Top Tory leaders admit doubts over right-to-buy extension

For all those people who think we dance to the Party’s tune on every issue, below is an article that tells a different story.

I echo Gary’s concerns and fear that the ordinary working class people, that the cities depend on to run it’s services and pander to the needs of the rich and powerful who can afford to buy a home, no matter the price, will soon be banished to locations, not even classed as the suburbs, by this sort of policy.  London will undoubtedly lead the way, with social housing within the M25, often falling foul of the ‘most expensive on the books’ category.

Without stringent controls on these proposed sales, such as a profit claw-back clause, if the house is sold into the private sector with a certain number of years, or changes to the capital gains taxation rules, the only social housing available, will be on remote sink estates, in the back of beyond and populated by people that have no other choice available to them.  Underlying all of this, is the implausible suggestion that the sales will fund their replacement with modern, cheaper housing.  The numbers don’t add up, especially as the proposal is for the government to manage the redistribution.

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online article of 21 April, 2015 

By David Paine

 Two senior Conservative politicians have expressed doubts about their party’s proposal to extend the right-to-buy, as it emerged housing minister Kris Hopkins had previously warned the policy could mean a huge cost to the public purse.  The Conservative manifesto, published last week, said the party would force councils to sell off their most valuable homes to pay for a new right-to-buy for housing association tenants.
However, the proposal was met with widespread opposition with the National Housing Federation claiming it would make it more difficult for housing associations to borrow to build more homes. These concerns appeared to be shared by Mr Hopkins in a letter he sent to Tessa Munt, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Wells, in October 2013.
In it he said if housing associations were “obliged to consistently sell off their stock at less than market value they might find it difficult to borrow” and added that could “impact adversely” on investment in existing properties and “affect the future provision of affordable housing”.  Mr Hopkins’ letter added the government at the time did not “consider that it would be reasonable to require housing associations to sell these properties at a discount” as extending the scheme could result in “a high liability for the public purse”.
In response, Mr Hopkins said his letter showed “we would look at expanding home ownership through extending right-to-buy” and added his party’s “sensible, affordable” proposal would “ensure that housing associations are compensated”.  The maximum discount under right-to-buy on council properties is £77,900 across England, except in London boroughs where it’s £103,900.
Leader of the Local Government Association Conservative group Gary Porter told LGC he had “not fully bought in to the party’s position” while Kent CC’s leader Paul Carter told LGC he had “some empathy” with housing associations that face losing homes.  Cllr Carter said he was “a great believer in home ownership” but thought the way to “encourage more housing to be built” was to invest in infrastructure, especially transport.
Cllr Porter, leader of South Holland DC, said the right-to-buy was a “great idea and long overdue for homes that were built with public money” but added: “If they weren’t built with public money then they shouldn’t be touched, it shouldn’t apply.”  Catherine Ryder, head of policy at the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, told LGC legislation would almost certainly have to be amended or introduced as housing associations are currently exempt from right-to-buy due to their charitable status.
Ms Ryder said extending the right-to-buy could impact on housing associations’ ability to borrow “even if the discounts are funded”. She said: “If you’re selling off your assets the certainty of your income is more difficult to predict so it’s going to be more difficult to borrow money to build new affordable homes.”  She also questioned how quickly high-value properties sold off by councils to fund the scheme would be replaced and where they would be built.
A recent survey by the Local Government Association, Chartered Institute of Housing, and the National Federation of ALMOs found only half or fewer of homes sold under the existing right-to-buy for council homes had been replaced.

Councillor pensions may come back to bite MPs – I do hope so!

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Copied from Local Government Chronicle online

Councillor pensions may come back to bite MPs

26 March, 2014 | By Nick Golding

Not content with merely stripping local government of its powers and finance, many central politicians appear intent on removing the livelihoods of its members too.

The decision to introduce legislation to remove councillors’ access to the local government pension scheme constitutes another reason not to stand for election, represent a community and take difficult decisions with the intention of improving lives.

There can be no greater service to the community than sticking one’s head above the parapet to be accountable for the destiny of residents – and face the consequences if one’s ideas are rejected or lead to problems. But applauding public service should not be used to justify any argument that those who perform it should be entirely selfless and receive little reward.

While there may be many good councillors who regard themselves as altruistic volunteers, along the lines suggested by Conservative chairman Grant Shapps, it is not necessarily desirable or wise to give responsibility for huge budgets to people whose only qualification for the role is being an enthusiast or volunteer.

Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson (Lib Dem) points out that he receives just £28,000 annually to run an authority with a budget of £520m. Without intending to cast doubt on Cllr Vernon-Jackson’s capabilities, this sum is generally insufficient for anyone with a professional background to seriously consider local politics as an arena for their talents.

As the Co-operative Group has found, well-meaning but non‑specialist individuals are not necessarily conducive to ensuring vast organisations are well governed and look after the interests of those dependent on them. Far better to pay competitive wages or allowances – which in the case of councillors will always be less than those offered by large private organisations – and give yourself the best chance of avoiding scandal or incompetence.

The LGA’s 2010 census of councillors found their average age was 60. Just 12% were under 40. This is hardly representative of the population and potentially means that the needs of young people and young families are not understood. Local democracy becomes meaningless if only certain sections of society are represented so it is essential that council chambers become more than the preserve of the retired. High-profile councillor positions should offer a full-time wage and others some reward to augment the inevitable reduced working hours elsewhere.

It is entirely legitimate to query whether pensions constitute the most cost-effective means of encouraging people to become councillors. More generous allowances could provide a greater inducement. But to simply do away with a big incentive with no consideration of alternatives will be seen by councillors as a slap in the face.

Any parliamentary decision to end councillor pensions may come back to bite MPs when they seek the help of party activists – many of them councillors – in election campaigns. Ironically MPs defeated as a result would retain a highly generous pension.

Nick Golding, editor, LGC

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