The Public Accounts Committee took evidence from the most senior civil servant at the Department for Education on reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, also known as RAAC. The Government promised swift action for the children left out of classrooms and the schools with reduced facilities, but from the answers we heard this is likely to go on for some time. See here for the full hearing.
Parliament returned from its summer break this week and the one topic of discussion was about the Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in some schools. This is a material used in the construction of many public buildings between the 1960s and 1990s. Its ability to support buildings is much lower than other types of reinforced concrete – and this gets worse if water is present (for instance from leaking roofs).
The Public Accounts Committee published its report on NHS mental health services today. Currently one-in-six adults have a mental health problem. The Government has pledged parity of esteem, which means mental health is given equal priority to physical health with equal access to services. There is some progress in recruiting more mental health professionals but this has been outstripped by the huge increase in demand for mental health support. Too many people are still waiting too long for the treatment they need.
The Public Accounts Committee looked at the Asylum Transformation programme, which is the Home Office's plan to deal with the 173,000-case backlog in asylum claims. We also took evidence on the accommodation provided for asylum seekers. At the same time, the House of Commons was voting on the Illegal Migration Bill.
I met with the CEO of Peabody this week and pressed him on repairs, cladding, and support for leaseholders. I’m also organising a walkabout Peabody estates with residents and representatives from Peabody so watch this space. I regularly meet local housing associations to discuss issues raised with me by constituents – please get in touch if ever you need my help.
Co-op fortnight began this week, so I was really pleased to lead a debate on how local government can promote co-ops and alternate businesses. Co-operatives are businesses that are owned and controlled by its members and which, if they make any profit, invest this back into their members and the community they serve. There are really good examples of these businesses in Hackney and our Labour and Co-op Mayor, Phil Glanville, is really pushing co-ops to be part of the economic solution to issues in Hackney.
I questioned the Schools Minister on the removal of asbestos from schools (see here). It is vital that we remove this poison from our schools. The Minister hinted that asbestos is now taken into account when schools bid for capital funding. I’ve followed up on my question with a letter and pressed him to clarify.
I challenged the Government about why it is dragging its feet on leasehold reform. Leasehold is a feudal system that sees some residents face punitive charges they have little to no control over. I've been meeting with residents who desperately want to see their properties become commonhold. I'll keep pressing the Government to move on with this. We need leasehold reform now.
The leasehold system is an outdated form of tenure that affects many in Hackney. The Government keeps flip flopping on its promises about this so Labour called a debate on leasehold reform and urged the Government to act. Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, Communities & Local Government, Lisa Nandy, pressed the Government to keep its promises to abolish leasehold for new flats and begin the process to phase out existing leasehold and make commonhold the default option.
I spoke in a debate on No Recourse to Public Funds. This is a condition on some visas, whereby people are allowed to live and work in the UK but have no access to taxpayer-funded benefits. This may seem reasonable, but in places like Hackney, where rents are so high, it means no access to housing benefit for hardworking taxpayers. This is a real concern for many in Hackney and puts them in some really difficult situations.