Betts: Government needs to lift HRA cap

Chair of the Communities and Local Government select committee tells 24housing government needs to get councils building again.

I am not a number Campaign launch. Clive Betts MP.  Sheffield South East, signing early day motion.

Clive Betts believes councils should be allowed to raise their own money in order to build homes their communities need.

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with 24housing, Betts stated he has “always been in favour of lifting the cap off the Housing Revenue Account”.

He said: “If we are going to have real local freedom then the housing revenue account has to do that.

“Currently it is the only capital spending a local authority does which isn’t governed by prudential borrowing. Let’s take the cap off. The LGA and all local authorities have argued for that and I’d agree with them.”

However, he believes a major barrier to councils building again is the loss of expertise in planning and housing development.

“Local authorities have lost a lot of skilled personnel in housing development so maybe that is why partnerships with private builders or housing associations will help move things along.

“On the planning side, one thing the government is indicating it might do is to allow local authorities to charge much more realistic planning fees for planning applications.

“There is no reason why the public purse should subsidise applications which essentially give big commercial returns to those putting the application in.”

Betts was positive, despite the negatives in the Housing and Planning Act, that the worst aspects seem to be “off the stove.”

“It is good to see government appear to be going back on parts of the Act.

“The sale of higher value homes, which people struggled to see how it was going to financially add up, now looks to be on the back-burner, if not off the stove completely.

“We still have to wait and see what the details are and the details in the White Paper are going to be key to that.

“It does seem now that ministers are talking about the need for rented housing in many areas and hopefully that will mean greater flexibility on spending the money through the rest of this parliament from the HCA on homes areas need not just that every home needs to be a starter home or shared ownership.”

He says the problem with the Housing and Planning Act was its lack of recognition that local places needed local solutions.

“There is now a sense in government, from what has been said, that solutions to the housing crisis will be different in different parts of the country and that solutions in one area won’t work in another.

“There should be flexibility for local authorities and the private sector on arrangements that work best in their area.”

However, when asked about the issue of social care, Betts bemoans the fact it is not higher up the agenda.

“There is a crisis in social care and every time we get to a point where it looks like it is going to fall over, government comes up with a little bit more money to just about keep it going. That isn’t a solution.

“I called, supported by chair of the Health Committee and chair of the Public accounts Committee, for a complete review and overhaul of future funding for social care and how it relates to funding of the health service.

“It needs to be done on a cross party way, there can’t be any more short term fixes by one party which may then be overturned by the next. We need a long term solution that is going to work for 30/40 years.”

So what does the chair of the CLG select committee have on his agenda for the coming year?

“I want to see more homes built in this country, that is absolutely key, that is what our inquiry going on into the home building industry is hoping to do.

“We know we are building fewer homes every year than we need to be. The gap is growing wider and the deficit is building up so that is absolutely key.

“The social care agenda is the other big question in the age of local service delivery. How can we make care more effective? How can we improve the quality? How can we integrate it into the health service?

“We need a long term sustainable settlement and making sure older people have the care into the older years they deserve.”

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