Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Part of Department for Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 5:52 pm on 2nd July 2019.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport) 5:52 pm, 2nd July 2019

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I want to focus my remarks on housing. However, before getting on to that topic, I want to make a few other points, starting with the financing of local government as a whole, which my hon. Friend Gareth Snell described so well. We need to take a serious look at how we fund local authorities and at the demands we place on them. We know that the business rate system is broken, which harms businesses and means that we are not getting the local economic growth that we need to see business thrive. We are also seeing more and more online businesses, which also has serious consequences as well. We must review the business rates and council tax systems and seek a much fairer system of funding local authorities.

We also need to determine what local authorities are there to do. Over my short time in this place, more and more of that determination is being done at Westminster, but then powers have been taken away and councils have not been given the necessary resources. In effect, we have seen risk shifted on to local authorities, but they have not been given the resources to address their needs. That cannot be the right way forward, so we need a review ahead of the comprehensive spending review, because how can we have a spending review if we do not know what we are spending or how are we going to fund it? Time is short, and I say to the Minister we need to get a move on because local authorities are struggling. We can see that in how services are being cut in our areas, and we have heard about the severe impacts on local communities from right across the Chamber today.

I also urge the Minister to look at youth services. We do not have a statutory youth service, and that is having a massive knock-on impact on all sorts of other services. A place-based approach is important so that we can understand how to move prevention up local authority agendas. I urge the Minister to examine how we can fund a youth service, because we know that prevention makes such a difference and, ultimately, is cheaper than having to address the effects of when things go wrong.

I also urge the Minister to look at the high needs education budget within a wider scope, as we need to get this right. Local authorities are having to provide that resource, but my local authority is in deficit as a result—£760,000 last year, and a predicted £1.3 million this year and £1.9 million next year. This is about funding services for the most vulnerable people in our communities, our young people, to ensure they have the best chances in life. I therefore urge the Minister to ensure it is properly funded come the comprehensive spending review.

I am sure all hon. Members are frustrated that the Government have promised us so many times that they will address social care. After Dilnot in 2011, we were promised a Bill in 2012, but it never emerged. Seemingly on an annual cycle, we are promised Green Papers, White Papers and all sorts. We have to remember these are just discussion documents, not action plans, yet nothing has emerged. We have a real social care crisis.

I disagree with Kevin Hollinrake on how we should approach social care, because I believe we need a much more therapeutic approach. The relationship with the health service is therefore important, and funding social care and providing security, particularly for older and vulnerable people, needs to be a priority for this Administration. We cannot wait.

I asked a question the other day, and we now know we will not have the Green Paper before the summer, which means we are just kicking the can further down the road. Of course, older people are struggling to fund their social care needs at the most vulnerable time in their life. That just cannot be right, so I urge the Minister to ensure social care is properly funded. Personally, I would prefer to see a more universal approach to social care, and I believe that joining it up with the national health service would be the best way to deliver it.

I return to housing through the prism of what is happening in York Central. It is fair enough that the Government have an ambition to build 300,000 housing units, not that it will be easy to deliver, but frankly their target is of no use whatsoever if those units will be second homes and assets for investors, not homes in which people can afford to live. It is a shame that the Minister is not listening, because this is crucial to the development and growth of our city.

The reality is that the housing being built at York Central will not be affordable to the residents of York. We have a housing crisis in our city because, over the years, successive councils have not built the houses our city needs. As a result, people who are desperate for a home are constantly coming to my surgery, and all I ever get back from the council—a Lib Dem administration—is a letter saying, “We do not have enough houses.” Yet, time and time again, the council passes planning applications to build luxury apartments worth £300,000 to £500,000, which nobody in my city can afford as it is 11 to 19 times the average wage.

We will therefore see all these housing units being ticked off on a chart, which the Government can quote and say, “Look at how many houses we have built.” But they are not homes in which people can afford to live, so they will move into the private rented sector or they will be assets or weekend homes. They are not the homes we need.

The imbalances we have in York are having a massive impact on our care sector, because care workers and people working in the NHS cannot afford to live in our city. We have more than 500 vacancies, which is skewing the whole economy in the private sector and the public sector. It is simply a broken system, and it has to be addressed.

The local authority has paid £10 million up front into the York Central site, with potentially another £35 million of borrowing—money the council will not see, but from which developers will benefit. This will therefore have a massive negative impact on people living in York. I understand the housing infrastructure fund was important for unlocking the site, because it is a rail-locked site, but what are we unlocking it for? The reality is that the plans were predicated on the local authority being able to generate resource from the enterprise zone, which is fair enough in itself, but when the size of the enterprise zone is reduced by a third, it is not going to be able to get its revenue from business rates, which was predicted at £133 million. Therefore, the income will be reduced, which means that the return to the local authority will be reduced and the maths simply does not work for anyone but the developers, who are clearly laughing at the Government’s decision to press ahead with this.

Ultimately, local authority money has been put into this site and will not be seen again by the people of our city. That cannot be right, so we have to look at how local authority money works together with other revenue streams to bring benefit to local people. Putting local needs at the heart of this is really important. Why is it so important for our city? I have already mentioned that this housing is unaffordable, but the impact of this is a reduction in the opportunity for the local authority to grow the economic base of our city. As a result, less revenue will come into our city, which will be seriously detrimental in the long term. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build York as a city for the future, so I urge the Minister to look at these funding streams once again.