Being honest I find the news here and elsewhere very depressing. So my thoughts have turned to Christmas which, as they say, is a time for giving. Not having a lot to give I have decided to move into receiving mode. Obviously there are a lot of people queuing up to give me things. I just hope some of them give me something I want, but , for the avoidance of doubt, I will give them a clue as to what I really want.
Firstly, I want a National Housing Bank.
I thought when the Government claimed ownership of Northern Rock, Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group for us that we would eventually get some tangible benefits from such a large outlay of our money. Let me say that the decision to pump in public money into such rotten enterprises was never one I supported, but then again nobody asked me – or you. But it seems our political classes have no ambition or vision to improve matters for the majority only to enable private capital to flourish while we wither.
I expected, at the very least, that these nationalised banks would be reconfigured and that part of the solution would be the formation of a National Housing Bank that would have as it’s remit the rebuilding of our State housing provision and financing of other housing projects. If only a part of the £850 billion that has been spent propping up the Banking system had been put to work building homes the problems we now face with housing our people would have been reduced or even eliminated. Jobs created, manufacturing boosted and secure tenancies in new houses for thousands of people could have been the result. Is it too late ? Maybe, but it’s what I want.
Next, I want an end to Freehold tenure.
I have mentioned this topic elsewhere (post – Freeholders want to be freeloaders) and will return to it next year, 800 years after Magna Carta. Unless someone gives it to me before then, but I am not counting on it.
I read recently, while looking at an article on the Scottish National Party’s plans for land reform in Scotland, that 421 people own 40% of Scotland. Yes, that’s right, own 40% of the land that comprises Scotland. If they could wrap it up they could take it to the Maldives and turn it into a nice large island with better weather. In fact a lot of these owners are not resident in the country or the UK. I also see that the iconic building known as New Scotland Yard in London has been sold to new owners from Abu Dahbi. They now own a patch of land in London for the rest of their lives. It amazes me that lots of quite dangerous people keep on about poor immigrants who come to the UK to try and better themselves, but I have never seen these same people utter a word about rich people from abroad buying up our homes and land and driving up the prices of them beyond the reach of UK citizens.
Now letting people own land may not have posed any problems in 1086 A.D. when the Domesday Book was written and the population numbered maybe 2.5 million. However 1000 years later we can see the problems it creates now that our population has risen to 64 million. When a small number of people and corporations can own whole chunks of our island and leave less for us to live on it is no wonder the price of land has become the major cost of building homes. If there were a proper cost to land acquisition and what it is used for we could regulate this activity to meet our changing priorities.
Freehold tenure should be consigned to history, where it has a proud place in developmental economics, and should be replaced with leasehold tenure controlled by Statute law. Alongside this we should have a Land Use Tax that will reflect our needs. I realise that this proposition will be fiercely opposed by property owners and that it is unlikely to come about overnight. There are many ways to make the transition equitable and a generational timescale is not unfair given the dramatic impact. But I am sure I am on the right side of history in this proposal.
We cannot allow concentration of wealth and power to continue as it has done and appears likely to deepen. Our land is an entity , mitigated perhaps by reclaim from the sea or floating homes, but is finite and should belong to us all. The biggest problem with the world is income distribution and this measure would directly impact as part of the solution.
Then I want Housing Associations to become Public Bodies.
Housing Associations have done a pretty good job of providing a core of social housing and many are very good Landlords. I have never agreed with Stock Transfer Housing Associations, but at least they have generally kept estates together under one owner and provided some investment that Local Authorities were barred from making or too lacking in will to carry out.
However we can see the worrying trends already developing. The same concentration of power processes are in play. Takeovers and amalgamations are creating bigger organisations and any accountability even more remote from tenants. Surpluses are being created that make a mockery of ‘target rents’ and charitable status. Proposals for paying executive salaries to Board members show, that for some, the true intent is to become corporations that finance and own new types of developments for ‘different’ sorts of customers.
It will not be long before the new alternative income streams cause venerable Housing Associations to relocate to Luxembourg to minimise their tax liabilities or protect the identity of their overseas investors. You may smile now at the mere suggestion, but give it time, give it time. So best to knock all this on the head right now and take temptation out of the hands of overly ambitious CEO’s by incorporating Housing Associations into the Public sector. This will ensure that our social housing stock becomes our National Assets again.
The knock on effect that this measure will have in empowering tenants would be much greater than anything proposed voluntarily by our Housing Professionals, such as Scrutiny Panels et al.
Lastly, I want proper regulation of the private rented sector.
There are relatively few creatures in the world that I dislike, but of those few private landlords stand out. With money and access to credit they seek to extract profits from their fellow citizens who need a place to live their lives. This hardly seems a noble contribution to society even though there are now BBC programmes venerating the opportunists that take up this calling.
That they exist is disappointing, but that they do so with so little oversight is outrageous. I want their every move regulated. Health and safety inspections without notice like Ofsted threaten to do with schools and others with care homes. I want their prices regulated to prevent the free market holding sway and their surpluses controlled. I want their profits taxed and paid at premium rates on a monthly basis directly from their rents
As you may gather I have very few ( in fact zero) friends who are private landlords and this situation causes me no distress at all. My distress is reserved for the members of Generation Rent who have a real battle on their hands to get real beneficial laws on the Statute book. We saw that difficulty with the simple Revenge Eviction proposals and can imagine what resistance there would be to rather more complex pricing legislation.
So that’s not too much to ask for, is it ?
Finally I wish and want you all ( not you Clegg) to have a very happy festive season and hope you will come back next year.