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Right to Buy discount halved

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Right to Buy: Not what it was!

Right to Buy: Not what it was!

IT WAS ANNOUNCED last week that the Welsh Government had halved the maximum discount available under the Right to Buy scheme in an attempt to ‘protect the social housing stock’.

Earlier this year Communities Minister Lesley Griffiths announced her intention to end the scheme, which has been in existence since the early eighties when it was introduced by Michael Heseltine, Margaret Thatcher’s Environment Minister as part of the Housing Act (1980).

It is hard to think of a single policy which has been so divisive over the last three decades. It is, in effect, an ideological issue; with Free Market proponents on the one side advocating the power and responsibility taken from the state and given to the individual. Opposing this are critics who point to the drastic reduction in social housing over the time period, and the corresponding increases in homelessness and the use of public money to pay private landlords.

In Wales, 138,709 council-owned homes were sold under Right to Buy between 1981 and 2014 – leading to a reduction in the social housing available of 45 percent. Nationally 42% of the population lived in council housing in 1979 – by 2008 this had dropped to 12%.

The sale of council housing was originally meant to provide funds which would enable local authorities to pay back loans and build new properties. However, restrictions were placed on the proceeds of the sales, and councils found that they could not build any new social housing until these loans had been paid off. House building by local authorities in England and Wales dropped dramatically during the eighties, and has never recovered.

The Labour Government initially opposed the policy, but changed their position in 1985. Tony Blair’s government introduced caps on the discount available in areas short of social housing, and in 2005, the rules were changed to stop former tenants selling on the open market immediately after purchase. A five-year minimum residency before becoming eligible for the scheme was also introduced.

The policy was initially very popular among council tenants, and it was considered to have played a major role in Margaret Thatcher’s landslide victory of 1983, when in 1980 she had the lowest approval rating of any prime minister since records began.

However, repossession rates were notably higher than those for people taking out private mortgages, and homelessness across Great Britain trebled over the eighties. Another bone of contention for those opposed to Right to Buy concerned the burgeoning buy to let market, which in many cases saw ex-council housing stock rented out at considerably more than the local authority charged.

Because most of the council housing purchased was of good quality, and as a result of housing shortages leading to applicants being prioritized on the basis of need, many tenants found themselves living in areas of increasing social deprivation. Cuts to council maintenance budgets, and a dramatic increase in council rents contributed to this on a national level, and to some extent made Right to Buy a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who could afford it. By the mid-nineties, 95% of council tenants qualified for means-tested benefits.

There has been a rise in the number of social housing sales in Wales over the last five years, with 544 properties sold last year. In response to this, the maximum discount has been reduced to £8,000 from £16,000. Commenting on this, Lesley Griffiths AM said that “Right to Buy is depleting our social housing stock.

“This damaging policy is further increasing the pressure on our social housing supply and is forcing many vulnerable people to wait longer for a home,” she added.

“This is why the Welsh Government has taken decisive action to protect our social housing and make sure it is available for those who need it most. Today is a significant step towards our eventual goal of abolishing the Right to Buy and Right to Acquire in Wales.”

The Conservatives, unsurprisingly, disagree with this. Speaking earlier this year, Shadow Assembly Housing Minister Mark Isherwood said that the move ‘flies in the face of aspiration and ambition. It will limit supply and deny people in council properties the choice and power to buy their own home’.

Mr Isherwood announced the intention of the Welsh Conservatives to extend Right to Buy: “We would invest all the sales proceeds in new social and affordable housing to help tackle Labour’s housing supply crisis and take households off their record-breaking waiting lists,” he added.

“Scrapping the right to buy is further proof that it’s anti-aspiration; stuck in an ’80s socialist dogma where it believes the government knows best – not the individual. We must use every tool in the armoury to increase housing supply in order to make housing more affordable.”

Whether selling off social housing in order to make money which could potentially be used to build more is a viable solution to these ‘record-breaking waiting lists,’ or indeed whether the aforementioned 45 percent reduction in available social housing could have had anything to do with the current housing shortage remains unclear.

This also fails to take into consideration people living in social housing that is not covered by Right to Buy, and indeed the large number of people renting from private landlords, often because of a shortage of council housing.

In England, the Conservatives have announced proposals which would extend Right to Buy across all areas of social housing. However, the social housing provider would have to be compensated, thus meaning that the discounted price would have to cover the cost of a new equivalent house. This is meant to be funded through local authorities selling off their more expensive council houses when they become vacant, but research has shown that outside of London the figures often fail to add up.

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Politics

Next stage of the rollout by Open Reach

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Local member of the Welsh Parliament Lee Waters has welcomed news that Open Reach is bringing super-fast fiber broadband to new parts of the Llanelli constituency.

The next stage of the rollout by Open Reach will bring full fibre to the premises broadband to thousands of homes over the course of the next few years. Provision of super-fast broadband has been a priority of Welsh Government, and the new roll out will increase provision across Wales and Carmarthenshire. The provision of broadband is the responsibility of the Westminster Government, but the Welsh Labour Government have stepped in to fill gaps in the network in Wales that commercial providers have left behind.

Lee Waters MS said:

“I’m really pleased that super-fast fibre broadband is being rolled out to more homes in the area.

“Burry Port, Llanedi, Cross Hands, Hendy, Llannon, Pembrey and Tumble will all start having full fibre installed later this year. This stage of the roll-out is being fully funded by OpenReach.

“This is on top of the investment made by the Welsh Government to get 95% of households connected to fast broadband.

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Community

AM seeks assurances for Llanelli car industry

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Mid and West AM Helen Mary Jones has asked for assurances in the Senedd from the Welsh Government about the future of automotive industry in Llanelli.

Car production in the UK fell to its lowest level in almost a decade last week. It was revealed output fell 14 per cent to 1.3 million, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Production shutdowns in anticipation of Brexit is one of the factors impacting on the decrease in output.

Shadow Minister for Economy, Tackling poverty and Transport for Plaid Cymru, Helen Mary Jones AM said:

“It is just over a year since the Schaeffler automotive factory in Llanelli announced that it would be closing with the loss of 220 jobs. These were good-quality jobs, jobs that could sustain families productively. There are real concerns in the sector about the access to markets. I asked the Brexit Minister about further discussions the Welsh Government could have with the UK Government to try and ensure that we do have a voice around the table when negotiations are being made.

“This is especially important with regard to both the new trade deal that we’ll hopefully have with the European Union and any other free trade deals, to ensure that there are no unintended consequences.  For example, allowing access to markets for vehicles and vehicle parts from outside Wales that might have a negative effect on the supply chain that companies have put a lot of effort into building up over many years.”

The automotive sector in Wales is comprised of about 150 firms, mainly component manufacturers, employing over 18,000 workers adding £3 billion to the Welsh economy.

Brexit Minister Jeremy Miles AM said:

“We are in regular dialogue with companies in the sector, with the Welsh Automotive Forum, and with national sector bodies regarding the potential impact of Brexit. Having an ongoing and frictionless trading relationship with the EU is very important for the automotive sector, and indeed for other sectors.”

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Opinon: Matthew Paul

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EU Referendum

Well, you did it, you bastards. You won. At 11pm today, the UK will have left the European Union.


This hasn’t occasioned the cataclysm that –until 13 th December– the turbulent Brexit process might have led us to expect. The weeks since Boris Johnson’s thumping majority made Brexit an inevitability have been an anticlimax on the scale of The Godfather Part III.


Three and a half years of high political drama have ended in six weeks of Brexit bathos.


On Wednesday, our representatives in the European Parliament packed up their desks, emptied their lockers and –heavy of heart and misty of eye– signed off their final, Brobdingnagian claims for expenses. Pro-EU MEPs linked arms, waved EU flags and sang a maudlin rendition of Auld Lang Syne. In return, EU president Ursula von der Leyen told the UK she loved us and always will.


The love-in lasted about three minutes, until Nigel Farage, flanked by his gang of gruesomes, stood up to crow. In the graceless and disruptive manner he has diligently maintained over twenty years in the Parliament, Nigel rubbed fellow MEPs’ noses in the Brexit Party’s mess until the mike was switched off. Then his cohort started waving little Union flags so
enthusiastically you might have assumed Prince Harry had come back. Divorced.


The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 passed through Parliament without a murmur of disapproval, a court case, any perversions of Parliamentary procedure or even a self-indulgent ORRRRDDEEEEEERRRRR from the excellent and austere new Speaker,
Lindsay Hoyle. At sundown, EU flags will be taken down from public buildings around the UK and furled forever, in a melancholy echo of the last time Britain’s influence in the world seriously declined. All except in that bastion of Brexit resistance, the Scottish Parliament, where Nicola Sturgeon –under what legal authority it is unclear– has decreed that the
twelve stars will stay put. Mark Francois no doubt imagines himself jogging up to Edinburgh with a crack TA troop to tear it down from Holyrood in a reverse Iwo Jima.


South of Hadrian’s Wall, the mood amongst Remainers is one of defeated realism. Re- joining on the terms available to accession countries is not a serious option; the EU has gone and it ain’t coming back. Even Plaid Cymru –after getting utterly pasted in December’s election, largely because their ur-Remainy stance went down like a cup of cold sick in the valleys– aren’t clinging to dreams of readmission to the continental club.


Now, having got your damned Brexit, you now have to work out what to do with the thing.

What was the point of leaving the EU? There are some fairly compelling reasons to be out of Europe if you incline to the Corbynite hard left, because the Commission always had unhelpful things to say about confiscatory taxation and state aid for lame duck nationalised industries. Get Brussels out of the way and you are only a few strands of barbed wire and an
empty supermarket away from the usual sort of socialist paradise.


On the right, the intellectual arguments of economically liberal Brexiters have always had force. There can and will be advantages to an economy where barriers to free trade are removed, where business is freer to hire and fire, and where innovation in our tech, pharmaceutical and agri-business sectors is not restrained by regulation which adheres too closely to the precautionary principle. Intellectual arguments are all very well, but the difficulty is that this hasn’t typically been the kind of economy or society around which a political consensus has settled.


Before the General Election, in a political landscape where a powerless Prime Minister was bossed around by a hopelessly divided Parliament, it was hard to expect that much could be achieved by leaving the European Union. Now, we have a PM more powerful than any British politician since Tony Blair in 1997; with just as much of a mandate to change the country.

To benefit economically from Brexit, he will have to be prepared to do things that are very, very unpopular.


Round these parts, things that damage the livelihoods of farming communities are likely to be pretty unpopular. But this week we saw Boris inviting a stampede of half-starved, flystruck Ugandan cows into the UK meat market. “I have just told President Museveni of Uganda” he said –following a conversation quite different from the sort of Ugandan
discussions with which our Prime Minister is usually associated– “that his beef cattle will have an honoured place on the tables of post-Brexit Britain.” What is good news for herdsmen around Kampala won’t be so well-received in Knighton, Keswick or Kirkaldy.


Boris will also have to decide whether we are a country closer to Europe or America. If we choose the latter, and unless the US Democratic Party seriously ups its game, we will be saddled with another four years of having The Donald as our psychopathic cell mate in a prison we built for ourselves. It’s in our interest to keep him happy, but this week’s decision to allow Huawei –the tech equivalent of coronavirus– to supply hardware for Britain’s 5g mobile networks was like carelessly reaching for the remote control in the middle of one of Trump’s favourite TV shows. There are worrying noises coming from the top bunk, as of someone sharpening a shiv to use on us in the first round of post-Brexit trade talks.


So, residents of workless Labour-voting constituencies in South Wales; farmers who didn’t like filling in the subsidy forms; anyone who hates being bossed around by foreigners but doesn’t count Donald Trump amongst their number. You voted for it. You got it. It’s here.


Enjoy it; it’s going to be a wild ride.

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