All posts from: January 2010
Peter Marsh got a bit of a ticking off when the thorny subject of security of tenure arose in Parliament this week.
Labour MP Clive Betts reported that some of his constituents have raised concerns about comments made by the Tenant Services Authority chief executive, who apparently said tenants in areas of high demand might lose their security.
Housing minister John Healey was quick to put the record straight: ‘It would be worthwhile for my honourable friend to reassure residents in his constituency that matters of policy concerning the security of people’s tenure are for the government, not the TSA chief executive.’
The helpful Mr Betts also gave the minister a chance to return to one of his favourite subjects, the evils of Conservative-run Hammersmith and Fulham council’s housing policy, and in particular the views of its leader Stephen Greenhalgh.
Mr Betts enquired: ‘Will my right honourable friend completely dissociate himself from the comments of the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, who said that one problem with social housing was that it was hard to get rid of these people?’
Mr Healey didn’t have too much trouble with that one: ‘The comments that my honourable friend attributes to the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council are very revealing - they reveal a deeply held prejudice against people in public housing,’ he responded.
It’s good to see our latest campaign is already having an impact on politicians – House Proud had its first success before it even launched.
The Liberal Democrats did their bit towards meeting one of the campaign’s demands – that each major party dedicate a section of their manifesto to housing – by issuing a pledge on the subject last Thursday.
Admittedly we might have trouble claiming this was a direct result of the campaign, as it didn’t launch until the next day, but it is a promising start, nonetheless.
The Lib Dems’ manifesto pledge focused on bringing empty homes back into use – the subject of another Inside Housing campaign last year. The party has pledged to invest £1.4 billion in bringing 100,000 empty homes into the socially rented sector, and improving a further 150,000 private homes.
Some commentators on this site, and elsewhere, have pointed out that it is easy to make such promises when you have little chance of winning the election. But the Lib Dems could gain influence both in Westminster and locally.
It is also encouraging that the party is giving prominence to housing issues. The core aim of House Proud, which is jointly run by Inside Housing and the Chartered Institute of Housing, is to stress the contribution of housing to every aspect of social policy.
If the Lib Dems have picked up on the message, then hopefully the Conservatives and Labour will do the same.
Next time, we might even be able to claim a bit more of the credit.
It’s not often that Tenant Services Authority chief executive Peter Marsh shares a page with David Beckham and Basshunter, but critics of the regulator seem to be reaching out to new audiences.
The News of the World yesterday carried a story claiming ‘Government watchdog resolves just 12 complaints a year’, and attacking the ‘£38 million watchdog quango’ for wasting public cash.
Whether any NoTW readers could tear themselves away from stories about the sexual habits of Celebrity Big Brother contestants, and David Beckham being turned down for a role in The Simpsons, to take an interest in social housing regulation is unclear.
So why has the paper suddenly decided to go for the regulator? The data it uses is hardly breaking news – it was published in the TSA’s annual report last November.
One clue could be the commentator quoted in the story, shadow housing minister Grant Shapps, who declares ‘taxpayers’ money is being wasted’. Mr Shapps has been vocal in his criticism of the TSA in the past; could the Conservative Party now be seeking new outlets for his concerns?
Either way, the angle taken by the paper seems a little unfair. Although the regulator only dealt with 12 of the 396 complaints it received directly, the vast majority of the remainder were referred to other organisations – often the relevant housing association or ombudsman – who would presumably be best placed to deal with them.
At its heart is decentralisation, and the dismantling of the ‘big government approach’ of the Labour government.
In practice, we are told, this would mean ‘democratic accountability’ instead of ‘bureaucratic accountability’, and giving patients ‘real choice’.
Providers will be given more freedom, and be expected to publish results. Patients will be free to choose, ‘encouraging hospitals to compete for patients’.
There is detail too. The NHS will be opened up to voluntary and independent providers. GPs’ pay will be linked to the quality of the service they deliver. Welfare-to-work agencies will get better access to mental health services.
The blue core at the heart of the plans is the idea of linking pay to results. Where Labour has tried to incentivise with performance targets, the Tories will incentivise with cash.
Whether this approach would be any more successful remains to be seen. Incentivising bankers with large bonuses helped to create a culture in which the reckless pursuit of short-term gain jeopardised the economy, but such an extreme example might not be so relevant to the public sector.
It is reassuring to see a commitment to helping the poorest in society, and it sits in stark contrast to some of the 30-year-old, previously confidential documents published last week from the early days of the Thatcher government.
Whatever might be going on behind closed doors these days, it seems unlikely that David Cameron is warning of street riots if immigrants are placed in social housing.