Monday, 28 April 2014

What future for affordable and social housing?

A Google search for "Section 106" yields, as top advert: "Avoid Affordable Housing". Lawyers touting services to enable property developers to circumvent the needs of local communities. This is the tip of the iceberg which exists to support Big Construction; and it includes the Coalition. What hope can there be that any return to mass house building will include ANY lower-cost homes for those who need them, when the massed ranks of investors and their cronies in Parliament are arrayed against them, hidden behind a single clause in the Town and Country Planning Act?

Section 106 of this Act, backed up by more recent "clarifications", gives developers the escape chute from inclusion of social or affordable homes in new estates. It is clear that the very purpose of the Act was to ensure that developers had to provide Local Authorities with funds - "the essential provision"- towards infrastructure and social housing needed for the local community, through the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). Yet the get-out provided by Section 106, whereby reduction of overall scheme profitability below 17.5% enables the developer to escape the "essential provision" belies this intention; and invoking it has now become standard practice.

With house-building already below half of the rate required to meet demand in this Parliament, the shortfall has increased under the Coalition by an extra half-a-million houses. The Government is certainly failing the working and non-working people of the South of England who need to live near work but cannot find homes. Then in April Clegg announced that new Garden Cities and now all new developments can be built without social housing.  With neither sufficient build nor provision of an affordable element, could the Coalition really be expecting NOT to get back into power?  Could they be inflating a house price bubble whose burst the next Government will have to suffer? They are certainly doing big favours to land-owners, landlords and developers. Luckily, there are fewer of these than there are would-be householders. Labour has to get the message out that only we will free up land, control rents, build council houses and demand a proper affordable housing sector.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Whom is Labour for?

In the post-industrial age, with smaller workforces and collectivism more challenging in the workplace, the "natural constituency" of Labour has diminished like mist on a sunny day. Yes, there remains the important historic and emotional tie between Party and Unions but these too have seen their ability to recruit and organise dwindle as the nature of the workplace has changed and vindictive Tory legislation has bitten.

Success as measured by the Coalition merely counts the wealth growing in the off-shore coffers of the plutocracy. The unequal society on which we now - again - live illustrates clearly the need for a party willing and able to represent those whose economic and social prospects count for so little to the current government.

With values of altruism and mutuality, the Labour Party is clearly the only political entity which offers any voice for the under-paid, unpaid, isolated, disabled or ignored of Britain's 21st century. The problem is to persuade this majority to see itself as belonging to the Labour banner. We have been persuaded to see ourselves as individuals first, community second. The politics of individualism have dominated the consumerist, shopping-as-leisure marketplace we are told we occupy. What we really have is millions of people with common needs, for well-being, happiness and social cohesion as well as enough money.

We are a society in which care for others is second nature but belittled by low wages and status. Labour must lead a campaign to revalue caring for others' wellbeing and the caring professions in particular to where they belong, financially as well as emotionally; at the same time setting free-loading and gambling in their proper place in the hierarchy of respect - far below the carers, manufacturing, creative and digital workers. And let our party resile from this courting of "hard-working families" which so damages the esteem for those who are unable to work, no longer work, cannot find work or have no family. Let Labour be the voice of its true constituency: those who find themselves, temporarily or permanently unfairly treated by the economy.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Energy as a Rural issue?

Now that Green Dave (as was, until his Chancellor persuaded him otherwise) is thinking of withdrawing support from Onshore Wind; and in the aftermath of the fracking threat in West Sussex,  energy is now a rural issue.
Wind Farms are rarely found in urban environments, requiring space, wind, and low impact on people [because of the number affected]. Therefore they must be located, if anywhere, either at sea ("OffShore") or in the countryside ("Onshore"). Dave's Mates own most of the latter, though, and are starting to make noises. Now that those who wanted to cash in on the generous compensation for hosting turbines have done so, he is persuaded that supporting this form of wind energy generation, the lowest cost one, is no longer attractive. One must not upset one's friends, must one? No matter that the country appears to need both more energy and lower costs.

So should Labour now take up the cudgels for Onshore Wind all the more strongly, as the lower-cost renewable energy source currently available? Or should Labour take an environmental stance against further rural eyesores? Who are we to please - or displease, most?
Labour seems at last to be moving towards a devolution agenda, which may enable local communities to develop their own strategies and even to invest in their own infrastructure needs, energy included. The sorts of energy local authorities could afford whilst responding to local geography, would include on-shore wind, fracking and solar. Labour could usefully consider developing policy in this area whereby not only land-owners receive compensation but so do affected local communities.  This could take the form of discounted energy prices for those most affected,  not just the land-owners.
Rural Labour supporters do not often seem to count in determining policy, small in number as we are, but here is an issue where combining rural viewpoints into a coherent lobby might make great sense and carry some weight.