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Mr. Neil Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions when he will make a statement on how the Government plans to tackle homelessness. [43232]

Mr. Byers: I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses a report to me on homelessness entitled "More than a Roof" together with my response to it.

The serious and growing problem of homelessness needs to be addressed if this Government is to achieve our aim to ensure that everyone has access to a decent home.

Although many members of the public think homeless people are only those they see on the streets, homelessness is more complicated. As this new report makes clear, it is more than simply being without a roof.

There are still some people sleeping on the street but there are even more people living in night shelters and hostels, and there are thousands of families living in temporary accommodation.

Over 6,000 families are bringing up their children in bed and breakfast hotels. The damage caused to those children may live with them into adult life. But certainly living in a cramped room without anywhere to do their homework or to play does not give them the start in life they deserve.

To tackle this we need a new approach. One that concentrates as much on the people as on the places that they live. That is what "More than a roof" proposes. We accept it. There are six key objectives that underpin our new approach.

While plans and objectives are critical, they can only work if underpinned with resources. Over the next year, we will spend a total of £125 million on tackling homelessness.

I have established a new Homelessness Directorate that will comprise the Bed and Breakfast Unit, currently in the Government Office for London, the former Rough Sleepers Unit, and a new unit to assist local authorities in tackling homelessness.

The Homelessness Directorate will join-up policy at a national level. The Rough Sleepers Unit had a cross- cutting brief to work with other Government Departments with champion Ministers and a ministerial committee to

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support their work. I have asked Lord Falconer to chair a new ministerial committee on homelessness to oversee the new approach.

The new Homelessness Act will bring about radical change in the way that central and local government, and all other partners, work together to tackle homelessness. For the first time ever, local authorities will be required to carry out a review and develop a strategy for their area that prevents homelessness and provides solutions for people who are, or who may become, homeless.

In addition to the help provided to local authorities by the new Homelessness Directorate, a range of measures are being established to help local authorities respond to this new duty.

I have published today "Homelessness Strategies—a good practice handbook", a document which provides a framework for local authorities, and all key local agencies, to work together.

Also, my Department will contribute to a series of seminars to help organisations prepare for the new Homelessness Act. Organised in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Local Government Association, Shelter and others, they will focus on practical implementation.

We are determined to ensure that vulnerable people leaving institutions, young people including those coming out of care, and people fleeing domestic, racial and other forms of violence, are helped effectively. Although this may mean that the number of people who local authorities accept as homeless increases, I am more concerned to ensure vulnerable people get the help they need.

Therefore we will be issuing a revised statutory Code of Guidance on Allocations and Homelessness, reflecting changes brought about by the new Homelessness Act and our proposed Priority Needs Order.

I will allocate additional resources in order to help local authorities deliver the new Priority Needs Order. I am also considering making "tackling homelessness" a future Beacon council theme.

But we also need to understand more about the most effective ways to tackle homelessness.

In order to do this, the Homelessness Directorate will investigate the underlying causes and trends of homelessness, collect information more effectively and test new and innovative approaches which can be taken to reduce and prevent homelessness. I have asked for a progress report on this work in the autumn outlining what future action can be taken.

An important part of the Homelessness Directorate's work will be to encourage best practice. Where public resources fund services, it is vital that the taxpayer gets value for money. The use of local targets and protocols, such as reducing the number of tenancy breakdowns or ensuring appropriate numbers of lettings to homeless households, will be important.

There are many people living in very different sorts of hostels across the country, and with the onset of "Supporting People", it will be important to ensure that best practice is established across all publicly funded

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hostels. I am keen, therefore, to ensure that hostels are inspected in a structured way by either the voluntary or statutory sector.

Although many former rough sleepers have now moved into shelters, hostels, or their own homes, they still need help to rebuild their lives away from the streets. We must also continue to do everything we can to help those people who sleep rough, while at the same time prevent new people from ending up on the streets.

This is why we will allocate over £30 million during 2002–03—the same level of revenue investment that delivered the two-thirds reduction in rough sleeping.

No one in this country wants their fellow citizens to have to sleep in a cardboard box at night because they have nowhere else to go. In the same way, we should not tolerate children being forced to stay in over-crowded and expensive B&B hotels for weeks, months, and sometimes years, on end.

Today, I am making a commitment that by March 2004 local authorities will ensure that no homeless family with children has to live in a B&B hotel except in an emergency.

There may be exceptional circumstances, where some families have specific needs, or when the local authority is still processing a homelessness application, where B&B hotels of an acceptable standard may be used for a limited period. But I believe this should only happen where no reasonable alternative exists, and should not be for any more than six weeks.

In order to help local authorities achieve this target, we are making a number of changes.

Jointly with Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, I am announcing changes to housing benefit rules to boost incentives for private sector leasing by local authorities and housing associations.

As these changes will take time to make the impact we want, we are introducing urgent measures to ensure that children are not forced to live in B& B hotels any longer than is absolutely necessary.

Therefore £35 million will be allocated during 2002–03 on a range of alternatives to using B&B hotels.

In order to ensure that local authorities do not use B&B hotels inappropriately in the future, we will revise the statutory guidance on homelessness. We will also ensure that, in the exceptional circumstances where it is used, it is of a reasonable standard.

I am also concerned that children and babies placed in temporary accommodation, including B&B hotels, should not miss out on important health care to give them a proper start in life. My Department is today issuing new advice to housing authorities on the arrangements that I consider should be put in place to ensure that all babies and children placed in temporary accommodation receive their health and developmental checks from health visitors and other primary health care professionals.

This Government is determined to tackle homelessness more effectively and to work in partnership with organisations and individuals across the country to make a real difference to the lives of homeless people.

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Today we make a significant contribution towards achieving this objective and help build a Britain, which is modern, fair, and strong.

Transport 10-year Plan

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions when he will publish the first annual revision to the Transport 10-year Plan. [42627]

Mr. Byers [holding answer 12 March 2002]: There will be periodic reviews of the 10-year Plan for Transport. The first review is expected to be published in July 2002.

Public-private Partnerships (Consultants)

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what the total external spending by his Department was on public-private partnership consultants in each of the last four years; how many full-time equivalent consultants were employed over this period; how many billed consultancy days there were per year; what the implied average cost of each PPP consultant was; how many consultancy firms were used by his Department over this period; and if he will make a statement. [43190]

Dr. Whitehead: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given to him on 31 January 2002, Official Report, column 448W.

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