Conservative Party Conference 2018- Brexit Divisions, An End to Austerity and May's Mission to Tackle the Housing Crisis

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.  

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.

Welsh Local Government Reform Update

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Local government in Wales is set for a makeover.

On Tuesday 17 July, Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services, Alun Davies AM set out the next steps to reform and strengthen Welsh local government.

In March of this year the Welsh Government published its Green Paper, ‘Strengthening Local Government- Delivering for People’, which set out a vision for stronger, more empowered councils which can provide bold determined and focused leadership. The Paper offered three possible ways of achieving this: voluntary mergers; phased mergers; and comprehensive mergers at the earliest opportunity.

Mr Davies has, following the responses to the proposals, announced that the Government will be establishing a new, independent working group to take forward the reform programme and “shape the future of local government in Wales.” 

Mr Davies added, “the consultation responses suggested there was an appetite amongst local government to work together to progress voluntary mergers and increase and improve regional working. I therefore intend to introduce the Local Government (Wales) Bill early next year to move ahead at the earliest possible opportunity”.

Debbie Wilcox, leader of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) provided her support for the reform programme detailed by Mr Davies, stating; “The WLGA’s position is clear. We are supportive of any council’s who desire to merge voluntarily and are committed to working collaboratively to deliver services. She added, the formation of this joint working group is timely and strengthens the democratic base and powers available to councils.”

However, not all were as welcoming of the proposals. Speaking to the Assembly on Tuesday, the Conservative AM Janet Finch-Saunders expressed her discontent. She stated, “the past experience of some authorities with regard to voluntary mergers and government’s response to them is hardly encouraging.” She added, “we do not agree now that merging local authorities is appropriate.”

The announcement comes as the Assembly and Government come to the end of the term and sits alongside the announcement made on the 18 July that the National Assembly will be renamed as Welsh Parliament from 2020. It will remain to be seen how much support the reform programme gains and how effective a possible local government makeover would be in reality.

Grasshopper Named Consultancy of the Year 2018

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It's been an amazing year for Team Grasshopper, and to top it all off, we are now the proud owners of this - an Insider Wales Property Award for Consultancy of the Year 2018!!

Thanks to our highly committed team, as well as to all our clients and associates that have helped us grow over the last three years, and be recognised as an award winning consultancy.  

You can read full coverage of the awards here: https://www.insidermedia.com/event/wales-property-awards/coverage