Monday manoeuvres as Boris says: You’ll need a tank division to drag me out of Downing St

Another week begins – Owl

End the ‘psychodrama’ around Boris Johnson, says Tom Tugendhat (Lt. Colonel) 

David Bond 

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, is one of a growing list of Tory MPs who have criticised Mr Johnson as he has battled claims of lockdown busting parties in Downing Street. At the end of last month he became the first Tory MP to declare publicly he would be throw his hat in the ring for the leadership of the party if Mr Johnson was ousted or stepped down.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement over the weekend that Cabinet Office Minister Steve Barclay had been appointed his new chief of staff and Guto Harri would take up the role of Director of Communications, the MP for Tonbridge and Malling said he should be given time to see “what the changes are”.

But, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he added: “The last two and a half years….have been really really difficult on many, many people and we need to be offering a vision of the future that gives people options to rebuild their lives and to restart in new ways.

“This is a time when we need to be really focused on what politics is actually here for and that is serving others and not getting into some sort of personal psychodrama.”

Asked whether the easiest way to end that would be to remove Mr Johnson from office, he replied: “It depends how the reset goes…because going into a leadership election is hardly ending a psychodrama. He has just appointed a whole new team, let’s see how he gets on and I’m very much hoping that what we are going to see is the kind of Conservative administration that people voted for in 2019.”

Despite his attempts to reset his team at No 10, Mr Johnson could still be in danger if the chairman of the 1922 backbench committee Sir Graham Brady receives 54 letters from Tory MPs calling for a vote of no confidence.

Mr Tugendhat said: “The Prime Minister has just done his reset, let’s see what No 10 brings out. There’s an awful lot of talent going in, there’s a lot of talent coming out. Let’s see what the changes are.

“This is a decision for 360 or so members of Parliament and let’s see where it goes to. I think the point remains we have got to be looking at the future, we’ve got to be looking at what’s best for the British people and focused on how we achieve the results that we really need for this country.”

In a move which may help win support among colleagues in a future leadership contest, Mr Tugendhat also argued for the Prime Minister to rethink the looming National Insurance rise which will raise £36billion over the next three years to clear the NHS backlog and help reform social care.

Many Tory MPs oppose the 1.25 percentage point tax hike, insisting it is ‘un-Conservative’ and will place struggling households under even greater pressure as they face soaring inflation and a spike in energy bills from April.

As an alternative Mr Tugendhat said the Government should encourage the development of a private insurance market which could help people cover the cost of social care.

He said: “What we are seeing now is the state subsidising areas through taxing and spending. That’s a perfectly reasonable way of doing it but my suggestion is to look at other ways of doing it. We are relying an awful lot on today’s taxpayers to pay for today’s social care needs and the reality is on one level it’s fantastic we should be focused on that…what I am concerned about is that there are an awful lot of parts of the country – particularly those areas where we talk about levelling up – which are likely to find themselves paying the tax but not getting the benefit.”

“There are many ways in which the state can provide assistance to the private sector…there’s various ways in which you can create a market under which the insurance company, the insurance market to grow in and cover the risk.”

Planning Applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 24 January

Most Tory voters want more affordable housing stock, finds poll

Shows how out of touch the “Conservative” EDDC “Old Guard” really was! – Owl

Robert Booth 

A majority of Conservative voters want their party to deliver more affordable housing and let councils buy up empty properties, according to new polling which suggests that public frustration with the housing crisis is now more evenly spread across the political divide.

Two-thirds of Tories in the UK want new-build developments to include more affordable homes and 68% want higher taxes on second homes and empty properties, according to YouGov polling shared with the Guardian.

The research comes after the levelling up white paper disappointed some housing campaigners in England by failing to set targets for increasing the supply of low-rent homes, which is seen by many as a key weapon in the fight against the cost of living crisis.

A large minority of Conservative voters – 39% – support giving private renters indefinite tenancies which can only be ended when a tenant wants to move or in cases of criminal damage or severe rent arrears. Such a policy would go much further than the ban on no-fault evictions that Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, last week said he would deliver.

Matt Downie, the chief executive of Crisis, a charity for homeless people, said: “If there is clear cross-party support for making sure that people on lower or no incomes have somewhere stable to live, we’d urge the government to take action on that and start to unravel the enormous housing crisis facing this country.

“One of the most obvious ways we can tackle the cost of living crisis is to bring down housing costs.”

A study by Heriot-Watt University estimated that 90,000 more social homes needed to be built in England every year to meet demand.

But in the year 2020-21, housing associations built 26,010 new homes in England, which was the lowest level since 2016-17, while only 1,650 council homes were built – the fewest since 2014-15. The official figures mean affordable homes accounted for just 18% of new housebuilding. Home ownership among 25- to 34-year-olds has fallen from 51% in 1989 to 28% in 2019, according to the Resolution Foundation.

Downie said it was “heartening” that there was such support for increasing the amount of social housing built as part of new developments, which he said was “shockingly low despite there being an obligation [on developers] in theory”.

Many developers are able to argue that their schemes would not be financially viable if they had to build large numbers of affordable homes, meaning that local authorities are obliged to dilute their targets for cheap housing.

“There is support among both Labour and Conservative voters for almost all the policies we asked about,” said a spokesperson for YouGov. “While Labour voters tend to be more strongly in favour of these policies, foreign investment in the UK house market is more unpopular with Conservatives – 56% of Tory voters would support an end to non-domiciled property ownership, compared with 45% of Labour voters.”

Could water consumers end up paying the Bosses’ Bonuses and the fines?

Owl has been looking into the incentive scheme Ofwat has devised for water companies, or “Outcome Delivery Incentives”, as it’s called. This is a scheme whereby water companies are fined or paid a bonus for meeting targets.

It leaves Owl worrying about the prospect of the triple whammy as water companies charge us more to meet the targets and “guess who” underwrites Ofwat’s handouts for meeting them; justifying even greater Bosses’ Bonuses to boot.

It will need careful adjustment of the scheme to avoid this. But in a monopoly market you have to ask whether such schemes are ever likely to work to the consumers’ advantage.

The latest figures show Ofwat “in profit” to the tune of £67m to be applied during 2022 – 2023. This covers the 17 water and waste companies in England and Wales.

The biggest bonus payment is to United Utilities (operating in the North West) £20.5m, followed by Anglian Water £11.7m. The three biggest losers are: Thames Water -£53.2m, Southern Water -£46.0m and South West Water -£15.4m

Details of the scheme can be found here In-period ODI determinations.

Estate rejected after attempt to remove condition of selling to over 55s

Another example of a council not buckling under challenge from a developer to relax a Section 106 agreement – Owl

Amy Fenton

A housing developer has been knocked back after trying to remove a condition requiring 78 new homes to be sold to the over 55s.

Taylor Wimpey was granted permission back in 2016 to build 1,040 new homes on land to the east of Clitheroe off Pendle Road.

One of the conditions in granting planning permission required 7.5 per cent of the new homes – 78, to be sold to the over 55s but the developer submitted an application to Ribble Valley Borough Council in November requesting that the condition, known as a Section 106, be varied.

The application has now been rejected with council officers stating Taylor Wimpey’s argument is “not acceptable”.

In a report explaining its decision the council said: “The applicant has explained that they have consulted with local market experts and when mortgage lenders take into consideration affordability they will consider the applicants age and the term that the mortgage can be taken out over. They consider that in the current climate the over 55s clause will severely limit the number of lenders willing to lend on the properties and the saleability of them.

This is not considered to be an acceptable argument. There is a clear need for over 55s housing in the borough and this strategic site is expected to make a significant contribution to this.

“This argument would suggest that persons over 55 would find it difficult to purchase a property in any scenario. Furthermore, the proposal seeks to remove the requirement to build homes to a lifetime standard which would also remove a contribution of this type of home to housing supply in the borough.

“The amendments proposed will affect the delivery of a significant number of lifetime homes and homes restricted to over 55s for which there is a demonstrated need in the borough. The justification offered is not considered to be convincing and as such the modifications are considered unacceptable.

“The proposal would be contrary to policies H2 and H3 of the Core Strategy, which aim to ensure that there is a suitable mix of housing to meet the housing needs and demands for the borough and ensure that properties are available to accommodate the changing needs of occupants. Therefore it is recommended accordingly.”

A spokesperson for Taylor Wimpey said the developer “understood” the council’s decision.

“We recognise there is a need for housing for the over 55s in the area and we are committed to delivering new homes that meet local requirements,” the spokesperson said.

“We understand and accept the council’s decision regarding our proposed S106 amendment and will continue to deliver homes in line with the approved planning documents.”

What levelling up? Councils forced into tax rises and drastic service cuts

Recent funding increases have not undone £15bn of cuts in central government grants to local authorities between 2010 and 2020.

Chaminda Jayanetti 

Levelling up secretary Michael Gove last week unveiled the government’s long-delayed plans to address regional and social inequalities, but cash-strapped councils across England are having to plan heavy cuts to frontline services after more than a decade of ongoing austerity. Recent funding increases have not undone £15bn of cuts in central government grants to local authorities between 2010 and 2020, and councils wrestling with the impact of Covid are set to pass a succession of savings measures plus widespread council tax increases. Several local authorities are facing votes on service cuts in the coming weeks.

Nottingham is planning cuts to youth services, with all play schemes axed and a move toward targeted rather than universal provision. Its Early Help service would see a reduction in staffing and early intervention for families. Funding for its Base 51 youth centre, which provides services including counselling and crisis support, would be axed. Six of the city’s nine children’s centres would close from 2023.

Sandwell in the West Midlands is reviewing the respite support it provides, to allow unpaid carers such as family members a much-needed break while the person they care for is looked after by someone else. Sandwell plans to halve this from 56 days a year to 28, which the council admits “will reduce the level of service offered”. It is also planning to increase the amount adult care users pay for non-residential care.

Kent is planning to cut more than £2m from subsidised bus services, with some contracts potentially terminating. The cost of a school bus discount pass will rise by £80 a year, and by £30 for children receiving free school meals. The council is also planning to cut travel concessions for those accompanying disabled people.

Liverpool is planning to cut funding for community organisations that run three libraries: they took these over from the council in 2015 to save them from closure.

Hartlepool is planning to end free home-to-school transport for 16- to 19-year-olds with special education needs and disabilities (Send). Support may be axed for current students or perhaps just for new starters.

Croydon is planning to save more than £1m a year through reviews of care packages for disabled and elderly people and those with mental health needs. Other councils are explicitly looking to save money by reviewing high-cost care packages.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said the government was increasing councils’ “core spending power” by 4% and “providing the largest cash-terms increase in grant funding in 10 years”.