Eric Pickles has issued the following Written Statement to Parliament:
I would like to update hon. Members on the main items of business undertaken by my Department since the House rose for Easter recess on 27 March 2012.
Turning round Troubled Families
We are taking ambitious steps to turn around the lives of 120,000 problem households by 2015, enabling them to play a positive role in their local community.
On 28 March, my Department announced a unique payment by results scheme that will deliver up to £4,000 per family to local authorities which get children back into school, reduce youth crime and anti-social behaviour, put adults on a path back to work and bring down the £9 billion annual costs spent on dealing with these households. This is part of the Government’s £448 million three-year programme to help local authorities get to grips with whole families and deal with their problems at the root cause.
My Department has also reached an agreement with the Department for Work and Pensions which, while strictly protecting confidentiality, will allow job centres to share data with local councils in order to identify their troubled families.
Promoting local growth
The Government are determined to see locally driven and sustainable economic growth. New infrastructure plays an important part in supporting the development of new homes, creating long-term jobs and reinvigorating the local economy.
On 29 March, the Government confirmed that £420 million will be available to help communities deliver vital local infrastructure projects. Through the Growing Places fund an additional £270 million has been allocated to local enterprise partnerships. This money will be used to get the infrastructure in place to build new homes, create jobs and get stalled projects moving again. Up to £150 million will be available through tax increment financing “Type 2” for large-scale infrastructure projects in core cities.
On 11 April, my Department announced that every enterprise zone can now offer immediate tax breaks to businesses as soon as they move on to the site. The discount provides up to 100% relief to new businesses for five years. Central Government are meeting the costs.
On 13 April, the Department launched a technical consultation on proposed changes to streamline the guidance that underpins the Planning Act 2008. This will reduce bureaucracy and increase flexibility in the permit granting process, making the regime clearer and easier to use. A full scale review of the major infrastructure planning regime will take place in 2014, once a sufficient number of applications have passed through the system.
Standing up for local shops and local firms
High streets and local businesses are at the heart of our communities and their success is vital to the prosperity and growth of the local area.
On 30 March, my Department issued the formal Government response to the Mary Portas high street review, accepting many of the recommendations and offering a further package of support. The Department announced plans for a £10 million high street innovation fund to bring empty shops and offices back into use; a £1 million future high street X-fund, which will be awarded in a year’s time to the locations which deliver the most creative and effective schemes to revitalise their high streets; and a £500,000 fund for business improvement districts, to help town centres access loans for their set-up costs.
Following the positive reception to Portas pilots across the country we announced our intention to launch another round of pilots to trial recommendations in the Portas review.
On the same date, the Department announced that up to £1 million would go to support local people, businesses and councils to develop and agree high street neighbourhood plans that make sure locally led sustainable development puts the town centre first.
On 4 April, the Department wrote to local councils to urge them to take advantage of the Government measures available to help businesses grow and prosper. This coincided with the opening of applications for the business rates deferral scheme which gives thousands of local business the opportunity to delay paying some of this year’s rates bill for up to three years-worth potentially £600 million if all English firms took up the offer.
Empowering local communities
The Government are determined to put local people, businesses and councils back in control with the choices and chances to shape the future of their local area.
The Localism Act is driving this power shift, wiping away unpopular bureaucratic interferences and cutting red tape that locked out communities, slowed progress and stifled innovation. Commencement orders over the course of this Easter recess period have introduced more key measures from the Localism Act 2011, including the general power of competence. Councils can now innovate and legally do anything an individual could do unless specifically prohibited by law. It gives councils more freedom to work together, act creatively and innovatively to improve services, drive down costs and enhance their local area. In addition, this should give councils who wish to do so the power to continue holding formal prayers. The general power of competence now applies to eligible parish councils. This gives those parish councils the power to hold prayers again during meetings if they wish. This should send out a strong signal that the Government will take whatever steps are necessary to defend the freedom to pray.
On 31 March, the bureaucratic and ineffective Standards Board for England was formally abolished, freeing up local councils from having to investigate trivial complaints. Local authorities will be able to draw up their own codes of conduct to uphold high standards in public life. On 11 April, my Department published an illustrative code of conduct providing a helpful example to local councils.
Clauses in the Localism Act, which came into effect on 1 April, formally abolished the Infrastructure Planning Commission, returning decision making to the Secretary of State. The basic elements of the major infrastructure regime will remain unchanged and will continue to deliver major benefits such as the statutory time scales that bring certainty to developers.
As highlighted in the Department’s recent “Creating the conditions for integration” paper, the Government are strongly supporting people to play an active part in society and celebrate what is good about their local area. On 6 April, the Department announced financial support for a nationwide community music day, to take place on 9 September, the final day of the Paralympic games. This support will allow organisers Superact and Making Music, to expand and enhance their existing annual bandstand marathon day.
Supporting home ownership and affordable housing
On 2 April, my Department announced a new-look Energy Performance Certificate that will give homebuyers clearer information about the energy efficiency of their homes. Alongside the recommendations for improvements, the new certificates will indicate to the consumer whether they can be funded through the Green Deal. Buyers will also be able to compare the energy performance of their home with that of similar properties, as the National Energy Performance Certificate Register is opened up to public use for the first time.
On 3 April, the Department announced that the reinvigorated Right to Buy scheme was now formally in force, providing up to £75,000 in discounts to social housing tenants, to help people on to the housing ladder, promote opportunity, and boost social mobility for the nation’s social tenants.
For the first time, councils will sign an agreement with Government for using the receipts from sales to build new affordable homes in their area, ensuring there is no reduction in the number of affordable homes. The receipts are expected to meet up to 30% of the costs, mirroring the highly successful funding model used for the affordable homes programme, which has exceeded expectations and will deliver 170,000 new affordable homes by 2015.
On 4 April, the Government published a consultation seeking views on how to encourage more private investment into the social housing sector through real estate investment trusts. The current Finance Bill is introducing a series of measures to support entry to and investment in real estate investment trusts. This consultation will build on these measures considering potential further changes to real estate investment trusts to support the establishment of more of these in the social housing sector.
Although the numbers of empty homes has fallen to its lowest level since 2004, there are still 720,000 homes sitting empty across the country—with 280,000 left vacant for six months or more. On 11 April, my Department announced the appointment of architect and TV presenter George Clarke as empty homes adviser to explore the best ways to bring empty homes back into use for families in need of stable, secure homes.
Tackling inequalities for Gypsy and Traveller communities
In November 2010 my Department set up a ministerial working group, to examine the challenges faced by Gypsy and Traveller communities. On 4 April, the Department published a report containing 28 measures from across Government that will improve outcomes for Gypsies and Travellers in education, health, accommodation, employment and in the criminal justice system.
Cutting red tape
Cracking down on pointless bureaucracy and freeing councils from regulatory burdens is a top priority. Last year the Government introduced the “single data list”—a comprehensive list of required data collection as a way to reduce the burden of top down demands.
Since summer 2010 the Government have ended 56 separate data collections placed on local government and seriously scaled back a further 19. This builds on decisions to end over 4,700 local government targets.
On 11 April, the Department published the new 2012-13 list which shows a reduction in demands from 193 data collections last year to 156 this year. We are also putting in place a rigorous “real time” gateway to prevent the build up of new data burdens on local government throughout the year.
Councils will not have to provide anything that is not on the list, and any new requirements would be subject to the new burdens principle.
Delivering weekly rubbish collections
In February, my Department launched a new fund to work with local councils to help improve or reinstate weekly rubbish collections. The fund will inject up to £250 million of extra central funding into projects that will help to improve local waste and recycling services, develop infrastructure, and reward recycling. Over 180 initial expressions of interest have been sent in, surpassing expectations. The Government will now be working with councils to make sure quality outline bids are submitted by the May deadline.
Ensuring fairness for Park Home residents
On 16 April the Department published a consultation on reforms to park homes and caravan site licensing. These reforms will give a better deal to the many thousands of mainly older householders in this sector by increasing their rights, removing the opportunity for exploitation by unscrupulous site operators and giving local authorities and the courts the power to hold bad operators to account.
These reforms will put the park home sector on a sustainable footing for the long term, allowing site operators to run good businesses, offer a decent service to residents and ensure that home owners can live peacefully in their homes knowing that the law protects them from abuse.
Copies of the associated documents have been placed in the Library of the House.