Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Government should at long last see sense on housing

Lord Greaves speaks with long practical experience as a councillor in authorities which include the deprived and the affluent as well as the middle-class. His analysis damns New Labour as well as the post-Thatcher thinking which continues to dominate the Conservative party.

Year after year the Government say that they want to build more houses. However, they do not succeed; indeed, in recent years the situation has got worse. The philosophy is wrong, the analysis is wrong and the solutions are wrong. They continue to be wrong and things are not going to improve on the basis of present policy.
One real problem common to all Governments is that they are addicted to the idea of one policy fitting all—top-down rules, top-down planning and top-down restrictions. They do not allow local authorities and local people to get on with doing things appropriately in their areas, and it does not work. Then they always blame the planning system. I keep saying in your Lordships’ House that the plan-making part of the planning system is bust, but that is very largely due to the ever-growing plethora of top-down restrictions, top-down instructions and top-down attempted control by central government—something that we are now seeing again. By and large, the blame does not, in my view, lie with the development control system. Local authorities give planning permission for new housing and that new housing simply is not taken up. It is estimated that nearly 700,000 planning permissions have not been carried through.
Then we have council housing. We have a continuing central prejudice against local authorities buying and owning housesHarold Wilson, who followed Harold Macmillan as Prime Minister, used to refer to the 13 wasted Tory years in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, but those were the years when huge numbers of council houses were built. Building all those council houses was one of the greatest improvements made in the last century to the lives of ordinary people in this country. Yet we cannot do it anymore. We might refer to the 13 wasted Labour years we had before 2010, when the building of council houses dried up.
Why is this? Why is there such a prejudice against local authorities centrally? It is accepted that local authorities are the most efficient part of the public sector, and certainly the most democratic part. There is the problem, because democracy results in diversity: people do different things in different areas and solve problems in different ways. The civil servants and their ministerial colleagues at the centre simply do not like that, because it is out of their control.

We learn that one of the early beneficiaries of the government's "Help to Buy" scheme was Mrs Bone, wife of the MP for Wellingborough. The couple have done nothing illegal, but what a condemnation of a scheme which was trumpeted as a help to couples wanting to get on the housing ladder that people earning well above the average family should be best able to take advantage of it!

Sajid Javid has said that the government should borrow money to fund the building of hundreds of thousands of new homes, according to the BBC. It is strange that he should come out with this revelation after a decade of historically-low interest rates, just as central bankers are signalling that the next move in rates will be upwards, and this imminently.

Even after commercial rates go up, government, both central and local, will find it cheaper to borrow than commerce and industry do. Javed is right, but it is essential that central government puts the power back in the hands of local authorities and housing cooperatives, who know what the real housing needs are.

Conservative did break electoral law:

will they get more than a slap on the wrist?

Mark Pack has the story:

An undercover Channel 4 News investigation raised concerns about the campaign involving calls made by Blue Telecoms, a firm in Neath, South Wales, on behalf of the Conservative Party.

These concerns prompted an ICO [Information Commissionier’s Office] investigation into the campaign’s compliance with data protection and electronic marketing law.

We’ve found that two small sections of the written scripts used by those making the calls crossed the line from legitimate market research to unlawful direct marketing. We’ve warned the Conservative Party to get it right next time.

Our electoral system depends on trust and all participants sticking to the rules. It should not be possible to buy an election nor cheat ones way to one. In my opinion, the Conservatives broke the spirit of the law in the 2015 general election, though the Electoral Commission passed as legitimate their tactics. Now it has been found that they broke the letter of the law as well as the spirit. It is important that the authorities show their independence and prosecute these offences to the limit.

It is shameful for those of us who live in Neath that this particular illegal operation was based here.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Shock news on EU audit: nothing happened, for the ninth year in a row

The propaganda by Farage and others should be set against the facts:

The European Court of Auditors gave the EU annual accounts a clean bill of health for the 9th year in a row. The Court found that, in particular in cohesion policy and agriculture, the overall estimated level of error for payments has further declined from 4.4% in 2014 to 3.8% in 2015.
No errors were found in the examined revenue transactions. Administrative expenditure continued to be the area with the lowest level of error.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

NHS origins: Bevan, Beveridge and ... Willink?

I quote from "Medicine Balls" (written by Phil Hammond, a physician in practice as well as a writer and performer) in the current Private Eye magazine:

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was up to his usual cherry-picking tricks at the Tory conferences, claiming that the brains behind the NHS was not Nye Bevan, but Conservative health minister Sir Henry Willink and his 1944 white paper.

In fact, the idea for a state health service is usually credited to the social researcher and poverty campaigner Beatrice Webb in 1909. Lloyd George introduced state-organised health insurance in 1911*, but for workers only. Lord Dawson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, reported in 1920 that "the best means of maintaining health and curing disease should be made available to all citizens", and it was William Beveridge who first proposed "cradle to grave care" in his 1942 report.

Willink's contribution was important - garnering cross-party support for a consensus that "everybody irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation shall have equal opportunity to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available". But it was Bevan who fought the vested interests and made it happen in 1948. The Conservatives voted against the creation of the NHS 22 times, including in the third reading.

Bevan resigned from government in 1951, as a matter of principle over the introduction of prescription charges. Nothing, it seems, will tempt Hunt to resign.

*presumably on the Prussian model, which continues in France and Germany, and which Beveridge would have studied as a young researcher

Friday, 20 October 2017

Czechia elections

This Sunday (oops!) Saturday, elections will take place in Czechia which may produce a result as significant as that in Austria, which attracted some media attention. The front-runner is a party ANO 2011 standing on an anti-corruption plank. However, leader Andrej Babis is himself accused of tax-dodging, the reason for his being sacked earlier this year from the current coalition government.

While committed to remaining within the EU, ANO 2011 would not have Czechia adopt the euro and would resist the move to ever-closer integration.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Understanding between faiths

Housekeeping my archive, I came across tributes to Sir Sigmund Sternberg, who died a year ago. One must admire his efforts in reconciling the Abrahamic faiths in the face of continued dissension within each of them, leading to violence in the case of one, Islam. Perhaps the aims of the Three Faiths Forum will be achieved, but, if so, it can only be a first step. Islam needs to be reconciled with Hinduism, Buddhism and Shinto. Eventually, there must be a common understanding of what lies at the heart of all faiths worldwide and historically.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Future for nuclear power in the UK

There was an interesting little debate late last night in the House of Lords. It was moved by the Earl of Selborne to take note of a report on nuclear research published by his Science and Technology Select Committee in the spring (and rather overshadowed by other political events). The debate was sparsely attended, but each speaker brought valuable experience or knowledge to the discussion.

The most interesting point for me was the general agreement, even by the government spokesman summing up, that the UK lost the plot during the Thatcher years.