People need new homes. But pumping houses into the economy isn’t the only answer and may be more destructive as an isolated solution than Quantitative Easing will surely prove to be…

Picture thanks to
Picture thanks to

Has anyone noticed how politicians love to pick up an issue that plays on people’s minds and then they play with it, mutilate it and reshape it to suit their own ends?

Party Conference Season is of course a great time to see this approach to taking responsibility in its finest form and Nick Clegg’s sound-bites about the Lib Dem role as the moral anchor of future Coalition Government and Ed Milliband’s socialist branding on the Cost of Living Crisis and Energy Prices are themselves very fitting examples of cynical – and impractical views or policy, which in reality would demonstrate just how out of touch these people really are.

Policy bandwagons that appeal to public opinion, but lack the depth and thought for their real and long term implications are by far the worst, because in appearing to solve a problem, they actually create a whole lot more besides and usually in ways which are far more damaging to individuals, communities and businesses than the initial problem ever had been.

Perhaps the most notable of these policy faux pas that politicians keep lining themselves up to commit is with strategic planning for development and house building in particular. I know that I am far from alone in wondering just how practical, ‘real world’ and problem solving our leaders think this continuous drive to concrete across this Country actually is…

In terms of the day-to-day political scene, house building has become an almost obsessive issue for all of the Parties and one that they would happily have us all believe can only be addressed by significant development.

Generally speaking, the spin that politicians place on these plans is that building more houses will make them cheaper and therefore more available. But how many new developments have you seen being sold at less than the local like-for-like rate or at a rate which genuinely reflects the cost to build plus a realistic profit margin?

They say that building houses will create jobs. But other than within the industry that builds houses and the services that will then provide them, what jobs ever get created by the construction of a house?

They tell us that building houses is good for the economy. But how can that be so when prices keep going up, people have to borrow to afford them and the houses built are rarely located where people can benefit most from them without commuting and spending a whole lot more money on travel, from which they will rarely be left with very little afterwards to show?

They legislate that housing ‘supply’ should be determined up to 20 years in advance. But how can anyone in any location or Local Authority area truly know or understand what housing need there will be unless it actually exists already or they make a judgement on what may be needed within a year or two, based on what jobs may be coming to the area?

In Westminster derived terms, politicians are convinced and in turn try to convince us of the need to build, build, build. But the housing problem looks very different to those who are experiencing it firsthand. Where are the policies that consider that:

The entire housing market is overpriced. Commission-hungry estate agents, easy borrowing, speculation, buy-to-let ownership, investment, property developers and builders; all have contributed to the sometimes exponential house price rises. The value of property is vastly inflated and a major contributing factor to the vulnerability of the banks and financial system – as illustrated by the banking collapse in 2008. Devaluation of the entire UK property portfolio would be the answer, but would cause as much mayhem and fallout in isolation as devaluation of the Pound will, should the UK’s Debt, Deficit and economic situation go where it very well could.

Lower priced housing is rarely located where people would most like it. Rarely is development of any good size located where people most need it, and where it is, the prices are even more overinflated than they are elsewhere. People have to commute sometimes long distances to the homes that they can afford which itself is financially costly, but is also very expensive in terms of commuting time – and this is private time that can never be replaced.

Mortgage deposits are too high. The Chancellors Help to Buy Scheme is noted. But it doesn’t escape from the fact that one of the main reasons that people can’t afford mortgage deposits is that the housing market is overpriced and the value of an average house in the UK is currently £242,415.00 compared with the average wage of £26,500.00; over 9 times bigger. Insuring buyers is not a longer term solution and the Government has to get prices back within the reach of average-wage-earner ownership without using the easy promise of Taxpayers money to help.

The rental market is overpriced. Properties of all kinds and sizes are required for rental, but the houses most commonly sought are 2-3 bedroom properties which are typically the same as those sought by first time buyers and those in the buy-to-let market. This interest creates a false floor in pricing and Landlords who do not have mortgages have little to gain by undercutting those who do.

There isn’t enough Social Housing. There will always be a requirement for social housing but the deficit between what Local Authorities can access and what they require needs to be significantly smaller. Right to Buy hasn’t helped with availability when Councils haven’t replaced stock which has been sold through the scheme.

There isn’t enough of the right kinds of social housing. Probably the greatest number of housing related enquiries I ever have from residents within my own Council Ward is from those seeking social housing who cannot obtain a tenancy because there isn’t one that meets their needs or that of their families. Social housing development is very prescriptive and doesn’t currently reflect the normal diversity in family types and sizes that generally exist in most communities.

Second homes are leaving local people without having the option of just one. People now have the ability to travel distances like never before and this has made second home ownership much more practical for weekend use. It has however meant that property prices in rural and seaside locations have exploded as high earning city folk have found it easy to buy such property. The downside is that they have priced local traditionally-low-earners out of their own markets. With inadequate levels of social housing and responsive development which is ‘affordable’, people who want to leave home and remain in the communities in which they grew up are now finding that they simply no longer have that choice.

House ownership has become speculative beyond basic investment and security. People now buy property as an investment and typically seek the same properties as first time buyers, thereby eliminating many of the opportunities for owner-occupation, whilst forcing house prices and rental values up at the same time.

These are the real and for many, very painful aspects of the UK housing market as they stand today, and they will not be addressed simply by allowing development on a scale which is only certain to exacerbate the problems as they stand, potentially create a whole lot more problems beside and only truly benefit the developers whom the whole Planning system seems to have been created for.

Politicians must do much more to recognise and understand the issues facing people as they consider their next home. They then must develop genuine well-thought-out solutions that actually help and assist the people who need the help to avoid or remove themselves from misery and doesn’t reward those who deliberately or otherwise make profit from creating more of it.

There is so much more that our politicians could do. For instance, why don’t they:

  • Add additional stamp duty to buy-to-let mortgages on 2-3 bed homes – those typically bought by private property investors.
  • Add a tax or levy to the monthly repayments on buy-to-let mortgages on 2-3 bed homes
  • Restrict or halt new property transactions to foreign nationals who will not be UK Taxpayers.
  • Place an obligation on developers to provide a percentage of the properties on a new development for social housing use which is not dedicated or allocated at their choice OR alternatively provide an alternative or additional site within the same Local Authority area which reflects that same percentage and types and sizes of housing, relative to their own developments granted permission within that financial year.
  • Legislate that future or existing sales revenue from Council owned stock must either be used to build new properties or purchase existing ones with a priority given to property types most sought on the local Waiting List.
  • Penalise weekday or week-time non-occupation of homes through a tax or levy.
  • Legislate to require the deposit or equity value on second home mortgages to be 50% of value or even higher.
  • Require Estate Agents to work on a fixed-fee, non-commission basis.
  • Consider outlawing ‘gazumping’

Without more creative thinking and policy intervention, the role that housing development could play in contributing to the economic never-never fantasy land that has been under construction is quite frightening.

Just as Quantitative Easing (QE) is having a detrimental and savage effect on the savings of many people who have been responsible with the accumulation of their wealth, continuous building at the rates that Government would have us believe necessary, whilst failing to address all the other underlying issues facing those who need homes, will surely prove to be just as damaging for many more, if not worse.

You can’t address real problems without real solutions and its time that politicians thought about the real consequences of their actions rather than the power and electability they will achieve by playing with sound-bites and words.

What is in effect “quantitative building” might make good headlines, but it isn’t going to help those who need new homes most right now and the only long-term beneficiaries will be the money men who own the companies that build them.


Money: Terrorism, the cost of living crisis and the collapse of religion & morality

MonopolyMan“Money is the root of all evil” was a phrase I often heard as I grew up. I like to think that it was a simple ruse that both my Mother and Grandmother employed to make the lack of cash and the weekly wait for Thursday morning’s ritual trip to the Post Office to ‘cash the giro’  seem all that more holy. But years in Businesses, Charities and Local Government have given me a very different view and it is now clear that this New Testament derived saying has an application which is a whole lot more universal.

Like it or not almost every facet of life has some link with money. Making money, spending money, borrowing money, saving money, winning money, being awarded money, being in some way dishonest for money, selling for money, earning money, playing for money or just thinking about money will almost certainly have a relationship with something that any one of us is doing at any one time whether we realise it or not.

What is in many cases an unconscious or involuntary obsession with money has become so ingrained within our present day existences that many of us have reached a point where we simply overlook the part that it plays in virtually every part of life and how its influence, directly or otherwise is on the way to making communities and cultures within Great Britain, Europe and far beyond almost unrecognisable from what they were less than a hundred years ago.

The “money men” of today and their commercialisation of just about everything that we could imagine are no doubt responsible for many of the problems that people are now experiencing. But payday loans, credit worthiness, spiralling energy bills and the explosion of food prices are only one part of the problem; just as ineptitude on the part of politicians who through successive Governments have taxed almost everything whilst they have taken borrowing to bankruptcy and beyond is another.

The far reaching and what could yet prove to be devastatingly real implications of decisions taken many years ago, primarily based upon freedoms and rights, but effectively about money, ownership and the formulation of private wealth have yet to fully manifest themselves. But to many, the harsh realities of an effectively unregulated free-market in the hands of those out to make money without any sense of ethics, morality or whatever the true cost may be, are already very real indeed.

The apparent liberation of the masses from servitude and the arrival of our perceived freedoms has been accompanied by the growth of a culture which recognises the accumulation of personal wealth and standing above all else.

People en masse are no longer content just to ‘be’, but relate their position in the world to what they do or don’t have and as such take a far more self-centred or self indulgent approach to life, even when they have very little to show for it.

Perhaps one of the the noticeable casualties of this change may be the Church of England which has arguably witnessed a significant if not exponential fall in congregation size in parallel with this change. It is fast becoming ill equipped to maintain its standing as the default faith within what the Libertarians amongst us would have us believe to be a secular state – which itself was just a station at where the UK stopped and which our population may have already left way behind it.

It’s not just those who are now struggling to pay their bills who will have noticed; in fact, they have come pretty late to the game.

To those outside the UK and the West, a cultural obsession with money and its related exploitation of people and resources is even more historical than the change that has taken place for individuals in just Great Britain alone. The resentment and in many cases hatred that this has fostered is now manifesting itself in some of the most frightening ways possible through the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism and the extremist acts of terror by which it is closely accompanied.

It is ironic that the very same causes of the problems that we are now experiencing because of money and our obsession with it in this Country may well be the very same motivator that fuels the fire of extremism amongst people who have already recognised it through different eyes and want to deal with it, but in a way that would see us returned to the dark ages.

Sadly and as in most cases where one form of religious or political philosophy is at work and in control, those who are opposed to what some may call the money-based malignancy of this Westernised culture simply want to see it replaced with one which is oppressive in a wholly different way. Regrettably, the indifference of the majority towards what are two extremes does not reduce the likelihood that one could just be replaced by the alternative in any way.

Indifference itself is only exacerbated by the rights culture which has installed a sense of unjustified wrongdoing and often guilt when people speak out about changes and what are effectively the removal of freedoms that we may one day have to fight to regain.

The ‘rights’ of what are minorities within minorities are being preserved, promoted and upheld at the cost of not only the majority of UK Citizens, but the majorities within those very communities too, and we are being frogmarched towards a whole new and unrecognisable culture within the UK at the cost of what two generations fought and suffered for in the First and Second World Wars and the identity-bearing British traditions that we have held dear for so very long.

Many think that if there should be a World War III or Armageddon, it will be a wholly violent conflict that originates in the Middle East and then spreads to physically embrace the World, probably using weapons which will do unspeakable harm. Acts of terrorist violence such as 9/11, 7/7, Mumbai, Woolwich and Nairobi Westgate serve only to bring the news time realities of armed conflicts in Egypt, Libya and Syria all that closer to us.

The arrival of violence on our own shores – albeit on a comparatively small scale – is just another terrible warning of the realities that lie ahead if our politicians and the people with monetary power over our lives continue to go about their work without any real thought for the consequences of their actions.

The human condition dictates that group think will always encourage a level of emotional buy-in, servitude or passion within individuals whom given the right motivation will override any feeling of humanity towards their fellow man.

Encouraged by the belief that the ‘haves’ are somehow deliberately seeking to harm the ‘have not’s’ as part of some elaborate conspiracy – this indirect consequence is enough for indoctrinated people to see no value in their own life and therefore have no respect for that of others. Picking up the gun and delivering their messages with bombs is then just a simple step beyond.

However, whilst this really is the extreme end of the wedge in every possible sense, we should be grateful that the polarised or violent aspects of the rise of this ‘god called money’ have so far affected us at home to date in such limited ways.

It will not remain this way if radical Islam continues its rise within the communities of Britain or worse still, if the financial or cost of living crisis that is facing a significant and growing number of British households continues to be ignored, and frustrated and frightened people reach the point where they feel the time has come to take to the streets.

So could these terrorist attacks, Middle-Eastern battles, wars and the rise of radical Islam really be just be the symptom of the next Great War which is already underway?

If they are such a symptom, terrifying as terrorism and even civil disorder can be, tackling both may only be a small part of dealing with any turmoil that lies ahead, and an issue that our crowd-pleasing political classes will only find slightly harder to deal with than continually focussing on what it takes to win the next elections. Instructing and unleashing the police and security services from the realms of political correctness and claim culture will after all be an easy decision by comparison to dealing with the powers associated with money and reigning in a force beyond nature which has saturated our lives so deeply that it affects the very way that almost every one of us actually thinks.

If you need any evidence of the real battlefield that already exists around us, look at the hollow lives that some in Britain already live.

There are normal everyday people in this Country who feel empty and go in search of meaning. Where some of them once felt happy and content within their communities, they have withdrawn into solitary lives obsessing about what they have or what they don’t have. They seek distractions in whatever form they come, whether it manifests as obsessive behaviour with drink, drugs, sex, junk food, video games, TV, mobile phones, porn, the internet or perhaps even the fringe forms of religion which offer the same addictive power as all of the above and fill the void now deserted by a much happier and less monetary orientated world, where people found a much less invasive form of contentment with a whole lot less.

Whatever direction people who feel empty take; whatever they look for to fill their void; whatever they already possess; people will always willingly accept something if it is perceived to be ‘free’.

Cynical, self-serving politicians know this and flourish off the back of giveaways that somebody somewhere will always end up paying for. This rule extends across party lines, demographics, occupations or whatever your level of wealth or personal standing.

It won’t be difficult to get agreement that others need to change their behaviour from any one of us. But at the level of the individual, this reality will rarely prove to be the problem.

The failure of Westminster Politicians from successive Governments to consider the consequences of their actions or lack of them when it comes to dealing with a cultural and economic problem of this magnitude is astounding. It would be frankly quite laughable, were it not the case that for many people and businesses right across the UK, the outcomes already are and will progressively become so much more serious if nothing is done.

Time is running out for democracy in the way that we have come to know it, and if we don’t begin to witness the evolution of British politics to a form where fairness, what is right and what’s best for everyone becomes the priority and motivation of all in power and of those who aspire to having it, the consequences could be far more extreme for many than even living within a medieval caliphate where heads roll as easy as marbles and women are allowed to do very little other than simply exist.

It really is therefore difficult to conclude anything other than that all the evils facing our society have money unquestionably at their root and whatever your take on it, there is certainly nothing holy about any of it.

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Images with thanks to sources unknown.

Public Funding of Political Parties: Yet another nail in the coffin of British Democracy and a giant leap away from listening to the voices that must now be heard?

image thanks to
image thanks to

Political Party funding has once again become a regular topic of discussion in the media and many will today find themselves asking why the Public may now be required to pay to promote an exclusive list of what are membership-based organisations, when many more worthy causes that bring much better value to our communities could never even dream of securing this kind of help.

Following Ed Milliband’s now seemingly disastrous attempt to re-package a few multi-million Pound Union donations into many more smaller and politically expedient ones from union members who should apparently have been just as willing to choose to ‘opt-in’ as pay through the historical non-voluntary default, it seems that we are again faced with the dubious meanderings of a few politicians who will do anything that they can to make the system work just for them and for the parties that they represent.

Talk of a £5000 cap on donations to political parties would have worked extremely well for Labour if they had managed to manipulate 2 or 3 donations to qualify as the same sum given by a sudden deluge of fee-paying Labour supporters. It is after all rather unlikely that the Conservatives could find a way to do the same.

But Ed missed one vital calculation in this plan and one that no considerate and fully cognizant politician should ever miss – that people will only voluntarily pay for things that they actually want.

The penny of impending political disaster having now dropped almost as far as the current Labour Leader’s jaw, we now find ourselves looking public funding for political parties in the eye as the Westminster set again swans around under the misguided belief that the existence and perpetuity of their ideals and their impractical application should be assured by right and statute, rather than by the will and best interests of the majority of people – which isn’t after all what politics is actually supposed to be all about?

Just this week within the Council where I am an Elected Member, a whole Borough has witnessed the down side of party politics when a bad decision which may have profound effects on many lives for years to come is compounded and enforced by the use of the Party Whip to guarantee that the aspirations and agendas of the few will overcome the needs and potential benefits from alternative and better paths for the many.

De facto funding for Political Parties that even their Members no longer want to financially support will make such outcomes even more likely than they are right now and those politicians who are already awake to these perils will be well aware of the potential cost of this approach to us all.

With the common ground between Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour being that the Leadership of all 3 have lost sight that doing what’s right for all, rather than what’s right for the Party or the idea’s that they specifically hold dear; all of the main Parties now fail to gain the lifeblood funding and support that they need from everyday voters, simply because they aren’t considering the realities and practicalities of what it takes to live, work and survive in our everyday world.

The message should therefore be simple. Large donors will always want to influence decisions and processes for their own benefit and adequate membership level financial support will only ever be assured when those members feel that they are likely to benefit – ultimately just the same.

If any political party is unable to secure that support, its leadership and executive should surely ask the question why it cannot do so and then be thinking about changing the way that it operates so that it can – if it can do so.

Those of us outside the Westminster ‘bubble’ should perhaps be asking ourselves whether the funding crisis that Political Parties are now facing is the best illustration yet that Politicians are out of touch and failing to connect with the critical mass of the population.

If their approach to governing our lives cannot be sustained or promoted without State intervention within a democracy, do political parties really have the right to say that they represent anyone but themselves?