[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair] — Decent Homes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:14 pm on 27th January 2011.

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Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Minister for Housing 5:14 pm, 27th January 2011

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind my making a little progress. Others have spoken for a lot longer than I will get to respond to the many points that have been raised.

We are putting in £2.1 billion, but I would estimate that we need about £3.5 billion to truly finish the programme. I expect that, by April, about 210,000 homes will still be in need of decent homes funding, and the programme throughout this Parliament may cover about 150,000 of them.

The Chair of the Select Committee also asked for greater flexibility for local authorities to, for example, put in a boiler but charge 0.5% more rent. That is a very sensible suggestion and it requires no intervention from me. Local authorities are absolutely within their rights to do that. The guideline rents that we currently provide mean that they already have flexibility, and the direction of policy in the Localism Bill, which is at Committee stage, is to do precisely what he says. It is an excellent idea and one of the very good suggestions that have been made.

My hon. Friend Tom Brake raised the issue-perhaps he did this inadvertently, but it also came up in a later exchange-of the value of ALMOs versus housing associations versus local authorities. I do not particularly want to enter into this debate, other than to say that, from a Government perspective, I have a completely neutral view on whether an ALMO is better than a local authority or a housing association. Indeed, there have been some very interesting exchanges throughout the afternoon, and they have all been argued from the individual perspectives of constituency MPs. We know that, at certain times, an ALMO can be very good or very bad, and the same can be said about a local authority or a housing association.

There are even arguments about the size of housing associations, from vast conglomerates-I have a great deal of sympathy with some of the comments about the distances sometimes involved-to some small ones. In my experience, having travelled around the country a lot, looking at different types of housing, there is no single prescription for the right size or shape of organisation to run housing.

Ann Coffey made a number of interesting points. I was impressed in particular by her comments on the quality of the environment and on how important design is to the way people feel, which was picked up again by my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes, when he talked about walking into a block of flats and how the entranceway can make all the difference.

The hon. Member for Stockport also made the point about walking into the home of someone who has had the decent homes work done-the delighted tenant-and sharing in that delight. I am sure that, as constituency MPs, we have all been in that position. I put it on record that, in the previous Parliament, I was the Conservative Opposition Member who represented the most council tenants in the country-I have not checked for this Parliament. On many occasions, however, I have walked into a kitchen or bathroom and been greeted by the delighted tenant. It is an absolute pleasure.

I also put it on record that I believe in the decent homes programme. It was an achievement of the previous Government. I accept the comments of Kate Hoey and others, including Chris Williamson, that it probably started four years too late, but it did a lot of good work. I also accept the arguments of Jeremy Corbyn and others, that it sometimes carries on doing work where it is not quite required to do so, or doing it in a uniform or almost machine-like fashion, at times unnecessarily ripping out perfectly good accommodation or facilities, as mentioned by other Members.

My hon. Friend Paul Uppal talked about the importance of apprenticeships. I absolutely agree with what I thought was a thoughtful contribution from him. We have a great opportunity, with today's economic backdrop, to ensure that local skills are being used or upgraded to provide improvements for people's homes. It is the perfect mix and combination, given the opportunity of the £2 billion-plus to ensure that it happens in the future.

Heidi Alexander made a number of interesting points about estates still requiring regeneration. I offer to engage with the hon. Lady to listen to the problems and to be of as much assistance as possible. It is not easy, the money does not exist and we have had to make difficult decisions, as she and everyone else appreciates.

However, I wanted to correct one point in the hon. Lady's speech, when she seemed to suggest she believed that the local authority would have to contribute 10% towards the costs of decent homes. That is not what the Government said. I said that if more than 10% of repairs were needed in order to reach decent homes standard-if there were more than 10% non-decent stock, in other words, which I believe would be the case in Lewisham-authorities can apply for decent homes funding. It is not that they are then expected to pitch in 10%, although in fact it might be a good idea for them to do so. I just wanted to ensure that that got on the record.