With the Labour conference having just concluded, we got a glimpse of what life would be like under the leadership of the newly branded â€˜One Nationâ€™ Labour party. Of particular relevance, three major policies were announced by various members of the Labour leadership and we detail these below.
One of the biggest headlines from the conference was Ed Balls claim that Labour wants the current Government to spend Â£3bn of the expected windfall from the upcoming auction of the 4G mobile phone spectrum on building 100,000 new homes. In the same announcement, Balls also called for a Stamp Duty break for two years on property purchasers up to Â£250,000.
Balls enthused: â€˜With 119,000 construction jobs lost in two years and a 68 per cent fall in the number of affordable homes being built, we need bold and urgent action now,â€™
â€˜So, with this one-off windfall from the sale of the 4G spectrum, letâ€™s cut through the dither and rhetoric and actually do something. Not more talk, but action right now.â€™
Such a plan would be in conjunction with already announced plans for 25,000 homes funded by a tax on Bankersâ€™ bonuses.
Shadow Housing Minister Jack Dromey indicated during the conference that Labour would take a different view to the Coalition with regards to Section 106 negotiations. As part of last monthâ€™s housing stimulus package, the Government announced that developers should be able to renegotiate Section 106 deals (which ensure development puts money into local infrastructure, affordable housing etc.) if they make the development unviable. Mr Dromey is reported to have said:
â€˜The direction of travel of Government is to rob councils and communities of their ability to make maximum use of section 106 for social and affordable house building,
â€˜I donâ€™t accept that section 106 is the problem that [communities secretary] Eric Pickles cracks it up to be. I have had discussions with builders and developers around section 106 and they say it is not the issue.â€™
In his view â€˜If a development is stalled, then a sensible discussion around varying the requirement to build social and affordable housing is legitimate, but if localism means anything then it should just be a local discussion.â€™
The last comment is with reference to the Governmentâ€™s plans to bring in the Planning Inspectorate (a National Body) to decide whether local 106 deals need renegotiating.
Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan said during the conference that a Labour government would â€˜address a blind spot in our freedom of information lawsâ€™ by extending the Act to cover â€˜the delivery of public services by private companiesâ€™. In essence, this means extending the Freedom of Information act to bodies like housing associations which, although private entities, offer a public service.
Members of the public could therefore make requests to view previously confidential items like accounts.
The current government has looked to address this â€˜loopholeâ€™ before and threatened to extend the Act to cover housing associations itself, although former housing minister Grant Shapps said this might not be necessary if landlords complied with his demands to publish details of all expenditure over Â£500.
Three major points, but none from Labourâ€™s much (recently) lauded leader himself. One Conservative commentator noted:
“It was an incredible feat of memory for Ed Miliband to spend over an hour standing up there speaking without notes or text. It was an even greater feat to spend over an hour up there saying absolutely nothing.”