OK. We admit it. Day two of the Conservative Conference merged far too seamlessly into day three. So we have merged our ‘daily’ blogs together too.
Here are some thoughts from what we heard in the main conference hall and at fringe events from the Monday and Tuesday sessions.
Housebuilding yet again to the fore
On Sunday we commented on how many fringe meetings there were related to housing at this Year’s Conservative Party Conference. In fact, it is clear that housing, and housebuilding in particular, is probably the number one issue this year. The focus on the subject deepened considerably from comment on the fringe to major focus in the main conference hall. Both Communities Secretary Sajid Javid and Chancellor Philip Hammond devoted considerable emphasis to housing in their speeches. Hammond said he would prioritise measures to build housing over deficit reduction, a major departure from the Osborne approach. And Javid announced a number of measures aimed at freeing up land, new sources of lending to aid developers and, importantly, attacked the NIMBYism that slows down and prevents projects from progressing.
We have heard a lot about housing in previous years though, so why do we feel the mood is genuinely changing? The answer is more detail is emerging than in previous Conference seasons and that individual policy announcements seem to be more joined up than has hitherto been the case. This was confirmed with Sajid Javid announcing there would be a housing White Paper produced ‘later this year’, the timing of which was clarified during fringe events to ‘this Autumn’, and we believe it is likely to coincide with the Autumn Statement.
We can get a feel for what will be in that White Paper too. Gavin Barwell, the Housing Minister, has been ploughing his way through the 17 speeches he has scheduled at the Conference. At each meeting he has repeated a number of themes and key areas that he wanted to see addressed. In summary these are: releasing more land into the system; speeding up the planning permission process; increasing certainty in the planning system; broadening diversity in the industry, especially increasing the scale of builds from small and medium sized companies; bringing more institutional investment into the industry, e.g. around PRS; and supporting innovation, for example modular housing. More housing of all types and tenures is wanted, with no specific focus on particular areas. And one policy very likely to emerge is an increase in planning fees to allow planning Departments to be better resourced and to speed up the application process.
Homelessness Reduction Bill
More houses is one way to tackle the problem of homelessness. However, there are other measures that can be introduced to help tackle the problem sooner, and to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.
Nudge Factory is proud to currently be working with Crisis, the charity for single homeless people. Crisis held a fringe event at the Conference, jointly with the Centre for Social Justice, on that subject of preventing homelessness. A panel chaired by Crisis CEO John Sparkes included speakers Bob Blackman MP, Marcus Jones MP, the Local Government Minister, Baroness Philippa Stroud. The debate focussed around the Private Member’s Bill sponsored by Bob Blackman – the Homelessness Reduction Bill – due to be debated on 28th October. The Bill seeks to update legislation to place new duties on councils to offer people at risk of homelessness support at an earlier stage, as well as end the discrimination against those deemed ‘not vulnerable’, who then fall to the bottom of the pile in terms of priority and often then find themselves on the streets. The Bill is only one part towards a solution – the fringe meeting also talked about the need for better support for care and prison leavers for instance – but would make a big step towards tackling today’s homelessness problem. Crisis have spent the week urging MPs to ‘Back the Bill’ and we hope that enough MPs attend the debate on 28th October to ensure the Bill passes its Second Reading. You can find out more about the Bill and the No One Turned Away campaign on the Crisis website.
Social mobility agenda continues apace
Education Secretary, Justine Greening, today announced that 6 new ‘opportunity areas’ would share a fund of some £60 million. The areas are designed to foster better links between schools and employers and boost social mobility in areas she said were currently social mobility ‘cold spots’. The six areas are Norwich, Oldham, West Somerset, Blackpool, Derby and Scarborough. This announcement shows that the new PM’s focus remains firmly on social mobility. There are already some good case studies of where the relationship between employers and schools has worked. At Nudge Factory, we welcome this announcement to get the social mobility agenda motoring but we would hope that in future, announcements like this won’t need to happen as employers understand that relationship building with schools is ultimately a relationship with future employees. It should be in the fabric of the business and a core pillar of corporate social responsibility.
Boris Johnson retains rock star status in the Conservative Party
He may have pulled out the leadership and had to tone down some of his rhetoric (well, a bit anyway) now he is Foreign Secretary. But Conservative Party members clearly retain an affection for Boris Johnson that is hard to quantify! At the Conservative Friends of India reception on Monday night, over a dozen Ministers spoke to guests about the importance of boosting trade with India. Just as the room was starting to empty, Boris arrived fashionably late, and back came the people who had been on their way out. A flurry of selfies ensued, and when the Foreign Secretary finally made it to the podium to speak, he managed to turn a single statistic into a moral, a joke and a great oration all at the same time. Currently only 1% of whisky drunk in India comes from the UK, he said. If we increase this to 10% of whisky consumed in India, we will boost UK trade by £1 billion! A reason for free trade with India in a post-Brexit world. Of course, he added, we in the UK could also buy cheaper Indian whisky too…the benefit of free trade!
See you back at the office folks!
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