HC Deb 31 October 2000 vol 355 cc589-91
1. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

How much grant towards the cost of house purchase will be available individually for (a) nurses, (b) teachers and (c) police officers in Slough. [133301]

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Nick Raynsford)

I am delighted that my hon. Friend is so keen to see the benefits of our new starter home initiative. Over the next three years, we will provide £250 million for this scheme to help key workers on modest incomes to buy their own homes in high-price, high-demand areas, and at the same time to help employers to address their recruitment needs. We are currently working up detailed proposals in the light of responses to the housing Green Paper. Full details of how the initiative will operate, including the groups of key workers who will be eligible and the areas likely to qualify, will be announced later this year.

Fiona Mactaggart

As my hon. Friend will surmise, I put both the list of key workers and my constituency into the question to demonstrate the powerful claim that we have for the funds. In my constituency, there are 50 teaching vacancies not covered by permanent staff, and more than 100 in nursing and midwifery. The situation in policing is slightly confused by the fact that we force police officers in the Thames valley into Slough. Will my hon. Friend assure me that the claims of constituencies such as mine to become sustainable communities and have key public service workers will have a high priority in the details of the scheme?

Mr. Raynsford

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that the scheme was devised precisely to address the kinds of needs that she has identified. As she will be aware, however, the scheme will operate as a challenge fund. We will therefore look at the bids that are submitted in response to the detailed brief to which I have already referred. We will seek to get support for those schemes that give the best value for money and help the largest number of people in need in high-cost areas.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

Can the Minister not see how unfair and illogical it is to single out certain categories of key workers and not others—for example, to exclude ancillary workers in the NHS and civilian police employees? Does not he understand that using taxpayers' money in that way will only fuel house-price inflation, and that it is the Government's failure to provide sufficient affordable housing, especially in the south-east, that is putting such pressure on recruitment in key public services? Is not that exacerbated by the Government's barmy plans to build millions of the wrong homes in the wrong places? Is not the home loans policy just another example of government by gimmick?

Mr. Raynsford

That question illustrates the mistake that Opposition Members make when they write their questions in advance. Had the hon. Gentleman listened to my answer, he would have heard me say that the precise categories of people who will benefit will depend on the bids. We are not limiting arbitrarily the categories of beneficiaries: we will look at the proposals to judge which would be most effective in meeting real needs, irrespective of the category of public-sector worker or key worker that is involved.

Our scheme is designed to address a real problem that the previous Government did nothing to attack while they were in office. Indeed, they presided over a period of unprecedented house-price inflation, followed by the disastrous slump of the early 1990s that caused record repossessions and homelessness. We will take no lessons from Conservative Members when it comes to putting forward proper proposals to meet housing needs in this country.