The devolution dynamic in housing policy

Originally published on May 9 on my blog for Inside Housing.

Devolution to Scotland and Wales is 20 years old this week and amid the celebrations it’s worth taking a moment to consider its significance for 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 »

Advertisements

Home nations

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.’

Read the rest of this entry »


Home nations

How do the different nations of the UK compare when it comes to housebuilding and the wider housing market?

An official report out this week reveals a fascinating snapshot of housing across the union that survived last week’s referendum. The housing stock, tenure, housebuilding, house prices and rents are all broken down in a report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that is much more comprehensive than its title (Trends in the UK housing market, 2014) implies.

Most of the trends will be familiar to regular readers of Inside Housing but what really struck me is the comparison between the different regions of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


The West London question

The West Lothian question is at the centre of the politics of the UK in the wake of David Cameron’s response to the No vote in the Scottish referendum.

The prime minister surprised his opponents by linking a demand for ‘English votes for English laws’ to the fulfilment of the three-party ‘vow’ to devolve more power to the Scots if they rejected independence.

Under pressure from English Conservatives and UKIP, Cameron said:

‘I have long believed that a crucial part missing from this national discussion is England. We have heard the voice of Scotland – and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard. The question of English votes for English laws – the so-called West Lothian question – requires a decisive answer.’

‘So, just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish Parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues and all this must take place in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland.’

It is of course complete coincidence that this would benefit the Conservatives (one current MP in Scotland and eight in Wales) at the expense of Labour (40 in Scotland and 26 in Wales). Taken literally, it also threatens the timetable for ‘the vow’ and Alex Salmond is already claiming that No voters were tricked. Belatedly even Downing Street seems to have realised that this looked like Cameron, rather than Scottish unionists, was trying to get ‘the best of both worlds’. Two and a half days after the original statement it has issued a clarification that that new powers for Scotland are not linked to English votes for English laws

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Bedroom cracks

Northern Ireland could be set to scrap the bedroom tax as fears grow about the impact on tenants when it is imposed elsewhere from Monday.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has still not approved the Stormont Welfare Reform Bill and is not due to discuss it again until April 16.

However, housing organisations believe the Northern Ireland government is now increasingly likely to decide not to impose the size criteria despite the fact that it will have to meet the £17 million cost from elsewhere in its budget.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing