All posts from: October 2010
The question of who will be worst affected by the comprehensive spending review has played on the minds of many.
Thankfully Fleet Street’s finest have been on hand to let the waiting public know.
The Daily Mail is in no doubt. ‘Middle class will be hit hardest’ a headline on page two of the paper proclaimed on Thursday. The Mirror was equally certain. ‘Poorest 10 per cent hit the hardest’ it stated. Thankfully The Telegraph was on hand to remind everyone that the Queen’s means had also been ‘cut by £6 million’. Let’s hope she isn’t forced to claim housing benefit to remain in central London.
Several guests at last Friday’s Sustainable Housing Awards at London’s Park Lane Hilton hotel declared climate change minister Greg Barker had failed to impress since taking office in May.
‘Greg who?’ joshed John Doggart, Sustainable Energy Academy chair.
Mr Barker might want to work on upping his profile. Earlier in the week BBC presenter Justin Webb insisted on referring to the Tory minister as ‘Mr Baker’ throughout a Today programme item. Time to sack the publicist?
A radical Conservative government creating shockwaves with its approach to housing - feels just like the 1980s again, doesn’t it?
The Homes and Communities Agency is continuing the retro feel. The day after the comprehensive spending review it announced that moustachioed 1980s comedian Bobby Ball is to open a new, HCA-funded church hall and community facilities in Milton Keynes.
Closed Circuit is unsure whether the press release was meant to offer a defiant ‘Rock on Tommy’ in the face of huge budget cuts or helpfully offer a new venue where despairing housing officers can pray for salvation.
It’s an unlikely scenario: London housing tsar Richard Blakeway holding court at Condé Nast, publisher of fashion bible Vogue.
Yet Closed Circuit has just been invited to just such an event next week. CC can only think the fashionistas were stunned by the striking sartorial direction displayed in the now infamous ‘Blakeway bangra’ incident when the mayor’s advisor teamed a lurid floral sarong with a football shirt.
Turn your back for a minute to help cull some quangos and before you know it some rapscallion has hacked into your Wikipedia page.
At least that’s what appears to have happened to communities secretary Eric Pickles.
Last week the Yorkshireman’s entry on the online encyclopaedia revealed: ‘He is currently the only MP to have more than six chins, following the retirement of John Prescott’.
The line has since been removed, but the following information remains: ‘In July 2006, a local fish and chip shop in Pickles’ Brentwood constituency launched the “Eric Pickled Egg”. This was done without his consent and was interpreted as personal attack on his weight.’
New Zealander Andrew Eagles expressed outrage at last week’s ISHSUM conference in The Hague after a delegate enquired where in Australia he was from.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the managing director of Sustainable Homes later complained to Closed Circuit that an Australian had mistaken him for a South African. Clearly he is not exhibiting his Kiwi heritage strongly enough. Closed Circuit would like to wish Mr Eagles a pleasant trip back to Sydney.
Meanwhile fellow ISHSUM delegate David Cowans was promoting a ‘new’ term for individuals opposed to development - bananas.
The mentality of this group, the Places for People chief explained, is ‘build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone’.
Hardly news to Closed Circuit. Not only did it hear Mr Cowans pedalling the same line at the recent Conservative Party conference, but Inside Housing first reported the emergence of the banana element in 2007. Keep up Mr Cowans.
It’s annual report season and Closed Circuit has been wading through the usual mound of glossy corporate booklets, all pretty much identical.
This year though one housing association made a special effort. In a display of pre-CSR gallows humour, Nottingham Community Housing Association presented its report in the style of a wartime ration book. A marvellous idea, although Closed Circuit can’t help wondering how much the specially designed booklet cost to produce…
Nobody could accuse Grant Shapps of having a relaxed party conference last week.
The housing minister was frequently seen scuttling to and from the various fringe events in and around Birmingham’s International Convention Centre.
At one event, several dozen delegates waited for Mr Shapps’ appearance at a debate about the ‘big society’ and the future of housing delivery. Arriving an hour and a quarter late, the MP spoke for a few minutes, only to be drowned out by the sound of a helicopter overhead. A symbol that the Tories are struggling to get themselves heard on the big society perhaps?
David Cameron’s ‘big tent’ approach to working with other parties has certainly drawn a few plaudits, but one delegate at last week’s Conservative Party conference was concerned the cross-party working had gone too far.
‘Isn’t that the chap from the BNP?’ said one confused (and possibly slightly drunk) delegate as Stephen Greenhalgh, leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council, took his seat as a speaker at a fringe event. Closed Circuit would like to point out it does not see any resemblance whatsoever between Mr Greenhalgh and Nick Griffin - though it has never seen them in the same place at once.
Elsewhere at a Places for People fringe meeting, Conservative backbencher Iain Stewart highlighted the delicate nature of the debate on security of tenure.
‘I think Sir Humphrey would say those ideas are very courageous,’ quipped the MP for Milton Keynes South, making reference to sitcom Yes Minister in response to the suggestion that high earners be booted out of social homes.
Meanwhile, Mr Stewart’s parliamentary colleague Jake Berry MP made a comment which almost certainly would have raised the eyebrows of Whitehall’s finest. ‘I think we’d all be in favour of beating the bankers with a big stick,’ he said jovially.
If only Sir Humphrey had been there to warn him. No sooner had the utterance been made than fellow panellist and Westminster councillor Philippa Roe politely informed him, ‘I am a former director of Citigroup’.
When Labour’s Karen Buck beat back Tory contender Joanne Cash to the Westminster North seat in May, she didn’t expect her victory to have such a resounding effect.
At last month’s party conference, Ms Buck was besieged by excited young activists begging her to autograph their conference programmes as a memento of her successful general election campaign.
Ms Buck admitted to Closed Circuit that she isn’t really used to being such a political celebrity. But the starstruck young members who appeared, pen-in-hand, to congratulate her said they were thrilled that she had put rising star Ms Cash ‘back in her place’. And Ms Buck herself later admitted: ‘The best bit about 6 May was the satisfaction of beating that awful woman.’
Nick Clegg will not have to worry about putting in a stationery order for his new office, thanks to Eric Pickles.
The communities and local government secretary has revealed details of waste uncovered in his department, once part of John Prescott’s Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
Among taxi claims and £5,000 sofas, Mr Pickles allegedly found a box of pens bearing the line ‘Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’, apparently left by Labour’s Mr Prescott.
In a speech to the Tory faithful gathered for the party’s annual conference in Birmingham this week, Mr Pickles told the current deputy PM: ‘We are a coalition of thrift - so Nick Clegg, if you are watching at home, leave that stationery order alone, I can keep you in branded biros all the way through this fixed-term parliament. But Nick me old chum, there is a problem: they don’t do punctuation and they don’t work for more than five minutes.
Yet as the conference kicked off in earnest on Monday it appeared Mr Clegg may have lent event organisers a box of the rogue pens.
Big screens beaming speeches around the conference proudly proclaimed the day to be ‘Monay, 4 October’. Evidently the pens are bad at spelling as well as grammar - or perhaps thrifty governments can’t afford to employ people with basic literacy skills.
Those involved with England’s doomed Home Information Packs probably wish the homebuyers south of the border were as amenable as those in Scotland.
The coalition government wasted no time scrapping the hated HIPs, introduced by Labour in 2007, just weeks after their election victory in May.
The Home Report, a similar idea introduced by the Scottish Government in 2008, has proved altogether more hardy. A recent report on its first year reveals homebuyers generally find the reports valuable.
However, Closed Circuit isn’t so sure. ‘In some instances sellers do not provide full and complete answers in the property questionnaire, with respondents answering “don’t know” to many of the questions,’ the Scottish Government report notes.
Michael Portillo was in fine form speaking at last week’s National Housing Federation in Birmingham.
The former Conservative defence secretary and Thatcherite chose to enlighten his audience about meerkats, explaining that one dominant female rules the group and kills any other breeding females.
Apparently as the testosterone levels of the dominant female rises, the testosterone of the males declines. He said this went a long way to explaining the behaviour of the Thatcher government.
It made Closed Circuit wonder what animals the current coalition government could be likened to, settling on the rhinocerous and the yellow-billed oxpecker.
The latter sits atop its larger friend and helps it out by removing ticks - a match made in heaven, one would think. Yet sometimes the oxpecker picks at healing scabs and re-opens old wounds. A warning for the future, perhaps?
Last week saw Sir Bob Kerslake making the most of the perks of being Homes and Communities Agency chief exec before he takes the top job at the Communities and Local Government department in a month’s time.
Taking to the stage at the HCA Awards at north London’s famous Roundhouse, Sir Bob pointed out that he was standing on a spot usually reserved for the likes of rocker Pete Doherty and rapper Dizzee Rascal. Sir Bob hastily added the evening would proceed with ‘none of the antics associated with Mr Doherty’.
As Closed Circuit sloped off, award winners were preparing to hit the bar. While there may not have been any rock star behaviour on Mr Doherty’s level, we’re sure some guests felt more than a little worse for wear in the morning.
The scramble for jobs in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet is on following his election as Labour Party leader.
Closed Circuit is reliably informed that former housing minister John Healey is hoping for a spot, now that housing no longer has a seat at the cabinet table.
Apparently Mr Healey is keen on the Department for Work and Pensions, Communities and Local Government department and the Treasury. All of the above would get him back on the shadow front benches - and a bigger staffing budget thrown into the bargain.