26/02/2012 Sunday Politics South West


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In the south-west, the water customers who say the Government's


�50 hand out won't be enough to make our bills fair and the


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2031 seconds


confusion over funding for Welcome. Hello and welcome to the


Sunday Politics in the south-west. Coming up. The water customers who


say the Government's happened out for the region is still just a drop


in the resevoir. Well, here to ep me unravel the week's political


goings on are two people who have spent their careers fighting the


Tory. For Alison Seabeck that is still a full-time job. Adrian


Sanders finds himself in coalition with the old enemy but he is an


independent minded kind of chap. Welcome to you both. Something you


will both have a keen interest in rail links to London and the speed


of them. There is a campaign in Plymouth at the moment to try and


get faster links to London, but that would be at the price of the


train not stopping at other places through Devon. You have been


fighting against that. I think we need to unite round certain


principles, as we look at the new franchise. Looking at punctuality,


looking at better capacity of our trains to cope with the demand,


having things that -- attract people on the the rail. Better fare


structure, Wi-Fi, mobile phone coverage improved. All of these


things are things we can unite round and hopefully reduce journey


times for everyone. OK. Alison, you are a Plymouth MP. The Plymouth


argument is it is the biggest city in the region, it is the hu, it is


so important for a few stops up the line, it's a price worth paying.


think that is a tad unfair, if I may say. Some people have said that.


Plymouth is clearly a huge economic driver in the region, and therefore,


it is important we can get business to Plymouth. That means having


early trains, which don't cause problems for Torbay, but get to


Plymouth in time for people to do business and get to London for time


to do business. But Adrian is right. What I have been trying to do and


what other MPs are trying to do is come up with a strategic package


that we can put to Government and talk as one voice across the south-


west, which says we have to have better rail links. I have to say


the decision of the Department of Transport not to hold a


consultation is shocking. And I think, you know, the Department for


Transport need to get their finger out and do something about it.


must move on. Something called the New Homes Bonus is part of the


Government's approach the tackling one of the south-west's biggest and


most persistent problem, the affordable housing crisis. It has


brought millions into the region as a reward for councils who have


built new homes. It is becoming clear that the money itself is


often being spent on anything but housing. Here at this Torquay play


group mum of two Debbie knows about Torbay's housing problem, she is


struggling to afford the rent for her home, but with more than 3,000


people on the housing waiting list, her options are limited. I can't


get on the list. They will not put me on the list. I have tried about


three different times. Each time I have opinion in a property the


landlord has give us notice to quit, the last property was riddled with


damp, there was heroin addicts living under us, they still


wouldn't put us on the list. Over the last two years the Government


has cut council budgets for affordable housing. In Cornwall


their funding was cut by more than 80%. But the coalition has


introduced something called the New Homes Bonus to encourage more house


building. The Government matches council tax reveet -- receipts for


in homes for six year, but it isn't ringfenced. Councils are free to


spend it on whatever they like. The Government has given Torbay


�300,000. The local MP has praised the incentive scheme on his website,


saying it has been awarded to provide much-needed housing in the


local area. But Torbay Council say the money has gone into supporting


the overall budget. Frontline services in adult social care and


Children's Services are some of the areas they are struggling to find


cash for. Cornwall Council will get �5 million from the New Homes Bonus


next year. And this week councillors approved the plan to


spend it on service, though it is planning to borrow �20 million to


build more affordable homes. Meanwhile, North Devon District


Council says it used last year's bonus to pay for services and west


Devon and Southams are using some of their bonus money to prop up


their general budgets. In team bridge the own council hasn't ruled


out spending a slice of the bonus on frontline service, something


councellors are warning against. Say it dangerous road to go down.


The bonus may stop at some sometimes. If it is used as a


crutch now, how do they make that short fall when the budge it


disappears? This budget will deliver more than 100 affordable


homes earning the council thousands of pounds from the bonus. But


without any ringfencing, it is said the authority needs to be clearer


about how it will be spent. I think the hype and the spin round the New


Homes Bonus needs to match the reality. Government I think have


been clear, the New Homes Bonus was a community benefit, for councils,


and particularly for the communities which accepted new


housing, councils need to make sure that some of that money goes


directly to the towns and villages where they new housing is built.


The Government's aim of the bonus is to give councils the freedom to


spend it according to local need. It seems this approach has led to a


wide interpretation of what the purpose of the bonus is. With cash


strapped authorities using it to plug holes in their finances, while


others, like Torbay's MP claiming it is meant for more local homes.


In the meantime people like Debbie are left to deal with the


consequences of the lack of affordable housing. Adrian, on your


website you seem to be under the impression Torbay Council is using


this money to build more home, as an ongoing thing. That is no the --


not the case. They should be. Although the money is a reward for


the homes that have been built, and under the localism agenda the Local


Authorities are free to spend the money as they would, should they...


If you were analysing the need in the local area, in Torbay, where


you have over 3,000 people on the waiting list, you have the lowest


proportion of social housing of a town of its similar size anywhere


in the country, you have a housing crisis, we have had it for decades,


if you have that revenue coming in, as a result of having provided some


extra housing, then you should, I think, in my view, use it to house


people who need secure regulated rent, social housing. Should the


Government have ringfenced this? The temptation... Not every


council's need is the same. But Torbay does have an acute housing


problem and I would have thought the logical thing would have been


to use the money for housing. your website a bit misleading. It


suggests that is what the council is doing That is what it should be


doing. That is a great pity. I rather hope they would. Alison,


Labour has been critical of the New Homes Bonus, full stop. Yes, for a


range of reasons, just look at where it is starting. We have house


building at the lowest level in history, down to 121,000 a year.


Desperate need for homes. New Homes Bonus, the spin on it was that it


would result in new homes being built. That clearly isn't the case.


In some Local Authorities we have got them converting big houses to


bedsits so it has become a bedsit bonus f you look at the figures,


there is a lot more Band Aid properties appearing in posh London


boroughs like Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea. That isn't


what was intended as part of this process, equally you have local


councils who are cash strapped, and your piece was right, and this is


money that in years three, four and five, and grant Shaps the Housing


Minister hasn't really made this clear will be top sliced from those


Local Authority, you can understand why some of them potentially are


using nit this way. Despite the fact it not what we want to see.


You should spend it on housing because it might not be there in


the future. But the temptation it is almost irresistable for a cash


strapped council to divert this into the general.... One hopes you


have elected mayors or councillors who will analyse what the real


needs are in their local area and will respond to it. That sadly


doesn't appear to have been in case in Torbay. Alison seems to suggest


this policy is failing particularly against the background of the


enormous cut to affordable housing budget. It will deliver more units


of housing than the last Government was able to provide. It won't.


is the clear intention of the policy. If you want to tackle the


housing crisis, there is a lot more you need to do you have to look at


things like bringing into use the homes that are empty, particularly


the second homes your are to look at things like site value rating to


bring in people who landbank and prevent land being developed that


is will and got planning permission, that is really where we node to be


poking Government b and that is what we are trying to do at the


moment. The Tories, I suspect the Liberal Democrats would say to


Labour your track record for building houses was so poor


anything they do would be better. Better than the current Government.


We were up towards 2 10,000 new homes towards 250,000 -- 250,000


home target when the recession hit r we kept housing bibeing built


through the recession in duful times. The figures have gone off a


cliff edge. The New Homes Bonus will not deliver the new homes we


desperately need. We will str to wait and see. Another big issue for


the region. In November the Chancellor confirmed all water


customers in the south-west will get a �50 reduction in their sky


high bills. The Government's decision to use public money to


bring our bill downs was unexpected and gratefully received but now the


elation has subsided, it is clear Devon and Cornwall will still be


saddled with by far the highest bills in the country this week a


delegation of MPs headed in the direction of the water minister and


asked him for more. A glass of tap water costs more in the south-west


than anywhere else in the country. That maybe hard to swallow but it


is what happens when 3% of the population are asked to pay for the


clean-up of 30% of the coast. But there is some help on its way.


families across the south-west facing the highest water charges in


Britain, the Government will cut the household bills of all South


West Water companies by �50 a year. But you don't have to look far to


find south-west customers who despite the help, will still


struggle to pay their water bill. Jeanette is a mum of four and


receives Income Support. It allows her to claim for the water discount


scheme. The amount she pays is capped at the average bill which


this year is �517. I find it very hard. It is a lot to have to pay on


a regular basis I am very lucky, I have got it supplemented so I am


paying less than most of the people in this area, I am grateful that is


the case, but I would prefer it to be even less. I am sure the people


who are paying the full amount would prefer for theirs to be less,


because everyone is finding it hard to pay. The total cost is �3


million. South-west customers who fully paid their -- pay their bill


pay �3.40 extra to fund that. Pete currently pays �1200 a year for his


water and is angry South West Water bills will increase again in April.


We are having to pay through the nose for our bill, I am really


annoyed. Then with the 4.7 coming on this year, I feel that the extra


to help other people, which I am all for, I feel it should be down


round the country and not in the sett, so we come closer to some of


the other bills. The Consumer Council for water feel the scheme


should be fairer. I would like to see the Government contributing to


the water shore scheme in partnership with industry, that is


the fair way to do it. What is wrong is to have those who pay but


who can only just pay, paying for those who can't pay. That is the


injustice. This week MPs from the south-west met with the Environment


Minister to discuss the idea of using the national average bill of


�350, as the capping point rather than the south-west's �517. What I


am suggesting if we had a national scheme that money would be spread


out and it would have a real impact on water poverty in the south-west,


with a smaller impact in terms of the bills to even else across the


country. But ministers feel a national water scheme would be seen


by the public ass another tax. are keen to see as much help as


possible being done to those who are having difficulty paying their


bills. Not just in the south-west but elsewhere, but we have to do


that as fairly as possible, and if we were to increase the water shore


commitment on the basis of a national scheme, it would be a


considerable increase cost to many. MPs in the south-west say they will


continue to offer ideas to the Government, to find a way the


reduce the region's water bills. Adrian was one of the MPs who went


along with Dan, so I know you agree with him. Alison, do you agree that


the water shore scheme should be expanded, put it on a national


basis? Yes any frontbench cliques are looking at this. They are


looking how you finance it. Whether there are new or different ways we


could help fund it. It does have a cost, that is part of the reason...


How big is that cost? I haven't got a figure for that off the top of my


head. It is significant. The point is we are looking at whether or not


water debt, a lot of people don't pay their water bills. Some who


can't, a lot of people who won't, it works out �15 a head


perhousehold a year. Whether or not be applying the same rules to water


bill payers as energy bill payer, in terms of being able to identify


people, particularly in the private rented sector, whether or not we


can leave additional money. That is certainly something Labour is


looking at. That is what the Government is looking at. Sometimes


you have meetings, the minister saysly go away. It seems to me he


is saying no.. He certainly taking the Treasury line if they were to


do this it would be a form of taxation. But that is what they


came up with when we wanted the �50 discount, they oppose it pu


eventually we won through. Matched by the Treasury. Thanks to the


Treasury pushing through. Now the difficulty for DEFRA is anything


they want to do, apparently had to come out of their budget there may


be a way of let us look at it, can you do something with the budget.


Can you get the subsidy from somewhere else? I don't think


anybody is going to give up. I don't think there is difference of


opinion that we want to get something more than just the �50


discount. But there is a concern that within three or four years the


�50 we are receiving is toing to be absorbed by other costs within the


system. And the south-west again will sort of be playing a -- paying


a disproportionate amount. I think what we have, we will see bills


that will be closer to the national average rather than 40% higher,


that has been a price we have been trying to reach, we have got it,


but there is more we want to do. think if I can, I think we need to


understand water is something we used to take for granted and with


what is going on we can't. And there are significant costs in


ensuring we have fresh clean water. Our regular round up of the


Visions like this have been worrying the MP for Exeter. The


Government says local partnerships have to pay for the city's flood


defences but Ben Bradshaw says that is not good enough. The Government


is passing the buck down to local people to fund what should be


nationally important schemes. went to Downing Street, be the


County Council leader asked the Prime Minister for more money to


keep pensioners on the buses for free. The Government's Health Bill


was denied spiritual comfort by the bishop of Exeter though he stopped


short of reading the last rites. I'm not convinced the bill as yet


does have those mechanisms that provide for joined up thinking.


Reports from Aidan of an assassination attempt on Baroness


Nicholson were denied by the Foreign Office. And times might be


hard but Plymouth City Council is splashing out to give Smee on the's


You signed a motion saying it should but voted with the foft.


signed a cross-party motion and have written to the Secretary of


State to release it. This was political posturing, two weeks time


a tribunal will decide whether or not to publish it. I didn't need to


see the register, and I don't need to see it in order to support Lords


amendments to support the bill. suspect you don't either because


you have been doing that consistently. Were you wasting an


opportunity this week, using opposition day debate to talk about


something that was academic. It is indicative of the way the


Government operates. So much of the legislation since the coalition


came to power has involved leming lating effectively, blind if I the


use the term, without having access to important documents so whether


it is the national planning policy framework. He says you were the


same when you were in Government. Three times. We were trying to be


as open as possible and ensure people had draft regulation, there


has been a pattern through every piece of legislation with this


Government, and it is not good enough. The public won't wear it.


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