Building a Housing Policy
Housing looks set to be a key issue in Brighton and Hove at the upcoming election, with many local residents suffering from high rents. Our opponents in this debate have sought to portray us as the friend of the super-rich speculators who are exploiting hardworking people. The reality is very different, as it is only the Conservatives that can, and will, practically help local people. When it comes to housing policy over the next 5 years, the choice for residents is whether they would rather re-elect a Conservative Government, or put Ed Miliband into Downing Street. The Greens can be safely discounted, given their negligible ability to affect rent prices in their 4 years in charge of the City Council. This is a national issue, and can only be solved on a national level. So which party can we trust?
The Conservatives have compiled the following record over the last 5 years: we have built nearly 217,000 affordable homes over the last 5 years. We are also building new council houses at a faster rate now than at any point in the last 23 years; nearly twice as many council houses have been built in the last four years than in the period 1997-2009. We increased the maximum discounts available to tenants wanting to buy their council house in 2012, and have no plans to reverse this policy. We are proud that, since 2010, 33,000 households have exercised their Right to Buy, and we hope that even more people will soon experience the security of owning their own home. Increasing rates of ownership, particularly among younger people who thus far have had scant opportunities to get their feet on the property ladder, is the bedrock of our housing policy.
This is why, in the next five years, we have committed to building 275,000 new affordable homes by 2020. Under our Help to Buy scheme, we will be building 200,000 homes in the next 5 years that will be available only to first-time buyers under 40, with a 20% discount from the market price. Prospective buyers of these new homes will have access to mortgages with only a 5% deposit. We also plan to build a new garden city at Ebbsfleet, and a new garden town in Bicester, which will see 28,000 new homes built. This is an exciting vision of the future based on helping hardworking people to share in Britain’s prosperity. We will make the housing market work, rather than subjecting people to state-imposed rent controls, and forcing them to pay rent for the rest of their lives.
When you compare our achievements, and future plans, with those of Labour, it makes me very proud to be a Conservative. Under the last Labour Government, the number of new houses built fell to a level unprecedented in peacetime since the 1920s, despite Gordon Brown promising that 240,000 new homes would be built every year. He left office in 2010 with the figure less than half the one he had promised. The proportion of people who owned their own home fell under Labour. Their housing bubble was not only unsustainable and financially irresponsible, but it also priced hardworking people out of owning their own home, as the median price of housing rose twice as fast as the average salary. They also oversaw an increase of 60,000 in the number of homes standing empty. However, it is Labour’s record on council housing that is the most deplorable. They built a total of 7,870 council houses over 13 years. To place this into context, Labour built less than 600 every year, which means that just 0.3% of houses that were built under Labour were council houses. It is little surprise, therefore, that waiting lists for social housing doubled under Labour, and that the number of social homes for rent fell by 421,000 under their stewardship.
Labour were, however, highly adept at selling off council housing, as the residents of Brighton and Hove know all too well. In January 2007, 13,000 council tenants were polled regarding the transfer of their properties to a private housing association. On a 62% turnout, these residents delivered an emphatic 77% no vote, alleging bullying and manipulation from the Labour council, and a complete lack of trust in the promises they were made. They feared that their security would be reduced, and their rents would soar. That is the position that Labour put local residents in, and demonstrates their abject attitude towards council housing.
Labour’s policy of flogging off council houses extended far beyond Brighton. Over 13 years, they ‘transferred’ almost 1 million properties to housing associations, at an average price of £4,200 per home, with all the insecurities for residents that the change brings, at a knockdown price. On top of the lacklustre deal and the misery to residents, these sell-offs also cast doubt over how Labour will fund their new promises. They are now pledging to invest more money into maintaining council housing, and to build 200,000 new houses a year by 2020, which echoes our Help to Buy scheme. However, not only do Labour want to sacle back Help to Buy, but their means of paying for their policies are very different. They intend to plunge our nation into even more debt, and raise taxes on small builders. Local authorities would expect to find the money for increases in council housing funding, but their ability to do so has been impaired by Labour. Their best means of finding the money required was to invest the regular payments of rent that they receive; but now, thanks to Labour’s sell-off, many are not receiving them.
Therefore, the choice is clear. We can either give Labour another chance to repeat their broken promises, fail to build council houses and sell-off the ones they already own at the bottom of the market. We can let them undermine our Help to Buy scheme, which provides vital assistance for young people striving to get themselves onto the property ladder. Or we re-elect a Conservative Government that is delivering on housing, by increasing the supply of homes and making sure that they are affordable for people. The choice is yours.
3rd April 2015
In a 2015 Green Party election broadcast now available to view on YouTube, the MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, featured prominently (far more so than her party leader, Natalie Bennett). The broadcast focused on the issue of railways, with Lucas fiercely denouncing the rail privatisation of the 1990s. In her words, it ‘has been a comprehensive failure.’ This is because fares have risen, improvements have not been made and services are unreliable and uncomfortable. According to Lucas’ mindset, all of these problems facing the railways are caused by pernicious privatisation, and there is a simple, catch-all solution: a comprehensive programme of re-nationalisation.
Before pointing out the deep flaws in this argument, I will point out what it is responding to. Media articles have recently been predicting an apocalyptic rise in fares, which is obviously worrying for commuters. Reliability on the Southern and Thameslink services to London has been declining; in 2014 82.72% of Southern trains and 82.93% of Thameslink trains reached their destination on time – down from over 90% in both cases three years previously. Over 80% of trains arriving on time is not a ‘comprehensive failure’, but any decline in reliability is worrying, and clearly these figures can be improved upon.
It is not just media articles and statistics from train companies that betray problems with the railways. There are real commuters, including those without a Green axe to grind, who are also unsatisfied, such as Kevin Jameson, who is a Conservative council candidate in Regency. He has used the Brighton-London line frequently for the last 22 years, and paints a depressing picture of a service struggling to cope. Among the issues he raises are increased signaling problems on a line so crowded it cannot adjust when these problems occur, a Headquarters signal equipment office that makes decisions without consulting its staff on the ground, and a repayment scheme for late trains that is undermined by terminating trains so they are not listed as over 30 minutes late.
However, for all these problems, there is no evidence that the best answer is nationalisation. Govia Thameslink Railway, Southern and Network Rail (which is hardly ‘privatised’ as the term is commonly understood, given that it pays no dividends to shareholders, and is accountable to Parliament) are working together to put things right. By May 2015 they have promised to introduce a more effective timetable, hire 41 extra qualified drivers, hire three extra units and to carry out more maintenance work at night. Beyond these actions in the short-term, there are also plans in place for a comprehensive long-term improvement of the network. New Siemens trains will be available on the Thameslink service from 2016. A fourth approach track will be reinstated at London Bridge in 2017. By 2018, there should be improved drainage and traffic management systems. Obviously we need to make sure that these changes are implemented rather than just talked about, but it seems as though the problems have been acknowledged and are being remedied, which is encouraging.
What about fare rises? The Greens’ use of statistics is selective. Lucas cited the example of an anytime return train from Brigton to Manchester costing over £400 – which by itself sounds ludicrous, but can be mitigated by context, which the Greens willfully failed to include. An off-peak return for the same journey costs £103.40, reduced to £68.25 with a 16-25 railcard (according to trainline.com, 4 March 2015). This still isn’t cheap, but it’s a quarter of the price the Greens were using to scaremonger. This case serves to highlight how the Greens’ rhetoric bares no correlation with the vast majority of commuters’ journeys. Far from steep rises in fares, people have been protected by the Conservative-led Government’s decision to impose limits on the fare increases that train companies can charge.
This is reflected in Southern’s fare increases for 2015; no season ticket price was increased by more than 2.5%, and the average fare increase was 2.1%. I understand that many (including Kevin Jameson) still consider this excessive, but rail travel has not been priced out of people’s means by anywhere near as much as the Greens would have you believe in their broadcast. What we have actually seen in the two decades since rail privatisation is that any increases in rail fares have led to improvements in the service. Whatever its imperfections, commuters clearly consider that railways today offer much better value for money than under nationalisation.
In 1995, 750 million train journeys were made, a figure that had been steadily falling over four decades of British Rail. The figure for 2014 was close to 1.5 billion. That’s right. The railways have been ‘ruined’ to such an extent by privatisation that there are now effectively double the number of journeys there were under nationalisation. Yet there is still less overcrowding on trains in 2015 than when trains had half the passengers they carry now!
Before privatisation, British Rail presided over nearly fourty years of chronic underinvestment in the railways, rising fares and poor levels of service. They also made heavy losses every year, which meant that the railways had to be subsidised by the British taxpayer. This means that railway lines can become at risk of closure. Most people will probably no longer remember the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, but the failures of British Rail meant that there were 1,000 miles of line closures in 1964 alone. In contrast, in 2011-2 train companies generated £1.7 billion for the Government to invest in new trains and the network’s infrastructure. Investment and innovation in the rail network is now such a priority that just 3p of every £1 you pay when buying a train ticket goes towards company operating margins. The rest goes towards running and improving the rail network. To summarise - fare rises under the current system do not line the pockets of fatcats, but are almost entirely re-invested. Fare rises under nationalisation (yes, they existed, to a far greater extent than the Greens would have you believe) were thrown into a black hole, as British Rail made losses year after year, and continually had to shut down railway lines and be bailed out by the taxpayer.
This is why Conservatives support a privatised rail network. The Greens want you to believe it’s because we’re zealous ideologues and in bed with vested interests, who are only interested in making profit at the expense of hardworking people. The problem is that this description applies far more accurately to the Greens than it does to us. We are practical, and support rail privatisation because it has delivered a more efficient rail service that can now afford to pay for the modernisation that it needs. By contrast, the Greens wistfully look back to a bygone age where, in practical terms, the railways were worse than they are now. Natalie Bennett promises a 12% cut in railway fares under nationalisation. How then will she afford to ‘invest in improving our railways?’ Bennett promises railway investment in tandem with cutting fares, yet appears to see no contradiction between the two. Figures are not her strong point, and once again a deeply ideological Green policy is underpinned by a stunning lack of substance.
Talking about vested interests – if you watch the Green broadcast referred to above, you will see an appearance from Garry Hassell, a prominent member of the RMT union. The RMT are about as vested an interest as it is possible to get, as under Bob Crow’s leadership they bullied their way to prominence, showing scant regard for the interests of commuters, or indeed anyone who wasn’t an RMT member. Green cosiness with the RMT extends to the point where Peter Pinckney, the self-confessed Marxist who was elected President of the RMT in December 2012, is standing for the Greens in Redcar. When speaking about his candidacy last month, Pinckney declared that the RMT had donated £7,000 to Caroline Lucas, due to their commitment to railway nationalisation. It should be stated that there is no evidence of any impropriety whatsoever in this donation. Nevertheless, it shows that Green railway policy is not only based on a scant disregard of the available evidence, but that it is attracting financial support from the same old vested interests. If you want the unions to once again hold the country to ransom at the expense of an efficient and modern railway service, then the Greens are the party for you.
Giving the unions greater control over the railways, as the Greens plan to do, is a disaster in the making. There have been no national rail strikes since 1994; curiously, the last national strike took place shortly before the railways were privatised. More strikes could cause havoc for commuters; if you think waiting ten minutes for a train is an inconvenience, imagine if there weren’t any running all week because the next Bob Crow wants to look busy while earning the £145,000 a year that Crow reportedly pocketed. Of course all railway workers should be fairly paid, but unions represent a vested interest, and when allowed to become too powerful in the past, held this country and its public services to ransom.
The Greens think that they can exploit discontent about imperfections in the railway system to push forward their radical, union-funded agenda. I would urge everyone reading this not to fall for their demagoguery, and instead to focus on the following facts: 97p from every £1 on the cost of a train ticket goes towards running the rail network. There are nearly double the number of customers on trains now than 20 years ago, and less overcrowding. Train companies generate around £1.7 billion a year to invest in new trains and the network’s infrastructure. Clearly, the current system continues to have its issues. However, I am excited to see how our rail system can further improve over the coming years and decades. Turning back the clock to British Rail, and granting trade unions license to inflict further misery on commuters, is not the answer.
28th March 2015
NHS: Why You Can Trust The Conservatives
In recent times, the Labour Party has led a chorus of condemnation from the Left over the Government’s record on the NHS. Terms including ‘dismantling’ and ‘privatisation’ have been bandied around, and their overall message is not only that the NHS is unsafe in Conservative hands, but that a vote for the Conservatives on May 7th could mean the end of the NHS as we know it. This is untrue, and scaremongering at its worst. Labour’s motivations in doing so are all too obvious; they are standing against a Government with a successful record, and they know that on the economy George Osborne is significantly more trusted than Ed Balls, and on leadership Ed Miliband is the least popular Leader of the Opposition in decades. Labour are running desperate, and know they have to focus either on negligible issues like TV debates, or to distort the facts by running an emotive campaign based on fear, as we are seeing with their NHS rhetoric.
Unfortunately, so far it appears to be working; an Ashcroft poll in January showed that 47% of respondents believe that Labour have the best approach to improving the NHS, contrasted with just 29% for the Conservatives. Therefore, we need to confront this challenge head-on. Labour’s rhetoric must be exposed as the disingenuous, vacuous drivel that it is, borne from egregious electioneering rather than genuine concern for the NHS. Perhaps you think this is unfair on Labour. However, Ed Miliband has repeatedly refused to deny saying that he intends to ‘weaponise’ the NHS for this election campaign. His candour in exploiting our health service for a quick political buck is remarkable, but maybe not surprising when you look at how divorced Labour’s NHS rhetoric is from reality.
For example, Miliband has promised to ‘rescue the National Health Service’ from Tory privatisation, while his Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has promised to end the ‘failed Tory market experiment’ in the NHS. In reality, at the current time the NHS budget outsourced to the private sector is slightly below 6% of the total budget. Over 94% of NHS services are still provided by the public sector, meaning that the ‘Tory market experiment’ consists of less than 6% of the NHS budget. Except it doesn’t even stretch to that. When this Conservative-led Government took office in 2010, 4.4% of the NHS budget had already been outsourced by the last Labour Government. The inconvenient truth is that the Conservatives are ‘privatising’ the NHS at a slower rate than Labour were!
It is important to stress that outsourcing the NHS budget does not constitute privatisation, in any case. The distinction may be esoterical, but it is vital. Outsourcing the NHS budget means that the NHS pays for private companies to provide care and services, which are then available to the public for free. To emphasise, outsourcing the NHS budget does NOT mean that you have to pay anything for your healthcare. It is a positive development (and Labour, who introduced it, used to think so too) – if the private sector can provide better care and make the NHS more efficient, then so long as the care remains free, why would anyone object? The central point here is that Conservatives and Labour believe that the NHS should remain free at the point of use, and paid for by the state; a political consensus that has lasted for over 65 years, and which will continue for a great deal longer. But even if we were to accept Labour’s mangled definition of privatisation, then they must admit that they have ‘privatised’ more of the NHS than the Conservatives, at double the speed of the current Government.
Even though the Conservatives haven’t privatised the NHS, our opponents would still have you believe that it is unsafe in our hands. Recently I attended a hustings, where I was asked a question about ‘cuts’ in the NHS. This is categorically untrue. When this Conservative-led Government came to office in 2010, the public finances were a shambles, and the deficit stood at almost £160 billion. This was clearly unsustainable, and there was no choice but to enter an era of greater fiscal responsibility. Even in this enforced climate, David Cameron promised that NHS spending would increase in every year of this Parliament, and this is what he has delivered. The NHS does not need ‘saving’ from the Conservatives, because we are the party committed to ensuring that it remains well-funded. Look here at Brighton & Hove; Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has just committed an extra £66 million towards an 8-year modernization of the Royal Sussex County Hospital. This is excellent news for everyone in our city, and underlines this Government’s impressive record of investment when it comes to the NHS.
The Government’s NHS reforms were frequently criticised, but have been a success. They were predicated on the principle that greater focus should be given to frontline NHS staff and services as opposed to the bureaucracy and management. This is absolutely the right approach to take, and we are proud of what we have achieved. We are proud that there are 1,900 more doctors and 4,800 more nurses in the NHS than there was a year ago. We are also proud that £150 million is going to be spent so that 10 million people can access their GPs at evenings and weekends. But we also have plans in place to further improve the NHS after the election. We support the Five Year Forward View, as laid out by the head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, which involves an extra £1 billion being invested into the NHS over the next Parliament. We want to see a more co-ordinated approach between hospitals and social care, and to create more care home places, which fell consistently under the last Labour Government.
It’s obviously not enough for Labour. They claim that, in contrast to the Conservatives, they are a party who can be trusted on the NHS. Labour’s NHS policies certainly do contrast with ours; when the Conservatives promised to safeguard NHS spending in 2010, we were labeled ‘not responsible’ by Andy Burnham. The NHS in Wales remains under Labour control, and serves as a microcosm for what could have happened in England had Labour won the last election. Labour slashed NHS funding in Wales by 8%, and the Welsh NHS is significantly underperforming when compared to its English equivalent. A recent study conducted by the impartisan House of Commons library has found that c.13% of A+E patients take 4 or more hours to be seen in Wales; double the proportion in England. In Wales, waiting lists are longer and ambulance response times are slower. Almost 75% of ambulances in England arrive within 8 minutes of a Category A call; no area in Wales matches this, and the Welsh average lags at around 60%.
Still think Labour can be trusted on the NHS? Take a look at the Stafford Hospital scandal, which took place under their watch. An estimated 1,600 patients died avoidable deaths over a four-year period due to standards of care that have repeatedly been described as ‘appaling.’ Nurses have been struck off for falsifying data in order to meet waiting time targets, and another for refusing to give insulin to a diabetic patient, who died as a result. For this to have taken place in our NHS in the last 10 years is disgraceful, and was the result of a cover-up culture that bullied and ignored whistleblowers.
Labour will doubtless want to claim that this is all in the past, and that we should move on. Except the campaign group Cure the NHS, set up by relatives of those who died at Stafford, disagreed in a recent letter to the Daily Telegraph. They said that, “We have seen no evidence that Labour have learnt the lessons from their time presiding over this toxic bullying culture and therefore they cannot be trusted to run our health service again. We believe that they would take the NHS back to the bad old days of cover-up and denial about poor care, and put patients' lives at risk in the process.” Besides, the actions of Andy Burnham, who presided over the Mid-Staffordshire scandal as Health Secretary, leave a great deal to be desired. He granted Mid-Staffordshire Foundation Trust status on the basis of 4 lines of evidence, then ignored 81 requests for a public inquiry into the scandal. He has since stated that he has no regrets whatsoever about his actions. It’s hypocrisy on a breathtaking scale that this is the man leading Labour’s attack on this Government’s NHS record. It’s truly staggering, not to mention scary, to consider that Burnham could once again be Health Secretary in 2 months’ time.
Clearly, we must avoid complacency when talking about the NHS. The pressures on A+E wards this past winter demonstrate the work that still needs to be done. However, while the deplorable Burnham sought to directly blame David Cameron, the figures show that the NHS faces challenges far beyond the occupant of Number 10. In 2004, there were around 4.4 million visits to A+E between October-December; 10 years later the figure was close to 5.6 million. This highlights that the NHS is working amidst a backdrop of increased pressure, due to an aging population. There are now 350,000 more over-75s than a year ago, and the number of over-65s is expected to almost double to 19 million by 2050. Whoever wins the election, we are going to have to find ways to enable the NHS to cope with these evolving challenges. Who do you trust to do that? The Conservatives, who have increased NHS funding despite the economic mess they inherited? The Conservatives who have put more doctors and nurses into the NHS? The Conservatives who have a clear strategy for further improving the NHS after the election? Or a Labour Party who have no plans for the NHS beyond blindly opposing the Government’s reforms, then ‘weaponising’ the NHS by launching disingenuous attacks on those reforms for political gain? The Labour Party that presided over mid-Staffordshire? The Labour Party who cut the NHS in Wales and now have A+E waiting times double that of England? The choice is yours.
12th March 2015
The Cyclist-Supporting Green Council That's Now Attacking City Cyclists
Have you heard the one about the cyclist-supporting Green Council that is now telling cyclists to remove their bike sheds by the end of the month?
Given the Greens' much-vaunted backing for cycling specifically and for sustainable transport policies in general, this latest example of their bureaucratic hypocrisy has all the makings of another Green farce for Brighton.
It seems a total of at least 21 small bike sheds in front of terraced houses in Loder Road, Bates Road, Herbert Road and Balfour Road in Withdean have been targeted by BHCC planning officers so far. An enforcement letter has been sent demanding the immediate removal of the bike sheds on the grounds that they require planning permission, something which, for good measure, the letter makes clear is unlikely to be given.
For those families affected it's causing great concern. For some, their bike storage has been in place for years, it is discreet and, in one case, mainly hidden by a bush. No neighbours have expressed concern. For those families with young children the shed is used to store all of the family bicycles. Keeping them at the back of the terraced property would mean dragging them through the house every time they wanted to use them. By storing them safely in front of the property the bikes are used far more, promoting a healthier life-style, encouraging the next generation onto cycles and reducing vehicle pollution in Brighton - all key aims of the current Green administration.
So why are BHCC's own planning officers now undermining those aims? All planning decisions are, by definition, a form of council/applicant compromise and should not only take account of the individual circumstances of each application but also, where appropriate, should be in line with, or at least reflect, the local authority's publicly mandated political direction. So, instead of penalising residents in this blatant, politically contradictory, way, BHCC could be taking the lead in promoting the green policies its current administration so vocally advocates by leaving the bike sheds alone.
Travellers should abide by the law, not be "tolerated" in yet more of our city parks
Jason Kitcat, the Green Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council, is reported in the Argus today talking about further “tolerated" sites for travellers and suggests opening up yet more city spaces for them, including outlying parks. In so doing he is simply encouraging Brighton’s white van caravan to keep on growing. Frankly, he may as well put down a welcome mat at each site too.
And yet, just hours earlier, Caroline Lucas, with a brazen eye on next year’s general election, openly seeks credit in The Argus for urging evictions, “utterly” condemns the associated problems and accuses her opponents of using the issue as a “political football”.
As ever, it’s clear the Greens are as confused as they are misguided on this perennial Brighton problem, a problem largely of their own “tolerant” making. A problem, as well, to which the Greens and Labour offer no viable solution. More importantly, they are also entirely out of touch with the views of the vast majority of Brighton residents.
To be blunt, people are utterly fed up with those who break the law by forcing entry to the city’s open spaces and whose "unauthorised encampments" then deny them the use of open spaces they have paid their council tax to enjoy. People
are fed up with the perception that BHCC officers actively assist the travellers to occupy the land once on it. People are fed up with the deeply unhygienic mess that is left behind to be cleared up at taxpayers’ expense and, yes, they are fed up with the anti-social behavior and petty criminality that can occur in the immediate area of each encampment.
Brighton & Hove Conservatives have consistently argued that a firm and fast approach needs to be taken: a list of ‘sensitive sites’ should be drawn up – parks, sports pitches, nature reserves etc – whereby any incursions are moved on immediately by the Police using their powers under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act.
We have introduced this proposal twice at Council but on both occasions it has fallen because Labour and the Greens won’t support us. In fact, Sec 62a powers are preferable because travellers can then be directed to the Transit site and if they refuse, they are barred from the city for 3 months.
However, with only 9 pitches open at Horsdean this is next to useless. The suggestion that adding extra permanent pitches there will somehow solve the problem overnight will make no difference as the majority of travellers will simply choose not to use it. Nor is the site's drainage suitable. This is why we are urging the Government to reject the proposal.
So, yes, those who “travel” have to go somewhere but the fact is Brighton simply does not have the space for the ever-roving caravan to take hold in the way it has. Nor should the city have to become "Fortress Brighton". Local authorities
in other parts of the region should now be sharing the load by assisting with a number of permanent sites to help dissipate the pressure on Brighton.
It isn’t anti-traveller or racist to say enough is enough. The traveller lifestyle is theirs to choose. But, once chosen, they should abide by the same rules as the rest of us in the so-called settled community or face the immediate consequences if they don’t.
June 18th 2014
What we are doing for Generation Rent: Clarence Mitchell, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate, Brighton Pavilion
Andy Winter, the Chief Executive of Brighton Housing Trust, recently wrote to me regarding Generation Rent, asking what I, as the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Brighton Pavilion, and the Conservative Party nationally, would be offering renters after 2015 on vitally important issues such as high rents, insecure tenancies, and poor practice by some landlords and, in particular, letting agencies. The provision of affordable, properly maintained housing, not least within the city's very large rental sector, is critically important and I welcomed Andy's request. This is my response:
Given Brighton’s above average number of renters, we are only too well aware of the problems that people can face, not least high rents, insecure tenancies and those rogue landlords and agents who can make a tenant’s life a misery.
That is why the Conservatives are acting to rectify the central cause of high rents – the lack of supply of new housing – by supporting the long-term building of thousands of affordable homes for hard-working people to rent and, in the shorter term, through the introduction of a much clearer definition of tenants’ rights and their options for redress and compensation if, unfortunately, things do go wrong.
Our political opponents claim the re-introduction of a limited form of rent control would solve the problems. We believe it wouldn’t. Rent controls have failed in the past by actually reducing the UK’s private rented housing stock and they would again. Such controls, in fact, resulted in the private rented sector shrinking from 55% of households in 1939 to just 8% in the late 1980s. Rent controls also meant that many landlords couldn’t afford to improve or maintain their homes.
So we are not only opposed to such State intervention in the market in principle but also in practice because we believe it would lead to the opposite effect with landlords simply walking away and choosing not to rent their properties, leading to fewer rental homes on the market, only the poorest quality accommodation being left available and ultimately higher rents then being imposed – hurting those renters who most need help.
To address the lack of supply, nationally, we are now building more homes to rent, so that people can find an affordable home in which to live. We are delivering up to 10,000 new affordable homes to rent through the £1 billion Build to Rent fund and are also offering up to £10 billion in debt guarantees to kick-start developments of rented housing. As a result of the Government’s housing policies, housing supply is now at its highest level since 2008 with some 420,000 new homes being built over the last three years alone.
Locally, too, we are also concerned about the potential “bombshell” that rising student numbers will have on Brighton’s rental market in the future. Sussex University, for example, will be expanding by some 5,000 students over the next 4-5 years and we are concerned that not enough purpose built-student accommodation is going to be constructed to house them – only around 2,000 on-campus units are planned and, in any case, most students only live on campus in their first year.
This increase in student numbers is likely to put incredible pressure on the city’s private rented sector and will, no doubt, push rents up higher still. Brighton & Hove City Council should, arguably, be putting much more pressure on the city’s Universities to do something about it now. A Conservative-controlled Council from next year would work closely with the Universities to find early solutions to this looming problem.
To tackle that small minority of rogue landlords who blatantly exploit tenants and the rental sector, we fully support enforcing the laws that already exist to stamp out poor practice, through the prosecution of such landlords, through a much more proactive property inspection regime to ensure the quality of accommodation is appropriate and acceptable and through sending clear messages to other landlords that such abuses of tenants will not be tolerated.
To assist tenants to gain further security over their tenancies, the Government is also now helping those renters who want a longer tenancy to agree one with their landlord. Landlords can already, in fact, agree such tenancies now, but many tenants like the flexibility that the private sector provides and we don’t want to see this undermined either.
In terms of helping renters resolve problems if things do go wrong, from this year the Government is ensuring that all letting agents and property management companies will be required to join an approved, compulsory redress scheme which will make sure that tenants have proper access to redress for their complaints, such as any lack of transparency around the fees and charges they face.
Finally, the Government is also introducing the Tenants’ Charter, setting out the rights that tenants have and the ways they can take action if problems do arise. A new code of practice for the management of private rental sector property will also help tenants feel more confident that the Conservatives are firmly on their side in standing up to – and overcoming – the bad behaviour of that small minority of rogue landlords and agents.
Ultimately, however, the only way to raise hardworking people’s living standards overall is to continue to grow the economy, cut taxes, create jobs and build more housing for both rent and ownership. The Conservatives have a long-term economic plan that is already delivering these tangible results, but there is a lot more still to do.