WITH no majority in the House of Commons, and a widespread expectation that a general election is on the cards, the Queen’s Speech today had nothing to offer the housing sector in more ways than one.
Actually, that isn’t entirely true; while housing got no mention in terms of programmes and policies to address the worsening housing crisis (remember the Social Housing Green Paper?), it did set forth proposals on building safety, and placed the Domestic Abuse Bill back on the agenda. Both of these are, of course, major points of interest for the sector.
However, the Prime Minster Boris Johnson lacks the necessary Commons majority to realistically crunch through any legislative programme for the coming Parliamentary session – down 43 after he infamously withdrew the whip from 21 rebel MPs early in his administration.
Little wonder, then, that today’s Queen’s Speech is widely regarded as little more than a preview of a Conservative Party election manifesto – and a short-termist, populist one at that – rather than a entirely serious legislative programme for government.
There was little to cheer – let alone charm – low income voters, according to the anti-poverty thinktank, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Indeed, the organisation has called on Johnson and his ministerial team to “step up” and offer “real action” in the November budget.
“Today’s speech may have been billed as offering an optimistic vision of the future but if you are struggling to get by you will have seen very little action today to loosen the grip of poverty,” said Claire Ainsley, executive director at the JRF.
“People on low incomes will be hoping for much more than this in the November budget. We all want access to an affordable home, a well paid job and the chance to progress, and a social security system to support us if we fall on hard times.
“The Government must now step up to address people’s everyday concerns and listen to the clear message from people on low incomes whose votes could be decisive at the next election.”
The proposed Building Safety Bill was a little more well-received, although it will take rather more than a new regulator improve matters, according to the National Housing Federation (NHF).
“Today’s building safety proposals from the Government are very welcome – fixing the broken regulatory system must be a top priority for ministers,” said Kate Henderson, the NHF’s chief executive. “However, ensuring that every building is safe requires more than a new regulator.
“The Government also has to make sure that funding is available to meet the cost of essential safety works where the regulatory system has failed. They also must provide clarity and coordination on how these works are to be carried out. This would enable housing associations to complete them as quickly as possible, and continue their other important work building new social housing.
“The Budget on 6 November is the Government’s opportunity to make sure that this money is in place, as well as much-needed funding for new social housing.”
Lord Porter, the Local Government Association’s (LGA) spokesman on building safety, said: “Reform of our broken building safety system cannot come soon enough so we are pleased that today’s Queen’s Speech includes a Bill to enshrine a tough new system into law.
“Designers, developers, product manufacturers and building owners need to be given clear duties in relation to building safety and clear guidance on those duties. It is important that the new regulatory framework does not create a two-tier safety system. To avoid this, we need a partnership between the new building regulator, councils and fire services, with local authorities given effective powers, including meaningful sanctions.
“The new system must also be properly funded and residents have to be able to raise concerns and know they will be listened to.
“The repair bill to improve the safety of existing buildings is likely to be significant and leaseholders and council taxpayers will not be able to meet it. There is also a significant shortage of the skills required to deliver effective fire safety regulation and funding training will be an essential early step in these reforms.
“The tragedy that unfolded at Grenfell Tower must never be allowed to happen again and we must ensure that those who live, work and visit high-rise and high-risk buildings are safe. We look forward to continuing to work with the Government to deliver the much-needed reform to ensure residents are safe and feel safe.”
The LGA also had something to say on the announcement in the speech that the Government intends to publish a devolution white paper, with the organisation’s chair describing it as “encouraging”.
“Taking decisions over how to run local services closer to where people live is key to improving them and saving money,” said Councillor James Jamieson. “There is clear and significant evidence that outcomes improve, and the country gets better value for money when councils have the freedoms and funding to make local decisions.
“With no new devolution deals agreed in two years, councils will look to work with the Government on how to reignite this process. As a first step, any new approach needs to move beyond bespoke deals with individual areas to a package of sustainably-funded devolved powers that is available to all of English local government and can be delivered through flexible governance arrangements. These powers need to be underpinned by statute so they, along with those already devolved through existing deals, cannot be rolled back by a simple change in government’s policy.
“This is vital so that all parts of England have the opportunity and certainty to reap the benefits of having greater powers and funding to improve services such as housing, transport, and health and social care.
“With adequate funding and the right powers, councils can help the Government tackle the challenges facing our nation and make a huge difference to their communities by building desperately-needed new homes, creating jobs and school places, providing care for older and disabled people and boosting economic growth.”