Wednesday, 16 July 2014

New housing and planning minister

Brandon Lewis, Conservative MP for Great Yarmouth has been appointed Housing and Planning Minister following the Government's ministerial reshuffle.

Lewis has been promoted from the role of Under Secretary of State in DCLG, in which he had responsibility for local government.

Before joining the Government, Lewis was an active member of a number of All Party Parliamentary Groups, including those for enterprise zones and local growth as well as local government. He was co-chair of a group on coastal erosion and continues to work with colleagues who represent other coastal towns to highlight common issues in their constituencies.

In replacing former Planning Minister Nick Boles and former Housing Minister Kris Hopkins, Prime Minister David Cameron has restored the housing and planning briefs to full minister of state level. The last holder of both portfolios was Labour MP Margaret Beckett in 2009.

Nick Boles has been promoted to Minister of State jointly for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education

According to Inside Housing, former housing minister Kris Hopkins will now cover local government at DCLG.

Report reveals impact of the 'bedroom tax' on social tenants

An interim report published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) looks at the impact of the 'bedroom tax' on tenants.

Titled, 'Evaluation of Removal of the Spare Room Subsidy: Interim report', the report is informed by a survey of 750 social landlords across Britain. Looking at arrears it says:

'Total arrears (for all reasons) held by social landlords increased by 16 per cent between April and October, although it must be emphasised that the cause of this is uncertain and we cannot directly attribute this increase to the Removal of the Spare Room Subsidy (RSRS)'. It goes on to say:

'Landlords state that they will eventually evict RSRS-affected non-payers, though at the time of the research most were currently only in the early stages of this process. Many landlords expressed concern that collecting rent from people who can’t afford to pay whilst in their current circumstances is damaging relations between landlords and tenants.'

DWP makes the point that, 'The overall size of the social housing sector in Britain is around 4.71 million homes. This means that 11.6 per cent of all tenancies were affected by the RSRS in May 2013, falling to 11.1 per cent by August 2013.'

One of the report's objectives was to monitor 'the extent of increased mobility within the social housing sector'. It finds that:
'If downsizing in response to the RSRS continues at the current rate for the next two years, over 20 per cent of affected households would have downsized within social housing.'
Responding to the report, David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said:
"Time and time again it has been shown that the bedroom tax is pushing people into rent arrears and people have been unable to downsize because of a lack of smaller properties.
"Now the figures from the DWP prove it is not working, surely now it is time for the government to admit they got it wrong and repeal this ill-thought policy."
However, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith disagrees with this analysis. He said:
"The scaremongering by those opposed to our welfare reforms - in particular our housing benefit reforms - has been proven to be without substance, and we are already seeing the effects of people moving into work."
The final report will be published in 2015, but there is a great deal in here of interest to social landlords, and perhaps our sector will be relieved to learn that so far, 'there [have] been very few evictions solely due to the RSRS.'

The BBC has written an article about the interim report, and you can find it here.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Minister releases £100m Right to Transfer fund

Housing Minister, Kris Hopkins, has released £100 million which tenant groups - wishing to exercise the Right to Transfer -  can bid for.

Council tenants have had a right to request that the management of their homes be transferred to a housing association since November 2013. The funding announced by the Minister will become available from next year.

The £100 million will also be available for councils wishing to transfer their housing stock. Kris Hopkins said:

"Our pledge is that, where tenants agree, we will write off historic housing debt to enable good value deals to take place, with £100 million available next year to do just that.

"But I want to see bids from councils and tenants’ groups alike, which place at their heart the priority of improving the economic as well as physical state of housing estates, so they can benefit residents for generations to come."

Details of how local authorities and tenant groups can apply to transfer to a different landlord can be found in the Housing Transfer Manual, which covers the period up to 31 March 2016.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Government plans to boost local economies

The Coalition has announced £6 billion of funding to fire up local economies and build new homes. Prime Minister, David Cameron, said:

"Growth Deals are a crucial part of our long-term plan to secure Britain's future. For too long our economy has been too London-focused and too centralised. Growth Deals will help change all that. They are about firing up our great cities, towns and counties so they can become powerhouses."

The idea of Growth Deals followed a report by Lord Heseltine in 2012 (updated in 2013) which called for greater devolution of power from London to the English regions. The report - 'No stone unturned: in pursuit of growth' - strongly supported the idea of Localism and suggested:
  • reversing a century of centralisation
  • enhancing the standing of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to bring together partners across the private and public sectors to drive local growth
  • empowering LEPs to lead local economic development through a major devolution of funding.
In July 2013 the government published technical guidance for LEPs, explaining how to negotiate Growth Deals.

The government's latest press release heralds Growth Deals as, 'a revolution in the way our economy is run. For the first time ever, housing, infrastructure and other funding is being brought together in a single pot, and put directly into the hands of local authorities and businesses to spend the way they know best.'

Further, 'Projects beginning in 2015 to 2016 are expected to be matched by local investments worth around twice the contribution from central government. Across the country they are expected to lead to work on more than 150 roads, 150 housing developments and 20 [transport] stations.'

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Labour plans massive devolution to regions, but gets a key statistic wrong

Labour Peer, Lord Adonis
Andrew Adonis
Speaking in Leeds Labour leader, Ed Miliband, called for control of business rates to be handed over to local councils - a move which would allow them to pump revenue into local schemes without the need for central government to 'pull levers in Whitehall.' 

However, the impact of his announcement was undermined when the Conservative party pointed out that a key statistic used in press briefings before the speech were out of date.

Describing Leeds as a "powerhouse economy", Mr Miliband urged local authorities to emulate the system used in Greater Manchester, where councils combine to form a 'super-council'. He went on to say:

"We can only do [this] by working with, harnessing the energy, the ideas and the dynamism of great businesses, cities, county regions."

His speech heralds the publication of a report by Labour peer Lord Adonis, known as the Adonis Growth Review. This forms a key plank of Labour's policy review and proposes the creation of additional Combined Authorities, mimicking the 'Manchester Model'. In terms of devolution the Review calls for:
  • Over £30 billion, identified by the Adonis Review, to be devolved to Combined Authorities, existing local authorities and LEPs over the lifetime of a single Parliament. This would include funding for housing, transport, business support, employment and adult skills.
  • More Combined Authorities to address on-going issues of poor skills, infrastructure and economic development.
  • Revenue from Business Rates to be given to Combined Authorities, to invest in local schemes. From this, any additional income generated by growth would be invested locally.
  • Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to be given a say in developing growth strategies and priorities, with the help of cash to invest in economic development.
Lord Adonis said his aim was to promote "a smarter, not a more expensive, state", and his proposals have received a cautious welcome from business leaders. Andrew Marshall, policy director at the British Chambers of Commerce, welcomed the idea of devolved power and funding, but said:
"Decisions on local growth are best taken when businesses and councils decide what arrangements work best for their areas, and deliver these accordingly.

"In a world where more funding and tax revenues are devolved, however, businesses need the strongest possible say over both local economic plans and how money is spent."
The opposition leader's speech omitted a statistic that had been in the heavily reported draft released to journalists which had claimed that four in five new private sector jobs have been created in London. The Conservative Party was quick to point out that Labour's figures were out of date - the latest official statistics show that three quarters of new private sector jobs have come from outside London since 2010. This faux pas gave the prime minister the opportunity to observe in a tweet: