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Whoever wins the Westminster election on May 7, more devolution looks inevitable. What will it mean for housing?

The impact is obvious in Wales, where major legislation on homelessness came into force this week, and Scotland and Northern Ireland. In England, momentum is building.

I spent most of this week at TAI 2015, the CIH Cymru conference in Cardiff. The final day saw a debate on the proposition ‘If you could only vote once in the next 18 months which election would you vote in: the General Election 2015 or the Welsh Government election 2016?’ On my count, the Westminster election won – but not by much.

And the closing speech by communities and tackling poverty minister Lesley Griffiths made clear just how much Wales is going its own way. ‘We believe in social housing,’ she told the conference, ‘and I firmly believe right to buy and right to acquire should end.’

That was a reference to the consultation that has just finished on ending the right to buy in Wales (councils can already apply to have it suspended). Scotland is already ending it. I don’t need to remind you of what’s happening – and could happen – under the Conservatives in England but in today’s Inside Housing Q&A Ed Miliband promises a review to ensure one for one replacement.

Two assembly members – Mike Hedges (Labour) and Janet Finch-Saunders (Conservative) – and two candidates in the general election – Pippa Bartolotti (Green) and Martin Pollard (Plaid Cymru) – featured in the Welsh Housing Quarterly debate at TAI. Peter Black of the Liberal Democrats was otherwise engaged in committee scrutiny of the next major piece of Welsh housing legislation: the Renting Homes Bill.  The debate ranged far and wide over issues that are reserved to Westminster (the bedroom tax, Help to Buy) and others devolved to Cardiff Bay (private rents, self-financing, the right to buy).

Elsewhere at the conference, there were calls for Wales to get parity with Scotland on housing benefit, with the ability to get rid of the bedroom tax and keep direct payment. Northern Ireland of course still has no bedroom tax because of political deadlock at Stormont. If the SNP or Plaid or the DUP end up with influence in the new Westminster parliament, more powers over welfare will almost certainly be on the agenda. In some scenarios, will universal credit still be so universal?

For the CIH all of this poses a challenge but also an opportunity. A session on policy in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland made it clear they have much to learn from each other.

I interviewed new CIH chief executive Terrie Alafat on the conference stage. She has been at the heart of policy in England since 2003 but can’t yet comment on issues linked to her previous job as director of housing at the DCLG. However, one of the interesting things that came across was her desire to see more cross-fertilisation of ideas and initiatives across all four UK nations. You can hear more about her and her views on the future of the CIH and the housing profession here.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will continue to go their own way on housing thanks to their legislative powers, even though important policy levers remain at Westminster. One big immediate question is how far the devolution of social security will go and the opportunities (and dangers) that will bring.

By contrast, England is still taking small steps even though most of the country has more in common with Wales and Scotland than the city where its housing policy is made. London already controls funding for new homes and Manchester is set to get parity and more under a new mayor. The Conservatives see housing as part of George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse while Labour’s manifesto hints at the first steps to devolve control of housing benefit too. Your guess is as good as mine what will happen next week but more devolution everywhere seems a certainty over the next five years.

Originally posted on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


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