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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 – 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.
When total funding is calculated per head, English councils are once again worse off.
“What these figures show is that when there is real power over public spending choices outside of Whitehall, it makes a difference” Jo Miller, Solace president
In 2018-19 English councils are receiving, on average, £1,423 to spend on services per person. This is more than a third lower than what their counterparts in Wales and Scotland are given to spend per person this year – £2,309 and £2,237 respectively.
While the amount of per capita funding made available to councils in Wales and Scotland has increased by 5.2% and 0.2% respectively in absolute terms since 2010-11, England has witnessed a 29.8% reduction in the last eight years.
Commenting on the findings, Jo Miller, president of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, who writes on the issue for LGC today, said: “What these figures show is that when there is real power over public spending choices outside of Whitehall, it makes a difference. With a comprehensive spending review on the horizon, and the need for a preserved union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland post Brexit, the case for genuine devolution within England grows ever stronger.”
Both the Treasury and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government declined to comment on the findings.
However, in his Budget speech last month chancellor Philip Hammond said English local government had “made a significant contribution to repairing the public finances”. He pointed to £1bn extra funding for social care, and the removal of the housing borrowing cap, as proof the government was giving councils “more resources to deliver high quality public services.”
Mr Hammond also said “longer-term funding decisions [for English councils] will be made at the spending review.”
In an interview with LGC, local government minister Rishi Sunak said he did not recognise the national disparities highlighted by our analysis but added “we have a devolved country so whatever Scotland and Wales want to prioritise is up to them. It’s not for me to tell them what to do.”
Mr Sunak said that while he preferred to “focus on outcomes, not necessarily just inputs”, the extra money in the Budget amounted to a “pretty serious statement of intent”.
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said its councils had been “protected from the worst effects” of austerity. She added: “We value local government services in Wales and believe in strong local government. We recognise their importance, particularly for some of the most vulnerable in our society, and the role these services play in enabling people to achieve their potential and to live independently, in supporting safe and prosperous communities and in building local economies.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “We have treated local government very fairly despite the cuts to the Scottish budget from the UK government.”
All the plastic you can and cannot recycle
Most people are trying their best to recycle plastic – but the many different ways in which recycling is collected by different councils across the UK has left them confused.
What can be recycled and what can’t? We are putting more plastic in the recycling than ever before – but pictures of sea life tangled in all manner of waste plastic mean the pressure is on to do more.
The government is now considering changing the way plastic is recycled in England. In the rest of the UK the strategy for recycling is a devolved issue.
Each council collects their plastic recycling differently. BBC analysis shows there are 39 different sets of rules for what can be put in plastic recycling collections:
- Most collect bottles
- Others collect pots, tubs and trays
- Some collect a much wider range
Around the UK, all four nations are hoping to improve their recycling rates. The review by the government may change the target for recycling in England, but currently the aim is that 50% of waste will be recycled by 2020.
Scotland has a target to recycle 70% of waste by 2025 as does Wales. Northern Ireland has a proposal that 60% of municipal waste is recycled by 2020.
Waste plastic is collected is different ways too:
- Some local authorities collect all their recycling in one bin
- Others ask households to separate their plastics from the rest of their recycling
Councils also employ many different companies to collect and sort their plastics.
And having different recycling schemes in different areas – for example, in some areas you can recycle margarine tubs and in other areas you cannot – makes labelling difficult.
Most people in Britain regularly recycle plastic but almost half have had disagreements at home about what type they can put in which bin, a ComRes poll for the BBC suggests.
And more than a quarter have these disagreements at least once a month.
What to expect from the government’s review?
Of all the things we recycle, plastic is the most complicated. It comes in a profusion of very different types.
Many products carry labels about recycling but some do not. And the labels themselves can be a problem.
Your eye might fall on a recycling symbol but miss the very small print saying the item will not actually be collected from your home.
If you see the phrase “widely recycled” on a packet or carton, it means many councils will take it but not necessarily all of them.
Each of the UK’s local authorities has come to its own decisions about what to accept and what to refuse:
- In Reading, a yoghurt pot can be thrown into recycling
- In Manchester it cannot
- Swindon has plans to join the small band of councils recycling no plastic at all
The government realises the arrangements can be confusing, even irritating. And in England it’s undertaking a review of the whole recycling system.
- Ministers could order manufacturers to use only the types of plastic that are easiest to recycle – but might that lead to higher prices?
- They could insist on labels that everyone can see and understand – but how would that work on tiny pots and bottles?
- A more controversial idea is to get councils to harmonise their plastic recycling systems – but that risks provoking an uproar over local democracy
The desire to boost plastic recycling rates is clear. But every option comes with challenges. The word is, we’ll see the government’s plans in November.
Plastic can often become too contaminated for recycling and have to be sent to landfill or incinerated instead. This happens for several reasons:
- People are confused about what goes in which bin
- People are not always very careful about what they put in
- The plastic is contaminated with food waste
- In areas where all recycling is collected in one bin, one type of waste can contaminate another
Plastic packaging is made from seven different types
- Bottles are mainly made of PET and HDPE and these are easy to collect and recycle
- Most trays are made from polypropylene and this is pretty easy to recycle too but not all councils have access to the right facilities
- LDPE, used to make some carrier bags and cling film, is easy to process but more difficult to sort and can often be contaminated with food
- Polystyrene, used to make some yoghurt pots and plastic cutlery, is not widely recycled
- PVC makes up small amount of packaging but can contaminate other plastic recycling
- Biscuit wrappers and meat trays can be made from a mixture of many different types of plastic, making them the most difficult type of packaging to recycle
All plastic can be recycled – but it is not always economical to do so.
- Bottles attract the best prices, especially clear ones, which is why almost all councils recycle them
- Coloured plastic is less desirable because the colour cannot be removed, restricting its reuse
- Polystyrene is almost never recycled because there is no market for it
Most bottles will be sent for reprocessing in this country.
But plastic that is less valuable – about two-thirds collected for recycling – goes overseas and this figure has been rising.
Earlier this year, the National Audit Office reported the plastic sent abroad could be highly contaminated, meaning it may not be reprocessed and could end up in landfill or contributing to pollution.
Some countries are refusing to take any more of our waste.
- China and Thailand have banned waste imports
- Malaysia is considering banning imports of waste plastic
These bans are having an effect on the prices paid for waste plastic.
And this year the prices of the more contaminated plastics have fallen below zero, meaning companies are now expecting to be paid to take them away.
Design: Debie Loizou. Development: Eleanor Keane.