Originally published on August 20 on my blog for Inside Housing.
A stamp duty plan that apparently never was offers a tantalising preview of a Budget and spending review that will take place in neverland.
Saturday’s Times reported that sellers rather than buyers would pay stamp duty under plans for a tax shake-up by chancellor Sajid Javid.
The plan seemed either fraught with problems (sales would dry up as buyers waited for the change to take effect) or pretty meaningless (sellers would simply add the extra cost to their asking price).
And the story seemed built on flimsy foundations and journalistic hype – in the interview itself Javid was asked if he was considering the change and did not deny it but that escalated into a definite change in the headline – but presumably there was off-the-record corroboration too.
By Sunday the man himself was taking to Twitter to deny that he was planning anything of the sort:
Clearly this government is not quite the messaging machine with iron discipline that we’ve been led to believe and is just as prone to getting its wires crossed as any of its predecessors.
But what does this episode tell us about what’s to come for housing in the Budget – there is no confirmation yet whether that will be before or after the ‘do or die’ Brexit date on October 31 and there could even be one before and one after – and the spending review to follow next year?
Originally published on May 9 on my blog for Inside Housing.
Since May 1999, when the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly met for the first time, devolution has evolved at a different pace in each country and the Barnett formula has given Holyrood more resources than Cardiff Bay.
Politically, the Scottish Parliament was run by Labour with Lib Dem support for its first eight years before the SNP won power in 2007 and then an overall majority in 2011 and the No vote in the independence referendum. The Welsh Assembly has been run by Labour for the last 20 years, though it has needed the support of either the Lib Dems or Plaid Cymru along the way.
However, it was the election of a Conservative-led coalition government at Westminster in 2010 that led to a new phase for the devolved administrations.
For a while, all they had to do to be progressive on housing was nothing – refusing to follow the English swing away from social rent and towards the market created a clear divide.
Both have still had to cope with the impacts of austerity and benefit cuts largely imposed from London, although Scotland has used its extra resources to mitigate the bedroom tax and has been able to make some tweaks to universal credit.
In the areas that they can control, the devolved administrations have tended to devise policy in partnership with the sector, as exemplified by the ambitious target for affordable and social homes in Scotland and the independent review of affordable housing supply published in Wales last week.
But it is in legislation that a really distinctive approach to housing has emerged and it is one that I’d argue has created a new dynamic in housing policy across the wider UK too. Read the rest of this entry »
Originally posted on January 29 as a blog for Inside Housing.
In the brief lull between Brexit chaos, the politics of housing just about continues as normal at Westminster.
The first Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) questions of the year was dominated by two all-too-familiar issues (homelessness and fire safety) while the HCLG committee inquiry into reform of the building regulations heard from the main expert and the minister.
First up in the main chamber was what the government is doing to reduce death rates among homeless people, with housing secretary James Brokenshire saying that every death is ‘one too many’.
Given the 597 deaths recorded in 2017, an increase of 24% in five years, his script about £100m for the rough sleeping strategy and £1.2bn for homelessness prevention, let alone £5m for colder weather, did not exactly sound convincing.Read the rest of this entry »
As we near the end of 2016 history is everywhere. Everyone seems agreed that it was the year that marked the end of something – but of what exactly?
Does Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton mark the end of neoliberalism? Does the fact that it happened 27 years to the day from the fall of the Berlin Wall mark the end of the post-Cold War era or the start of a new counter-revolution? Does the vote for Brexit mean a return to the ‘golden age of free trade’ or the protectionist, fear-ridden politics of the 1930s?
Does the West’s failure in Syria and the rebirth of Russian power in the Middle East mark the end of American hegemony? Does all of it mean that the Age of the Internet is experiencing the same upheavals as the Age of Discovery?
Both Trump and Brexit appealed to the past for their core support. Nostalgia was weaponised through slogans like ‘take back control’ as they promised to Make America (or Britain) Great Again. The same arguments were made in reverse in the first European referendum – the sense of national decline, of losing an empire without finding a role was a big reason why people voted yes to Europe then – but the Brexiteers harked back to a supposed golden age before 1975.
Trump appealed to the common man and promptly appointed the richest Cabinet since the Gilded Age. One young Republican with no sense of history or irony celebrated the great news that the party was set to control the presidency, both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court for the first time since 1929.
Originally published on December 23 on my blog for Inside Housing
It was a year that fell neatly into two halves: before and after everything was turned upside down. The vote for Brexit on 23 June transformed politics, and the complete change of government and ministers has shifted priorities that had seemed set in stone until 2020.
But as some things change, others remain very much the same. Here’s the first of my two-part look back on the things I was blogging about in 2016.
1. Ambitions for new homes
The year began with what David Cameron hailed as a “radical new policy shift for housing”. The prime minister said that “for the first time in more than three decades” the government would directly commission homes itself on public land, giving priority to small builders. It was a welcome move but it was hard not to think of previous housing strategies that turned out not to be as “radical and unashamedly ambitious” as he claimed.
Cameron’s commitment to a million new homes by 2020 – or 200,000 a year for five years – seemed to be exactly that when the government’s own housebuilding figures showed completions running at around 140,000 a year. However, in May I questioned whether the target was really as ambitious as it seemed. It was already becoming clear that ministers were using higher figures for the net additional supply of homes as their yardstick. The total for 2015/16, the first of the five years, was just 10,000 short of the 200,000 a year benchmark.
An influential House of Lords committee gave short shrift to a claim by Brandon Lewis that the housing plans were “very ambitious”. It called instead for 300,000 new homes a year, backed by a series of radical changes to policy on investment, planning and tax.
2016 ends with Lewis in a different job, Cameron out of a job and the promise of yet another housing plan. The White Paper will no doubt be equally as ‘ambitious’ when it is finally published but the signs are that this one will have fewer adjectives and more substance.
Originally published on September 23 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
If ‘Brexit means Brexit’ should it also mean a new programme of investment in social housing?
After a referendum that saw 63% of social tenants vote to leave the European Union, the attractions should be obvious. For ‘left behind’ voters it could mean both homes and jobs. For the government, now apparently edging away from an obsession with home ownership, it could offer a big pay-off from Philip Hammond’s ‘fiscal re-set’. For the purposes of this blog I’ll ignore all the other arguments in favour.
But it could also play into the wider politics of Brexit. Theresa May’s soundbite has yet to be translated into anything substantial but seems to be heading towards a ‘Hard Brexit’ outside the single market on the grounds that the referendum was a vote for controls on immigration.
That has huge implications for the housebuilding sector and the wider construction industry. Berkeley Homes boss Rob Perrins even claimed last weekend that a block on EU immigration could cut new homes by half. That is an exaggeration that could say more about his own workforce in London than the industry as a whole but this is still a huge issue. An alliance of construction organisations warned Brexit secretary David Davis earlier this month of a skills crisis if he does not make it a priority in the negotiations to come.