News round-up 20/8: Whitehall calls for Labour links
Your daily media round up of all the key stories affecting local government
The Times leads with the news that senior civil servants want to build closer links with Labour, in order to avoid a repeat of the policy U-turns that they believe have hampered the coalition government. Conservative chairman of the public administration committee, Bernard Jenkin, has said that the plans were “absurd” and “civil servants should not be involved in party politics”, the paper reports. However, former Labour home secretary Charles Clarke is quoted as arguing that closer relations between the opposition and civil servants would improve the quality of government.
Councils are being urged to sell their most valuable houses and build hundreds of thousands of cheaper homes, reports the Daily Telegraph. The move is an attempt to revive the economy by creating thousands of construction jobs while cutting waiting lists for council-homes. Housing minister Grant Shapps wants local authorities to use their resources “more efficiently” and said it was “blindingly obvious” that they should sell properties worth “millions.”
Speaking on the Today Programme, Neil O’Brien, director of the Policy Exchange thinktank that made the proposals, said that as they became vacant, social houses worth more than the average for their size in the region should be sold off to fund new social housing. He added that this would reduce the number of people waiting for social housing in overcrowded areas. Mr O’Brien said people would not be forced to move and that houses would only be sold off as people left. However, over time more social housing would be available for families on a low income, he added. Concluding, Mr O’Brien argued that people had a right to housing, but not in the most expensive parts of their town.
But Labour MP Karen Buck said it was the overseas property market had inflated UK house prices. She argued that any move to sell high-value social housing would only result in further inflation of house prices, and questioned whether there would be an overall increase in the amount of available social housing.
Elsewhere, today’s Independent reports that the government plans to scrap regulations requiring house-builders to set aside a proportion of new-build schemes for affordable housing, which could result in nearly two million families losing their chance of a home. The recommendations set out in the Montague report will be supported by both communities secretary Eric Pickles and property firms, who argue that the current regulations discourage new builds, the paper writes. However, shadow housing minister Jack Dromey criticised the proposals, stating that it would be “fundamentally wrong to deprive local authorities of their ability to insist on affordable homes”. David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation said that the proposal must be “urgently reconsidered.”
A column in the Guardian on dissension among far-right parties concludes they have been held back by their own disunity rather than a lack of appeal to sections of the public. Nottingham university associate professor Matthew Goodwin points out that this year’s local elections saw a disastrous performance by the British National party but that 149 candidates stood under the banner of other far-right groups, including Britain First, British Freedom, British People’s party, England First, National Front, English Democrats, Democratic Nationalists and the Britannica party. Mr Goodwin said the English Defence League has made an alliance with British Freedom, which is expected to contest both police commissioner polls and the 2013 local elections.
Labour has accused the government of a “cosy relationship” with Conservative-run local authorities after it claimed that 26 of the 31 school playing fields approved for sale by the Department of Education were disposed of at the request of Tory councils. The Financial Times points out that Conservatives control 26 of the 27 shire counties that tend to be larger than the other, mostly more urban education authorities, and are more likely to have declining populations.
Treasury ministers are considering introducing German-style “mini-jobs” which exempt employees from tax and national insurance, writes the Financial Times. The paper says the jobs, which are designed to bring the long-term unemployed back into work, have been hailed as part of Germany’s “jobs miracle” and now chancellor George Osborne is giving the idea “serious consideration.”
The Daily Telegraph has revived its Hands Off Our Land campaign after reports that the ‘quad’ of senior ministers – David Cameron, George Osborne, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander – want further relaxations of the planning laws only months after the National Planning Policy Framework took effect. The paper said the prime minister and chancellor want to examine every idea that could make it easier for hundreds of thousands of new homes to be built, as well as new retail developments and airport expansion projects. This could, it said, include building on green belt land in future years – something which was specifically ruled out in the Conservatives’ 2010 general election manifesto and which would spark major protests by environmental groups.
Writing in the Times, John Cridland, director-general of the CBI, lists a number of ways to kick-start the economy, including boosting capital spending by using “the significant underspends across government departments” and making more of the strength of the nation’s balance sheet.
LGA chairman and Kensington & Chelsea RBC leader Sir Merrick Cockell is attacked by Daily Mail diarist Andrew Pierce who accuses him of hypocrisy for publicly celebrating the performance of British athletes in the Olympics but going on holiday in the second week of the games.