Worlds apart

A Hung Parliament. Isn’t that just like being in no overall control, then? Apparently it helps if you decide that you were fighting the election under what a less charitable person might call false pretences – in the words of the Deputy Prime Minister “The interesting thing I have discovered over the last week is that we have been using different words but we mean similar things”. So far, so cosy. It’s also the first time since at least 1997 (and barely and briefly, if then) that a majority of the UK’s Councillors are members of a party which is in Government.

The full Coalition Document was published this morning. There has been some scepticism about the coherence of the section relating to Communities and Local Government – it promises greater financial autonomy for local government, but also a national Council tax freeze until at least April 2012. I’m not too worried about that, I think that can be explained by the rhetoric around scrapping pointless process targets and wasteful inspection. The freedom to spend money in the most useful way locally is worth more to most Councils than the extra 5% of budget that could be raised even from a politically suicidal 15% hike in the Council Tax.

The message on housing is more mixed. A general power of competence could be taken to allow the return of housing provision as has been attempted tentatively over the last year. Certainly if the Housing Revenue Account is more decentralised those districts with insane house prices, large reserves, and big budget holes caused by low interest rates could do worse than use the reserves to generate a steady income by turning them into houses for a mixture of sale, market rent, and affordable social rent. West Somerset, I’m looking at you. 

Hopefully the end of clunky regional planning will help, and the incentives to build at an appropriate pace will be combined with the power to make building fit with the needs of the community and the sense of local place. Otherwise, I worry that the new Government may be willing the ends but not the means, trying to please those who fear the housing shortage will worsen forever, and those who want to protect their view, the green belt, etc.

I worry about exactly what the “ban the use of RIPA powers” means for some of the stuff people just expect us to get right, but a high tide was reached in the relationship between the state and the individual, and the two parties which most strongly wished to roll back that tide are in Government, so we’ll simply have to see how that rather clumsy phrasing (consider the R in RIPA) works in practice. I’d rather local voters decided what was serious and what was proportionate, than national regulation and magistrates, perhaps that’s just me.

Anyway, that’s (part of) why I’m busy, that and I started this blog with a list of things I wanted to talk about, and I’ve mostly talked about them – now I need events to come to my rescue. That may just have started to happen.


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