HC Deb 18 January 1995 vol 252 cc696-7
6. Mr. William O'Brien

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many home renovation grants were made last year; and what were the figures for 1984 and 1989.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Figures are not yet available for 1994. In 1993, however, 90,000 grants were made under the new provisions of part VIII of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. In 1984 and 1989 local authorities awarded 229,000 and 98,000 home improvement grants respectively.

Mr. O'Brien

Do not the figures prove that the grant system for renovation, improvements and community activities is wholly inadequate and is not working? As the Government have repeatedly cut the money provided over the years, local authorities now cannot even provide mandatory grants and it is quite impossible to supply discretionary grants. When will the Minister do something for people who are living in sub-standard accommodation and squalor? When may we expect the Government to provide the resources to improve accommodation and bring it up to the standards to which people are entitled?

Mr. Jones

Concerns about the renovation grant system were expressed to me and to other Ministers during the housing investment programme round and at other times, and we have been consulting on what to do about the long-term strategy for renovation. We shall announce our conclusions in due course. It was wrong for the hon. Gentleman to say that there is necessarily a shortage of resources throughout the country as it varies from authority to authority. Some of them underspend their allocations. Wakefield benefited from a recent reallocation when we were able to give it a further £440,000 as a result of underspending by other authorities.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Although it is good for local authorities to improve their housing stock and its energy conservation wherever possible, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a waste of money to ask every local authority to do a complete audit of how that can be done? Unless a great deal more money can be obtained from the Treasury, such audits will be wasted and will use up money which could be better spent elsewhere.

Mr. Jones

It is extremely important to get information on these matters so as to be able to judge housing investment programme bids, and others. We have been requiring local authorities to provide us with evidence of their energy efficiency strategy in order to evaluate their housing strategies. An assessment of every house would cost a great deal of money, which would be wrong, but there are now plenty of systems for assessing the energy efficiency of housing without going into that sort of detail.

Mr. Raynsford

Will the Minister give a fuller reply to the main question? The figure of 90,000 includes not just renovation grants but disabled facility grants and minor works grants, most of them for small sums. If he compares like with like, he will find that the number of renovation grants has fallen dramatically since the mid and late 1980s.When will the Government recognise that thousands of people living in sub-standard housing have been waiting for years for grants which are supposed to be mandatory because the Government have not provided the money to enable local authorities to pay those grants?

Mr. Jones

As I said earlier, that is not true of all local authorities. Issues have been raised by different councils throughout the country about quantity of resources and the nature of the regime. Some councils feel that the present mandatory system stops them focusing their regeneration strategies properly on areas which really need them. We shall have to weigh all the arguments before reaching a conclusion about the future of the system.