Saturday, September 06, 2014

Liberal Democrat social housing benefits policy

Liberal Democrat Party Headquarters has issued the following Q&A, following Andrew George MP's success in the House of Commons yesterday. His "Affordable Homes Bill" has cleared the major hurdle of a Second Reading, which means it can go on to detailed consideration in committee. Among other things, the Bill would practically abolish the iniquities of the coalition's Removal of the Spare Room Subsidy, the so-called Bedroom Tax. Mr George's Private Members Bill has the support of the Labour Opposition as well as the parliamentary Liberal Party.

Why are you doing this now?

We have been monitoring the introduction of the policy carefully. The results of the interim evaluation have now been published and they show some concerning findings such as that 57% of claimants reported cutting back on household essentials. We have protected the vulnerable so far but we now want to reform the policy to protect those people for the long term.

Why haven’t you implemented these changes in government?

We have protected vulnerable groups by providing hard cash for hard cases – £180m in Discretionary Housing Payments last year – not all of which has been spent by councils. We have been monitoring the introduction of the policy carefully and have recently received the interim results of the initial evaluation of the policy. These show that the policy has had an impact on disabled people who need a spare bedroom and we want to ensure that these people are exempted. We also want to ensure that those who have tried to downsize but have not been able to are not penalised. We will make the case to our coalition partners that the policy needs to be reformed.

The Tories don’t agree with you do they?

We will continue to make the case to our coalition partners that the policy needs to be reformed. If we do not reach agreement in this parliament we will commit to these reforms in our manifesto.

What about other groups who are affected (e.g. parents who don’t live with their children but have them to visit regularly)

There would still be a (more limited) pot of Discretionary Housing Payments available for hard cash to cover hard cases. It is already the case, however, that private sector tenants have to pay for a spare bedroom in this circumstance.

Not all disabled people will be covered by your policy?

We are exempting those disabled people who need a spare bedroom or those who live in specially adapted properties. Not all disabled people will need a spare bedroom. We will consult on the detailed guidance.

What about all the other housing benefit reforms? This change doesn’t go far enough.

Between 2000 and 2010 expenditure on Housing Benefit grew by around 50% in real terms. This is clearly unsustainable, particularly at a time when we need to reduce the deficit and build a stronger economy. That is why we have made reforms to the housing benefit system, but it is also why we are working to build more affordable homes. There are also still Discretionary Housing Payments available for vulnerable people.

You are penalising housing associations who can’t build more houses. That isn’t fair, and will mean that they have less funding to build more houses in future.

We recognise it is not fair for people to have a reduction in their housing benefit if they have tried to downsize but have not been offered an alternative property. We believe there needs to be a small incentive on housing associations and local authorities to offer people reasonable alternative accommodation, including encourage people to downsize in order to free up homes for those on housing waiting lists or those living in overcrowded accommodation. This will also be an incentive to look at ways some local authorities have tackled the problem. This includes opportunities to convert larger properties or to encourage house swaps or ‘rent a room’ schemes, which help to prevent homelessness, and encourage people to think about options for getting extra income.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fair funding for Wales

After many years, Welsh Liberal Democrats have now convinced the federal party (currently in coalition with the Conservatives in Westminster) that the unfairness of the Barnett formula (named after a Labour Treasury minister), under which funding for Wales and Scotland is calculated, should be addressed.

Party leader Kirsty Williams writes:

I am pleased to announce today that we have secured our party’s commitment to overhaul the unfair funding system for Wales.  

Going into the General Election, we will pledge that Wales will have fairer funding for the next parliament, which could mean hundreds of millions of pounds extra coming into Wales. 

As we all know, under successive Labour and Tory Governments,  Wales has been underfunded for years.  The last major piece of work on this, the Holtham report, concluded that Wales was losing £300m a year.  That simply is not fair. 
Not only do we recognise that Wales is underfunded, but unlike the Tories, Labour and Plaid, we will actually do something about it. 

This announcement is about Wales getting a fairer deal and we believe this is the quickest and easiest way forward for that to happen.

In Government, we have a proud record of delivery for Wales and we are now the only party that has made a firm commitment to more funding for Wales. 

Once again, the Liberal Democrats are showing that we are the only party in Westminster that will make a positive difference for the people of Wales.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

A firm but fair immigration system

Clegg: I’m a believer in the benefits of well-managed immigration.

In a speech today, Nick Clegg set out the policy he expects the party to adopt at Federal Conference in Glasgow in October. A transcript of the speech is here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

FTSE100 CEO pay falls again as Vince Cable makes an impact

The Manifest–MM&K Annual Survey of Executive Pay shows that the Shareholder Spring has clearly had an effect on remuneration committee thinking. This has been galvanized by regulatory intervention to reinforce investors actions…

The latest survey hows that top pay awards [for FTSE100 CEOs] have reduced for two consecutive years: by -7% in 2013 and -5% in 2012. The findings are from research and analysis of the latest annual reports of FTSE100 companies…

Regulatory intervention has had a galvanising effect. Vince Cable’s efforts and threats of further legislation have helped in the reduction in CEO pay.

We are grateful to Mark Pack for this.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Briefing on the new EU Commission President

The appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission has been surrounded in controversy and conflicting stories in the UK.

What the European Commission is:
The European Commission is the EU’s civil service. It drafts proposals aimed at delivering the policy priorities set by EU member states like Britain, Germany, Spain or Poland. It’s independent and represents the interests of the European Union as a whole. It is small in size (smaller than Birmingham City Council) and it provides the policy expertise necessary to make a reality the political wishes of Prime Ministers and Ministers from around the EU. As well as working with member states it also works with the European Parliament, whose directly elected members (MEPs) are responsible for scrutinising and improving the Commission’s proposals. There are 28 Commissioners, responsible for different policy portfolios in areas where common action at the EU level is deemed to be more effective and efficient than individual member state actions at the national level. The Commission also represents the EU in international negotiations, like trade deals. It acts on the basis of a mandate given to it by national leaders in cases where speaking with one voice is better than speaking with 28 different voices.

What the European Commission is not:
A European Government, which imposes its wishes on member states.

What the European Commission President does:
The President gives political guidance to the Commission and leads the Commission's work in implementing EU policies. He or she represents the Commission in dealings with heads of member states and the European Parliament. The Commission President is also one of the EU’s voices in certain policy areas when dealing with other countries.

What the Commission President does not do:
The Commission President is not the President of the EU, he or she does not have executive powers nor is he or she the one who solely decides the direction the EU goes.

Who is Mr Juncker?
Jean-Claude Juncker is a former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, one of the most prosperous EU member states. For about 20 years he was a member of the European Council, the group that brings together Prime Ministers and Presidents from all member states. He was also head of the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers and he presided over efforts to reform the way the currency union works after the financial crisis and the sovereign debt crisis that engulfed some eurozone countries. He is experienced in consensus-building and seeking compromise, a necessary skill if he is to find a way to accommodate the interests of the member states and the European Parliament when drafting EU policies.

Mr Juncker is not:
An ultra-federalist, out to get the UK. He does advocate closer European integration but does not believe that all member states need to go at the same speed. He was in fact the only candidate for Commission President who listed as one of his objectives finding a way to accommodate British interests and sensitivities.

 Based on a briefing  put together by the European Movement.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

M4 plans a “huge mistake”

Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Economy Minister Eluned Parrott has slammed today’s announcement that the ‘black route’ will be followed for the new M4 development.
The statement today by Economy Minister claims that no reasons were provided during the consultation process objecting to the ‘black route’. This ignores environmental concerns raised during the consultation process by Friends of the Earth, the RSPB and Sustrans, and economic concerns raised by the Federation of Small Businesses, as well as the submission by the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats prefer the ‘blue route’, which is the redevelopment of the A48 Southern Distributor Road and A4810 Steelworks Access Road. This route was not consulted upon by the Welsh Government in this latest consultation.
Eluned Parrott AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Economy Minister, said:
“This decision is a huge mistake, and completely flies in the face of the environmental and economic issues that have been raised by the Welsh Liberal Democrats and many other organisations throughout this process.
“The consultation process appears to have been nothing more than a sham. The Minister’s claim that there were no reasons why the ‘black route’ could not be adopted completely ignores evidence provided to her by the RSPB, Sustrans and the Federation of Small Businesses.
“There are still huge questions surrounding the economic benefit of this development. Investing the Welsh Government’s entire borrowing powers into one single road leaves no money left for other transport projects like the South Wales Metro, which can provide much greater economic benefit for the whole area.
“Our proposed alternatives are far less expensive, less likely to damage vast swathes of our environment and are academically recommended. It’s shocking that the Welsh Labour Minister is remaining blinkered, ignoring these credible proposals and ploughing ahead regardless.”

Mid and West Wales MEP William Powell has also described the procedure as "misguided".