Conference: Do the Liberal Democrats want more homes and more jobs?

Do the Liberal Democrats want more homes and more jobs? That and other questions that will get an answer, one way or another, when our Conference debates the economy today (Monday). One of the two amendments tabled by the Social Liberal Forum with support from 100 Conference representatives calls for the Coalition to commence the dramatic increase in housebuilding that the Party endorsed last year.

The barriers to this at present are, as ever, in the housebuilding industry and the Treasury.

The former has by most estimates some 400,000 planning consents at its disposal, assisted by policies that effectively waived the lapsing of planning consent after the crisis of 2008. The industry cites a lack of access to capital funding as a key reason for the lack of building. Certainly this is true of social landlords.

The latter has tried to address demand rather than supply, at a time of known supply shortage, and the wheels are already coming off. As Vince Cable has rightly pointed out, we really do not want a new housing bubble, and the experts are queuing up to warn that Help to Buy is just that. Instead of being a nation of shopkeepers, Osborne’s vision for Britain is a nation of estate agents. His controversial ruses so far – a dangerous loosening of the planning system unceremoniously rejected by the Lib Dems last year – have had no beneficial effect either.

So what we need is to find ways of doing what this Government has not generally been shy – tackle the supply side. While continuing the essential task of reforming the banks, instead of letting those few at the top of the tree create a new bubble. This of course has the added bonus of saving money as social housing supply increases and the need for sticking-plaster solutions for people in urgent need recedes.

And while we’re at it, we should use the powers in the Bank of England Act 1998 to instruct the Bank to balance its targeting inflation with a focus on growth and employment.

Looking further ahead to 2015 and beyond, the Lib Dems on Monday face a stark choice. To take the current fiscal mandate beyond this Parliament would be both unfair and politically disastrous. The electorate will be faced by Labour and Conservative manifestos presenting the policies of those parties. Is any Liberal Democrat seriously saying the biggest compromise of all – Osborne’s fiscal mandate that raises inequality (as the IMF states) – should be presented as the policy of the Liberal Democrats? Well, in fact, unless he accepts the amendment, Nick Clegg is saying precisely that.

Nick, the coalition will not be on the ballot paper in 2015: the Liberal Democrats will.

Even Osborne himself, far from using triumphalist language about ‘breaking dawns’, is cautious: he is right to say the economy is turning the corner, rather than claim it has turned. ‘More of the same’ is a timid, not to mention conservative response. Liberal Democrats, radical reformers by nature, have seen the hard way that the drive for reform is felt strongly across the nation, in a manner that has more than one political leader doing their impression of rabbits in headlights.

Tim Farron understands the need to create homes and jobs. It is a win for everyone: communities, the most vulnerable, workers as well as the construction industry. There has never been a better time to do it.

* Gareth Epps is a member of FPC and FCC, a member of the Fair Deal for your Local campaign coalition committee and is an active member of Britain’s largest consumer campaign, CAMRA. He claims to be marginally better at Aunt Sally than David Cameron, whom he stood against in Witney in 2001.

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13 Comments

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 16th Sep '13 - 8:05am

    I chickened out of putting in a speakers’ card for the economy debate – I mean, me, talk about economics? But if someone could just say that more houses isn’t just about numbers and jobs, it’s about dramatically improving the quality of people’s lives. When I worked as an MP’s caseworker we had maybe 5 families come in every week desperate for housing. They were maybe overcrowded – 4 children plus parents in a 2 bedroomed flat, maybe it was also falling to bits, or maybe they were forced to pay private sector rents that they really couldn’t afford. A decent quality place for everyone to live is a right that is just not being fulfilled at the moment. I doubt even if the amendment passes, that it would provide sufficient housing for everyone, but please pass it., Conference. This is important. And, of course if you build more houses, you provide more jobs therefore more taxes and less deficit. What’s not to love?

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Sep '13 - 8:38am

    I wouldn’t have commented, but the phrase “what’s not to love” is provocative. What’s not to love is the fact that nothing is free. I’m not saying spend zero pounds, but we always need to look at the costs as well as the benefits.

    In the private sector someone would get struck off for only giving the benefits of their finance proposals without talking about the risks. One rule for the lawmakers and another for everyone else.

  • Paul in Twickenham 16th Sep '13 - 8:40am

    @Caron – “what’s not to love? “. Perhaps the answer is that the Conservatives do not support policies that have the potential to reduce the nominal price of property. Building millions of houses would do exactly that. Liberals should support a measure like this as – obviously – a decent home is a fundamental requirement if people are to escape from poverty. Perhaps the leadership of the Liberal Democrats has concluded that their electoral interests are now best served by keeping middle class property owners happy at the expense of social justice.

  • Bill le Breton 16th Sep '13 - 8:44am

    Caron, housing and membership of a local Shelter committee is what turned me into a more active Liberal.

    The Leader has again repeated on the Today programme that the motion allows a significant social housing building programme. Sadly it doesn’t. The wording supports the pooling of borrowing allocations between local authorities. No new borrowing permission.

    Hark, Beyonce, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”. The only way of keeping the manifesto group to the task is to vote for the housing amendment.

    Put a Ring on it!

  • Paul Holmes 16th Sep '13 - 8:55am

    @Paul in Twickenham – building more social housing as the SLF amendment proposes would not increase house price bubbles. Quite the reverse.

    It is Social House building that has entirely collapsed throughout the last 30 years as a deliberate result first of Thatcher’s policies and then -on an even greater scale of collapse -due to Labour’s policies 1997-2010 which completely halted Council House building. Housing Associations did not take up the slack as Labour said they would.Instead the HA’s have largely just become large property management companies handling the diminished stock Labour forced Council’s to pass over to them but doing little new building.

  • @Paul Holmes
    A bubble occurs when price rises are unsustainable and that won’t happen as a result of not building houses – those type of price rises are sustainable. Bubbles occur when risk is mis-priced, credit made available to those who shouldn’t qualify for it and when the buying public get carried away with the idea that buying a house is a good investment and over-pay for it on that basis – market exuberance. A bubble is exactly what the government is creating with the help-to-sell scheme.

  • What this country needs is a mass production of social housing.

    I think we could do this cheaply and quickly and efficiently using prefab houses.

    It would be a huge boost to the manufacturing industry, as well as huge Boost to the building and construction industry.

    It would create more jobs and more apprenticeships.

    All good things this economy needs

    It would bring down demand for rental properties in the private sector and thus bringing down the extortionate rents.
    All good for bringing down the rising costs in housing benefits.

  • Helen Dudden 16th Sep '13 - 9:47am

    If there is petitions and rejections by the locals , prefabs wont work either.

    You have to remember these are some of your councilors, that wish things to remain the same.

    You must also understand that the measures you have taken in this Government, are causing the public who voted for you, to look for ways to protest.

    This should not be just a web page for your own, but for those that voted for you on councils and in Government.

  • @Helen Dudden

    I agree with pretty much everything you say.

    In Norwich where I live, and the estate I am from, there is a massive shortage of social housing. proposals have been put through time and time again for a housing development on an old cricket ground that has not been used in decades, each time it is apposed by local Councillors and libdems.
    I just don’t get it.
    I am a home owner and I know that these proposals will more than likely devalue my own property, but that does not bother me one iota.
    I happen to believe that as a community we need this extra housing and this should be our main priorities.

    We are not going to get anywhere dealing with the tragic economical and social consequences caused by having a shortage of social housing unless we stop these nimby’s .

    We all have a moral obligation to society as a whole, rather than putting our own vested interests first.

  • Dominic Curran 16th Sep '13 - 11:15am

    Gareth is being too quick to dismiss the NPPF: “His controversial ruses so far – a dangerous loosening of the planning system unceremoniously rejected by the Lib Dems last year – have had no beneficial effect either.”

    It is working its way throught he system, and the number of local plans being found unsound by PINS because they do not adhere to the NPPF’s beefed up requirement to demonstrate a 5 year housing supply, and the number of appeals for new housing developments being lost by councils for much the same reason, suggest that the NPPF is actually having a beneficial effect.

    That’s if Gareth is indeed talking about the NPPF, which I believe more LibDes voted for than against, and which Vince fully supported in its initial form.

  • HTB needs to be stopped. It is not a solution.

    We need to build, build and build. If not labour mobility and the economy will suffer while generations will stay tenants for ever with no financial future.

    Tactically the LibDems should push for LVT and BTL tax.

  • A BIG well said to you, Caron Lindsey, and to everyone else who stressed the acute need for more (much more) social housing. I’ve been banging-on about this ever since the Thatcher government almost stopped the building of social homes while selling the existing council stocks to the lowest bidders.

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