Bonus culture

So has what started out as ‘a Rolls Royce idea’ ended up ‘a Reliant Robin policy in practice’?

That’s not me describing the New Homes Bonus but Conservative MP Stewart Jackson. Now a member of the public accounts committee (PAC), he was speaking at an evidence session in June ahead of its report published this morning. He was also a shadow communities minister at the time the bonus became a Conservative flagship policy.

With scepticism like that on the Conservative side it’s little wonder that the PAC has more scathing criticism of the handling of the policy. It follows an embarrassing verdict (for the DLCG) delivered by the National Audit Office (NAO) in March.

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Drawing the line

Where does sensible asset management stop and social cleansing begin?

That’s the issue highlighted for me by the sale of ‘Britain’s most expensive council house’ and the protest that followed.

I put that in inverted commas because I’m not sure the building near Borough Market in Southwark was actually being used as a house but what is clear that it was sold at auction for £2.96 million, 30 per cent more than was expected last week.

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Housing crisis? What housing crisis?

The housing minister for England gave his first TV interview yesterday. I think it would be fair to say it did not go too well.

A week ago Kris Hopkins was ‘not available’ to appear on Channel 4 News to debate homelessness and house prices. This week the news peg was a 40 per cent increase in mortgage approvals and a 10 per cent increase in asking prices in London in a single month. He was interviewed as part of a package that asked ‘Is the housing market overheating?’

Interviewer Jon Snow presented him with four ‘key stats’ on completions (up slightly but still down by a third on the pre-crisis peak), house prices (up 5 per cent in a year), foreign home buyers (responsible for half of sales over £1 million in London) and the gap between prices in the north and south (up from £66,000 to £103,000 in the last year).

Here’s how it went with a few comments from me along the way.

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Beyond facts

The routine is familiar by now: researchers question government policy, government rubbishes researchers.

Last week it was the University of York, the bedroom tax and Esther McVey, today it’s the Chartered Institute of Housing, the benefit cap and Mike Penning but the gist was the same.

Where McVey embarrassed herself on the World at One, Penning had definitely got out of bed on the wrong side before he arrived in the Today programmestudio. That was compounded when presenter Justin Webb introduced him as Mark rather than Mike. ‘Let’s start as we mean to carry on, shall we?’ he harrumphed before attacking ‘the BBC and The Guardian’ for being the only media outlets to report the story. Read the rest of this entry »

One direction

The line-up of the band may change but the ministerial song remains the same at the Communities and Local Government department.

Parliamentary questions yesterday brought the first chance to see new boys Kris Hopkins and Stephen Williams perform alongside Nick Boles, Brandon Lewis and the ageing star Eric Pickles. After poor Mark Prisk was told he had to ‘step aside for a younger generation’ only to find that his replacement was just a year younger, I can’t help thinking of them as a boy band (the two female CLG ministers are both in the Lords).

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The bedroom tax: only fair to private tenants?

Of all the arguments made for the bedroom tax, the most slippery is the one about it being ‘only fair to private tenants’. That should change after an all-party report published this week.

It’s the third and probably least used of three arguments made by ministers for what they call the removal of the spare room subsidy but it’s also the one that has received the least scrutiny.

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Balancing act

Government action on private renting looked a distant prospect when it brusquely rejected plans for light-touch regulation as ‘red tape’ in 2010.

So today’s statement by Eric Pickles announcing a package of measures to give private tenants a better deal is evidence that even the Conservatives have woken up to the fact that they are a growing part of the electorate and testament to the efforts of campaigners over the last three and a half years.

Following up an announcement made – significantly – during the Conservative Party conference, the communities secretary says ‘we recognise there is more to do to support a vibrant private rented sector’.

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On the sidelines

I still don’t fully understand the downgrading of the housing portfolio in the reshuffle this week but here’s my attempt to make sense of it.

As Stuart Macdonald points out in Inside Housing this week, the contrast could hardly be starker between new Conservative switch from minister of state Mark Prisk to parliamentary under secretary Kris Hopkins and Labour’s restoration of shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds to ‘attending Cabinet’ status.

Similar points are made by Isabel Hardman and Hannah Fearn in the Telegraph and Guardian and, significantly, by Paul Goodman, the former Conservative MP and editor of the influential Conservative Home website. ‘This isn’t some trivial piece of Whitehall arcana, but a suggestive development with political implications,’ he says.

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Who buys it?

It’s under attack from all sides but the strongest arguments for Help to Buy 2 are the ones that ministers cannot mention.

No matter how much David Cameron, George Osborne and the new junior housing minister go on about aspiration and opportunity, the critics refuse to go away. In just the latest example, the all-party Treasury select committeescorns government assurances to repeat its earlier warning that the controversial scheme will boost house prices and be politically impossible for future administrations to exit.

Here’s my analysis of the stated – and unstated – arguments made by ministers:

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