A libertarian (which I’m not) would argue that Government does this all the time, but more seriously… Remember the proposals made by the Conservatives pre-election, that while housebuilding targets would be scaled back, local areas would be encouraged to build more thanks to the Government matching Council Tax revenue for four years from any new properties, plus 25% extra for social/affordable housing? So far so good.
Two problems (well, lots of problems, but two which I think are worth talking about outside of tedious meetings).
- We’re due a consultation on how exactly this will work, sometime between September and November, presumably for implementation from April 2011. Unless it’s retrospective, this creates a perverse incentive not to allow any building at the moment, in order to push the maximum into the time when it atracts cash. Cynical, but when every penny counts, perhaps necessary. Expect a consultation full of special pleading; “We can’t build, we’re already full”, “We built lots in the last five years”, “Most of our authority is a National Park”, that sort of thing – and probably an almighty scrap in shire England over who exactly gets the money in two-tier areas – the planning authority (District) or the authority that actually delivers the most expensive of the services the new residents will need (County).
- The money is, by all accounts, going to be “topsliced”. In other words, there will be no new Central Government funding, but rather every Council’s grant will be reduced by a fixed percentage in order to provide the funds which will then be parcelled back out according to build-rate. Now, there is absolutely a problem with out-of-date population figures which means that funding lags growth, but that sort of technical change to funding strikes me as a long way from the political rhetoric which lay behind the original proposals. I’m willing to be told I’m wrong, but that’s the steer I’m getting, and I think it’s frankly a bit dishonest. Apparently Grant Shapps was saying this all along, but I don’t think Caroline Spelman was – when she said “So we will match from the centre the council tax on all new housing for six years, and for affordable housing match it to the tune of 125%“, I think a reasonable listener could have assumed that “from the centre” meant just that, not “by clawing back existing funding and redistributing it”.
I notice I’ve managed to get myself onto a list of “Coalition Watching” blogs. I think that’s technically true, I’m spending a lot of my time watching the Coalition. While I’m sure it’s obvious what my views are a lot of the time, I don’t aim to be unduly partisan here, so for balance, let me endorse the following quote from the Secretary of State;
“The government offices are not voices of the region in Whitehall. They have become agents of Whitehall to intervene and interfere in localities.”
Regions aren’t local, and people portraying the above as an attack on localism miss the point. Government Offices have had good and helpful people in them, and they’ve had useless and obstructive people in them, but what they have above all been is aware that their paymasters were in Whitehall, not in the localities within each region. I can’t think that any of the good and helpful people would not be able to achieve more in a local authority than they could in a Regional Office.