensure that those funds are replaced post-Brexit and that the Scottish Government will be involved in discussions?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

We have set out that there will be a UK shared prosperity fund that will eventually replace EU structural funds and ERDF funds, and we will work together with the devolved nations in developing it.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby

One thing that would help to drive further economic growth in Corby is a new enterprise zone, so will my right hon. Friend make a case to the Chancellor in advance of the Budget for another round of bidding opportunities?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend is right to raise the importance of enterprise zones, which have often been announced in previous Budgets. I am sure that he is making an excellent case, but if I can help him, I will happily do that.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

Is the Secretary of State aware of the increasing number of people who are illegally sub-letting in social housing? Does he agree that it is dangerous if we do not know who actually lives in a house?

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that. It is of course going on, which is why from April this year we have given landlords more powers to deal with it and more funding to consider such issues. In the forthcoming review and consultation that we have set out, we will be seeing what further action we can take.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Last week, developers pulled out of a plan to build 10,000 homes in Enfield and Haringey due to interference from the Mayor of London. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to consider that plan? We desperately need new homes in London, and the plan would seem to provide them.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

We have already heard about the Mayor of London’s failure to provide a single property for social rent in the past year, so my hon. Friend is right to raise that. We will certainly be taking a much closer look.