Thursday, 29 August 2019

Fair funding

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian looks at capital investment into Cornwall and explains my support for Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards’ bid for a new “Office for Fair Funding.” It is as follows:

The recent announcement of a £100 million of capital investment in a new Women’s and Children’s unit at the Royal Cornwall Hospital at Treliske is fantastic news for Cornwall. It will be good to see the Princess Alexandra Maternity wing replaced, as it known to have a short life-span because of serious structural problems.

Though the promised injection of cash has been widely welcomed, it has also led to some robust debate with plenty of cynicism from non-Conservative politicians.

One would-be MP has pointed out that it is “scandalous” that it has taken so long to allocate the funding for the replacement plans “drawn up years ago.” Others have challenged the timing of the announcement “by a Prime Minister with one eye firmly fixed on a General Election” and described the investment as a “drop in the ocean” after the Government has “starved the NHS of money.” There have also been challenges as to where the funding is actually coming from, with the obligatory comments about “magic money trees.”

As a local councillor, I share the concern at the harm caused by austerity and know that the UK Government needs to do so much more to repair the damage caused by a decade of cuts and under-investment in our public services.
But at this time I would prefer to be positive and to challenge central government and Cornwall’s MPs to demonstrate that this latest announcement does indeed represent a massive shift in policy and means Cornwall – and other parts of the UK far from London and the South East – will be a greater priority in the future.

One immediate action that the UK Government and Cornish MPs could take would be to support the proposed legislation from Welsh MP Jonathan Edwards for a new “Office for Fair Funding.”

The Plaid Cymru MP has, quite colourfully, pointed out how “London and the South East of England continues to act as a black hole, sucking in talent and investment from the rest of the UK.” He has added that regional inequalities have so “disfigured the UK economy” that “we no longer really have a ‘UK economy’ in any meaningful sense - there is the South East of England and then the rest.”

Jonathan’s bill would be a first step in addressing such regional imbalances and at its core there “would be a statutory obligation to deliver geographic wealth convergence.” Put bluntly, the Prime Minister and MPs would be “legally bound to deliver a fairer economic balance between the nations and regions of the UK.” And that could only be good news for Cornwall.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

100 years of council housing ...

One hundred years ago, on 31st July 1919, the Westminster Parliament passed the Housing Act (1919). It was momentous legislation that amended the earlier Housing of the Working Classes Act (1890) and brought forward ambitious plans for the provision of council housing with low rents.

The Housing Act had its legislative roots in the Tudor Walters Committee report of 1917 and is known as the Addison Act after the Health and Housing minister, Christopher Addison. It is also linked to the pledge from the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, that he would deliver “habitations fit for the heroes” who had served in the First World War, though his words are more generally remembered as “homes fit for heroes.”

According to the UK Government, the Act “made housing a national responsibility, and local authorities were given the task of developing new housing and rented accommodation where it was needed by working people.” It promised significant subsidies from central government towards the construction of half a million houses within three years and, though subsequent economic problems meant that the funding had to be reduced, a total of 213,000 homes were completed through the provisions of the Act.

The Tudor Walters report specified that new housing should not be tiny terraced units squeezed onto very small plots, but “generously proportioned” houses with good-sized gardens.

The new rental properties provided by St Columb Rural Council in my local area in the early 1920s were certainly as foreseen by MPs. These included Barnfield Terrace in Indian Queens, as shown in the above photograph, Beaconside in Summercourt and Westbourne Terrace in Penhale – where my own father was born about ten years later. 

Another Housing Act followed in 1924 which allotted further funding to local councils, while additional legislation in 1930 lead to the clearance of a large number of slums. Figures show that “inter-war Housing Acts” helped local councils to build 1.1 million new homes.

Strategically, this new approach placed public sector housing at the very heart of government policy and this lasted for more than six decades.

Sadly, this all changed with the sell-off of council housing, which was commenced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government of the 1980s and, I believe, this is one of the reasons why we have such a dysfunctional housing market in the UK today.

[This will be my article in this week's Cornish Guardian].