I have been delighted to confirm that Lord Morse will be the new chair of the Office for Local Government. We are advertising the post of chief executive, which would suit someone with experience of local government who is looking for a new role, so I will pass on details to the shadow Secretary of State.
Following the wonderful news that the Leslie Sports Foundation, based at Shelley Community football club, has been awarded £318,456 from the community ownership fund, will Minister visit the foundation to view its existing facilities and discuss its exciting plans for the newly funded one?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a brilliant advocate for that project. I have no doubt that the work of the Leslie Sports Foundation will make a huge difference to the lives of people in his constituency. The Minister for Levelling Up, my hon. Friend Dehenna Davison, would be delighted to visit.
It is now over four years since the Conservatives promised to ban section 21 no-fault evictions. It needs strengthening, but the Government finally published a Renters (Reform) Bill in May this year. Given the desperate situation that many renters are currently facing, and the urgent need to provide them with greater security and better rights, why have the Government not lifted a finger to progress that legislation in the weeks since it was published?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to do more to help people in the private rented sector but, as he will have heard, we wanted to make sure that we had a fit-for-purpose impact assessment so that the House could reflect on the changes that we are making and the benefits they will bring.
What assessment has the Department made of the use of cash retentions in the construction industry and of possible measures that could prevent the practice, which causes cash-flow issues and costly administrative burdens for subcontractors, including those involved in house building?
My hon. Friend will know that that policy area is led by the Department for Business and Trade. Nevertheless, it is important that we work closely with a wide range of stakeholders and businesses to achieve a consensus. It can sometimes be challenging, but we are clear that any solution must be a sustainable one that works for the industry and its clients, addressing the need for surety and fair payment.
It has been more than 50 days since the Renters (Reform) Bill was introduced to Parliament. Despite ample parliamentary time, the Government have failed to set a date for Second Reading. In the last few weeks alone, the House has finished at 2 pm and 5 pm due to the Government bringing forward no business. Why do the Government not care about renters?
The Bill, as you know, Mr Speaker, is beautifully formed, but the impact assessment that goes with it, as I pointed out earlier to my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope, needs to be read in the round to see what a great piece of legislation it is. One thing that would enable us to bring forward legislation is if the Labour party were to end its pointless opposition to our Illegal Migration Bill. It is curious that the Labour party seems keener on being on the side of people smugglers than it is on the side of the private rented sector.
The recent transfer of the administration of home equity loans from Target to Lenvi has gone appallingly badly, with my constituents reporting unanswered emails and phones that ring out with no reply when they are looking to transfer their home in a time-critical phase. Will my right hon. Friend update me on what is going on with the administration?
I have been having daily meetings with Homes England and the service provider. It is the case that there have been some issues with the transfer, as my hon. Friend highlights. I want anyone listening to this to know that they can contact either their local MP or the service line, and we will resolve it. I have insisted that additional call centre staff are available and extended working hours. We are very much seeing the issues being worked through at pace now.
According to figures from PricedOut, over the last 50 years housing has become over 13 times more expensive and tenants are now spending up to half their income on rent alone. If that trend continues, only one in three people born this year will own a home before they are 50. The Government’s scrapping of housing targets and surrendering to Back Benchers opposed to new housing will only make the situation even worse. When will the Government grow a backbone, stand up to those MPs and build the houses we need to avoid catastrophe?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman but, as was pointed out earlier in these questions, the area of the country where housing numbers are worst, where planning permissions are being built out most slowly and where the fewest planning permissions are being granted overall has been London, under a Labour Mayor. I want to work with the Mayor to see him emulate what the Conservative Mayor in the west midlands, Andy Street, has done to deliver housing.
My right hon. Friend will know from my constant lobbying of him that it is my belief that the revenue support grant mechanism is inherently unfair and means that rural authorities such as Dorset, and particularly in West Dorset, receive little if any revenue support grant compared to the tens of millions that many urban areas, such as Wandsworth, receive. Will my right hon. Friend kindly tell me what he is doing to restore that balance and fairness for rural areas?
My hon. Friend has absolutely made this case on multiple occasions, both to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to myself. He is a champion for West Dorset and for rural communities in general. We will continue to work with local MPs who are concerned about this, but I would just gently point out that the primacy and the desire of the local government sector in this financial year has been for clarity and consistency, which is what we have provided to them through the local government financial settlement this year.
While the Government drag their heels on section 21, thousands of families are being evicted through no fault of their own by rapacious landlords—let’s be honest about it—with 2,000 families in May alone this year. That is not acceptable. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State has been having cosy meetings with private landlords’ associations, which gives the impression he is on the side of the landlords and not the renters. Will he at least say now that the Bill will come back in September?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch heard the careful case he prosecuted when he said I was on the side of the landlords. In fact, I am on the side of a healthy private rented sector. The overwhelming majority of landlords do a brilliant job and I want to pay tribute to the National Residential Landlords Associations and Ben Beadle for their effective work in this area.
The Department has a very large number of consultations either going out to consultation or being assessed right now. Now that my private Member’s Bill, the Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill, has received Royal Assent, when will my hon. Friend start the consultations required to enact it, so that we can kick out rogue landlords?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his excellent private Member’s Bill, which the Government were happy to support as it tackles a very real problem. The Bill has received Royal Assent and will become law on
Last week at business questions I raised the case of Tyrrell Court in Wakefield, where the social landlord, Wakefield and District Housing, has added a new service charge for communal lighting on top of the charge for window cleaning and communal cleaning, despite people having been tenants for 20 years without ever being charged that fee before. It adds up to £125 extra per year. Is the Secretary of State as concerned as I am that landlords are introducing these charges when people can afford them least?
Property management companies are undoubtedly holding back home ownership. New homeowners are often obliged to sign up to contracts that they cannot leave. That leaves them stuck with inflated fees, and very often with poor services. I am sure the Minister agrees that management companies need their activities curbed; they need legislation imposed on them so that we can get back to a fairer system of housing.
I agree entirely. I thank my hon. Friend for the excellent debate that he brought to Westminster Hall, in which we discussed these issues in detail. I am happy to reiterate to the House that we will legislate, when parliamentary time allows, to deal with many of the issues that he has raised that are affecting freehold homeowners.
My hon. Friend highlights the importance of nationally significant infrastructure programmes all across the country. It is vital that we speed up those projects and make sure that they deliver for local people more quickly. My hon. Friend is a champion for the A38; I know that she will be talking to the Department for Transport, and I am happy to do so as well.
The Secretary of State says that the Scottish Government are not using the powers that they have, but it is his Government who keep vetoing Scottish Government policies and legislation that has been passed by the Scottish Parliament. Does that not just show that the Conservatives never wanted devolution in the first place and can now barely contain their glee at getting to roll back the powers of devolution?
No, it was the Scottish National party that did not want devolution; it wants independence. It is in the name, isn’t it? They are nationalists and they want to break up the United Kingdom; we extend devolution within England and we support it in Scotland.
Thanks to the Government’s brownfield land release fund, Solihull Council is getting on with the job of regenerating Kingshurst village centre, including by building new environmentally friendly houses. With that in mind, will the Secretary of State accept my invitation to see at first hand the progress of the regeneration of Kingshurst village centre, and see how it can be supported further by a successful levelling-up fund round 3 application?
Once again, my hon. Friend makes a brilliant case on behalf of the residents of Solihull borough.
Fife Council is currently working on the details of the levelling-up fund, which gave us some of our own money back under the last round. Most of that money—over £14 million—is for connectivity projects related to the very welcome reopening of the Levenmouth rail link. Since the bid was put together, it has become clear that by far the most important connectivity project associated with that reopening is the construction of a pedestrian footbridge to maintain the ancient public right of way at Doubledykes crossing in the middle of my constituency. If it becomes clear that the project has support from the community, will the Secretary of State allow Fife Council to reallocate the funding—
Order. Please—these are topicals. I have given you the advantage of having two goes. Don’t take advantage of the rest of the Members, please.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for outlining the concerns of local residents, showing why levelling up is also needed in parts of the country like Bracknell. We will imminently announce full details of levelling-up round 3, and I will, of course, provide him with those details when we have them.
To strengthen the Union, and with the Windsor framework not able to answer all the difficulties due to the Northern Ireland protocol, what recent discussions have taken place with Cabinet colleagues on pressing the EU for a common-sense approach and on making the necessary adjustments to keep Northern Ireland a functional and integral part of the UK, which is the will of the people?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it is the clearly expressed will of Northern Ireland’s people to be embedded in the United Kingdom, and we need to make sure that the EU takes a constructive approach, following on from the publication of the Windsor framework. My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Northern Ireland Secretary are taking that forward.
Eastbourne secured £20 million in round 1 of the Government’s levelling-up fund, part of which is set to transform a disused dairy and downland farm into a world-class visitor centre. Will previously successful constituencies, such as mine, be eligible to apply for the forthcoming round 3? We have big plans for the seafront.
My hon. Friend continues to be a fantastic champion for Eastbourne. We will be announcing full details of levelling-up round 3 in due course, but we are taking on concerns, from those who have previously received funding and from those who have not, to make sure that we get this third round absolutely right.
So Chorley will do well?
Playgrounds are often a godsend for stressed parents. They are great for kids’ development, and they are free entertainment during all these cost of living pressures. Will my right hon. Friend consider earmarking a fund so that parish councils and community groups can bid to improve areas that are in a poor state or that lack the inclusive equipment we all want to see?
My hon. Friend is a brilliant champion for better provision of playgrounds and stronger support for families and young people. The community ownership fund is available for some of the purposes she mentions, but I look forward to working with her to do more in this area.