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Right to Buy discount halved

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Right to Buy: Not what it was!

Right to Buy: Not what it was!

IT WAS ANNOUNCED last week that the Welsh Government had halved the maximum discount available under the Right to Buy scheme in an attempt to ‘protect the social housing stock’.

Earlier this year Communities Minister Lesley Griffiths announced her intention to end the scheme, which has been in existence since the early eighties when it was introduced by Michael Heseltine, Margaret Thatcher’s Environment Minister as part of the Housing Act (1980).

It is hard to think of a single policy which has been so divisive over the last three decades. It is, in effect, an ideological issue; with Free Market proponents on the one side advocating the power and responsibility taken from the state and given to the individual. Opposing this are critics who point to the drastic reduction in social housing over the time period, and the corresponding increases in homelessness and the use of public money to pay private landlords.

In Wales, 138,709 council-owned homes were sold under Right to Buy between 1981 and 2014 – leading to a reduction in the social housing available of 45 percent. Nationally 42% of the population lived in council housing in 1979 – by 2008 this had dropped to 12%.

The sale of council housing was originally meant to provide funds which would enable local authorities to pay back loans and build new properties. However, restrictions were placed on the proceeds of the sales, and councils found that they could not build any new social housing until these loans had been paid off. House building by local authorities in England and Wales dropped dramatically during the eighties, and has never recovered.

The Labour Government initially opposed the policy, but changed their position in 1985. Tony Blair’s government introduced caps on the discount available in areas short of social housing, and in 2005, the rules were changed to stop former tenants selling on the open market immediately after purchase. A five-year minimum residency before becoming eligible for the scheme was also introduced.

The policy was initially very popular among council tenants, and it was considered to have played a major role in Margaret Thatcher’s landslide victory of 1983, when in 1980 she had the lowest approval rating of any prime minister since records began.

However, repossession rates were notably higher than those for people taking out private mortgages, and homelessness across Great Britain trebled over the eighties. Another bone of contention for those opposed to Right to Buy concerned the burgeoning buy to let market, which in many cases saw ex-council housing stock rented out at considerably more than the local authority charged.

Because most of the council housing purchased was of good quality, and as a result of housing shortages leading to applicants being prioritized on the basis of need, many tenants found themselves living in areas of increasing social deprivation. Cuts to council maintenance budgets, and a dramatic increase in council rents contributed to this on a national level, and to some extent made Right to Buy a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who could afford it. By the mid-nineties, 95% of council tenants qualified for means-tested benefits.

There has been a rise in the number of social housing sales in Wales over the last five years, with 544 properties sold last year. In response to this, the maximum discount has been reduced to £8,000 from £16,000. Commenting on this, Lesley Griffiths AM said that “Right to Buy is depleting our social housing stock.

“This damaging policy is further increasing the pressure on our social housing supply and is forcing many vulnerable people to wait longer for a home,” she added.

“This is why the Welsh Government has taken decisive action to protect our social housing and make sure it is available for those who need it most. Today is a significant step towards our eventual goal of abolishing the Right to Buy and Right to Acquire in Wales.”

The Conservatives, unsurprisingly, disagree with this. Speaking earlier this year, Shadow Assembly Housing Minister Mark Isherwood said that the move ‘flies in the face of aspiration and ambition. It will limit supply and deny people in council properties the choice and power to buy their own home’.

Mr Isherwood announced the intention of the Welsh Conservatives to extend Right to Buy: “We would invest all the sales proceeds in new social and affordable housing to help tackle Labour’s housing supply crisis and take households off their record-breaking waiting lists,” he added.

“Scrapping the right to buy is further proof that it’s anti-aspiration; stuck in an ’80s socialist dogma where it believes the government knows best – not the individual. We must use every tool in the armoury to increase housing supply in order to make housing more affordable.”

Whether selling off social housing in order to make money which could potentially be used to build more is a viable solution to these ‘record-breaking waiting lists,’ or indeed whether the aforementioned 45 percent reduction in available social housing could have had anything to do with the current housing shortage remains unclear.

This also fails to take into consideration people living in social housing that is not covered by Right to Buy, and indeed the large number of people renting from private landlords, often because of a shortage of council housing.

In England, the Conservatives have announced proposals which would extend Right to Buy across all areas of social housing. However, the social housing provider would have to be compensated, thus meaning that the discounted price would have to cover the cost of a new equivalent house. This is meant to be funded through local authorities selling off their more expensive council houses when they become vacant, but research has shown that outside of London the figures often fail to add up.

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Conservatives in plea for rate reduction ahead of Small Business Saturday

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WELSH CONSERVATIVES have reiterated their calls for Labour ministers to slash business rates for next year as we work to bounce back from the pandemic.

The party’s renewed plea comes as we mark Small Business Saturday tomorrow (Dec 4) which encourages people to shop local.

The annual event, now in its ninth year, saw 15.4 million people across the UK support their local shops, spending a huge £1.1 billion.

Small Business Saturday is a chance to celebrate the fantastic work they do such as creating jobs for local people and supporting our communities.

The Welsh Conservatives believe this year is more important than ever for people to shop in their local small businesses as they work to bounce back from the pandemic.

There are 265,340 micro, small and medium sized businesses across Wales employing nearly 740,000 people and turning over £46 billion a year.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for the Economy, Paul Davies MS, said: “From corner shops to cafes, small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the beating heart of local communities up and down Wales.

“Businesses have taken a huge hit because of the pandemic and with our economy still recovering, it is vital we do all we can to help our traders get back on their feet.

“We can help by shopping local, but Labour ministers in Cardiff Bay can also play their part by matching the UK Government’s pledge to slash business rates by 50% for next year – or even more.

“It is important now more than ever to shop local and help our small businesses bounce back and I hope the Labour government will step up to the plate as well and provide them with much-needed economic support so they can flourish and grow.”

Welsh Liberal Democrats are also calling for aSupport Package for Small Businesses 

Ahead of Small Business Saturday, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have called for more action to support more small businesses across Wales.

Small Business Saturday UK is a grassroots, non-commercial campaign, which highlights small business success and encourages consumers to ‘shop local’ and support small businesses in their communities and takes place on the first Saturday in December each year. 

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have stated that not enough is being done to support small businesses across Wales given the adverse few years they have just had to face, adapting to post-Brexit trading agreements and coping with the long-lasting fallout of the pandemic.  

Among the measures the party is calling for are: reform of business rates, improved broadband speeds and access, further investment in towns regeneration and a windfall tax on global giants like Amazon.  

Commenting on the calls Mid & West Wales Senedd Member Jane Dodds stated: “Small businesses are the backbone of the Welsh economy. With over 60 per cent of Welsh employment being provided by small and medium businesses, they will be the driving force behind our recovery from the pandemic.  

“It is for this reason, it is absolutely vital they are properly supported over the coming years with real tangible ideas. The Welsh Liberal Democrats would ease the pressure of business rates, invest in public transport, broadband and mobile phone signal, and make sure that big online business pay their fair share. 

“The Labour-Plaid Cymru deal is bereft of ideas to support small businesses and the Conservatives are busy undermining business in London. The Welsh Lib Dems have small businesses and jobs at the top of our agenda.   

“At the forefront is our call the reform of business rates. Business rates represent an enormous on our local shops and enterprises. An analogue tax in a digital age, rates give a competitive advantage towards online retail giants while punishing our local shops that actually employ local people and pay all their taxes.

“If the Labour-Plaid Cymru administration is considering reforming council tax, reforming business rates should also be at the top of their agenda. At a UK Government level we continue to call on the Conservatives to implement a windfall tax on online giants such as Amazon where the funds raised can go into improving high streets across the UK.

“We also want the Government to consider more support for a towns regeneration fund. We are proposing a £500 million towns regeneration fund over the next five years to invest in the physical and digital infrastructure of our towns. In rural regions like my own, digital connectivity is still a major barrier to the success of some small businesses.

“Its also important to recognise the impact that leaving the EU has had on many small businesses across Wales. Increased trading barriers and red tape have left many struggling to continue exports to EU customers, with the costs of increased bureaucracy putting them at a competitive disadvantage compared to companies in Northern Ireland and other EU states. The Welsh Liberal Democrats are continuing to call for an improved trading deal with the EU as well as the return of freedom of movement.

“We can do more to support our small businesses, we just need key players to find the political will to do so.”

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Labour and Plaid unveil a deal for Government

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ON MONDAY (November 22), Labour and Plaid Cymru announced an agreement to stitch up the Senedd for the next three years.

Amid much self-congratulation,  Adam Price and Mark Drakeford hailed their success at reaching an agreement.

Labour promises to deliver the bits of its Manifesto with which Plaid agrees and considers delivering the bits of Plaid’s Manifesto that it finds unobjectionable.

WHAT THEY SAY

A joint press release says: “The agreement is a joint policy programme covering 46 areas, ranging from the delivery of free school meals to all primary school pupils; a commitment to take immediate and radical action to address the second homes crisis, to long-term reform of the Senedd.

“This is a new form of political working arrangement. The two partners – the Welsh Government and the Plaid Cymru Senedd Group – will work together to jointly develop and oversee the delivery of the policies covered by the agreement over the coming three years.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The Welsh Government has an ambitious Programme for Government, which it will deliver over this Senedd term. But we do not have a monopoly on good ideas, and we will work with progressive parties where we have shared and common interests to benefit people in Wales.

“This Co-operation Agreement brings the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru together to respond to some of the most pressing issues facing Wales today, such as climate change and the energy and cost-of-living crisis.

“We can achieve more for people in Wales by working together, and the Co-operation Agreement is both a response to the external challenges we face and a chance to build on the opportunities in our future. It will also help us secure a stable Senedd over the next three years, capable of delivering radical change and reform.

“These commitments build on our shared values of social solidarity, a sustainable planet and a vibrant democracy.”

Adam Price, Leader of Plaid Cymru, said: “Almost a quarter of a century ago, people in Wales voted for self-government for Wales, with a promise of a new type of politics.

“They placed their trust in a new democracy with an instruction to work differently – inclusively and co-operatively.

“The challenges we face require real ambition to deliver radical ideas. The fallout from leaving the European Union, the legacy of the pandemic, and the UK Government’s determination to erode the Senedd’s powers all increase the need for transformational change.

“Taken together, the bold policy pledges will unite Wales and benefit every generation, from all primary school pupils receiving free school meals to a national care service, free at the point of need.

“I am pleased this pioneering Co-operation Agreement is founded on common ground on a range of issues that will make a long-lasting difference to people’s lives.”

As part of the agreement, a publicly owned energy company for Wales could be created to encourage community-owned renewable energy generation; there will be further investment in flood defences and new measures to strengthen the Welsh language and support for young people’s mental health.

This is a bespoke agreement – it is not a coalition; Plaid Cymru Members will not be joining the Welsh Government as Ministers or Deputy Ministers. Plaid Cymru will appoint a designated lead member for the agreement. Committees of Welsh Ministers and Plaid Cymru designated members will be established to agree on issues covered by the Co-operation Agreement.

Funding has been put in place as part of the Co-operation Agreement and reflected in the draft Budget published in December.

All issues outside the Co-operation Agreement will be handled in the normal course of political engagement.

THE FALL OF ADAM:

FROM HIGH IDEALS TO BASE REALITY

Before May’s election, Adam Price spoke about his “despair” at the prospect of five more years of Labour Government, of Labour’s failures in Wales, and how Wales deserved better.

It turns out what he meant was that he was happy to support Labour in exchange for many things Labour said it was going to do anyway.

The prospect of last week’s Welsh Food Bill (supported by Plaid) ever hitting the statute book has taken a massive step backwards. Instead, there’s likely to be a continuation of the current Welsh Government strategy of discussing whether to consult before talks about holding talks.

Labour hailed its thirty seats in May’s election as a massive endorsement for its policies. Voters rejected those policies in large parts of Wales, where the fight for seats was between Plaid and the Conservatives.

Bolting strong anti-Labour sentiment in traditionally Plaid supporting areas did not end well for Plaid after the One Wales Government.

It is hard to see the crustier members of the Party of Wales reconciling themselves to backing Labour in a Senedd many of them regard as not speaking for their concerns about language, culture, and rural Wales.

Setting unionism aside, the divide between rural Plaid voters and the Conservatives is a lot narrower than Plaid in Cardiff Bay would like to accept.

However, the signs that the parties would reach an agreement have been obvious for some time, notably at First Minister’s Questions.

Over recent weeks, Adam Price’s questions to Mark Drakeford played out like a charade.

The Plaid leader repeatedly invites the Labour leader to comment about the awfulness of the Westminster Government, and the Labour leader obliges and agrees with Mr Price about how awful it is.

The searching scrutiny of the Welsh Government’s actions one might expect from the Plaid leader has been from Mr Price’s questions.

All of which suggests both he and Mark Drakeford are more concerned about what Westminster is or isn’t doing than what the party in power in Wales is or isn’t doing.

It’s all been rather like the occasion when Margaret Thatcher, faced with short-term political difficulty, was asked by Pembrokeshire’s former MP Nicholas Bennett to list her Government’s achievements.

As someone who prides himself on his command of language and speech-making, Mr Price seems to have reconciled himself to the idea that it’s better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.

When it comes to political idealism against political reality, Mr Price has shown himself a pragmatist.

REAL-WORLD CONSIDERATIONS

With 45 Senedd members, Labour plus Plaid, the numbers stack up arithmetically to increase the number of MSs and change the electoral system.

The losers in such a change, Plaid and Labour calculate, will be the Conservatives.

Increasing the number of Senedd members has long been a Labour goal. In the last Senned term, Labour lacked the numbers to make the change: now it does.

An increase in the number of Senedd members works only if a larger Senedd gets things done and gets them done faster and better.

Labour’s record on introducing primary legislation to the Senedd is weak. For example, it is still wrangling over the scope of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act passed in 2015, two Senedd elections ago.

There is, however, an issue that might cut through any proposed enlargement: public opinion.

Plaid’s and Labour’s recent rhetoric could come back to haunt them.

For the last two years, the Labour Government has lamented the powers being stripped away from it by the Conservative Government in Westminster.

Adam Price has agreed that the Conservatives have stolen powers and breached promises over finance at every turn.

If, as Labour and Plaid claim, the beastly Westminster Parliament is stealing away its power to do anything, the question arises as to why – with fewer effective powers at its disposal – Wales needs more Senedd Members.

A larger Senedd will not hinder a Conservative majority government in London from doing what it wants, and it would be neither more nor less legitimate than the current arrangement.

The result of sixty out of eighty Senedd members complaining when nobody’s listening will be no different than forty-five out of sixty.

CONSERVATIVES EMPHASISE

EVERYDAY PRIORITIES

A larger Senedd will not mean more powers in Cardiff unless Westminster grants them.

A larger Senedd must mean smaller (and possibly fewer) County Councils.

A larger Senedd might also mean a more openly centralised approach to Wales’s shambolic and chaotic health and social care provision.

The powers the agreement allows the Welsh Government to use are ones it already has – ones a Conservative Government granted it.

Wisely, the Welsh Conservative response to the deal does not over-egg the constitutional pudding.

It emphasises priorities for the Government over the party’s too-frequent claims of ‘constitutional chaos’.

A spokesperson said: “This deal fails to deliver on the priorities of the people of Wales.

“It does nothing to address the crisis in our NHS; nothing to improve our ailing Welsh infrastructure; and nothing to fire up our sluggish economy.

“Prioritising more politicians and constitutional reform over action to secure treatment for the one in five on an NHS waiting list or improving take-home pay for the low paid is appalling.

“Yet again, Plaid has betrayed its voters with another deal that cements a failing Labour administration into power for years to come.

“The message to voters is clear; vote Plaid, get Labour, and vote Labour, get Plaid. Only the Welsh Conservatives can deliver the real change that Wales needs.”

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Kickstart scheme ‘success in Pembrokeshire’ says MP

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PRESELI MP, Stephen Crabb has welcomed the news of the success of the Kickstart scheme locally.

The UK Government’s Kickstart scheme, aimed at delivering more job opportunities for 16-24-year-olds in the wake of the pandemic, can be labelled a success story in Pembrokeshire with 110 individuals benefiting directly.

The success of this scheme comes on top of the positive unemployment figures for October. The unemployment rate in the constituency is now down to 3.8% and there were 50 fewer people claiming unemployment related benefits than in September. Figures in Preseli are lower than the average across the UK, which stand at 4.8%.

The Kickstart Scheme is part of a range of measures aimed at tackling long-term unemployment including an increase in the Minimum Wage and reduction to the Universal Credit withdrawal rate for people moving into work.

Mr Crabb believes that the drop in unemployment figures and the improving jobs market overall points to much stronger employment prospects in the future, particularly as the economy continues to rebound from the effects of Covid. Locally, Pembrokeshire has benefitted from the boom in staycations owing to the restrictions on international travel, but many hospitality firms have pointed to the difficulties in filling job vacancies.

Commenting on this week’s employment figures, Mr Crabb told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “The pandemic has been tough for young people, especially those looking for a job. I am delighted that the Kickstart scheme, which launched in September, has already had a direct impact in Pembrokeshire.”
“The measures announced in the recent Budget mean that we have the best opportunity in more than a generation to bring down long-term unemployment in this country. I was particularly pleased about the recent reduction in the Universal Credit withdrawal rate which will help smooth the path for people to move off benefits and take up paid work.”

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