Can the government meet its current housing pledge? We find out
The Government risks falling short of its pledge to deliver 275,000 affordable homes by 2020 unless it gives councils greater freedoms to boost skills and build more housing, according to the new chair of the Local Government Association (LGA).
Cllr Gary Porter will tell the association’s annual conference in Harrogate that ministers should lift housing borrowing limits and let councils retain 100 per cent of receipts from Right to Buy sales, without complicated rules governing how they can be used.
A total of 204,000 affordable homes were built in England between 2010-11 and 2013-14. However, the LGA said, the number that were built in 2013-14 compared with 2010-11 was down by 29 per cent and if this trend continues, only 215,000 homes will be delivered by 2020.
Cllr Porter, the Conservative leader of South Holland District Council, will also call for more local control of skills. He will warn that while demand for skills in the construction industry has risen by 54 per cent since 2013, the number of completed construction apprenticeships has fallen by 58 per cent since 2009.
In 2013-14, there were 232,500 vocational qualifications in construction, planning and the built environment – just 2.7 per cent of all vocational qualifications. The number was down by 8,000 compared with the previous year and 25,000 since 2008-09.
Cllr Porter will argue that devolving funding and responsibilities for employment and skills services to local areas would address this mismatch by bringing together councils, schools, colleges and employers to create better targeted skills programmes.
The LGA claims that building more affordable homes cut the housing benefit bill by as much as £24bn and reduce the £2.5bn cost to the NHS of poor housing conditions.
“The Government has expressed a clear ambition to build more affordable homes and help more people own their own home. Local government has a central role to play to make this happen,” Cllr Porter will tell the conference.
“Central to this is lifting housing borrowing limits to allow us to invest in new housing, giving us the freedom to set Right to Buy discounts and retain 100 per cent of the receipts locally.
“For too long there has also been a mismatch of centrally set training and skills needed locally. We’ve trained too many hairdressers and not enough bricklayers.
“The solution is a wider devolution of public services and we need that sooner rather than later. Devolution will allow us to do more for our people. And we need all parts of the country to have the chance to play their part.
“By bringing local public services together in one local place we will be able to get a lot more out of the public’s money – so better services for residents and at a lower cost.”
Chancellor George Osborne announced a £300m increase in the HRA borrowing cap across 2015-16 and 2017-18 in the 2013 Autumn Statement. At last week’s Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Manchester, housing minister Brandon Lewis ruled out further increases, saying there is around £2.8bn in headroom still available.
Lewis did, however, commit to looking at a review of red tape related to Right to Buy.