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?