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Mr. Denham: That is a very important issue, and I understand that my hon. Friend is meeting my right hon. Friend the Minister for Regional Economic Development and Co-ordination later this week to discuss it. There really is no excuse for local authorities not to spend the money that they have been allocated to help
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people through the recession and to get into work. There is another crucial issue here. The Government have rightly listened to local authorities that say, "Don't ring-fence every penny and tell us exactly how to spend it. Trust us." When that trust breaks down, and when money is not used, there is a real problem, which I hope can be addressed very quickly.

House Building Targets

12. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What recent representations he has received on his Department's target to build 3 million houses by 2020; and if he will make a statement. [321008]

The Minister for Housing (John Healey): The Department receives a large number of representations on house building. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that almost all of them argue that we should do more to build more homes in all parts of the country, including Lichfield. That is exactly what I have set out to do in my great nine months as Housing Minister.

Michael Fabricant: Oh good! Anyway, of the 3 million homes, he will know that the Government project that 1 million will be built as affordable homes by 2020, but the Home Builders Federation has said that the Government will achieve less than half that number. Has it got that wrong?

John Healey: No, the HBF is reflecting the fact that, over the last 12 to 18 months, during the most serious recession in this country for 60 years, private sector house building by the HBF's members has fallen through the floor. At the same time, instead of stepping back, we have increased the investment in building affordable homes and we will build more this year and next year than in any year since we came to government.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend look to ensure that authorities such as Chorley, which are sitting on section 106 money that is meant for social and affordable housing, spend that money and provide the homes that are much needed?

John Healey: For the first time, I have made available Government grants and backing, on a similar basis to housing associations, to all local councils that are willing to build and want to meet the needs and aspirations that local people have for new homes. That means that this year we have under way the largest council housing building programme for nearly two decades. I am really disappointed that Chorley council is not playing a full part in that programme and not doing more to meet the need for more homes in the area.

Massage Parlours

13. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): If he will issue guidance to local authorities on the granting of licences for massage parlours. [321009]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Barbara Follett): My Department has no plans to issue guidance to local authorities on the granting of licences to massage parlours, because in most areas they are treated as ordinary
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businesses and do not require special licences. However, things are changing and some authorities, particularly in London, now require such businesses to have a licence.

Mr. Steen: I suggest to the Minister that all local authorities should require special treatment licences but, although it is all well and good to have licences, what will she do to ensure that officials make regular visits to these massage parlours to identify and help victims of human trafficking who are often found there and need to be rescued?

Barbara Follett: I thank the hon. Gentleman, who has a long and honourable history of concern about this subject. The problem is that most of this issue falls under the Home Office, and another small section of it under the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, so however much I might like to encourage officials in DCLG to pay regular visits to check such establishments, I do not think that I could.

Home Information Packs

14. James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): If he will make it his policy to suspend or abolish home information packs. [321012]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Ian Austin): The answer is no.

James Duddridge: It is unfortunate that the Minister has not taken a little more time to review the issue. If he had, he might have looked at Northern Ireland where Ministers introduced energy performance certificates without HIPs. Perhaps after he has done so, he might be able to take the opportunity to come back to the House with a fuller answer.

Mr. Austin: Despite the difficulties in the housing market, HIPs are helping to speed up the process. A survey of 37,000 transactions- [ Interruption. ] Well, what happens is that every month, those guys-I am sorry, I mean the Opposition-come along and ask these questions and I have to tell them that a survey of 37,000 transactions showed that when a HIP is available, exchanges were completed more quickly. I accept that HIPs were criticised following their introduction in 2007, but we listened to those criticisms and have made major changes to improve the system, introducing the new property information questionnaire containing basic information that buyers said that they wanted; improving the quality of searches; binding in the practice of using insurance; and providing that HIPs must be available when marketing starts.

Regional Regeneration

16. Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): What his most recent assessment is of the effectiveness of Government support for local authority regeneration initiatives in the north-west; and if he will make a statement. [321014]

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The Minister for Regional Economic Development and Co-ordination (Ms Rosie Winterton): Since its inception in 1999 the Northwest Regional Development Agency has consistently met or exceeded all targets set by the Government. In addition, the Government have allocated £480 million to local authorities in the north-west via the working neighbourhoods fund and the local enterprise growth initiative to enable them to tackle worklessness and support enterprise in deprived areas.

Mrs. Humble: A clear indication of the effectiveness of the Government's plans for regeneration in Blackpool has been the substantial rise-in some instances, 40 per cent.-in the numbers of visitors to the town. Some have come to see the new St. John's square, the Brilliance project and the new promenade taking shape. Will the Minister continue, therefore, to support regeneration projects in Blackpool and the regional development agency's excellent work?

Ms Winterton: First, may I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all her work on behalf of her constituents in Blackpool? I was glancing through a document on the economic impact of the Northwest Regional Development Agency and noticed that there is a Blackpool masterplan encompassing many of the issues she just mentioned. She is right to say that we need action from the local authority and regional development agency to bring about the kind of economic regeneration to which she referred.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Will the Minister accept that county towns such as Macclesfield could do with assistance from regeneration funds, particularly now when we are seeking to establish in Macclesfield a national silk centre? I hope to meet the chief executive of the Northwest Regional Development Agency shortly. Will the Minister give this project her support?

Ms Winterton: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will bring the merits of the silk centre to the attention of the chief executive of the Northwest Regional Development Agency. The hon. Gentleman is making exactly the same point I was making earlier: it is vital to have this kind of strategic assessment of the economic needs of all the region, and I hope that he will put his best efforts into persuading his Front-Bench colleagues that they are wrong to want to abolish the regional development agencies in the way that they have set out.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): One of the most important local authority regeneration initiatives is the proposed Mersey gateway bridge, which will provide hundreds of construction jobs and thousands of jobs thereafter. Will my right hon. Friend speak to her opposite number in the Department for Transport to ensure that we get a decision quickly, because the planning inspection decision comes from within that Department? We need a quick decision to get on with the project, create those jobs and sort out the congestion in my constituency.

Ms Winterton: I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done on this matter. When I was a Transport Minister, I met him and colleagues from the council to discuss the project, and I know how valuable it is to the local economy, so I shall certainly bring his point to the attention of Transport Ministers.

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Topical Questions

T1. [321021] Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. John Denham): Much has been achieved on antisocial behaviour, and the number of people who think that it is a problem in their neighbourhood has fallen to the lowest level since records began. However, there are still communities where such behaviour causes problems, and people need to feel confident that they, with the police and local councils, can tackle the problem. Last month, we began training up to 10,000 community champions to join their neighbours, police and councils to take a stand against antisocial behaviour.

Alun Michael: I am delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend is focusing on tackling antisocial behaviour. In view of the importance of local authorities working with the police to drive down crime, will he encourage local authorities across England to follow the experience in Cardiff, where a joint analysis, involving the NHS, of violent incidents has led to a reduction in violent incidents by more than 40 per cent. in terms of the numbers of people coming through the doors of accident and emergency departments requiring treatment?

Mr. Denham: Yes, I will. I understand that lessons from the Cardiff approach are being followed through in Leicestershire and Tyne and Wear. More generally, the Total Place approach, which we are pioneering and which is looking at all public service spending, will encourage the health service, local authorities, the police and others to work together much more closely to tackle such problems in the future.

T2. [321022] Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Given that school transport comes out of the general local government funding formula, and not the education budget, and that it is being reviewed, will sparsity be looked at carefully given that it has a huge impact now in scattered areas such as Northumberland? Potentially, that impact will be even greater when education is compulsory up to 18.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Barbara Follett): Obviously, local authorities receive funding. Northumberland has just received a 2.9 per cent. increase in funding and has the flexibility to use it as it wishes. However, we will consider the point that the right hon. Gentleman has raised.

T4. [321024] John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend concerned about some local councils charging extra for some lesser services, but in the meantime keeping council tax low for political purposes and not meeting the needs of the poor and the needy?

Mr. Denham: I am concerned about that. Charging for some local services has always been part of the operation of local government, but some local authorities now seem to have a deliberate strategy of keeping basic services as basic as possible and allowing people on
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middle incomes to get a decent service only if they are prepared to pay twice. That is not the way that I want to see local government services going, and my hon. Friend is quite right to highlight those political parties that are indulging in that approach.

T3. [321023] Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to address the question put to him earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman); namely, where will the funding come from in the current financial year to provide for the Government's proposals on social care?

Mr. Denham: As I set out earlier, local government has already planned to make efficiency savings. We believe that it can make the additional savings needed to fund services for the new policy, which comes in not at the beginning of the coming year, but halfway through it. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that, as I said earlier, the policy will be accompanied by the biggest transfer of funding into local government from the national health service since the establishment of the NHS in 1948. I hope that he will welcome that.

T9. [321029] Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): Does the Minister share my concern and that of many other Blackpool residents that our local Conservative council is refusing to put in an extra £148,000 to repair the many potholes that have appeared after the winter, when it has £6.8 million in reserves?

Barbara Follett: I share my hon. Friend's concern about that. The weather has been exceptionally severe. That is why, in acknowledging the problems of the severe weather, the Government have trebled funding to local authorities to invest in their roads, and last year we announced new funding to help them better assess the condition of their roads.

T5. [321025] Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that the mortgage repossession scheme operated by Rochdale council has been one of the most successful in the country in keeping people in their own homes. However, funding for that scheme nationally is available only until next year. What steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that funding is available when the current funding finishes next year?

The Minister for Housing (John Healey): I welcome the hon. Gentleman's recognition that the steps that we have taken locally and nationally, including on the funding to support the scheme, to try to help people struggling with their mortgages during this recession have been working well. We have put that funding in place for this year and next year. That action-Government action that we have been prepared to take-is one of the reasons why repossessions in this recession are running at around half the rate that they were in the last recession.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I take the Secretary of State back to the issue of maximising scarce resources, efficiency savings and protecting front-line services, and offer a view? The problem is that since
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1974, Labour, Liberal and Conservative Governments and councils-all three parties have been equally to blame-have constantly reorganised local government, creating unnecessary tiers of management. Why do we not return to a lean machine, get rid of the layers of management in local authorities and start calling people "The borough engineer" or "The surveyor", which people understand, rather than calling them after these God-almighty directorships of something-or-other, which vary from week to week?

Mr. Denham: May I reassure my hon. Friend that although the report from the taskforce on making efficiencies in local government-

Andrew Mackinlay: His name's Bullock, isn't it?

Mr. Denham: Bullock and Leese. The taskforce does not, as I recall, call for the re-establishment of the position of borough surveyor; none the less, it directly addresses the need to reduce layers of management both within local authorities and, in particular, between them in areas with two-tier councils.

T6. [321026] Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): From next month lap dancing will have to be licensed by local authorities. Will the Secretary of State look into whether the income from the lap dancing licence should go into paying officials to spot whether the conditions are being met and whether any of the girls dancing in a club may have been trafficked?

Barbara Follett: I am sorry to give the hon. Gentleman a disappointing answer, but his question does not really fall under the remit of my Department. He will have to address it to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport or to the Home Office.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Do those on the Front Bench agree that local authorities that are paying compensation for bullying ought to offer better training and that they should be better employers? Should not the public also have a right to know how much money is being paid out in such circumstances?

Mr. Denham: I am on record as being very much in favour of people having as much knowledge as possible about local authorities' spending. We have set out measures over the past few months to ensure that that happens. We also believe that people working in local government, which is a vital public service, deserve the best quality of human resources management, as it is called in the jargon these days. What that really means is treating people properly and with respect.

T7. [321027] Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): Thousands of students in Leeds and around the country are still not protected by the tenancy shorthold protection scheme. Last November, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin) said that the Government would shortly be publishing the results of the review, but those people are still not being protected. Will he give us an update and tell us why that is the case?

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