All posts from: November 2009
What isn’t in the Queen’s Speech tomorrow could well be more interesting than what is in it.
The stripped down, pre-election legislative programme is expected to include measures on anti-social behaviour and support for the elderly in their own homes – both of which were previewed in Gordon Brown’s party conference speech.
But which of the many initiatives announced by Labour in recent months will receive less support than those with prime ministerial backing?
According to the Mirror today, one such casualty may be housing minister John Healey’s pledge to allow private tenants to stay in their homes for two months if their landlord defaults on mortgage payments.
Under the current system, tenants can be thrown out with little or no notice. Both Labour and the Conservatives have said they will address the problem, but the issue could well be left out of a legislative programme more concerned with delivering votes than promises.
Another issue that seems likely to be put on the ‘too difficult’ pile is reform of the housing revenue account subsidy system. Mr Healey has said this could be achieved voluntarily if councils agree to take on historic debt, but with little visible progress on this any government that wants to make headway may have to go down the legislative route.
The Council Housing Group of MPs recently called for proposals for reform of the HRA to be included in the Queen’s Speech, so that a framework could be put in place before a general election. But it remains to be seen if the government will have heeded its demands.
Politicians are grabbing every opportunity to lay into each other at the moment, but usually they restrict themselves to having a go at the opposition.
At the Thames Gateway Forum this week, it seemed that rule was being stretched to breaking point.
Communities secretary John Denham used his speech to outline the achievements that have resulted from the Labour government’s investment in the gateway, before turning on the Conservatives.
‘The gateway is a stark reminder of the difference between this recession and previous recessions,’ he warned.
‘We are just determined not to repeat those mistakes. Mistakes our opposition would repeat if they were given the country. We have worked to protect those who are most vulnerable to the recession.’
He went on: ‘I don’t apologise for laying out a bit of a political agenda here today, because it is too important.’
However Lord Falconer, a former cabinet minister under Tony Blair, and now chair of the Thames Gateway London Partnership, seemed to feel a little differently.
‘From what I could hear when I went to the Tory party conference, what was being said there was that while there would be a forensic assessment of the various agencies in the Thames Gateway, they were as committed as we were,’ he said.
‘Whatever happens in May 2010, I think we will find that government continues to give the same commitment.’
Sadly Mr Denham had departed immediately after his speech, so we did not find out if he was reassured by Lord Falconer’s views.
Given that councils have waited years for reform of housing finance, it is a bit ironic that they now feel they are being forced into it.
But with a change of government likely, there seems to be a growing feeling among some authorities that if they don’t agree to the plans on the table now, they could be left out in the cold for even longer.
For some councils, the lack of money for refurbishing stock has become particularly pressing with elections looming. At a recent meeting in Westminster, one councillor said his authority would be fighting off the British National Party in the spring if they didn’t find some money soon.
This particular authority, which stands to gain one of the highest levels of redistributed debt under the current proposals, feels it has little option but to come on board despite its opposition to the plans.
Housing minister John Healey has suggested reforms could be pushed through before the general election if councils agree to share out £18 billion of housing debt, but primary legislation would be needed if there is no agreement.
With campaigners and local government umbrella bodies calling for the debt to be written off, and Mr Healey adamant that he wouldn’t get through the door of the Treasury with such a proposal, it remains to be seen who will back down first.
But it isn’t just on the local government side that cracks are starting to appear. One MP who met Mr Healey recently to discuss the review, says the minister is keenly aware of the ‘urgency’ of getting his reforms pushed through.