Author Archives: Alex Marsh

Opinion: Housing – winding the clock back

Friday 9th November 2012 could well come to be seen as a landmark date in the history of English housing policy. A key change introduced by the Localism Act 2011 came into effect. The Liberal Democrats are part of the Government presiding over the change. Is it a change we can be proud of?

Local authorities can now discharge their statutory homelessness duty by allocating households a tenancy in the private rented sector rather than in social housing. This has been an option for years. But until now to

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The Localism Act – Issues and Questions

Last Wednesday the LGiU and Bristol City Council collaborated to host a day conference on the Localism Act. Yesterday I introduced some of the main themes from the Government’s perspective, as set out by Andrew Stunell. As the conference progressed many issues and questions emerged. Today I identify those that particularly struck me. A broad message is that there remain significant challenges in effectively communicating to local communities the nature and extent of change.

The discussion of neighbourhood planning and neighbourhood forums highlighted quite how much of the Government’s Localism agenda relies on details yet to emerge. The imminent National …

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The Localism Act – over to you

Last Wednesday the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) collaborated with Bristol City Council to run a major one-day conference on the Localism Act, which is now rapidly moving towards implementation. The audience comprised primarily local authority elected members and senior officers. The conference was kicked off by Barbara Janke, the Liberal Democrat Leader of Bristol City Council. The day’s discussions were bookended by wide ranging presentations from Westminster Liberal Democrat politicians: Lord Shipley in the morning and Andrew Stunell, …

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Opinion: Oh, what is the point?

Having followed the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and then watched Danny Alexander interviewed on Newsnight on Tuesday I have to say my initial reaction was “oh, what is the point?”. That was a reaction to both substance and process.

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, as the IFS analysis demonstrates, hits the poorest hardest and those on middle and higher incomes less hard. Most would call that regressive. I’m sure some bright spark can come up with an argument that if you look at the data from a different direction – on the basis of expenditure not income, for example – then it isn’t …

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Opinion: Will fixing the planning system improve the housing supply?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Britain has a housing problem. There are problems of shortage and, consequently, access and affordability.

There are three principal mechanisms for dealing with significant housing shortage and indirectly reducing the affordability problems that go with it: (1) You can reduce the number of households needing to be housed; (2) You can increase the number of properties available; and (3) You can improve the utilization of the existing stock of properties.

You can try to do something on all three fronts. A couple of weeks ago LibDemVoice co-editor Mark Pack identified six …

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Opinion: Criminalising squatting

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offender Bill has returned to the House of Commons this week. The problems with the Government’s proposed Legal Aid reforms have been apparent for a while. Some people will see their access to justice seriously curtailed, while the courts are likely to silt up with inexpert litigants-in-person. The chances of any money being saved – when considered in the round – are limited. In this context it is good to see reports that Liberal Democrat MPs Tom Brake and Mike Crockart are tabling amendments to seek to address some of the most …

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Opinion: Boosting housing supply

The Conservatives’ proposal to resuscitate the Right to Buy through increasing discounts appears to be an attempt to bask in some of Mrs Thatcher’s reflected glory. Unlike the 1980s version, though, Mr Cameron and Mr Shapps are emphasizing that each property sold will be matched with a newly built property at “affordable” rent. This is an attempt to head off criticisms that the Right to Buy reduces the supply of “social” housing. So, it would appear, this initiative could lead to a net increase in the housing stock.

Of course, things are never as they first appear. It is not yet …

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Opinion: Distinctive positions on housing

There is no doubt some soul searching going on at the moment, in part as a consequence of the poor result at the Inverclyde by-election. I’m sure the leadership will seek to dismiss poor election results at this stage in the electoral cycle as to be expected when you’re “in government”. But that can hardly carry much weight, given the Tories aren’t doing anywhere near as badly. It seems to me that rather deeper reflection is needed. Is it clear any more what the Liberal Democrats stand for? Why would someone – beyond the most unwaveringly committed – vote for …

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Opinion: Sense prevails on public services?

The reports this week were that the Government is planning to scale back its proposals for outsourcing public services. A significant policy shift means that the delayed Open Public Services White paper will not feature proposals for “wholesale outsourcing” to the for-profit private sector when it finally emerges in a few weeks time.

Notes drawn up by the CBI following a meeting with Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, leaked to the BBC, suggest that the Government remains committed to “transforming services”. But the White Paper will focus on moving services from the public sector to charities, social enterprises, and employee-owned …

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Opinion: The ethics of the case for public sector reform

David Cameron’s article on public service reform in the Telegraph was the opening shot in what could be a significant battle both within the Coalition and across the House. The case presented raises at least three important ethical issues.

First, the way in which evidence is being used to justify these proposals is deeply suspect. Mr Cameron states that publicly providing bureaucratic and target-driven services might be worth supporting if they delivered quality services: “but the evidence shows otherwise. Whether it’s cancer survival rate, school results or crime, for too long we’ve been slipping against comparable countries”. These are very …

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Opinion: Economic liberalism and public service reform

Are the Liberal Democrats a party of untrammelled ideology – sorry,“principles” – or do ethics and evidence also play a role in thinking? This question struck me forcefully when reading David Cameron’s article on public service reform in the Telegraph. It appears that the imminent Open Public Services White Paper has been formulated with collaboration from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Nick Clegg is fully ‘on side’. We await the details, but if Cameron’s article gives us an accurate sense of what is to come then I think there is – or should be – a significant …

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Opinion: Should we be concerned about the Government’s attempted quangocide?

Quangos – Quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations – occupy a strange place in the British political landscape. They tend to proliferate because governments can’t resist seeing new commissions for this or advisory panels for that as essential, while rarely deciding that existing bodies have outlived their usefulness. Yet, the term “quango” inhabits the same discursive space as “bureaucracy”. There is an engrained association with waste, inefficiency, red tape and pointless interfering. In many people’s minds, and frequently in political rhetoric, “quango = bad” by definition. (For a discussion of a similar equation regarding bureaucracy, see here on my blog.) So, the …

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Opinion: The housing policy jigsaw – the changing picture

I started this discussion of current developments in policy towards housing by noting that it is an area in which the tensions in inherent in balancing “the fundamental values of freedom, equality and community” are absolutely central. Housing policy needs to strike a balance between the individual and the aggregate – neighbourhood, city, regional – outcomes if it is going to deliver economically and socially (and environmentally) successful settlements. In this last post I will reflect briefly on changes in where this balance has been struck over time.

In the post-Second World War period housing policy was directed at improving …

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Opinion: The housing policy jigsaw – a picture begins to emerge?

In yesterday’s post I set out key policy developments affecting housing. So what can we discern about the current government’s approach to housing?

For a start there is a continuing emphasis upon choice. This is particularly clear when discussing how to encourage underoccupying social renters to move. The CLG rhetoric is of increasing choice and making choices easier to realise. They neglect to cross-refer to the DWP proposals to cut the housing benefit of any social renter deemed to be seriously underoccupying. The approach isn’t all “carrot”.

The Local Housing Allowance (LHA) proposals more generally are framed in terms of housing …

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Opinion: The housing policy jigsaw – identifying the pieces

Yesterday, I suggested that it would be valuable to piece together the housing policy jigsaw in order to reflect on the picture that emerges. Policy in this field speaks directly to our fundamental values -freedom, equality and community – and how they are to be reconciled. My aim today is to identify more fully the key pieces of the current policy jigsaw.

So what can we make of the way policy towards housing is developing?

The key proposals on social housing reform in the Local Decisions consultation paper were heavily trailed. Many are embodied in the Localism Bill. They have been …

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Opinion: Piecing together the housing policy jigsaw

The Coalition government is seemingly intent upon drowning us in a blizzard of consultation papers, green papers, white papers, and hasty legislation. No doubt there is also a bit of kite flying taking place for good measure. One problem with all this activity is keeping track of overlapping agendas. How do we sum the parts in a way that allows us to get a sense of the likely cumulative impact of change?

One area in which this is particularly acute is housing. Policy which impacts upon housing and the housing market sits with a number of government departments. Housing policy and …

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Opinion: Disposing of that pesky homelessness problem

It was entirely predictable. The opening moves in a game that could see another hard-won component of the welfare state undermined have now been played.

It may have been predictable, but it is no less distasteful for all that.

The Coalition’s proposals for restricting housing benefit in the private rented sector have been greeted with a chorus of disapproval from informed commentators and the housing policy and practice community. Many grassroots LibDem members are equally concerned. Dire consequences are forecast.

The Government believes that landlords will happily adjust their rent downwards to reflect benefit cuts. Informed opinion says otherwise. (I discuss this issue …

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Opinion: Spinning the death of affordable housing

At the heart of politics lie battles over meaning. In an uncertain world there is plenty of scope to contest the definition of problems and the perceived effectiveness of solutions. Under Labour we came to think of agenda management as “spin”, and to condemn it. But the Blairites were simply the most egregious and effective exponents of the political arts. All politicians face decisions about the message and how one would ideally like it interpreted.

This seems particularly pertinent in relation to current discussions about affordable housing. We’re seeing the government providing some creative readings of what is on offer.

One component …

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Opinion: self-denying … and self-defeating?

It may have been a “miserable little compromise” back in April but AV would now appear to be the big prize. The coalition has to hold together, whatever the cost, at least long enough to allow a vote on electoral reform. But will the way we get from here to there impact significantly upon what happens when we get there?

Only those on the inside know what’s actually happening, but there are many competing readings of how things are playing out coalition-wise.

The most challenging reading for many Lib Dems is that the displays of unity between the coalition partners are …

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Opinion: can the Big Society be anything more than BS?

When the Big Society entered mainstream political debate a few short months ago the concept was relatively vague. Many people no doubt grasped that it was something to do with what government was or wasn’t going to do. And what we might be expected to do for ourselves or organise at a neighbourhood level. Beyond that things got rather murky.

The process of elaborating the concept continues, but at a practical level things move on apace. The June budget cuts, and the prospect of worse to come, have triggered many local councils to reflect upon their role as service provider …

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Opinion: railing against the direction of policy

The media are constantly looking for signs of policy splits within the Coalition. Across policy fields – the economy, welfare, housing, defence – the search is on for contradictions and conflicts, whether real, manufactured or imagined. While many of the stories have been given an airing here, one that passed relatively unnoticed was last week’s discussion of rail fares.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond hinted that the current fiscal situation is so severe that it may be necessary to re-examine the formula restricting regulated rail fares to increases of no more than RPI+1%. The suggestion was that this might increase

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Opinion: there’s no pleasure in saying ‘I told you so’ – but does it need saying?

Clarity of purpose is a virtue. But stubbornness doesn’t necessarily win any plaudits when more flexibility is appropriate. The shock tactics of Osbornomics have now been fully embraced. The message is clear: this Coalition is not for turning.

In the run up to the Election the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats adopted distinctive positions on the best approach to cutting the fiscal deficit. Despite Nick Clegg’s apparent secret conversion to the Conservative position of early and deep cuts, the LibDem manifesto commitments were directed at cutting in 2011/12 and after, and the rhetoric around budget reductions was to proceed at a …

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Opinion: Social housing – an unlikely new battleground?

In the weeks following the election the Coalition had very little to say about housing. The budget announced restrictions on the local housing allowance on the back of a narrative about needing to rein in the vast amounts being spent on multi-bedroom properties. We are yet to see what the consequences of this will be. But there is cause for concern.

In recent days housing has suddenly emerged as a new battleground, both inside and outside the Coalition. On Tuesday we had David Milliband invading LibDem territory with his advocacy of a Mansion Tax. On Wednesday we had pronouncements from …

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarMatthew Huntbach 24th Oct - 2:27pm
    Graham Evans I think Matthew falls into the trap of believing that the simple left/right dichotomy which perhaps existed in the late 19th century, and...
  • User Avatarmalc 24th Oct - 2:26pm
    The lords will never be scrapped while party political leaders use it as a retirement home for MP's, political donors and their mates. Most of...
  • User AvatarMatthew Huntbach 24th Oct - 2:20pm
    Julian Tisi your lazy dig at “orange bookers” detracts from your argument. Well, please suggest another word to mean "people who are keen on promoting...
  • User AvatarMartin Land 24th Oct - 2:18pm
    Are we seriously giving credence to this puerile rubbish by debating it?
  • User AvatarRoland 24th Oct - 2:08pm
    @Stephen Hesketh I think you are being too harsh, Simon McGrath is correct, a real challenge is the change involved. Gas central heating and hot...
  • User AvatarGraham Evans 24th Oct - 2:07pm
    I agree with Matthew Huntbach that political engagement with electors is essential to countering the nihilism of Russell Brand, and the various ad hoc protest...