Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Red box responsibility

After last weekend’s Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, there has been a spate of articles about "Lib Dem ministers want the red box but not the blame". Now some might argue that these allegations are only being made by their political opponents. But this is clearly not the case.

Actually, the most significant attack on Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrat Ministerial colleagues in the Conservative-led government coalition came from Liberal Democrat MPs – including the Party’s President - and party members in the North of England who spoke out about the fundamental unfairness of the government’s policies. In particular, they were angry about the massive scale of the shift in resources from poorer, urban areas in the north to wealthier, rural areas in the south.

I’ve been accused of banging on about this issue for the last three years. So, all I can do is welcome this new support. In fact, after being so quiet and acquiescent to date, the northern Liberal Democrats were positively shouting about the unfairness of it all. They even went so far as to publish a report “Grim Up North” to support their case.

Actually, when I say northern Liberal Democrats, I’m not being entirely accurate. There was unanimity from northern Liberal Democrats, except for those from South Yorkshire and Chesterfield who remained completely silent. Surely this couldn’t be because they’ve chosen sycophantic loyalty to Nick Clegg and his red box over standing up for their local communities?

Council funding is only one example of the unfairness. Of the 50 councils that have faced the smallest cut in their budget, 46 are in the south. More remarkably, every one of the 10 least-cut councils is in Surrey. This is particularly astonishing as there are only 10 councils in Surrey.

And the difference isn’t small. Whereas Sheffield’s government funding is being cut by more than £230 p head between 2010 and 2016, Surrey councils are being cut by less than £2 p head. 

Monday, 10 March 2014

Private rented housing

Making progress on some issues often appears to take a long time, even when there is agreement. I have written previously about the All-Party Select Committee’s lengthy investigation and report on private rented housing and the government’s response to our recommendations.

The private rented housing sector is of increasing importance. According to the latest figures, 18% of households now live in the private rented sector. That growth did not suddenly happen following the banking crisis of 2008; it had been taking place before that over a period of time. Indeed, it has been the only growing housing sector since 2002, when owner-occupation started to fall as a percentage of households.

It is now home to a wider range of households, particularly families with children who want more security. When people with children change their home that often means changing schools, and that creates substantial disruption to family life. We went to Germany, where a far greater proportion of households rent than in the UK, to find that people literally have tenancies for life, and can pass it on so that their family members can succeed to it.

We saw good private rented standards that we ought to seek to emulate here. We made many recommendations for the government to act on. Having initially dismissed our recommendations for mandatory carbon monoxide and smoke alarms in private rented homes and for five-yearly checks of the electrical installations, the Government is now consulting on them.

However, there are two specific recommendations which the government has rejected so far. The first is the flexibility of local authority powers to raise standards and to deal with rogue landlords, and the second is the regulation of letting agents.

And the government has yet to respond positively to our call for simpler regulation, as we currently have a bewildering array of legislation and regulation. Given its claim that it wants to tackle red tape, such refusal is surprising.