Tackling the housing crisis

The housing crisis in Britain has become an emergency. For far too long Britain has built many fewer homes than we need. Unless we build enough to meet demand, year after year, we will find that housing costs rise further out of reach.

Just to catch up with what we need today, we have to build 300,000 homes a year nationally – almost double the current level. These new houses and flats must be sustainably planned to ensure that excessive pressure is not placed on existing infrastructure.

Elmbridge borough wants to meet the needs of its people in terms of housing. Yet at every turn it comes up against the elephant in the room – the British government – which undermines local government at every turn.

The Liberal Democrats would empower localities to look after the needs of their own population and their own priorities, rather than being dictated to by central government.

A Lib Dem approach in Elmbridge

What would a Liberal Democrat Elmbridge do to solve the housing crisis if the national government got off our back?

Without restrictions from central government, Elmbridge could:

Borrow funds to build social housing

Elmbridge has the ability to service the loans, especially as interest rates are still at an historically low level. We would be investing in bricks and mortar which is always considered a very safe investment.  Elmbridge can’t though, because the national government heavily restricts our ability to do this.

Get money back when social housing is sold and reinvest this in more social housing

The national government forces local authorities and housing associations to sell houses at a discount of up to £80,000 under its ‘right to buy’ social housing programme, without any compensation to us, the owners. And then, prevents councils from using the revenue they do receive from the sales to build more social housing.

Improve the experience of renting

Elmbridge could ban letting fees for tenants, cap up-front deposits at a reasonable level, and increase minimum standards of repair and services in rented homes. We would Introduce longer tenancies, with an inflation-linked annual rent increase built in, to give tenants more security. Elmbridge cannot do this now because councils are prevented from doing this by the national government.  Our national government makes it impossible for Elmbridge to implement all the improvements we could offer to people renting in the borough.

Stop developers reneging on development payments to local councils

When Elmbridge gives permission for a developer to build a block of flats or a new street, this is on  condition that a certain proportion of the build is affordable housing. Alternatively, the developer may offer to pay a sum of money instead. The national government has made a law that allows developers to renege on paying this money once the development is built. This makes a complete mockery of the planning system.

Scrap stamp duty

The national government policy on stamp duty – a punishing 5% on homes over £250,000 across Britain – deters people from moving when they need more space. Instead of  buying a larger property and releasing a smaller one to the market, residents add extensions and loft conversions – making smaller houses bigger and reducing the number of smaller homes for first-time buyers and couples starting a family.

Our view

The national government and the media often blame NIMBYs and local planning for the lack of housing in our country. This is far from the truth. It is primarily the national government’s taxation and spending policy that stops local governments like Elmbridge planning for building the homes needed for healthy communities.

Liberal Democrats say NO to 15% increase

Liberal Democrat County Councillors strongly oppose the proposal to increase the county council element of the council tax by 15% and have launched a petition against it, which has already been signed by hundreds of Surrey residents.

The petition will send a message to the county hall and national government that the tax is unfair, unaffordable and an incorrect way of addressing the crisis of adult social care.

If approved this unprecedented increase would trigger a county-wide referendum.  A yes vote will increase the cost of council tax considerably but still not avoid savage cuts to essential services.   A no vote would result in even more cuts, with the elderly and those on fixed incomes hit hardest.

Irrespective of the outcome it will still mean substantial increases in charges and cuts to services  even including the closing of the county’s alzheimer centres, now needed more than ever.

The urgent need to fund adult social care needs a long term solution from national government in close co-operation with the NHS, not this suggested temporary sticking plaster.

The Conservatives at both national and county levels have clearly failed Surrey residents and a better answer needs to be provided.

Please sign the petition now at: https://signme.org.uk/1304

Also ask family and friends to support this initiative.   Thank you.

Posted in Tax

Who gets our taxes

We pay £45.50 everyday in taxes, on average, here in Elmbridge – that’s for every man, woman and child living in the borough.

We pay Elmbridge 34p a day, Surrey £2.48 a day, Britain £42.15 a day and Europe 55p a day.
Tax Pie Chart-01

Because, on average, we in Elmbridge are richer than the average person in Surrey we contribute more than other residents of Surrey – we are net contributors.

Again, because we are richer, on average, than most people living in Britain will pay more per person to Westminster than the rest of Britain – we are net contributors.  It is as if the average family in Elmbridge writes a cheque to an average family in Fermanagh for around £1,500 a year.

Finally, because, on average, we in Elmbridge are richer than than most people in Europe we pay more per person to Brussels than the rest of Europe – we are contributors.  It is as if the average family in Elmbridge writes a cheque to an average family in Estonia of £23 a year.

Via government transfers, families in Elmbridge have been paying families in Fermanagh £1,500 a year for decades and no-one raises an eyebrow.  Has anyone said “we want our money back” to the people of Northern Ireland?  We give, say, £23 a year to families in Estonia and Brexiters go ballistic.  The Estonians sang their way to independence from the Soviet Union and they are on the front line with Russia.  The Estonians are a hard work people and the speed with which Estonia is growing, with our help, out of their Soviet Union legacy is remarkable.  They’ll soon be supporting us.

The 55p a day that each of us in Elmbridge pays, on average, to Europe is a remarkably small insurance premium for our security and well-being.

More housing control from Westminster

Housing benefitsNational governments often claim that they support local democracy; however, the evidence is often otherwise.

Take housing benefit – part of the £12bn in welfare savings is to be made by the national government instructing boroughs to reduce their rents.  This will save the national government £1.4bn in housing benefit by reducing rents paid to social landlords.  The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that this will mean a loss of £2.5bn to boroughs which could be made available for new housing.  Overall government loses out but the centre gains and localities lose.

This measure will have the net effect of reducing the provision of housing.  If we want more housing where it is needed than we need to look closely at:

  • Ensuring that all places have a duty to house their own in their area. A village would have to build houses to enable anyone born in the village to live there – a town likewise.
  • Replacing business rates and council tax with land tax. This would end the tax on improvements and focus the tax on the value of the land instead.
  • Removing stamp duty on house purchases and fund this change by reducing the capital gains exemption for domestic properties. This would allow people to move house more frequently and encourage people to spread their investments to the betterment of the economy.

If locals had to provide homes for their own the number of houses would increase without having to change the planning laws and/or the national government poking its nose into areas where it is not wanted or needed.

Tories slash Surrey education funding by £250 million

HeathsideConservatives will cut the education budget by £253 million in Surrey by 2020 if they were in national government on their own, official research shows.

The Tories would be forced to slash local spending on schools,colleges, and nurseries to keep pace with George Osborne’s plan to drastically reduce spending.

The research, based on official House of Commons library figures, shows schools will bear the brunt of Conservative cuts but childcare, college and early years budgets would also be hit hard.

Unlike both Labour and the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats are committed to protecting cradle to college education spending.

What’s your view on CIL funding?

Weyfarers learntorowWeybridge begins its first CIL consultations on individual grants.  There is one grant to consider.  The consultation runs to 15 August 2014.

It allows four weeks for you to have your say on the proposed community project application before the Weybridge local spending board makes its final decision.

 

The application forms and questionnaires are available to view here.

Surrey Allowance Increases

money-43Cllr Hazel Watson, Leader of the Surrey Liberal Democrats wrote to the Secretary of State asking him to investigate the excessive increases (from £27,000 pa to £43,000 pa) in councillor allowances and the excessive number of special responsibility allowances pushed through by Surrey’s Conservative administration. She also asked him to check whether the national government’s own regulations had been followed by the Surrey administration.

Cllr Watson said : “I am delighted with the response I have received from Brandon Lewis, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State to my letter. He has condemned the decisions on councillors allowances as “deeply concerning” and agrees with me that Surrey did not comply with government regulations. He has stated that the national government expects those in public life to show restraint and to set levels of allowances for councillors and remuneration for officers which reflect the pressure on budgets and the need to pay off the deficit left by the last national administration. I totally agree with his comments.

“Given the national government’s clear condemnation of the decisions and also the outrage expressed by the Surrey people who have to foot the bill, I am again calling on Surrey’s Conservative administration to overturn their decisions on councillors allowances and replace them with something much more reasonable.

“Surrey’s Conservative administration is living in cloud cuckoo land if they think that they can get away with these outrageous councillor allowances. It is time for them to back down and admit they made a massive mistake to the detriment of the Surrey people.”

To read the letters to and from the national ministers click here.

New Mayor for Elmbridge

Homestart website

Following his election as Mayor of Elmbridge at the annual meeting of the borough’s council on Wednesday, 4 June, Councillor Barry Fairbank has chosen to support Home-Start Elmbridge during his Mayoral Year.

 

 

Cllr Fairbank, erstwhile leader of the Liberal Democrats at the borough,  represents Long Ditton but now lives in Weybridge.

Councillor Fairbank has been involved with Home-Start Elmbridge for several years and wanted to offer more support with his fundraising during his Mayoral year.

One of the aims of the fundraising for his mayoral year is to be able to train more volunteers to give their help and support to the many families, with a child under five, experiencing difficulties.

In an ideal world Home-Start Elmbridge wouldn’t be needed. But for many parents the pressures of family life are simply too much to cope with alone. There are so many reasons for this including; poverty, illness, family breakdowns and parental isolation.  And this is where Home-Start steps in… by recruiting and training local parent volunteers to offer emotional and practical support to families in their own homes. Home-Start volunteers provide vital early intervention support, often stopping a family from reaching crisis point. Life is getting tougher for many families, and the demand for Home-Start support is at an all-time high.

I think that Cllr Fairbanks choice of charity is excellent and you can donate here on-line. Remember ever little helps.  If you are an income taxpayer then you can even make the national government chip in too.

 

National Coalition offers 4.5% Extra School funding for Surrey

ClassroomSurrey Liberal Democrats have warmly welcomed proposals which will see Surrey receive nearly £25 million more in school funding than under the current system. This comes as part of an extra £350million boost to schools in the least fairly funded areas in the country.

The proposals announced in parliament by Liberal Democrat Education Minister David Laws will mean that funding will be allocated to local areas on the basis of the actual characteristics of their pupils and schools, rather than simply on the basis of historic levels of spending.

The proposed changes mean that, on average, schools in Surrey will receive £4,282 per pupil next year, an increase of around 4.5%.

Commenting on the announcement, Cllr Stella Lallement, the Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson on Surrey County council said: “This is fantastic news for Surrey children and is a much needed reform. The school funding system inherited by the coalition was unfair. Labour knew it was unfair, but chose not to act.

“For too long, school funding has been based on historical data that no longer reflects pupils’ needs. Similar schools just miles apart can be funded at very different levels, just because they happen to be in different local authority areas.

“This announcement, along with the pupil premium, will mean that our children can get the education they deserve. It is more evidence that the Liberal Democrats in government are actively implementing policies to build a fairer society.”

Elmbridge Budget

Next Wednesday, Conservative-led Elmbridge plans to decrease the council tax in real terms for next year by keeping the rate the same. Prudent stewardship or a gradual collapse into private wealth and public squalor?

National government taxes like: income tax, national insurance, VAT and corporation tax increase each year automatically in line with either income or prices (unless income or prices fall) – known to economists as fiscal drag.

But the single tax supporting local government – council tax does not. So if council tax is not adjusted each year then it gradually falls – it does not keep up with prices or salaries.

So, oddly, if you want council tax to fall in real terms simply don’t change it.

The whole situation is greatly affected by the extra freeze grant that the national government hands out to local government to encourage no increase in the council tax rate. This grant is powerful because if Elmbridge raised the council tax by just 0.1% it would mean a total loss of the grant.   And this year the coalition guarantee the freeze grant for two years in succession (to get them past the national elections in 2015.  What a way to run the country!

What’s your view?