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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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News

Withyhedge Landfill: Multi-agency statement issued to residents

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NATURAL Resources Wales (NRW) shared the most recent findings from a visit to Withyhedge Landfill site in Pembrokeshire at a Multi-agency Incident Management Team meeting on Wednesday, 10 April. The meeting included representatives from Pembrokeshire County Council (PCC), Public Health Wales (PHW) and Hywel Dda University Health Board.

All authorities acknowledge and empathise with the impact this prolonged odour issue is having on members of the communities that surround Withyhedge Landfill.

This is a complex and ever-changing situation, and partners are working extremely hard to reach a point where the odour problems are resolved.

NRW officers attended the site on Monday 8 April. It appears, from a visual assessment of the work undertaken on site, that the required capping work and gas well installation has been completed by site operators, RML, in line with the deadline of the S36 Enforcement Notice, issued by NRW on 13 February 2024.

However, this can only be fully assessed by NRW once survey and construction validation reports have been submitted. The operator is now preparing these and once received, a formal assessment will be undertaken.

The authorities will review the findings and revise their action plans where appropriate.

Odour Monitoring

Since the passing of the S36 Enforcement Notice deadline of Friday 5 April, and in response to continued high volumes of odour reports from the local community, NRW and PCC increased odour monitoring in residential areas over the weekend and into this week.

Other possible areas on site where odour may be coming from have been identified and the statement from the company issued 9 April provides further detail.

RML submitted plans to address these on 10 April, which are now being considered by NRW.

Air Quality Monitoring

RML has also commissioned an independent party to carry out air quality monitoring, and this work continues. PCC and NRW are providing technical advice in support of this work.

The first round of diffusion tubes monitoring results detected Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) at one of the 10 monitoring sites. Hydrogen sulphide being a colourless gas which often smells like rotten eggs and can come from the breakdown of waste materials in landfill.

More data is required for meaningful analysis and Public Health Wales continue to advocate for further air monitoring to take place as soon as possible. This is being progressed by PCC and NRW.

Reporting odour

NRW requests that instances of odour from the landfill continue to be reported via this dedicated form: https://bit.ly/reportasmellwithyhedge.

Please report odours at the time of them being experienced, rather than historically. Reporting odours in a timely manner will help guide the work of partners more effectively, particularly in the further development of air quality monitoring.

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Health

Doctors to enter pay negotiations with the Welsh Government

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BMA CYMRU Wales has suspended forthcoming industrial action for Consultants and SAS doctors following a constructive meeting with the Welsh government to resolve its pay disputes.

As a result of sustained pressure, including three rounds of industrial action by junior doctors in Wales, the Welsh Government has made a significant proposal to form the basis of talks to end the pay disputes with all secondary care doctors including Consultants, SAS and Junior doctors.

Since the meeting last week, the committees representing doctors from all three branches of practice have voted to enter pay negotiations based on this proposal.

The planned 48-hour strike by Consultants and SAS doctors due to take place from 16 April will now be suspended.

Junior doctors have paused plans to announce more strike dates whilst they enter negotiations with the Welsh Government.

The Welsh junior doctors committee, Welsh SAS committee and Welsh consultants committee will now each engage in pay negotiations, with the aim of reaching deals which can be taken separately to their respective members.

Dr Oba Babs Osibodu and Dr Peter Fahey co-chairs of the BMA’s Welsh Junior doctors Committee said:

“This is a significant step forward. It is sad that we had to take industrial action to get here, but we are proud of members for demonstrating their resolve in pursuit of a fair deal for the profession.

“Whilst we are optimistic and hope to quickly resolve our dispute, we remain steadfast in achieving pay restoration. Until we reach a deal, nothing is off the table.

 “We will continue to work hard to reach an offer that is credible to put to members who will ultimately have the final say.”

Dr Stephen Kelly, chair of BMA Cymru Wales’ Consultants committee said:

“The Welsh Government’s recent efforts to reach an end to the pay dispute are encouraging and so we have called off our planned strike for now whilst we allow time and space for negotiations to take place.

“We’re hopeful that we can reach a deal that sufficiently addresses years of erosion to our pay to help retain senior doctors in Wales but remain ready to strike if we’re not able to do so during negotiations.”

Dr Ali Nazir, chair of BMA Cymru Wales’ SAS doctor committee said:

“As a committee, we felt that this latest development goes someway to understanding the strength of feeling of our members. We will work hard to reach a settlement that sufficiently meets the expectation of our colleagues who have faced real terms pay cuts of up to a third since 2008/9.”

In August last year, the BMA’s committees representing secondary care doctors in Wales voted to enter into separate trade disputes with the Welsh Government after being offered another below inflation pay uplift of just 5% for the 23/24 financial year. SAS doctors on some contracts were offered as little as 1.5%. This was the lowest pay offer any government in the UK offered and less than the DDRB, the pay review body for doctors and dentists, recommended last year.

As part of their disputes, SAS doctors, consultants and junior doctors carried out successful ballots for industrial action. Since then, junior doctors have taken part in 10 days of industrial action since January this year.

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Health

BMA pay disputes – Junior Doctors, Consultants and Specialist Doctors

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THE WELSH Government and BMA Wales’ three national committees representing consultants, SAS doctors and junior doctors have today agreed to formal negotiations about pay.

Planned industrial action will be suspended during the negotiations.

A mandate is being developed for the talks with all three BMA branches of practice with the aim of resolving the disputes over pay for 2023-24.

In the context of the most challenging financial position the Welsh Government has faced since devolution, a significant amount of work has been undertaken to identify funding to support the negotiations.

First Minister Vaughan Gething said: “We recognise the strength of feeling among BMA members and that industrial action is never taken lightly.

“This is a government that listens and engages to find solutions. I prioritised a meeting with the BMA directly alongside the Cabinet Secretary for Health to reinforce our commitment to that partnership approach.

“We currently face the most severe financial situation in the devolution era which makes our task far harder. Despite this backdrop, we have worked to identify a way forward that I hope will lead to the successful resolution of this dispute and ensure that doctors can return to work in NHS Wales.”

Cabinet Secretary for Health Eluned Morgan added: “Even in these very challenging circumstances, we have worked in social partnership with the BMA and NHS to maintain patent safety during industrial action.

“But the strikes have been very disruptive to the delivery of NHS services – none of us want to see doctors on strike. I am pleased the three BMA committees have agreed to pause further industrial action and begin formal talks with Welsh Government and hope we can bring an end to this dispute.”

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