HC Deb 11 November 1992 vol 213 cc865-7
5. Mr. Harvey

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will review the funding arrangements and operating regulations of the mandatory renovation grants system.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry)

We continue to keep the grant system under review.

Mr. Harvey

Does the Minister accept that the new £50,000 limit which will apply next year will affect only a small number of grants, leaving local authorities such as North Devon having to cough up so much that they will not be able to meet their other housing responsibilities? Will the Minister clamp down on professional grant-getters who have more than one house, and will he make the awards discretionary after local authorities have met their targets and budgets?

Mr. Baldry

North Devon council was awarded £835,000 this year towards renovation grant spending. We also have a reserve of supplementary credit approvals to help authorities such as North Devon cope with the pressures. I hope to announce the extra allocations shortly.

Sir Michael Neubert

If, as I hope, the Chancellor of the Exchequer decides tomorrow to relax the 25 per cent. limit on local councils' use of receipts from council house sales, may I even at this 11th hour urge that consideration be given to predicating that money for the renovation and refurbishment of property already in council ownership, such as houses, schools and other buildings? That would both provide a boost to the local construction industry and maintain the value of public assets.

Mr. Baldry

My hon. Friend makes his point well, and it has been noted.

Mr. George Howarth

Does the Minister accept that the means testing applied to renovation grants acts as a disincentive, especially for people on low incomes, to carry out much-needed improvements? Does he also accept that relaxing the regulations and allowing people living in appalling conditions to have a full grant to carry out improvements would be a quick way of boosting the construction industry?

Mr. Baldry

The means testing is straightforward. It is designed to ensure that the money goes to those in the greatest need, thus ensuring that the money available is put to the best possible use. I find it difficult to believe that the hon. Gentleman does not understand that.

Mr. Spring

My hon. Friend will agree that the provision of good local services does not necessarily involve high public expenditure. Will he join me and my constituents in congratulating St. Edmundsbury borough council on working so hard to achieve debt-free status?

Mr. Baldry

I am sure that every local authority must seek to spend its resources properly and effectively. The way in which authorities use their money to help with private sector renewal is as important as their other responsibilities.

Mr. Pike

The Minister gave a cautious first answer to the question. Do the Government intend to carry on with the mandatory grant system for dealing with unfit housing? If so, will the Minister guarantee that local authorities will have the full measure of Government support and the financial commitment, including the 25 per cent. currently required from their own resources, which is necessary to enable them to meet the need without having to abandon the rest of their capital programme?

Mr. Baldry

The hon. Gentleman knows that we keep the system continually under review. We had a review earlier this year, as a consequence of which we have now managed to target resources even better at those who have the greatest need. We are also giving extra help to those just above income support levels. We maintain a close review of the system. We see the need to maintain a good renewal of private sector stock and we shall continue to carry forward that policy.