WELWYN HATFIELD GARDEN CITY COUNCIL
13 Feb 1997 : Column 518 Welwyn Hatfield Council (Slough Estates) 6.19 pm
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to bring this issue to the Floor of the House. It is crucial to the financial well-being of all my constituents. To paint the picture, I should like to start with Labour-controlled Welwyn Hatfield council's agreement with two property companies--Slough Estates and the Carroll group.
In the recent ruling against the
council following the change in 1987, the judge said:
The judge said:
"They acted as a nucleus who steered the rest."
They are, to their eternal shame, still councillors and have not done what any honourable person should do in these circumstances--resign. If that was not bad enough, more scandal was to follow. The new Labour leader of the council in 1996, Mr. Ray Little, was offered, three days before going to court, an out-of-court settlement of £16 million by Slough Estates. Without any consultation with the council officers or Labour colleagues, Mr. Little refused on behalf of all the people of Welwyn Hatfield. He should be locked up and the keys thrown away. He single-handedly robbed the people of Welwyn Hatfield--my constituents--of £32 million.
more, he could not care less. Can my hon. Friend the Minister please say whether any
Does my hon. Friend the Minister believe that the council,
having reduced the debt to £28 million, has the incentive to embark seriously on the transfer of housing stock when, over
many years, it has dragged its feet on embracing Government policy? That policy would allow my constituents to buy their
own homes or agree to have them run by a housing association, which has the interests of tenants at heart.
Even as recently as last month, the Labour group leader said on
the front page of Welwyn Hatfield Times that she believed that Labour councillors would refuse to sanction the transfer of
housing stock to meet the judgment against the council in the Slough Estates fraud.
In the past couple of weeks, however, the council seems to have had a change of heart. I wonder why. Unfortunately for my constituents, not least those living in council-owned property, the damage has been done by Labour councillors and their cohorts on the council. Their statement in the local newspaper has sent a disgraceful message to tenants, who, as we all know, have their own vote to decide whether a housing association should take over their properties. Labour councillors have effectively said, "Don't vote for the transfer of your home to housing associations." We all know, however, that if they did that under that Labour-controlled council, they certainly would not be any worse off than they are now.
Finally, may I say that this Member will not allow the
Government, civil servants, councillors or officers simply to wash their hands of this nightmare in the hope that it will go
away? It must be resolved in the best interests of my constituents, and those who are responsible for the lies, fraud
and deceit must be brought to book. They must be made responsible for the debt and they must be disqualified from
ever standing as councillors again. In that way, those incompetent, inadequate financial pygmies will never ever be
allowed to rob the people of Welwyn Hatfield again.
13 Feb 1997 :
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir Paul Beresford): It is always a pleasure to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans). I can advise him that there is no need to watch his lips--we can hear him quite emphatically and clearly.
Recently--for the benefit of my hon. Friend, I should like to
repeat that it was very recently--we heard that, last year, the council was offered an out-of-court settlement of £16 million.
We were not aware of that at the time. No application for assistance in regard to the offer was received by my
Department, so no decision could be made on a request that was not asked.
The case went to court. Slough Estates successfully sued the
council and damages were awarded to the company amounting to £49 million. As my hon. Friend pointed out, those damages
were exacerbated by certain actions.
In January, the council applied to my Department for a
supplementary credit approval, to release £15 million of invested capital receipts. Under the capital finance system, that
money can be used only with a credit approval. We have a firm policy of not issuing SCAs outside certain specific,
targeted programmes--for instance, for reorganisation costs. Outside those programmes, SCAs can be given only in the most
We considered Welwyn Hatfield's case extremely carefully, but
we concluded that there was insufficient justification for issuing an SCA. Consequently, we turned down its application. Such
an approval would lead to an increase in the public sector borrowing requirement. In order to meet our objectives for the
public finances, that would have to be balanced by increases in Government revenues from taxation.
My Department gets a number of requests for SCAs each year
from authorities facing unplanned demands on their budgets. If we gave way in the case of Welwyn Hatfield, we would be
expected to do so in other cases. There would be substantial public expenditure consequences if we met even a proportion of
My hon. Friend has, however, offered an eminently sensible
suggestion--large-scale voluntary transfer of the housing stock. It is a well-proven scheme, which works extremely well and is
Housing transfer is not just a solution for now, but provides long-term benefits for the future. Public expenditure will always be limited. Housing authorities will never be able to spend as much as they might like in repairing and improving their stock. Private finance is not subject to the constraints of public expenditure. LSVT provides a stable financial future for the upkeep of tenants' homes.
We have increased the size limit for transfers to any one
landlord from 5,000 to 12,000. Those such as Welwyn Hatfield with a stock below 12,000 would, if they so wished, be able to
negotiate a transfer in one single action, thus saving on administrative costs and keeping the tenants together under one
landlord. Tenants like LSVTs because of the benefits that they bring: for example, an accelerated programme of catch-up
repairs; guaranteed rent levels for up to five years; much better management--in this case, much, much better management; and
closer and real tenant involvement in management.
For the obvious reasons cited by my hon. Friend, transfer would be a sensible policy for Welwyn Hatfield. In fact, it would be sensible irrespective of the court case, in the present circumstances, because transfer brings private investment to the stock and generates resources for the council, which it could use for the benefit of its tenants and the local citizenry. Labour Welwyn Hatfield has got itself into a corner and that is its own fault. The council now has a way out, which has been suggested by my hon. Friend. I congratulate him on championing the cause of his people, his residents, his citizens and his council tax payers. I only hope that, for a change, the councillors take the very broad hint that has been laid before them by their Member of Parliament.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. McLoughlin.]
Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes to Seven o'clock.
This site is free of © Copyright except where specifically stated. Any person may download, use and quote any reference or any link, and is guaranteed such right to freedom of information and speech under the Human Rights and Freedom of Information Acts. However, be aware that we cannot be held liable for the accuracy of the information provided. All users should therefore research matters for themselves and seek their own legal advice and this information is provided simply by way of a guide. Horse Sanctuary UK Limited.