Against a backdrop of Brexit, the Conservative Party Conference managed to focus its attention on UK domestic policies, particularly housing and austerity.
The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire, like many others in the Party Leadership, spoke of the housing crisis that Britain continues to face. In light of this he announced the Party’s commitment to building 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s. While this is not a new policy from the Conservatives, it appears that they remain committed to achieving this objective.
Brokenshire added that the Government would be prioritising brownfield sites, but also look at land that has already been partly developed as well as publishing proposals to permit people to build up on existing buildings. These developments are part of a reform programme aimed at speeding up the planning system as well making better use of land and vacant buildings to deliver the homes that local communities need.
Building on Brokenshire’s speech on housing, after dancing onto the stage in true Conservative style, Theresa May in her keynote address spoke of what has been described as her own personal mission, announcing that she would be scrapping the cap on how much local authorities can borrow to build new social housing. The PM stated:
“Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation. It does not make sense to stop councils from playing their part in solving it. So today I can announce that we are scrapping that.”
This, if implemented properly, could see a further 15-20 thousand council homes built every year, tripling the current supply. However, with the waiting list for council housing in the millions, it appears the Government will still be short of the current demand.
Moving away from housing, the Prime Minister thanked the British people for their hard work following the financial crash that produced an eight-year period of austerity, before explicitly stating that such a period of cuts was over. May added that following Brexit, the Government will be boosting public spending while continuing to reduce the national debt. However, with further cuts to come on schools, policing and benefits, it appears the end of austerity is a prospect for the future, rather than a reality of today.
May paid further tribute to the British people, claiming that the Conservative Party is one “not for the few, not even the many, but for everyone who is willing to work hard and do their best.” While this was a spin-off of the Labour Party soundbite, May effectively engaged those on both sides of the Brexit divide, yet failed to provides specifics on how the public sector will become better off financially.
This will no doubt be a focus for the Annual Budget on October 29 where it will become more apparent how much sincerity is in these promises from the Conservatives.