HC Deb 02 July 1986 vol 100 cc994-5
4. Mr. Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied with the progress being made to eliminate the backlog of housing improvement grants built up since October 1983; and when he expects this to be completed.

Mr. Ancram

I am not satisfied and I am particularly concerned that, in Edinburgh, unless the council changes its priorities, it may take several years to clear the backlog.

Mr. Fletcher

Is my hon. Friend aware that the delay in eliminating this backlog is causing great distress and disappointment to many of my constituents, who have waited years to discover when their grants will be awarded and when the work will be completed? They are fed up with hearing the district council blaming the Government for that state of affairs. When will all the outstanding grants be settled, assuming that my hon. Friend can persuade the district council to give the matter top priority?

Mr. Ancram

I share my hon. Friend's anxiety. When I met representatives of Edinburgh district council on 9 June, it was a matter of some disappointment to me that when I asked it to state its priorities within the non-HRA block it could not do that. It seemed to be confused about those priorities. That will have an effect on the length of time needed to settle the backlog. The Government have recognised the size of the problem. This year we have increased the non-HRA block by 26 per cent. over the March 1985 figures. We shall examine closely the representations made to us when considering future allocations.

Mrs. McCurley

Has my hon. Friend any plans for reintroducing the level of housing improvement grant which existed before the cut-off period, which gave much encouragement to home improvement and especially encouraged the construction industry and employment in Scotland?

Mr. Ancram

We welcome the amount of work that was done as a result of the Government's two-year programme in which those boosted grants were available. The results are clearly evident in some of the most deprived areas of Scotland, and they must be welcomed. But the Government recognise that under the previous scheme there was a failure of targeting. The money was not necessarily going to those who most needed it. That is why we issued a consultation paper, and we are considering the representations made to us as a result.

Mr. Maxton

Is the Minister aware that the thousands of people in Glasgow who are waiting for housing improvement grants will be astonished to hear that he is blaming local authorities for failing to provide them? The Government's failure to provide sufficient funds to remove the backlog is the problem. Is he further aware that there is widespread opposition to his consultative paper? Will he make it clear, as his colleagues in the Department of the Environment have made it clear, that he has no intention of introducing such a silly scheme?

Mr. Ancram

We shall respond to the results of the consultations in due course, and I shall not pre-empt the statements that we shall make on it. In the current year, Glasgow, which has 11 per cent. of the private housing stock in Scotland, receives 33.5 per cent. of the total non-HRA block. I do not understand how the hon. Gentleman can claim that Glasgow is underfunded. I remind the hon. Gentleman, who makes so much of this, that during the lifetime of the Labour Government only £55 million was provided for repair grants, as against £550 million by this Government — 10 times as much. We can see the benefits that have been enjoyed under this Government.