Speech

Local Government Association housing seminar

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Transcript of the speech as delivered. Thanks Gary. I’ve been Housing Minister for over a year now. That’s quite an achievement - I shadowed…


Transcript of the speech as delivered.

Thanks Gary.

I’ve been Housing Minister for over a year now. That’s quite an achievement - I shadowed four different Ministers when in opposition.

I am very pleased to be in the position and I look forward to continuing in it. I think you need time covering housing to grasp the important and complex issues that it embraces.

I am proud to be starting my second year.

However, as I am Minister for Housing and Local Government I wanted to take some time at the beginning of my speech to stress the importance of the Councillor’s role.

Councillors role

I can clearly remember a lead councillor for planning introducing somebody in the room to the Head of Planning at his Council as “the boss”.

Obviously this was a joke (I think), but as with so many jokes, it revealed a hidden truth.

As elected members it is too easy to surrender power to the bureaucrat.

Some of you in the room may have been newly elected in May. You may already be experiencing frustrations. Being told you can’t do this. You mustn’t do that. And certainly shouldn’t say the other thing.

But remember why you chose to stand for election in the first place. You want to represent people. If we were in America I’d say you’ve stepped up to the plate. But I’d prefer to say you’ve put on your pads and made your way to the crease.

But what happens then - for too long central Government has bamboozled you with googlies. Directive after directive has flowed out of Whitehall. They then tied your legs together with red tape while telling you to get on with the job. And told you how much money you could spend on what bat. It all seemed to be designed to make it impossible for you to decide for yourselves what to do for your communities.

But it’s YOU as someone who is accountable to the people who elected YOU - not me, not a Whitehall civil servant and not your local officers - who are in charge.

So we’re changing the rules.

Localism

The Localism Bill, when it is passed, will fundamentally shift the balance of power in this country. It is part of on an ambitious programme of reform to put you back in the driving seat. We are giving the powers the State has taken, back to the people.

We will reform the planning system so local people can decide what happens in their neighbourhoods. We will tear up the restrictive regulations that stop you from doing what is in the best interest of the people you represent.

And we will give you the power to run your own council housing finance.

Whitehall will no longer decide what happens in the Town Hall.

That’s your job.

Housing policy

The Government has now been in power for just over a year and it’s been a busy time.

I was anxious to change things in housing particularly quickly. And we have.

We ripped up the Regional Targets because they didn’t work and foreshadowed the biggest slump in house building since the 1920s.

Instead of targets people need to see the benefit of building the new homes that the country needs.

The New Homes Bonus is already in place.

You will have already received the first cash bonus based on how many homes were built last year.

And you will now be spending it.

I would urge you to work with communities so they can get their hands on more cash next year. You need to be leading the debate with communities about the benefits of growth.

Obviously it’s been a difficult year for budgeting. We had to address a massive public deficit by cutting public expenditure.

Things could have only got worse if the coalition Government hadn’t agreed a programme to cut the deficit.

And things won’t get much easier until the economy starts growing faster and that’s why getting the house building industry building homes again is essential.

I’d urge you to think about how you can work with
developers to get Britain building again.

Yesterday I announced that we are making it easier for people to reclaim the land the public owns.

And to use it for the public benefit.

The public sector owns previously developed land more than twice the size of Leicester.

If we push hard we can unlock land to deliver up to 100,000 homes and support thousands of jobs.

I am driving through the process to get that land put forward.

The Community Right To Reclaim Land sits alongside the Community Right To Build.

We are giving people more power to shape where they live and we are giving you new freedoms to help them.

We will get rid of one thousand pages of planning law and six thousand pages of planning guidance and replace it all with one simple and short statement - with a rather long name!

The National Planning Policy Framework,

This Framework will replace all the existing Planning Policy Statements and Planning Policy Guidance Notes.

All those PPSs and PPGs that kept lawyers so busy and gave many of you a constant headache.

We will also be giving more flexibility to local housing authorities to decide who goes on the housing waiting list and how that list is managed.

More flexibility on the types of tenancies that those of you with housing stock can grant.

And tenancy strategies will enable you as local housing authorities to set broad objectives for your local area.

I think it’s right that you, as local leaders, provide transparency so that everyone knows the broad objectives of tenancy policies of all providers of social housing in your area.

But remember it will be you, not central Government, who will be able to decide what sort of tenancy is right for your new tenants.

You will be able to manage your own waiting list and housing stock in the best interests of the local community.

And if you have transferred ownership of the council’s stock you will need to work in partnership with developers and local housing associations to provide the homes local people need.

The Affordable Rent model gives providers freedom to set rents at up to 80 per cent of local market rents and to grant flexible tenancies.

This new tenancy, together with new flexibilities on the use of existing assets, gives you freedom to generate additional financial capacity to support new supply.

And the repeal of the Housing Revenue Account system and the introduction of self-financing will mean that councils can run their housing stock from their rental income.

This is a complex subject - it has taken many years to get to this point.

And yes, some councils will have to make a single payment to central Government whilst others will receive a payment.

But the reform will increase the money all councils have to spend on services - by an average of 14 per cent.

Tenants will benefit from this increased funding and local control so spending is determined by local priorities.

It will also create a more efficient system - by ending the process of taking the money into Whitehall before paying it back out.

Councils will keep all rental income from their tenants and will have to set out how the local rental income is being used to maintain the stock.

This will enable tenants to scrutinise the services offered by their landlords and hold them to account.

Of course, some have been arguing for years that you should also have control over receipts from Council House sales.

I understand your frustrations here, but difficult decisions had to be made in the Spending Review and this was one of them.

But we have made sure that the self-financing settlement continues to be viable by reducing the debt councils will have to take on.

We’ve allocated £862 million to cover the loss of rental income from projected sales. And councils will continue to be able to keep 25 per cent of receipts from Right to Buy sales.

Deregulation

But I’m sure there may be other things we can do to give you more control.

Last Autumn I invited Local Authority Heads of Housing to an event in Westminster. We ceremoniously dumped reams of regulations into a recycling cart.

It was a good start.

I’ve also asked housebuilders to let me know what regulatory burdens we could lift from their backs so they could build more homes. I’ve got their list - we’re working our way through it and have made a good start in getting rid of burdens.

Today I want to ask you what more I can do to help.

I will continue to work with Gary and his colleagues to make sure that the Localism Bill really does devolve power to you.

On my first day in the job I got rid of Home Information Packs. I would like to hear about other pieces of red tape that are tying you down.

I want to free you to do your job.

Conclusion

For I am full of admiration for you - as Councillors you have volunteered to take on a leading role in your community.

You do it largely unpaid.

Indeed often all you receive in recompense is criticism.

Sometimes it must seem a thankless up hill struggle.

But you can be real community heroes - the vanguard of the Big Society - working hard to do good in your communities. I am hugely impressed by the work that you do and I want to give you more powers to do even more good.

But here’s some advice - don’t surrender that power to your officials.

After all it’s you who will be held accountable at the ballot box - not them.

The Government has got so far so quickly because we knew what we wanted to do and didn’t take “No” for an answer.

Or even the more subtle “Yes, Minister!” when they really mean no. Remember it’s your role to lead your officials - not the other way round.

For, when the time comes, it’s YOU who will have to answer to the electorate.

So be brave, be heroic, and stand up for your community. Get in the driving seat and provide the homes your communities need.

If you listen to the people and translate their views into reality they’ll thank you for it at the ballot box.

Thank you.