Wednesday, 21 December 2016

End the uncertainty now

Over the years, one of the many issues that constituents have raised with me has been their frustration about the justice system’s seeming inability to bring to account those foreign criminals who hide in this country and British criminals who have fled overseas to avoid justice.

When you look back over parliamentary debates about this issue, you find that the loudest voices (across the political spectrum) have regularly been from those who point to unfairness compared to, or a lack of consistency with, UK law which, by facilitating extradition, would result in some injustice to the individual. However, the failure to act has led to many injustices with criminals escaping scot-free.
Measures to try to harmonise extradition procedures across Europe started in the mid-1990s. The 2001 September 11th attacks provided some impetus for change. The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) was finally implemented in 2004, with more states joining the arrangements since then.

The EAW is now seen as absolutely vital for ensuring fast and effective cross-border crime and justice measures. Since 2004, the EAW has meant that more than 7,000 people have been extradited from the UK to face trial or serve a sentence abroad; it has also resulted in more than 1,000 people being returned to the UK to face justice.

An excellent example of the success of the EAW was in apprehending and bringing to justice Sheffield criminal Craig Allen, who was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for supplying Class A drugs in the UK – bringing death and destruction to many local communities – but orchestrating the criminality from Thailand and Holland. Allen was the first fugitive to be captured abroad after the launch of the National Crime Agency.

Without EAW it could take years to extradite dangerous criminals to and from Europe. However, the Government have given no commitment on their plans for crime and justice measures post Brexit.  

It’s nonsense to suggest that a continuing commitment to the EAW or membership of Europol should be part of the Brexit negotiations.

My constituents want criminals to be brought to justice. It’s time to end the uncertainty now.

No room at the inn

Many parents and grand-parents will have gone to their local school, church or community hall during the last week to see their children take part in Nativity performances.

The Christmas story evokes thoughts about the need for children to have a safe home, a secure roof over their head and to be given the opportunity to reach their maximum potential.

Anyone seriously concerned about these issues can only be dismayed by the direction of travel in the UK today.
Last week, without publicity, the government published the latest homelessness statistics.

These reveal that the number of children who are homeless and living in temporary accommodation has reached 124,000, compared to 109,000 at the same time last year.

The number of households that have become homeless after an eviction over the last year is up 12% compared to a year ago at 18,820. In addition, the total number of households in temporary accommodation has risen to 74,630, up 9% on a year earlier.

The vast majority of homeless is not a result of fecklessness. What we have seen over the past decade is a massive increase in the private-rented sector, fuelled by buy-to-let, with shorthold tenancies and persistent rent increases. Working families, who have just managed to hold on financially, have found themselves priced out of their homes and of the rental market at the end of their tenancies
21,400 homeless households – a 15% rise in the last year – have been sent on forced marches to a different area, away from their jobs, the children’s schools and their families and friends, which is having a devastating effect on family life.

The government’s housing plans are in disarray. The government’s new-build housing promises were being torn up within weeks of them being made. The long-promised housing white paper has been pushed back again into 2017.

We started this century with a decade of falling homelessness and a massive reduction in rough-sleeping. Since 2010, we have seen year-on-year increases. Anyone who says ‘voting doesn’t change anything’ is clearly living in a fact-free world.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Curiosity being quashed

Fifteen years ago, the then Labour government enabled free entry to Britain’s national museums. The policy came into practice on December 1st, 2001.

Visitor numbers at the museums that once charged have rocketed by over 200% from just 7 million in 2001 to nearly 22 million in 2016. Some of the museums – like the Royal Armouries in London, Leeds and Hampshire have seen visitor numbers rise by over 700%, and Liverpool’s National Museums have seen a rise of over 300%.

Not only did the number of visits to national museums increase, but there was also an increase in the number of visitors to many local museums, which received improved grant assistance to improve the quality of their presentations and to improve the educational experience for millions of school-children.

However, since 2010, the whole government approach to our arts, libraries and museums has gone in to reverse. The Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government, and then Conservative governments under David Cameron and Theresa May, have significantly cut financial support, requiring councils to cut arts and cultural expenditure by £165 million, including nearly £17 million in Yorkshire and Humberside. The government has now promised further cuts each year through to, at least, 2020.

Now, we are beginning to learn of the scale of EU resources which are used to support cultural services and are now at risk. The UK’s Arts and cultural bodies receive millions of pounds funding from the EU every year – including €17 million from the Creative Europe Programme in 2015 alone.

The Government announced in August that it would underwrite money awarded by EU competitive funds before Brexit through to 2020. The Creative Europe Programme is a competitive fund and, on the face of it, comes with the scope of that announcement; however, there was no mention of arts and culture in the statement and the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, has been remarkably quiet about the commitment. Even if this resource was protected in the short-term, there is no commitment from 2020.

The free museums policy was bold and has delivered great achievements. It has been hugely successful. But the prospects for our museums and the cultural health of local communities are not good as the government imposes bigger and bigger cuts.

Monday, 5 December 2016

OFCOM asleep on the job

In October 2012, I called on the Competition Commission and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to launch an investigation into the telecoms’ suppliers and, particularly, into landline charges. 1

SKY had just announced that it would increase phone line rental charges by 18%. BT had already announced inflation-busting rises. Virgin and TalkTalk had already implemented way-above-inflation increases in line rental charges, but BT and Sky are the dominant domestic telecoms suppliers.  These new charges were almost double those of the lowest-cost provider. There was no justification for any price rise at all.

I strongly made the point that increasing the unavoidable line rental charges meant that those who made the fewest calls – typically pensioners on the lowest incomes – were getting the highest percentage increases in their bills.

Further, I was sharply critical of the suppliers’ claims that there was a ‘highly competitive market’, asking how it was that BT and Sky managed to arrive at the same charges for daytime calls and connection fees. I said that customers were being taken for a ride.
But, what was the response of the Conservative Minister, Ed Vaizey, and OFCOM then? They said that they believed the retail market was competitive and

“… for Ofcom to open up an investigation in this area, it would need evidence of an abuse of a dominant position or evidence of collusion or anti-competitive agreements.”

They refused to budge from this position, despite the evidence staring them in the face.

Then, last week, Ofcom announced a review 2 into “unnecessarily high charges paid by the estimated two million households who pay for a standalone landline service…. Ofcom is concerned that (these) people are not being served well by the market.”

The regulator said that all the major landline providers had raised charges significantly since 2010, by between 28 per cent and 41 per cent in real terms. This was despite benefiting from a 25 per cent fall in the underlying wholesale cost.

Customers have been taken for a ride for the last 6 years whilst OFCOM and the government have been asleep on the job.

1 LINE UP – we’re being taken for a ride, 16th October 2012,

Friday, 2 December 2016

Autumn Statement – austerity revisited

Sober reflection on the Autumn Statement confirms that the last six years of the Conservative’s (with Liberal Democrat support) so-called ‘long-term economic plan’, with austerity at the heart, have simply been disastrous for the short-, medium- and long-term health of UK plc.

George Osborne’s unique triumph as Chancellor of the Exchequer was to have missed each and every one of the economic and fiscal targets. These weren’t targets imposed by outsiders. These were the targets he had set himself.

The Autumn Statement ditched every one of the key forecasts that George Osborne had asserted in March this year:
  • Economic growth was revised downwards for both next year and 2018
  • Wage growth has been revised downwards, not just for this year and next but also for the three years to 2020
  • The National Living Wage is now going to be lower for the next 4 years, with an estimated 2.7 million workers seeing a direct total cut in their incomes of up to £1,324 by 2020
  • Business investment has been revised downwards for each year to 2020, and
  • Productivity has been revised downwards for next year and then in each year to 2020.
If all that weren’t sufficient bad news, the Conservative Party 2015 Manifesto pledged to double UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020. But the Office of Budget Responsibility has now confirmed that the Government is set to miss this target by £329 billion.
It isn’t surprising, therefore, that the UK deficit is expected to rise by £122bn by 2020/21, of which some £59bn is being directly attributed to Brexit.

Further, there was no additional money for
  • the NHS, experiencing its first real-terms cut since it was founded. It is no surprise that waiting-times and waiting-lists for out-patient and in-patient services are rising each and every day;
  • adult social care, which is approaching a crisis and exacerbating NHS problems as discharges from hospital are being held up because of a lack of community care support;
  • education, suffering its first real-terms cut since the 1970s. Little wonder that, in most schools, teaching and teaching assistant numbers are falling. It is just disgraceful that £60m pa is being diverted to the grammar school’s vanity project, which will do nothing for raising achievement or for social mobility.
It is not hard to understand why so many people are angry, concerned and worried about the prospects for themselves, their families and their communities.

To turn our country and our economy around will require a patient long-term investment strategy focused on exploiting our strengths in science, technology, and the creative industries. There is no sense that the current government has either the will or the policies to make this happen.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

We should be very, very worried.

There’s a triple whammy heading straight towards us.

It’s the triple whammy of a lack of social care expenditure, NHS services deteriorating in response, and the re-distribution of social care and NHS resources from the poorest to the wealthiest areas.

These whammies aren’t happening by chance, but because of the choices the Government are making.
Social care funding was slashed by £4.6billion during the last Parliament. Spending on adult social care has dropped further since 2015, despite demand increasing with a rapidly ageing society.

For most councils with adult social care functions, it consumes more than 35% of their total budget; in some. Last year, councils diverted £900 million from other services to maintain adult social and have a projected £500m overspend this year.

The additional revenue from the 2% council tax precept in 2015/16 did not even meet the additional cost of the Living Wage changes .

The number of over-65s receiving social care from local councils has fallen by a quarter – more than 400,000 mainly elderly people - since 2010 .Three-quarters of people who apply for social care are now being turned away.. Over the same period, 1,500 care homes have closed - that’s almost one in ten of the total. 

This is hitting the poorest areas hardest. Since 2010, social care spending has fallen by £65 per person in the most deprived areas  like South Yorkshire, but risen by £28 per person in the wealthiest areas . 

In Sheffield, we are very lucky to have some of the best-performing health and hospital services in the country. They have consistently done well against all performance indicators and consistently achieved that within budget. But, the latest statistics and forecasts should worry us all. For instance, in the first half of 2013, just 6% of people waited more than 4 hours in A&E in Sheffield; this year it is 20%. And we haven’t got to the winter periods yet.

Nationally and locally, there are longer waits to see a GP, hospital beds are full and a £2.45 billion deficit in the NHS – the worst on record.

“Bedblocking” - where people are stranded on hospital wards because there is no social care available for them when they leave - stands at record levels, costing hospitals £820 million a year. In September, we saw the highest number of delayed discharge days since records began. There has also been an 18% increase in A&E admissions of elderly people since 2010.

I have been highlighting the scale of this problem for more than 12 months. Over the last few weeks, every independent commentator, including the government’s own Care Quality Commission, has been shouting about the scale of the problem.
But, in the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor said not a word. It was both extraordinary and disgraceful. 

Monday, 28 November 2016

Housing failure for the many; merry dancing for the few.

Last week, the Office for Budget Responsibility said that the measures announced in the Autumn Statement will actually further slow housebuilding. It said there will be 13,000 fewer affordable homes over the next five years.

Between 1997 and 2010, the government delivered two million more homes, a million more home-owners and the biggest investment in social housing in a generation. By contrast, the Coalition and Conservative governments’ record on housing is six years of failure on all fronts.

Under Cameron and Clegg, we built fewer homes than under any Prime Minister since 1923. The number of homeowning households fell by 200,000 under their stewardship.

The latest figures reveal that just 141,680 homes were built in the year to September 2016, some 20% lower than the 176,640 built nine years ago. Young people have been hardest hit. The number of under-35s who own their own home is down by 21% since 2010, that’s 344,000 homes.

The number of shared ownership and other low-cost home ownership homes built has fallen by 66% since 2010 to just 7,540 homes last year.

The number of social rented homes started in 2009/10 was almost 40,000, but last year, in 2015/16 was less than 1,000 – a fall of 98%, and the lowest level since records began. The overall number of affordable homes to buy and rent being built has fallen to the lowest level in 24 years.

In 2010, the Cameron and Clegg coalition cut investment in affordable homes by 60%. Nine in ten of the genuinely affordable homes built between 2010 and 2015 were under programmes inherited from the former government.
Similarly, private renters have been failed badly in the last six years. The latest figures show that 29% of private rented homes are ‘non-decent’. Private rents on new lettings have reached an average of almost £900 per month– an annual increase of over £2,000 since 2010.

Despite the concerns about housing standards, the government has opposed proposals to ensure all rented homes are ‘fit for human habitation’ when let and throughout the course of the tenancy.

Now the government is preparing to relax the protections on building in the Green Belt. The big housing developers, who are sitting on record levels of housing land already with planning permission for development and declaring record levels of profit, are dancing with glee.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Treasure our assets

The BBC is one of the UK's treasures.

Of course, that doesn’t stop the Murdoch media – for commercial reasons – and the Daily Mail – for ideological reasons – relentlessly publishing negative stories about it. Like any organisation, it doesn’t get everything right, but the British public have said time and time again that they value the BBC and its independence.

The current Royal Charter for the BBC runs out at the end of this year. The new one will run for 11 years. Unsurprisingly, Conservative MPs and government ministers – whose long-standing hostility to the BBC is on the record – saw the negotiations about the Charter as an opportunity to undermine the BBC’s editorial independence, financial independence, and its core mission. Fortunately, the Tories were forced to backtrack on many of their most extreme proposals for the BBC because they were out of step with the overwhelming majority of the public.

However, there are still real concerns that the Government will seek to influence the BBC’s editorial decision making, and that the broadcaster will come under undue political interference as a result.

Last year, there was shoddy deal between the BBC Trust and then-Chancellor George Osborne which saw the cost of funding free TV licences for the over-75s from the Government to the BBC. This is costing the BBC £1.3bn until 2020 and £750m a year from 2020-21. Quite disgracefully, the Government also transferred responsibility for setting policy on free TV licences to the BBC as well. This change means that the BBC could choose to restrict free TV licences in future without the democratic accountability which governments operate under.

Tory Culture Minister John Whittingdale said that it was ‘debatable’ whether the BBC should be making programmes like Strictly Come Dancing. The resultant uproar forced him to backtrack.  Yes, the BBC should be distinctive, but the Charter’s distinctiveness test should apply to the totality of the BBC’s services not individual programmes.

The BBC’s treatment of Bake Off was exceptional and distinctive. But, in underlining its Charter requirement for financial prudence, the BBC (on our behalf) was absolutely right to refuse to be ripped off in the future. We’ll just have to wait and see what Channel 4 does with the format. Will it all end in custard pies?

Monday, 17 October 2016

Breaking new ground

Our parliamentary select committees attract a lot of attention from parliaments and emerging democracies throughout the world.
In the House of Commons, there is a select committee for every government department. Each committee is concerned with examining the relevant department’s performance on spending, policy and administration. Committees are all-party with membership proportional to each party’s representation in parliament.

Each committee decides what it wants to investigate. It invites written evidence, holds oral hearings to question relevant witnesses and publishes reports to which the government is normally meant to respond within 60 days. The real strength is in the way members work together; it is quite rare for reports to be other than unanimous.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to be re-elected as the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee. I am pleased to be able to report that we are breaking new constitutional ground.

We conducted an inquiry into homelessness. We discovered enormous pressures on most councils which was resulting in some placing individuals and families a long way from where they worked, other members of their families lived and where the children went to school. But we also found some quite unacceptable services in some local authorities, where people who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless often face a hostile process.

We recommended the introduction of a mandatory code of good practice for councils. We also wanted an emphasis on homelessness prevention, provision for domestic violence victims and consideration for those with mental health conditions.

Normally, we would just report, recommend and then harry Ministers to make changes and then follow through any policy or practice changes.

However, on this subject, one of the Committee members drew up a Private Member’s Bill – that is one that isn’t promoted by the government – based on our recommendations. We then examined his draft Bill in pre-legislative scrutiny and proposed a list of amendments.

The outcome is that on 28th October, the House of Commons will be considering this Bill, together with the Committee’s amendments. As the MP who drew up the Bill has drawn second place in the ballot, this amended Bill stands a really good chance of making it into law.

This will be the first time this has ever happened and I’m very proud of the way that everyone has worked together to achieve this.

Friday, 7 October 2016

What have the Tories got against wildlife?

Two weeks ago, the Conservative government announced that it was ‘rolling out’ its badger cull to parts of Cornwall, Herefordshire, Devon, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset.

It isn’t surprising that the government didn’t want to disclose the facts and figures whilst Parliament was sitting. Cowardly Conservative Ministers waited until the Parliamentary recess before announcing its plans and some of the statistics of its futile policy.

After killing more than 1500 badgers in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset over the last three years, it has now revealed that it expects more than 10,000 badgers to be killed in this year’s cull. It cost an average of more than £1200 for each badger that was killed last year.

There is not a shred of scientific evidence to support this serial killing. It was not even supported by the government’s own Chief Scientific Adviser.

Professor Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London said these plans would be “hugely costly for farmers and taxpayers” and with no evidence to support them. She said “… the government has released no evidence that farmer-led culling is helping to control cattle TB. Since this is the fourth year of culling in the pilot areas, and benefits were expected to emerge after four years, I can't understand why the government didn't wait for the results of the pilots before rolling out culling on such a massive scale."

Now, not satisfied with badgers, it has been revealed that the Conservatives are planning a fresh vote on repealing the fox hunting ban.

Theresa May supported fox hunting during her leadership campaign and the new Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, said that she was “absolutely committed” to holding a vote on repealing the ban.

Despite the fact that opinion polls confirm that the vast majority of British people think that banning fox-hunting is a settled issue, it seems the Conservatives are determined to pander to a small group of blood-sports enthusiasts.

Far from being settled, people will need to make their voices heard loudly again to prevent the re-introduction of, as Oscar Wilde said, the unspeakable pursuing the inedible.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Saving the elephants and rhinos

The Great Elephant Census published this month that 30% of Africa’s elephants have been wiped out between 2007 and 2014. That’s 144,000 elephants killed in 7 years. At the current rate of decline of 8% per year, African elephants are on the path to extinction. 

Every year some 30,000 elephants and 1,100 rhinos are brutally killed by poachers. Their tusks and horns are hacked off and trafficked around the world, mainly to countries in Asia where demand is highest but also to Western countries. They are brutally butchered by heavily armed criminal gangs using an arsenal of weapons, including AK-47s, helicopter gunships, snares, and poison. Terrorist groups are also involved in poaching and controlling transport routes for ivory.

Since poaching for the ivory trade is the most pressing threat facing elephants, the closure of all ivory markets, both international and domestic, is critical for their survival.

Currently, a legal ivory trade exists in the UK, and significant amounts of ivory are also sold online. This legal trade serves as a cover for illegal sales of ivory. The law is ineffective and unworkable, and ivory continues to be sold without the required paperwork. The police and the courts don’t have the resources to monitor the trade or prosecute all cases where the law is broken.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The first treaty was eventually signed in 1973.

There is now international momentum to ban ivory trading. It appears to be the only thing that will dramatically change the elephants’ prospects of survival.

The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17) will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa from 24 September. This is the opportunity for international agreement on a clampdown on sales of ivory.

That’s why I have signed a letter to Theresa May to take action to stop the domestic ivory market, but also for the UK to vote to stop this trade globally.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Time to go forward, not backward

When George Osborne announced that he intended to pursue some devolution initiatives – headlined by the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ branding – to support economic regeneration outside London and the south-east, I gave the proposals by broad backing.

I have been a consistent supporter of devolution. The Labour government got its fingers burned in a referendum on regional government. Instead, we saw the government beef up its own regional offices and initiate regional development agencies (RDAs). Then, Conservatives, led by Eric Pickles, in the coalition government were so opposed to regional devolution that, in a fit of pique, they not only scrapped the RDAs but also the government’s own regional infrastructure. Madness.

But, back to today. There are worrying signs that Mrs May’s new government is backtracking over giving areas more control of their own affairs.

Last year, councils in South Yorkshire (involving others in north Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire) agreed a draft devolution deal with George Osborne. There was always a problem about the government’s then insistence on a city-region mayor. More recently, the government changed its mind to remove the mayoral condition for other deals, but there are concerns that any attempt to reopen discussions will be used as an excuse to scrap the deal and that talks with areas yet to reach an agreement will just stall.

Whilst all this behind-the-scenes discussion and shilly-shallying is taking place, I have a big concern that local people have felt completely excluded from the devolution negotiations and deals. My constituents tell me that most people don’t know what on earth has gone on, what has been agreed, what was asked for, what was rejected. There is a real danger that people will feel totally alienated by both the process and the outcomes.

Now we need:
  • the government to commit to more and deeper devolution – including fiscal powers – not less;
  • the government and councils to increase transparency about and engagement with local people about the devolution discussions and arrangements; and
  • detailed discussion about the way in which there can be proper local scrutiny of the policies and decisions of the exercise of the devolved powers.

We need to be going forward, not backward.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Poor service simply won’t do

Since 2010, the government has increasingly outsourced a range of public services. It is difficult to know whether the poor performance delivered by many of these contractors is due to inadequate specification, non-existent monitoring or ministerial indifference. Sometimes it appears to be all three.
Of course, some of those failings have been front page news. For example:
  • G4S completely bungled the provision of security for the London Olympics; even the company described it as a ‘humiliating shambles’ and the army and the police had to be called in at the last moment.
  • G4S – again – and SERCO were caught ripping off the public purse by charging the Ministry of Justice for electronically tagging people who had left the country, people they hadn’t tagged, and, even in some cases, people who were dead.
I have a clear view that companies which fail to perform or cheat should be prevented from being considered for other contracts, but the current government doesn’t agree.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has increasingly used third-party contractors to provide health and disability assessments. In July 2012, DWP signed three regional contracts to provide Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments: two with ATOS and one with Capita Business Services Limited (CAPITA). A PIP is a benefit for people aged between 16 and 64 who have additional costs because of a long-term illness or disability.
In March this year, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found unacceptable local and regional variations in the contractors’ performance. Service was regularly unacceptable. There were particular concerns for claimants with fluctuating and mental health conditions. Too many assessments did not meet the standard required, and the price had increased without any noticeable benefit for claimants or taxpayers.

As well as complaints from individual claimants, there were widespread concerns from third sector organisations about the assessment process. A Channel 4 Dispatches investigation in April revealed serious concerns about the validity of assessment tools, the systems in place, the training of assessors and the lack of ethical practice. Despite pressure, the government simply refused to conduct an urgent investigation into the issues.

If anyone required further proof that something was going badly wrong, the latest Tribunal Statistics show that 63% of PIP decisions were overturned on appeal.

A few weeks ago, the government’s own Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) rated the DWP’s PIP programme in the Amber/Red category. This is defined as “Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to address these problems and/or assess whether resolution is feasible.” In other words, current PIP performance is shambolic and neither the government or its contractors has any plan to put things right.

This simply will not do, which is why ministers will be asked a lot of questions this week and under pressure to put things right for some very vulnerable people.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Your vote counts

Nearly thirty years ago, Ken Livingstone published a book entitled If voting changed anything, they’d abolish it. Of course, he was as wrong then as he is today. To say the least, It’s unfortunate that so many people have used that argument as a justification for ducking their democratic responsibilities ever since.
If nothing else, voting in, and the outcome of the EU referendum – which is heralding probably the biggest single UK policy decision since the end of the second world war – ought to tell us something quite different. Voting has always made a difference, and the collective outcomes of everyone’s votes do make a real difference to all our lives.

I was reminded of this recently, when the House of Commons’ Library published three one-page factsheets on education issues:
  • Schools and class sizes
  • Teachers, and
  • Participation in education
Each of the factsheets contained basic data and illustrative graphs on the specific topic. So, for example, the factsheet on teachers carries information on the numbers of teachers, pupil/teacher rations, and entrants and leavers and vacancies over the last thirty years.

When you look at the data in graphic form, it is really easy to see how voting has changed things.
Under Conservative and Coalition governments, pupil/teacher ratios have consistently risen, new entrants to teaching (reflecting the numbers in teacher training) fall and the number of leavers increases, as do the teacher vacancies. Whereas under Labour governments, increased resources for education saw class sizes falling, and increases in the numbers of teachers being trained saw vacancies falling.

When you look at the data on class sizes, exactly the same patterns repeat. So, for example, the proportion of primary school pupils in large classes peaked at nearly 35% in 1998. It subsequently declined sharply to 18% in 2002 and continued to gradually decline until 2011. Since then it has increased again and that will continue as school funding per pupil is set to fall by between 5.5% and 8% over the course of this parliament.

You can find the reports at Why don’t you look at the facts for yourself? You can then assure yourself – and others – that your vote counts.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Broken Covenant

In 2000, Tony Blair introduced the Military Covenant to refer to the mutual obligations between the nation and its armed forces. It was an informal understanding, rather than a legally enforceable deal, but it was explicit in stating that service personnel, who forgo some of their own rights, should always expect the nation and their commanders to treat them fairly, to value and respect them as individuals, and to sustain and reward them and their families.

The covenant formed the basis for a range of initiatives to enhance the lives of current and former service personnel and their families. So, for example, each of the councils in our area committed themselves to particular types of assistance, like priority access to certain housing services.

However, the progress made in the first decade of this century has been undermined by the attitude and performance of the coalition government and its Conservative successor.

Service personnel are feeling more overstretched and undervalued than ever. Morale is being badly undermined and there are serious risks to recruitment and retention. In this years Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey, just 46% of personnel described themselves as ‘satisfied with service life in general’, down from 60% in 2010.

The single biggest issue of concern to service personnel is the quality of service housing. Just as in the outside world, rents have increased significantly at the same time as repair and maintenance standards have deteriorated.

A recent National Audit Office (NAO) report found that satisfaction levels about the standard of service accommodation are at their lowest for many years. Last year the Army Families Federation recorded more than 4,000 complaints in relation to housing issues – a record high and an increase of 45% on the previous year. Complaints specifically about repairs and maintenance rose by 58% between 2014 and 2015.

This comes after the government imposed a three-year “pause” on a major programme of upgrade work for service families’ accommodation between 2013 and 2016. This decision was strongly criticised by the cross-party Commons Defence Committee, which described the decision as a ‘false economy’ which ‘sent the wrong signal to armed forces personnel about the importance the government attached to the Armed Forces Covenant’.

Management of the MoD’s £626 million contract with CarillionAmey has been heavily criticised by the Public Accounts Committee. Those companies have now admitted that their performance has been completely unacceptable. They had little choice; their performance was disgraceful.

It’s difficult to conclude other than that this government and its predecessor – and despite all the warm ministerial words – have been careless and neglectful of their commitments to our service personnel. It is currently a broken covenant, and that is not acceptable.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Still on the wrong track

The fragmentation of our rail network has left us with an efficiency gap of between 30% and 40% compared to the best performing European networks. This means that money which should be used to address the cost of travel and fund much needed investment is needlessly wasted through the franchising process.

Following the collapse of the National Express East Coast franchise, when it reneged on its obligations in 2009, the last Labour government took the important step of bringing East Coast back into public operation.

The publicly-run East Coast train service proved itself to be one of the most efficient operators, returning over £1bn to the taxpayer in premium payments as well as investing every penny of profit back into the service. In addition: fares were kept fares down in real terms in 2014 when no privately run franchise took the same step; there was record passenger satisfaction and engagement with the workforce was an unparalleled success.

The recent experience of East Coast run by the UK state made it abundantly clear that a good and reliable services can be run by the UK state with profits going to our Treasury as opposed to the state railways of other European countries.

But this government is ideologically obsessed with privatisation. Ministers have mothballed Directly Operated Railways – East Coast’s parent company – and outsourced its functions to consultancy firms, which will undermine the Government’s ability to step in if a franchise does fail.

The Government’s handling of the electrification programme has been nothing short of shambolic. The ‘pausing’ and then ‘unpausing’ of the Transpennine and Midland Main Line electrification paints a picture of disarray.

The cost of electrifying the Great Western Mainline has ballooned to over £2.5 billion since the project was announced. Under woeful Conservative leadership the programme has been beset by delays and rising costs due to appalling mis-management.

Despite this, media reports this last weekend confirmed that Ministers are actively considering the privatisation of Network Rail. In light of the disaster that was Railtrack, more privatisation and more fragmentation are the last things that passengers need.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

The poverty cover-up

If we are to aspire to be a civilised nation, it should be a national mission to ensure every child has a decent start in life. That means we have to tackle child poverty in every sense, not limited to financial poverty, but also including the poverty of opportunity and aspiration.

Huge progress was made by the government in the first decade of the century. Educational achievement rose significantly; there was a dramatic increase in the number of children from the poorest families going on to post-16 and university education More than a million children were lifted out of financial poverty. To progress this agenda further, the Labour government passed the Child Poverty Act 2010 which set out four statutory targets on child poverty.

Unfortunately, the current government is now undoing all that good work through significant cuts in resources to lower-income working families and to people with disabilities. Just as bad, the Conservatives to cover up the real impact of their actions; they are removing the 2010 Act statutory targets through the Welfare (sic) Bill currently going through parliament. Amazingly – or, perhaps, we shouldn’t be amazed! – the Conservatives are proposing that reporting against annual targets should be replaced by reports on “life chances”, but without any information or facts about financial poverty.

In a debate about the issue, the Conservative Employment Minister, Priti Patel, said “Income is a significant part of this issue……… but there are many other causes as well.” Of course, that is absolutely correct. But, if income is so significant, why is the government determined to stop measuring it? There is only one conclusion that can be reached; the government does not want the public to see the effects of its policies on the income of households with children. Isn’t that shameful?

Of course, this attempted cover-up fits very neatly with the government’s overall strategy of cutting the collection of statistics and reliable information in a whole host of policy areas. It prefers un-evidenced assertion to solid facts. And, even facts exist, it is clear that the Conservatives are pursuing attempts to limit the Freedom of Information Act.

The poverty cover-up is well underway.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Strategic political failure

As each week passes, more examples of the government’s failure to develop a coherent industrial strategy become evident.

The challenges for UK steel and engineering are not new. Red flags have been waving for years. You might consider that the government would have thought through the implications of some of its key spending decisions for these core industries. But no.

Let’s take defence as an example. Protecting its citizens has to be a high priority for any government. Maintaining a strong defence industrial base within the UK is also a matter of sovereignty.
But, instead of taking a strategic approach to defence procurement, the Coalition and Conservative governments have moved to “off the shelf” procurement. This means that more of the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) business has been sent overseas, leading to the loss of jobs and crucial expertise from within the UK.

In 2012, the government adopted a new procurement policy which requires decisions on equipment spending to be geared towards maximising “value-for-money”. However, unlike other countries, the government insisted that the MoD, in its own words, “does not consider wider employment, industrial and economic factors in its value-for-money assessments”. Can you think of another European country which does this? Of course not.
As a result, the government
  • scrapped the Harrier fleet and cancelled the replacement of the Nimrod Maritime Patrol Aircraft, which resulted in the loss of 1,300 British jobs. The government later decided to spend £2 billion on new P-8 Poseidon aircraft, to replace the Nimrod fleet, but al purchased from, and manufactured by, Boeing in the USA;
  • cut back on domestic shipbuilding – causing the loss of almost 2,000 jobs – while investing almost £500 million pounds in new ships now being manufactured in South Korea; and
  • allowed 60% of the steel required for the Royal Navy’s new Offshore Patrol Vessels, currently under construction, to be sourced from Sweden;
There are many other examples.

When a government is so ideologically committed to the market – however badly flawed and inadequate – we should not be surprised at the poor outcomes for our industrial production base and for skilled jobs.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Hands Off

The BBC is one of the UK’s most successful and loved institutions. The public have said time and time again that they value the BBC’s independence, and that they want it to carry on making the programmes we all enjoy.

When I travel abroad, I am repeatedly told by people how much they value the BBC World Service, especially for its independent reporting of news and current affairs throughout the world. Many people rely on the BBC to provide the only reliable independent perspective on events in their own country.

In the UK, 56% of the public believe the BBC is the broadcasting outlet most likely to produce balanced and unbiased news reporting. This compares to 14% for ITN News, 13% for Sky News and 13% for Channel 4 News. Of course, that doesn’t stop the relentless, ideologically-driven opposition and criticism in some parts of the media.

In fact, when I think about it, the BBC Licence Fee is probably the best value purchase I make, year in year out. Just think what you get for your £3 a week – all BBC TV and radio stations, a superb website, and international access – compared to other purchases (a pint of beer, two newspapers, a Big Mac).

As a matter of principle, I was totally against the decision that the free licence for over 75s should be met by the BBC which will cost about £725m from 2020. But I am in favour of the proposal that those who claim that they only watch catch-up TV should also pay.

Of course, the BBC isn’t without its faults. What organisation is? That’s why, as well as having independence in its governance and management from the government of the day, the BBC also needs to be subject to effective scrutiny.

However, that’s not what the Conservative government is up to in its review of the BBC Charter. The
Culture Secretary is hostile to the BBC. As well as seeking to undermine the BBC financially, determined that the government should decide what programmes the BBC should and should not produce, it is clear that he wants the BBC to be subject to undue political influence. He must be stopped.

Hands off the people’s BBC, I say.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Hot air, high price

At the end of 2012, I spoke out loudly against the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government’s policies on energy.

Energy prices were soaring; fuel poverty and unpaid bills were rising fast; David Cameron promised to put every customer on the lowest tariff – a promise which unravelled within 24 hours.
David Cameron and the Conservatives were determined to ditch the highly successful Warm Front programme which had secured insulation improvement in more than 2 million homes over the previous 10 years, and despite the fact that nearly 30,000 qualifying applications had been turned down that year.

So Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats agreed this, but only if their own Green Deal scheme – an intended pay-as-you-save scheme over 25 years – was implemented. Nick Clegg said: “We'll ensure customers are never charged more for the home improvements than we expect them to make back in cheaper bills.”

I said at the time that the scheme just didn’t stack up. Typical schemes would cost £10,000 and, with an interest rate of 7.5%, required an annual repayment of £886. Families would have to be cutting two-thirds of their energy consumption to show any saving at all. It was a ludicrous proposition. The numbers simply didn’t add up.

But, despite the scathing criticism from me and others, Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats pressed ahead. They were so proud of their scheme, that Liberal Democrat candidates featured it in their election literature in local elections throughout the UK.
Well, this week, we have learned the cost of their arrogant incompetence. The National Audit Office (NAO) reported on the Liberal Democrats’ Green Deal scheme.

The NAO concluded that the scheme had cost £240 million, no energy had been saved and that energy bills had actually gone up as a result of the scheme. Clearly more a bum deal than a green deal!

And the cost of this Liberal Democrat arrogance and incompetence? Every Green Deal loan plan has cost the taxpayer – that’s you and me – more than £17,000.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Wrong direction

The government – and especially Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne – has been making much of its devolution policies. Locally, outline agreement has been reached on the development of arrangements for the Sheffield City Region involving parts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire as well as South Yorkshire. However, there is still a strong feeling that there is more hot air than substance.

The Chancellor promised to “Rebalance our national economy, ensuring that the economic future of the north is as bright, if not brighter, than other parts of the UK, is the ambition we should set ourselves.

Suspicions about the government’s real commitment to devolution and decentralisation are enhanced when you examine what is happening to the civil service. Under the Labour governments, there had been a determined effort to move civil servants and government agencies out of London to appropriate locations around the UK. There was a clear business case for each departmental move with post-move audits demonstrating the financial savings.

However, this Conservative government has put the whole devolution and decentralisation agenda into reverse. It has already reduced the number of office locations from 800 to 200. In particular, HMRC and BIS have closed local offices and concentrated in London and some regional centres. Ministers have now admitted that they took absolutely no account of the impact on local economies of this policy.

The proportion of civil servants in London has actually risen by c17% under the current government. Even more striking is that the proportion of senior civil servants in London has risen by c65%.
Last month the Government confirmed the axing of the Sheffield office of the Business, Innovation and Skills Department – which has established itself as a centre of policymaking expertise with 300 staff leading on delivering billions in research to universities in particular.

Figures revealed by my Sheffield Heeley MP colleague Louise Haigh show that, at the two Department’s responsible for delivering the Northern Powerhouse agenda (DCLG and BIS), the vast majority of top officials work in London (97.9%, and 93% respectively). Closing the Sheffield BIS Office will take the proportion of policy-making BIS civil servants in London to near 99%.

What makes the whole decision-making stink is that the BIS Ministers and Permanent Secretary responsible have been unable to produce a single report setting out the business case for the decision.

Friday, 25 March 2016

It’s quite outrageous

I recently described the government’s housing policies as having moved from disastrous to catastrophic. It has the wrong strategy, the wrong policies and dreadful outcomes.

The government is busily stuffing millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into the hands of a relatively small number of house-buyers – thus maintaining artificially high land and house values – whilst the proportion of families from this and the next generation who can actually afford to become house-owners shrinks every day. Disparities in wealth between the nation’s children and grand-children are to be determined by who can and who cannot afford to get on the house-ownership ladder.

At the same time, homelessness is increasing daily; more households are living in temporary accommodation; new social housing is coming to a halt; private rents are continuing to rise faster than inflation, and the government is prioritising big taxpayer subsidies to the relatively small number of already well-housed social-rented tenants to persuade them to be the next generation of right-to-buy lottery winners. It is madness.

Meanwhile, the government is now proposing to open the back door to corruption in the planning system by allowing developers to choose their own planners to advise local planning committees. It says this is because the planning system is holding back new housing development. This is nonsense.
Just consider for a moment why housing developers are making record profits and their share prices are going through the roof when development activity is at such a low level. The reality is that they are restricting the supply of new houses to keep prices artificially high.

The latest figures show that nearly half a million homes in England have planning permission but have yet to be built. The length of time it takes for developers to complete a house has jumped from 24 to 32 months. Some developments received planning permission more than 10 years ago, but are not complete.

In 2012/13, the total of unimplemented planning permissions was 381,390. In 2013/14 it was 443,265. In 2014/15 it had leapt even further to 475,647 homes in England which have been given planning permission and are yet to be built. The number is increasing daily.

it is clear that the big developers are building at a rate to maximise their profits rather than addressing the country’s housing needs.

Of course, their shareholders will be delighted.

But, it’s not in the nation’s interest, it is not in the people’s interest.

It is simply ludicrous that the government is subsidising and supporting this with its policies.

It is really quite outrageous.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Cops down, crime up?

Last year, I was one of those who campaigned to get George Osborne to change his mind about the scale of his proposed additional cuts in police budgets. He had intended to announce another 20% cut over the course of this parliament, which would undoubtedly have led to further big cuts in police numbers, on top of the 18,357 police officers (including more than 12,000 on the frontline) who have gone since David Cameron became Prime Minister.

With great fanfare, in the Autumn Statement, George Osborne announced that there would real-terms protection for police budgets over the next 4 years. Of course, when the dust died down, it was clear it wasn’t true. Osborne assumed that in every area there would be a 2% increase in the precept (part of your council tax). But, even then, that would only produce the same cash nationally, meaning a projected real-terms cut of up to 10% by the end of this parliament. Further, the real-terms cuts would be most pronounced in the poorest areas and regions of England.

In South Yorkshire, since 2010, the number of police officers has already fallen from 2953 to 2494 now. By 2020, that is projected to fall further to 2379. Incidentally, I’m very pleased that our excellent South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Alan Billings, has committed to maintaining the number of PCSOs, who local communities often see as being in the frontline on dealing with anti-social behaviour.

But, what might these additional cuts in police numbers mean for our community safety?
First, crime is not falling – for the first time this century. Crime is changing. Whilst burglary and car-crimes continue to fall, internet crime is increasing rapidly. At its crudest, when six million cyber and online crimes are included in the official crime statistics, crime will near double.

Second, demands on the police are increasing, especially because of an aging and increasingly vulnerable population. Other agencies are struggling because of their own cuts, leaving the police as the last resort.

Third, I welcome the significant improvements that have been made in efficiency in back-office functions. However, those continuing improvements will not fill the budget gap.

The time has come to cut crime, not cut cops. But, as George Osborne prepares to tell us that he is missing all the latest financial and fiscal targets he set for himself only last year, I rather suspect that we shall see fewer cops and more crime.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Not adding up

The Conservative Education Minister told the all-party Education Select Committee that there was no problem with teacher recruitment, despite the fact that half of all schools had unfilled positions at the start of this academic year. In the same week we learnt that some pupils are now having to travel to other schools for their maths and English lessons due to teacher vacancies at their own.

Last year, in our area, many schools failed to receive a single suitable application for particular teaching vacancies. It isn’t just state schools, academies or even free schools that are having recruitment problems. Last week, private school heads were bemoaning the shortage.

School spending on supply teachers rose 42 per cent last year. Academies and Free Schools spent nearly £180 million more on supply teachers than the previous year. The head of Ofsted has said teacher shortages are a serious problem; yet Ministers continue to say that everyone concerned about teacher shortages is “making it up” or “scaremongering”. Schools, children and parents know this is nonsense.

Against advice, Ministers changed the way in which teachers are trained. The number of new teachers trained and retained dropped, thus creating the shortage in supply. Rather than address the problem, Ministers artificially changed the statistical process to make comparisons with previous years more difficult to draw.

Almost 50,000 teachers quit last year, the highest figures since records began. This year more teachers quit than actually entered the profession, at a time when pupil numbers are rising. Applications to teach are falling in every region and are down in key subjects such as English, maths and ICT.

Standards are being threatened as schools are forced to turn to unqualified staff, temporary supply teachers, non-specialists, and larger class sizes to cope with the chronic shortages in the profession. Meanwhile, the Government botches teacher recruitment, misses its own targets year on year, and stores up further trouble for our schools.

The reasons for these problems lie at the Secretary of State’s door. It’s time she explained what she is going to do about it?

Friday, 18 March 2016

Fares please

George Osborne has pursued a strategy of cutting public expenditure but forcing increases in fees, charges and taxes to mitigate the service impact.

Early in his reign, he pushed VAT up to 20%. This year, he has told councils to additionally increase council tax by 2% specifically to pay for adult social care and he’s told police commissioners to increase their precept by 2% to partially stem the cuts in police numbers.

With other services, Osborne has cut resources, reduced service provision but forced increases in charges every year. Bus services are a good example of this. Budgets for bus services have been cut in this region by 31%, and bus fares have risen by 27% since David Cameron came to power in 2010, whilst general inflation (RPI) has increased by 19%.

Margaret Thatcher effectively privatised bus services in 1985. Most bus routes run on a commercial basis, with the bus operator setting the fares and timetable. Since 1985, local bus passenger journeys (outside London) have fallen by nearly 40%; which partly explains the significant increase in congestion. Nowadays, one-third of all local passenger journeys are concessionary (elderly, disabled and youth).

Where no operator is willing to run a ‘commercial service’, the transport authority can fund services. Since 2010, more than 2,400 of these routes have been totally or partially lost as budgets have been cut. Local authority supported bus mileage (outside London) fell by 75 million miles between 2010 and 2015. On these routes, bus fares account for about 59% of the income (78% if concessionary income is included) with the rest being subsidy.

As budgets have been cut, young people have been hit badly in some areas. Seven authorities have already removed all fare concessions for young people and a number of other authorities have announced that they will have to remove them in the light of Osborne’s announcement in the December local government settlement that funding will be cut by a further 25% in real terms over the next 5 years.

Locally, in the Sheffield City Region, the first moves in moving to a different model of regulation were not managed well by either the transport authority or the bus companies. Hopefully lessons will have been learned.

Meanwhile, the largest bus operators continue to report significant profit margins: for example, last year, Stagecoach reported a 13.5% operating profit margin on its regional bus routes. This has been achieved by what the Competition Commission called ‘geographic market segregation’ and where ‘head-to-head competition is uncommon’; in other words, the bus companies act as oligopolies which have carved the market up between themselves.

The key challenge locally will be to see whether, through local innovation, the continuing decline in bus usage can be reversed.

Annual Bus Statistics

Public Transport Fares

Monday, 11 January 2016

We need to be on a different track

Since 2010, rail fares have rocketed by 25 per cent – three times faster than wages.

Strangely, George Osborne never explains that he is forcing a 40% rise in the cost of some season tickets so that he can cut taxes for millionaires. Commuters have consistently been told that higher fares would fund investment, but vital projects have been delayed for years and passengers are paying ever more to travel on increasingly overcrowded and unreliable trains.

Out of touch Conservative Ministers talk about ‘fair fares for comfortable commuting’ and insist that most rail fares are ‘quite cheap,’ while commuters pay ever higher prices to travel on unreliable and overcrowded trains.  They’ve clearly never travelled on trains in South Yorkshire.

Commuters are paying ever more to travel, even though passenger satisfaction ratings and service punctuality have deteriorated since 2010. Essential upgrade and maintenance works have been put on hold. We’ve seen the promised electrification of the Midland Mainline pushed back again. What a surprise that David Cameron could keep repeating his promise to deliver…until just after election day, when the promise, like so many others, was quickly ditched.

While regulated fare rises have officially been capped at the rate of inflation, across the country passengers have been hit by ‘stealth fare rises’ instead – including increases in the cost of evening travel in the North of up to 162%. There are serious doubts over the affordability of the Government’s pledge to cap increases to rail fares over the whole Parliament, and Conservative Ministers have refused to say how the policy will be funded. Will this be the next broken promise to passengers?

Under the fragmented structures created by the Conservatives, 3% of the cost of tickets are taken as train companies profit, and our network is up to 40% less efficient than the best performing European railway systems.

There is an alternative plan for rail that would extend public ownership to rail services, put passengers first and address the rising cost of commuter travel. The sooner we move in that direction the better.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Waste of space

Successive UK governments have signed up to agreements with other European countries to increase recycling and to cut waste, especially waste going to landfill.

Under the last agreement, the UK is required to recycle at least 50% of its waste from households by 2020 – a target we’re on course to miss at current rates of progress. Failure to meet those targets can result in sizeable fines.

After 2000, there were years of large annual percentage increases in recycling rates, but they have been plateauing in recent years. Under the coalition government, UK recycling rose by just 2.5% in 2011, 1% in 2012, 0.2% in 2013 and 0.8% in 2014. The 2014 data has only just been published, as the Cameron government has decided to delay the publication of lots of bad news until the 10 days before Christmas in the hope that it will not get much media coverage.

Of course, this abysmal performance was entirely expected as Conservative Secretary of State Eric Pickles wasted £250 million in a completely futile gesture on weekly general bin collections – fewer households had one at the end of the programme than at the beginning – instead of focusing on waste minimisation and waste recycling.

The European Commission (EC) published its latest package on 2nd December. The proposals include increasing the preparing for re-use and recycling target for municipal waste to 60 per cent by weight by 2025, and 65 per cent by weight by 2030. This is estimated to deliver savings of €600 billion (or 8% of annual turnover for businesses in the EU) and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 4%.

In contrast to Wales which is making real progress on this agenda, England does not really have a strategy for meeting the targets by making this transition to a more resource efficient economy. The last government waste policy statement ‘Government Review of Waste Policy in England’ was published in June 2011.

So, the government is making no real progress on waste minimisation or re-cycling rates. It won’t meet the targets it agreed and, therefore, faces big fines. And, it has no coherent strategy for the future.  A waste of space really.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Housing Policies Which Should Make Us All Worried

I was on record as being critical of the new house-building record of the last Labour government, but at least they could point to the huge Decent Homes' programme that ensured 1.4million homes were made fit for the 21st century. Without that significant investment the housing crisis would be even worse than it is.

The five years of failure with the coalition saw rising homelessness, falling home-ownership, escalating rents, deep cuts in investment and the lowest level of house-building since the 1920s. Even in its worst-performing year, Labour built more homes than in the coalition's best year.

Now, with the election of a Tory majority government, we see a fundamental shift in policy. A complete withdrawal of all Government funding for the provision of new social housing and the transfer of all resources to deliver 200,000 so called starter homes during this Parliament.

Not merely is there is to be no government investment in council or housing association homes to rent but the discount for housing association tenants who are to be given the right-to-buy is to be funded by forcing councils to sell the highest valued council homes as they become vacant. Forget the image of some large penthouse flat in Westminster, in most of England this simply means the selling off of the few remaining, good family, semi-detached houses that are still council-owned.
Then there are the starter homes; not new building at all but replacing the rented homes previously built as part of section 106 agreements with developers. In the past 10 years 250,000 new rented homes have been built in this way, funding which the government will now end.

So with no money for new rented homes the message to those tenants in council flats – ordinary working families who don't earn enough to buy – will be just forget the transfer you've been waiting years for. For those waiting for their first council or housing association property, the wait could literally go on for ever.

Then, for the diminishing number of council and housing association tenants, there will over time be pressure to increase rents to bring them in line with 'market rents'. There is a mythology of 'subsidised council rents'. The problem is not that council rents are too low, it is that private rents are too high.
For those fortunate enough to get a new council or housing association property the Government now propose to take away their security. Even if you have been a brilliant tenant who has always paid the rent on time, kept the home and garden in good repair and been the best neighbours anyone could imagine you could be forced out after a maximum of five years.

This is not just an attack on people's homes it actually undermines the ideas of neighbourhoods and communities where people put down roots. It disrupts family life. If you have to move home your children have to move school.

Taken together these measures amount to the end of social rented housing as we have known it. Housing in which many of us grew up, affordable, secure, with family stability and good communities.

So what is the Government's plan to deal with the housing crisis?

A few weeks ago David Cameron proclaimed his intention to deliver one million new homes this parliament. Yet, within weeks, my questions to the Housing Minister confirmed that this wasn't a promise, not even a goal or a target, but 'an ambition' which looks increasingly unrealistic.
In practice the plan means owner-occupation for those who can afford it – perhaps 60% of households – and private renting for almost everyone else.

Who can complain about an aspiration for owner-occupation? Certainly not me. Yet the housing charity Shelter has calculated that the government's so-called 'starter homes' will require an income an income of £50,000 and a deposit of £40,000 outside of London, and an income of £77,000 and a deposit of £98,000 in London.

Each and every day these housing policies mean that more and more young people will never reach the first rung of the ladder. Housing and land prices continue to rise faster than general inflation. Far from getting those prices down the intention will be to subsidise them for some. Meanwhile, the big house-builders sit on 600,000 plots with planning permission.

So, what are the prospects for the new households – who will not be able to climb on to the ownership ladder? For some private renting will be an acceptable and adequate alternative. For others, especially families with children, it will be years of struggling to pay ever rising rents in sub-standard accommodation with no certainty where you will be living in a few months’ time.

My forecast is that by the end of this Parliament there will be a lower percentage of homes that are owner occupied, there will be fewer social rented properties, there will be more insecurity and pressure on family budgets and we won't have built the million homes the Prime Minister promised.

We should all be very worried.

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post on 6th January 2016 -