Housing Associations — [Albert Owen in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:14 pm on 12th June 2019.

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Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 4:14 pm, 12th June 2019

I will conclude very quickly.

The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse raised several other issues. The first was accountability for safety. As he will know, we accepted all of Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations. In the consultations that we published last week, however, we are seeking to pin individual responsibility for safety on a named individual throughout the process—from design, through construction and management—so that there is clear accountability.

The hon. Gentleman quite rightly raised the issue of the residents’ voice, which is something that I heard consistently on the roadshows. Again, this is a big part of both the Hackitt review and our social housing Green Paper, because a lot of residents feel that either they are excluded from the conversation in a committee, or it is just not happening at all. We already have a group of housing associations that stepped forward to look at best practice in this area, and they are working away at the moment.

The hon. Gentleman raised the size of housing associations. There is some truth to the view that the bigger any organisation gets, the more it has to have due regard for its responsiveness on the frontline. We hope to address in the Green Paper whether that is a structural issue about it being localised, or whether it loses focus on its primary product, which must primarily be the happiness and care of its tenants.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman raised freedom of information. There is a technical issue with freedom of information: the Office for National Statistics tends to classify organisations that are subject to freedom of information as being part of the Government, hence their debt moves on to the national balance sheet. Given that housing associations have something like £72 billion-worth of debt, that would make a fairly significant dent on our national accounts. Having said that, one of the issues that we will, I hope, address in the social housing Green Paper—when it eventually emerges—is transparency.

One of the key issues that Grenfell United has raised with me again and again is that the group has asked for information and has just not been given it. We think all those organisations—they are fundamentally not for profit, but serve the public and their tenants—have a duty to be as transparent as they can, subject to commercial sensitivities. That is something we hope to embed when the social housing Green Paper reforms come to light.

I thank hon. Members for their participation; it has been very useful. I will take into account the hon. Gentleman’s submission to our general consultation. As he knows, we have stood shoulder to shoulder in trying to reach the reforms we need to ensure that everybody is safe and well served in their homes.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.