Tag Archives: Conservatives

Teetering on the brink


Today’s Budget has been billed as make or break for the Chancellor, and no one can deny that he is in a difficult spot. He’s become the target of the more avid Brexiteers for sounding a note of caution and amongst the public for failing to put austerity aside. Here is our Budget analysis!

The politics has been fierce with ministers, civic servants and others using national platforms to beg for more investment, while behind the scenes there has been bitter infighting with re-writes still being finalised last night. So, what did we get? Well a surprisingly amusing speech at least, with jokes (which were actually funny) at the expense of Gove, himself and Labour.

As is usual we started off with the “econonicky stuff”. No Chancellor has been out there saying that the economy is going in the wrong direction and this one was no different. A sunny picture of economic growth and jobs growth was painted, if in somewhat dull colours as the growth rates were reduced to less than 2% until 2020 – something Corbyn was quick to attack.

More positively national debt is expected to peak this year before falling in the coming few years until it hits around 80% of GDP with borrowing hovering around 1% per year in the mid-2020s. As has been pointed out overall debt is more than 30% higher than it was when the UK was forced to go to the IMF to ask for emergency funds in the 1970s.

So what of the future? The Chancellor laid out a rosy vision of a prosperous, outward looking, free trade Britain which is investing in infrastructure for the future with road building, rail projects. Alongside the harder stuff a £6bn increase in the National Productivity Investment fund to £31bn and investment in driverless cars and start-up businesses were given a nod.  The R&D tax credit will rise to 12% and a total of £500m is being invested in Artificial Intelligence, full fibre broadband and 5G technology, while the British Business Bank will be given seed funding of £2.5bn.

The Budget was also used to push the social agenda. Electric vehicles were promoted over diesel cars, with white van men and women carefully protected (Phil is not one to make the same mistake twice). Single use plastic items – think take away Nespresso pods / coffee cups – will be subject to an investigation into future tax. This is particularly pertinent on a day when it has been revealed that Defra staff have used more than three million takeaway cups over the last three years…

Maths in schools was singled out for particular attention. New money was announced to attract maths teachers and to encourage schools to become maths academies. Also on the cards is more money for IT and retraining the existing workforce although the sums are relatively small.

For the regions, the Chancellor (re)announced agreements for Local Industrial Strategies in Manchester and the West Midlands. There may also be a future City deal for Belfast and other towns and cities. Billions more for Scotland, Wales and £650m for Northern Ireland (on top of the £1bn already announced) also got headlines. For London a pilot scheme to retain 100% of business rates for next year was announced and could quickly be rolled out to other cities and areas.

Making work pay remains a continuing theme, with the rate of the minimum wage rising in April 2018 in line with recommendations (to £7.83 per hour) while there will be no backing down from Universal Credit, but in a move to assuage back benchers on both sides, there will be some reforms to ease the transition period for those suffering delayed payments.

The NHS will be given more support with £10bn capital investment over the course of this Parliament, with an additional £2.8bn for operational resources. With concerns the extra resource would be swallowed up by any pay increases, Hammond deftly promised to cover any pay increases with further additional funds. The additional money to the NHS falls short of the services demands but is a significant nod in their direction on a day when other branches of government were noticeably absent.

To shoot Labour’s fox, there was a necessary piece on clamping down on tax avoidance by companies and individuals. Hammond moved to tax internal company royalties within multinationals which move money off shore. The measures are admittedly small by the Chancellor’s own admission but are symbolically significant. Meanwhile there were some technical changes to reduce costs for small businesses by changing inflation measures from RPI to CPI starting from April 2018.

Another popular measure to raise funds and bring more properties into use is a commitment to allow councils to charge a 100% premium on council tax for empty properties. This is a politically popular move and could bring a few more properties in central locations back into use for local people – as long as councils can prove that properties are not occupied.

The Chancellor kept his best material for the housing section which we have covered here. After all that, it’s time for a drink – and thanks to the Chancellor for freezing the rates on booze (except for white cider!)

He’s probably done enough to keep his position for now. So cheers Phil.


Crispin Blunt MP tightens Greenbelt on Government

Crispin Blunt and some London based colleagues have taken up the cudgels in the green belt debate. Mr Blunt, MP for Reigate, formed the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for London’s green belt with the intention of pressuring the Government to do more to protect green belt, build on brownfield land and increase the speed that developers are building out.

In a letter from Mr Blunt to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, the group claim the new housing need assessment put forward by Government in September imposes “excessive housing targets” in areas where local authorities will have little choice but to build on green belt or AONB land.

The secretariat for the APPG will be provided by the London Green Belt Council, a group chaired by Richard Knox-Johnston, who is also the vice-chairman of CPRE Kent. CPRE and the London Green Belt Council have always worked intimately with each other, and jointly published a paper last year calling for a moratorium on development in the green belt.

Given the new group will have close involvement from the CPRE, it’s perhaps no surprise they have already echoed CPRE’s calls on Government to prioritise development on brownfield land rather than release more land for homes in expensive areas of the country to ease the housing crisis.

The group has also called for councils to be given the power to reject development proposals which do not meet local affordable housing requirements, even if they don’t have a Local Plan or an establish five year housing supply. However, given the National Planning Policy Framework’s presumption in favour of sustainable development, and the number of rulings which have been determined on this basis in recent years, it’s unlikely Government will budge on this when the NPPF is updated.

Announcing the launch of the APPG, Crispin Blunt said:

“I am delighted we have formed the APPG for London’s Green Belt. With the number of Green Belt sites around London under threat from development more than doubling over the past year, we urgently need to review our approach to housing policy across the region. The group will inform the debate and develop recommendations for Green Belt-friendly planning policy.”

The group consists of:

  • Crispin Blunt MP, Co-Chair, (Conservative, Reigate)
  • Lord Rogers of Riverside CH, Co-Chair, (Labour)
  • Gareth Thomas MP, Vice Chair, (Labour and Co-op, Harrow)
  • Adam Holloway MP, (Conservative, Gravesham)
  • Rt Hon Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Conservative, Chesham and Amersham)
  • Baroness Jones of Moulsecomb (Green)

The group is well versed in green belt issues and brings considerable influence to bear within Westminster, with Lord Rogers of Riverside CH having served as Chief Advisor on Architecture and Urbanism to Boris Johnston and Ken Livingston and Gareth Thomas MP the current President of the London green belt Council.

Given Crispin Blunt MPs assertion that failures in the planning system have  placed “unreasonable pressures on local authorities to provide new homes whilst developers have ‘land banked’ sites”, we can expect the APPG to steer Government to include measures on speeding up  build-out on sites which have already received planning permission, in upcoming planning changes.

No group meetings have been arranged yet, but keeping watching this space.

Hammond to announce Green Belt land release in first Autumn budget?


The Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, is understood to be pushing for major planning reforms which would free up some Green Belt land for housing. While hoping for that might be unrealistic we might expect some bold news.

Hammond is under pressure to perform at the inaugural Autumn statement, due on Wednesday 22 November. He has been arguing to the Cabinet for several months that some countryside should be reclassified as part of a wider package that could facilitate borrowing to fund house-building. As MP for a Green Belt constituency, it’s certainly a bold idea.

The proposed measures have been backed by backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. However, building on Green Belt land is still seen as politically toxic and many Conservative councillors were elected on manifestos which pledged to resist Green Belt development. Theresa May has recognised the political implications of such a radical move and has insisted the Green Belt will be kept firmly off the agenda on budget day.

So it looks like Hammond won’t be able to get his way, even if the chronic shortage of housing across the country inevitably means some areas of land will need to be released from the Green Belt. The Chancellor will therefore have to come up with some alternative vote-winning ideas which could help the Conservatives demonstrate that they are in touch with the younger generation.

A few policies have already been floated, such as introducing new legislation that would allow councils to borrow to kick-start housebuilding. This was suggested by Sajid Javid a few weeks ago in a move which made him look like he was lobbying the Chancellor live on national television. Axing stamp duty for first-time buyers has also been mentioned, as has reducing tax relief on older workers to fund a subsidy for workers in their twenties and thirties. We’ve also seen calls from some think tanks proposing a significant property tax on second homes to pay for more affordable build and extending central government borrowing to provide necessary infrastructure.

With little funding to play with the Chancellor does not have a lot of room to manoeuvre financially, as well as having to walk a political tightrope. Whatever is announced on 22 November, all eyes will be on Hammond. We will be monitoring the budget closely to see which way the Chancellor moves.

Javid jostles for budget funding?

Live on the Andrew Marr show yesterday Sajid Javid made plain his desire to see the Government borrow money to support house building.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said: “We are looking at new investments and I’m sure that the Budget will be covering housing”. Perhaps not the words of someone who is sure of the way the Chancellor is thinking. So, what does he have in mind?

It was notable that Mr Javid’s focus was on the provision of infrastructure to facilitate more house building rather than house building itself. This is certainly a worthy aim and could conceivably help to persuade concerned communities that new homes won’t mean local schools and hospitals suffering from overcrowding, and their roads becoming more jammed up.

However, while worthy, it misses the political point and is unlikely to address the Tories generation gap. Younger people have been brought up on a diet of instant fixes. They may understand the need for infrastructure in theory, they feel the compelling need for their own roof over their head right now, regardless of the local road system. Labour get this and are calling for a new wave of house building right now – hitting the zeitgeist on the head.

Javid also moved to scotch the swirling rumours about relaxations on development on the Green Belt, which would probably be political suicide for the Conservatives who rely on the shire counties to deliver thumping majorities. Despite flagging the opportunity presented by low interest rates, he also avoided the issue of letting local authorities borrow to build their own housing, an anomaly as they can borrow to buy other assets.

But readers should also note that Javid is flying a kite, he doesn’t know which way Hammond is going to jump on any of these issues. There are a huge number of areas where extra government investment can buy votes – increased wages for nurses, more bobbies on the beat, investment in the NHS….. Javid is making his case on Andrew Marr in public in an effort to put pressure on Mr Hammond.

We only have a month to wait to find out which way the Chancellor will jump.

Theresa Stumbles….But Will She Fall?

Against a backdrop of a downbeat party, an opposition riding high in the polls, Boris, and a nasty cough, this was never going to be an easy speech for Theresa May. And it wasn’t.

In the run up to the conference, when the Tories are traditionally rallying around demonstrating why people voted for them and poking fun at Labour factionalism, the Tories were facing their own bout of the Bojos and wondering who would be delivering the Leader’s speech next year.

Never one of politics natural orators Theresa May took to the stage looking fragile, and indeed, she delivered a stuttering speech through a spluttering cough. Depending on your position this is a laudable show of resolution and grit or an allegory of where the Tory party are right now. The cough was only part of the problem for Mrs May, as she was also treated to a comedian handing her a P45, while the stage literally fell apart around her.

But what of the content? We were told to expect some substantial promises on social housing and possibly a relaxation of salary caps. What we got was certainly different from the confident, pre-snap election May. This was a more humble, human, frail Theresa May who started her speech with an apology to the party for failing them during the election.  Perhaps for the first time she allowed us to see some of her personality and her (very) private beliefs. She spoke about her regret at not having children and some of the human tragedies she had witnessed over the years, as well as celebrating the success of the Tories in Government. She is not a rabble rouser like Jeremy Corbyn and she is not radical like John McDonnell. She is calm and unflappable. She showed resolve. She even managed to ad lib, prompting much laughter and applause from the audience, most likely in surprise that she managed it, as the P45 comedian was led from the room.

But the actual content of the speech was disappointing, and largely bereft of new ideas. She reiterated her commitment to one nation Toryism, first stated during her bid to become leader of the Conservatives, and outlined plans to move the party back to the centre. She committed to cap energy prices (an idea borrowed from Ed Miliband) which represents a significant departure from her determination to defend free markets. She talked about winning round young people who believe in consumer choice and helping them on the property ladder. But the silver vote that George Osborne so ardently chased, was barely mentioned – a failing she should have avoided after the snap election.

Her trailed “substantial” announcement on housing fell flat too. Although she said developers would be held to account and they would ‘fix the broken housing market’, there is still no timetable for the Housing White Paper and only an extra £2 billion for provision of new social housing. This was not what councils or the industry were hoping for. One London Labour council leader has already suggested she may have meant £200bn but coughed at the crucial moment, and the Lib Dems have calculated that the fund would deliver 15 homes a year in each authority in England.

She also avoided the contentious subjects of Brexit, pay for Government workers, and other topical issues. This freed up valuable time for a bit of Corbyn bashing which always goes down well with the party faithful.

The speech was well enough received in the hall and Boris has fallen back into line for now, so she may have given herself enough breathing space to get her to Christmas. It certainly wasn’t enough to stop the plotting and not enough to reach out to the voters the Tories appear to have lost to Labour. It looks like a bleak winter for Mrs May, or should that be, Winter is coming?