Hazel Blears will be the new secretary of state for Communities and Local Government. The former minister of state at the Home Office, who came sixth in the contest for the deputy Labour leadership, will replace Ruth Kelly, who moves to Transport. An ex Old Labour firebrand who opposed the abolition of Clause 4 – the party’s commitment to nationalisation – Blears has since become a loyal Blairite, enforcing his ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ mantra, and pushing through controversial anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos).
Meanwhile, it’s all housing, housing, housing. The political ‘mood music’ on this is changing as senior figures in the new government increasingly put the challenge of affordable housing in the same category as health and education. Housing was mentioned several times by the PM’s close confidante and new chancellor, Alistair Darling, talking this morning on Radio 4’s Today Programme about what to expect from the new government. Housing – and the prospect of councils building more homes – appears alongside the NHS, Schools, Trust and ‘Britishness’ in The Daily Mirror’s summary of the big challenges facing Brown. His promise to effect ‘change with affordable housing’ is repeated in the Daily Mail.
And while it’s all change on the political front, here’s a blast from the past. Ex-Barratt Developments chief executive and newly installed chairman of the New Homes Marketing Board, David Pretty is calling on government to bring back the Miras tax relief scheme to help overstretched first-time buyers. The proposal is one of 10 contained in a plan to help young buyers, as seen by The Times. Pretty will present it to Gordon Brown next week. Seven of the ten recommendations are aimed at boosting the numbers of new homes being built each year in England. These range from the sell-off of government land at a discount that can be passed on to first-time buyers and key workers, to fast-tracking planning applications for affordable housing. Another recommendation is a call to scrap stamp duty for first-time buyers. Experts are concerned that subsidising homebuyers in this way will push prices up even further. David Pretty is writing in the next edition of LPW. Book your copy now on roofmag.org.uk.
Mr Pretty has described first-time buyers as ‘the new poor’. And they’re in for more bad news on the house price front. According to new research by the Nationwide Building Society, first-timers are, on average, borrowing 5.1 times their earnings to buy a home and UK house price inflation ‘bounced back’ in June with prices rising by 1.1%.
The stronger-than-expected increase lifted the annual rate of growth to 11.1% from 10.3% in May, meaning prices are rising more than twice as fast as last year. However, the building society predicted growth would slow in the second half of the year, sticking by its forecast of 5-8% price growth for 2014. The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet next week to decide whether to raise UK interest rates again.
Elsewhere, campaigners have asked Gordon Brown to focus on the complex needs of street homeless people. In a letter to The Times, respresentatives from more than 100 organisations have asked for a government public sector agreement target on multiple needs. ‘This would be a strong lever to ensure services will deliver the integrated package of support that will move people out of deep exclusion for ever.’