UK Budget 2018: Wales, Housing and the End of Austerity?

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While austerity, cuts and taxation caught the headlines in yesterday’s budget, other key points from the announcement included a boost to housing and infrastructure projects across the UK and £500m over the next three years for Welsh Government.

Additionally, the Treasury committed to a review of the Welsh Government’s borrowing powers including a potential £300m extension to support the delivery of projects including the M4 relief road, a removal of the cap of local authority borrowing to enable councils to build more houses and the appointment of a dedicated manager from the British Business Bank in Wales for the first time.

In response,  Alun Cairns, Secretary of State for Wales, stated that: “today’s budget shows the scale of ambition the UK Government has for Wales.” However, not all felt as positively as Cairns. Speaking candidly, Welsh Government Finance Minister and early front-runner in the Welsh Labour Leadership contest, Mark Drakeford, claimed that “any suggestion this Conservative Government’s failed policy of austerity is over, on the evidence, is wrong,” and real-term cuts paired with Brexit unease left many suggesting that austerity is far from over.

The Chancellor stood by his commitment to a house-building programme in England, announcing both  an extra £500m for the Housing Infrastructure Fund to support the building of 650,000 homes across the country and the next wave of strategic partnerships with nine Housing Associations, in a move that is expected to bring a further 13,000 homes.

High streets were also on the agenda and a £675m High Streets Fund was launched to regenerate high streets and town centres which could see empty or under-used retail and office space turned into flats. Although this would potentially make the conversion process of empty buildings a lot smoother, commentators, such as the RTPI urged caution “about making it easier for empty shops to be turned to residential use.” 

What is clear from this year’s budget however, is a commitment to creating much needed housing, and, with a further axe on stamp duty - it is hoped more people will get onto the housing ladder and give the economy a much needed boost.

Labour Party Conference 2018 – Brexit, renewables and feminism

Thousands of party members, journalists, lobbyists and others descended on Merseyside for the Labour Party’s annual conference this week, as Labour looks towards post-Brexit Britain and the possibility of a forthcoming General Election.

While Brexit, nationalisation and a commitment to equality dominated much of the narrative, what became clear was Labour’s determination, up and down Britain, to return to power.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, and many others, spoke at great lengths of the Britain they want to see, and the best means of achieving it.

One of the key themes to come out of Corbyn’s Leader speech was a commitment to green policies, putting renewable energy and efficiency at the heart of Labour’s offer.

Earlier in the week, Rebecca Long-Bailey the shadow business secretary, set out that the party is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the middle of the century (the UK’s current goal is an 80% cut by 2050). 

The aim is that almost all of Britain’s homes and businesses would be powered by wind, solar and nuclear power by 2030, including the development of 13,500 onshore and offshore wind turbines, solar panels on thousands of roofs and widescale home insulation.

Critically, Corbyn has chosen to place environmental issues at the centre of the party’s economic offer, with the aim of creating thousands of sustainable, high-skilled jobs, the impact of which would be to tackle joblessness in communities that have borne the brunt of deindustrialisation, whilst also recognising that the environment is a key issue. In addition, Corbyn has promised to back proposals for a tidal power lagoon in Swansea Bay if Labour wins power.

Focusing on Wales, First Minister Carwyn Jones struck a chord with the crowd, not for his beard jokes, but for his wish that the next UK Government in Westminster would be Labour, calling for his English counterparts in Westminster to match Labour’s dominance in Wales.

Jones spoke of Wales’ commitment to sustainability and the transport revolution, whereby trains are being built in Wales, for Wales, and not for profit.

He also spoke of gender-equality, or lack of it, expressing his disappointment that he may need to use his Welsh leadership election nomination to endorse Eluned Morgan AM to ensure there is a woman on the ballot paper this autumn.

Our attention now turns to the forthcoming Conservative Party Conference and also the Plaid Cymru Autumn Conference following today’s election of Adam Price as the new party leader.

PAC Annual Lecture: Creating Greater Democracy in Wales

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Democracy was the theme of this week’s Public Affairs Cymru (PAC) Annual Lecture given by Alun Davies AM, Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services.

Davies emphasized the need for Government to be more dynamic and ambitious, touching on the necessity to push forward the streamlining of local authorities, but also the need for more locally driven agendas across Wales

Davies also called for greater transparency, openness and accountability, all of which are unquestionably central to democracy, and suggested that front-benchers should be open to being questioned and challenged by other Ministers and community organisations, such as the Civic Society. 

Relating very much to the work we do at Grasshopper, Davies also highlighted that in order to create a more democratic society, communities need to actively participate in decision-making and influencing change.  In conclusion - democracy is more than simply voting for a new Government every few years (at a local or national level), but should be an ongoing and meaningful dialogue process.

We have launched our own online community consultation platform - Grasshopper Consult

We are delighted to announce that we have launched Grasshopper Consult, an online consultation tool to help project teams easily undertake community consultation in relation to planning proposals.

Following the implementation of the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 earlier this year, consultation with local neighbours and stakeholders is now required for all major planning applications in advance of submission (including residential developments over 10 units and commercial developments over 1000sqm) as well as Developments of National Significance (including some energy projects, railways, airports and gas storage facilities).

The Grasshopper Consult site provides an online platform to enable public access to all project information for a proposed planning application, as well as providing feedback mechanisms to ensure the capture of all comments and queries – which need to be reviewed and responded to through a Pre-Application Consultation (PAC) report.

Founding director Clare Jones said: “The requirements for a statutory 28 day consultation on smaller scale projects can seem quite onerous, particularly for organisations with limited online capability. 

“The launch of Grasshopper Consult allows us to provide clients with a simple, complete and cost-effective community consultation product that includes an online information hub and contact centre to manage the (minimum) 28 day statutory consultation period, as well as earlier, informal engagement if required.”

To find out more you can visit Grasshopper Consult at www.grasshopperconsult.co.uk or to arrange a meeting to discuss how this product could work for you, please email clare@grasshopperpr.co.uk or call 02920 789981.