Government defends Right to Buy against call for abolition

Government mouth pieces defending the indefensible – in my humble opinion. The most senior of them conveniently sidesteps a key question from MPs, ‘If you sell a house at a discount, how do you buy another one to replace it?’. Answer, ‘Spend what money you do get, fixing up the houses you’ve already got’. That’s helpful isn’t it.

The MJ online By Martin Ford | 22 January 2019 

A top Marsham Street official has defended the Government’s Right to Buy policy as ‘good value for money’ following demands for its abolition.

The scheme came under fire from MPs and the London Assembly this week, when it was accused of undermining councils’ efforts to build social housing and sapping funds.

At yesterday’s meeting of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Labour MP Liz Twist said: ‘How can you expect councils to invest in new social housing if they have to sell the house at a discount under Right to Buy?

‘It seems a bit strange we are wanting councils to build and yet they are having to sell these houses at a discount down the line.

‘It doesn’t seem to make financial sense.’

Permanent secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), Melanie Dawes, said: ‘What we get in terms of economic benefits is that housing associations have receipts they are able to build with so we get the usual benefits from new housing supply.

‘We also get distributional benefits because generally we are talking about lower-income families who are able to buy who otherwise wouldn’t be able to.’

Highlighting London Assembly research published that found 42% of Right to Buy homes sold in the capital are now in the private rented sector, committee chair Clive Betts said: ‘It’s unfortunate many of them end up as buy-to-let properties.’

The London Assembly research by member Tom Copley also found the capital’s boroughs spend £22m each year renting back right-to-buy properties.

Mr Copley said: ‘Something has gone very wrong when tens of thousands of homes built to be let at social rents for the public good are now being rented out at market rates for private profit, sometimes back to the very councils that were forced to sell them.

‘Right to Buy is failing London and should be abolished.’

Cllr Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ executive member for housing, said: ‘These figures reveal the immense costs and inefficiencies caused by misguided policy at a national level and, with boroughs enduring a 63% cut in core funding since 2010, it’s clear we can’t carry on like this.

‘The Government should end its restrictions on the use of Right to Buy receipts so that all money raised from council house sales in London goes back into building more homes.’

MHCLG director general, Jeremy Pocklington, told the select committee: ‘We think it is good value for money.

‘The case for Right to Buy is it helps people into home ownership that would not otherwise be able afford their own home, which is something this Government strongly supports.

‘It does release resources that councils can use to invest in their stock.

‘While homes are being sold – which is enabling people who would not otherwise be able to own their own home – a great many more homes are being built through all the interventions, looked at in the round.’

Why a no-deal Brexit is nothing to fear

Why a no-deal Brexit is nothing to fear – The Spectator – 4 August 2018 

A viable alternative to an EU trade deal is ready and waiting

Warnings by Remainers about the consequences of a ‘no deal’ Brexit are beginning to resemble a game of oneupmanship worthy of Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen. Not content with claims that the M20 to Dover will be gridlocked with lorries waiting to undergo customs checks and that the North Ireland peace protest will break down, Doug Gurr, Amazon’s chief in the UK, apparently told Dominic Raab at a recent meeting that there will be ‘civil unrest’ within a fortnight of Britain leaving the EU without a deal. Next, they will have us living 150 to a shoebox.

Those who peddle this relentless doom-mongering fail to understand the protections which will remain in place for the UK under international law. Far from ‘crashing out of the EU’, failing to secure a free trade deal with the EU simply means that the UK will trade with the EU on terms set out by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The pundit class tends to scoff at the WTO option. They dismiss it as a recipe for chaos. But that is to ignore the huge progress that this body has made in promoting global trade over the past two decades. The government should from the beginning have presented the WTO option as a viable counterpoint to the EU’s hardline, all-or-nothing stance.

The WTO oversees a system of trade rules for its 164-member countries, which together account for no less than 98 per cent of all global trade. Under the WTO General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (the GATT), tariffs on most manufactured goods between the UK and the EU would stay quite low, averaging around 3 per cent.

While EU leaders like to threaten us with hints that our exports would be unsellable in the EU, the fact is that non-tariff barriers such as arbitrary health and safety inspections and borders would be prohibited under the WTO’s Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary (SPS) and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) agreements. The UK intends to retain conformity with EU regulations following Brexit, at least for the time being, meaning that the existing low levels of health and safety risks to the public in UK products will not change in the days after Brexit. There would, as a result, be no grounds for the EU to exclude our goods from its markets.

The WTO’s new Trade Facilitation Agreement obliges the EU to maintain borders which are as frictionless as possible, using modern technologies such as pre–arrival processing of documents and electronic payments. Discrimination against foreign products through all sorts of internal regulations is forbidden. These rules are enforced by a well-respected international tribunal which has a high rate of compliance and cannot be overruled by the European Court of Justice.

While tariffs on some EU goods — agricultural goods and automobiles in particular — would be higher than 3 per cent, economic gains secured from an independent trade policy and a more pro-competitive environment should compensate UK consumers.

The WTO’s coverage of services is incomplete and would not grant UK firms the level of EU market access they enjoy under the single market, but the UK is well placed to take a leading role in developing the new Trade in Services Agreement, due to resume over the next few years, as well as multilateral negotiations for services at the WTO. Roberto Azevedo, the director general of the WTO, announced that he is looking forward to having the UK back as an independent champion of free trade.

Breaking free of the EU customs union will enable the UK to boost trade with other countries around the world, taking advantage of WTO rules which allow countries to offer preferential trading arrangements to nations with which they negotiate a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). In charge of its own trade policy, the UK should be able to roll over many of the EU’s 60-plus FTAs with third countries, some of which have already indicated that they intend to offer the UK terms as good as they did to the EU.

Canada has even suggested that the UK may get a better deal than that which was offered to the EU under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) two years ago. The UK Department of International Trade has already begun discussions with several countries with which the EU has failed to do trade deals, most notably the US. Since 90 per cent of world GDP growth in the coming decades is expected to be outside the EU, it makes sense that the UK looks beyond this region, which now accounts for less than half of its overall trade. The UK will no longer be required, as it is at the moment under EU rules, to impose tariffs on products which it does not produce, such as tropical fruit — reducing prices for consumers and giving us leverage when it comes to negotiating trade deals. The country will be in a strong position to do trade deals faster than the EU has managed because it will not be encumbered by a long-winded ratification process involving 27 member states.

Why, then, has the government damaged its negotiating position by seeming to exclude the WTO option and giving the impression that it is desperate to extract a trade deal with the EU at all costs? The UK has approached the EU as a supplicant, or worse, a wounded animal. Theresa May’s Chequers deal would have us clinging to a weak version of the single market and customs union, which would deprive us of the freedom we ought to win through Brexit. Even that is not enough for Michel Barnier.

Yet it is the EU which has more to fear from these negotiations, being nervous about having a large, liberated, pro-competitive economy on its doorstep. The government should have initiated this process, proposing an FTA based on CETA but better, with deeper access for services such as finance, and lower tariffs on a broader range of products. At the same time, the government should have been making parallel arrangements for a no-deal WTO option.

Thankfully, there are signs that UK negotiators are now moving in this direction. The UK government announced recently that it has submitted its schedule of tariff commitments for certification by the WTO. The UK’s new Trade Remedies Authority — set up to regulate international trade disputes — will shortly be up and running and the ports are being built up to handle the minimal extra customs checks which will be needed.

In any negotiation, there is no strategy worse than giving the impression that you are desperate for a deal at all costs. With the WTO option as an entirely acceptable, workable alternative to a trade deal, the UK is truly in a position to walk away. And that’s a good place to be.

David Collins is a professor of International Economic Law at City, University of London.

Charge a deposit for everything we currently throw away

ENVIRONMENT

Effort to curb plastic in ocean is ‘bailing bath with a spoon’

By Daily Telegraph Reporter – 2 January 2019

CURRENT efforts to reduce the amount of plastic in the ocean are like trying to bail out an overflowing bath with a teaspoon, an environmental charity has warned.

The devastation caused by plastic pollution was catapulted to the public’s attention in 2018 – largely due to the powerful images broadcast in Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II.

Despite the positive noises, there has been little tangible change in the UK, according to scientists at the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), who say more drastic action is needed.

Dr Laura Foster, head of clean seas at MCS, said: “The most important thing should be to look at stopping the amount going into the ocean.

20pc

The littering rate for on-the-go pieces of plastic that are seen to hold no value, according to Dr Laura Foster

“Think of an overflowing bath with the taps on full blast. We’re trying to bail with a teaspoon, and we’re wondering why that’s not having an effect.

“We need to focus on stopping things going into the ocean in the first place, and it may be that future generations look at a clean-up.”

She added: “We need to incentivise – as soon as you give an empty container a value, you see people’s behaviour change.

“You won’t see them littered – the littering rate for on-the-go items is 20 per cent – but if you have a deposit return scheme on bottles and cans then that’s superb.