Last Tuesday (July 18), John launched a new report in Parliament and called for a new ‘progressive devolution’ drive on housing and planning to help give more disadvantaged areas fresh powers and funding.
The report, written by the Smith Institute and launched with the Mayor Liverpool Joe Anderson, is the first serious stocktake and analysis of the place of housing, planning and regeneration in the 11 devolution deals agreed to date.
It is also one of the first attempts by leading former member of Labour’s shadow cabinet to explore a substantive response to the referendum vote.
It shows how devolution agreements on housing to date have been patchy and piecemeal, lacking serious funding or new powers.
John describes the big gap in income and opportunity between areas of the country as the “breeding ground for Brexit”. He also cites housing as one of the biggest examples of government policy failure which have led people to lose faith in politics and politicians, and will point out that pressure on housing from immigration was amongst the main reasons that people cited for backing Brexit.
Devolution deals should do more to close the gap between rich and poor – including providing more funding and freedom to build genuinely affordable council and housing association homes. Current government housing policy includes forcing local areas to sell council homes and give the proceeds to the Exchequer and forcing them to build ‘starter homes’ costing up to £450,000 in place of homes for social rent.
The 11 devo deal areas agreed to date includes some of the poorest areas in the country, with wages in nine out of ten areas covered below the national average. These areas also voted to leave the European Union by a big margin – 56% to 44%, with areas like Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire some of the areas recording the highest ‘leave’ votes.
Among the conclusions of the report itself, written by the Smith Institute’s Head of Research, Paul Hunter, are that:
- Devolution in housing and planning has widespread support, but the journey so far is viewed as slow, piecemeal and undermined by centralising tendencies from the present government as well as inappropriate national programmes and targets.
- There is a clear desire from combined authorities for greater consistency and greater powers and resources to meet their particular housing needs and ambitions.
- One important demand is for a single long-term devolved funding pot for housing to deliver scale and certainty, rather than multiple pots of money, each with strings attached.
- Authorities are also clear they want their devolution deals to be on a similar footing to that in London. A formal ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ would be a suitable vehicle for taking forward devo-housing deals.
“The EU Referendum result reinforces the need to give more power to local areas. The winning ‘Leave’ vote was as much a revolt against Westminster as Brussels. Both felt distant, out-of touch and doing little to help. The breeding ground for Brexit was the communities and people that felt left behind.
“There is a strong progressive case for handing out more power to local communities and regions. It’s not just more democratic, it’s also that good government action can often fix and shape markets more effectively at a local than a national level. And hope that politics can help with the pressures people are facing is the best antidote to the fear and uncertainty which was both the cause and consequence of the UK’s vote to leave the EU.
“The work the Smith Institute have done makes clear just how limited housing devolution is at present, when there is a strong will in many parts of the country to go much further than Ministers have so far allowed, and it sets out some of the scope to do so.”
You can read ‘Devo Housing: the emerging agenda’ by following this link: http://www.smith-institute.org.uk/book/devo-housing-emerging-agenda/