Manifesto madness

The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected.

There appears to be some sort of election next week. So, in the interests of impartiality (which my regular readers will know is not something that comes easily to me), I’ve had a look through some of the manifestos to see what, if anything, the construction industry might be able to expect.

Of course, what one might say in the run-up to an election is often very different to what one might say once elected, but that’s democracy for you (cf: N Clegg Esq). However, here is my not at all scientific or in any way in-depth look at what we’re being promised and by whom.

The Green Party has, at first glance, the most interesting and positive policy of immediate interest. Their pledge to cut VAT on housing repairs and renovations echoes the calls of the FMB, the Modern Masonry Alliance, the BMF and many, many others who want to see the painful 20% currently levied on housing RMI work reduced to a more manageable 5%.

Our housing stock is in desperate need of improvements such as insulation and the Green Party spokesman said that their pledge “comes at a time when we desperately need to be investing in a nationwide home insulation scheme, to cut bills and end the scandal of fuel poverty” and that it demonstrates the party’s commitment to building “a Britain of warm, comfortable homes.” Which is nice.

Once upon a time, the Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls publically stated his commitment to such a reduction though, privately, he’s admitted, I’m told, that it’s never going to actually happen.

The Labour Party has its own ideas about how to improve the housing stock, particularly in terms of its energy efficiency. No surprise that these ideas include ditching the current Coalition Energy Company Obligation programme and the highly controversial Green Deal Home Improvement Fund (which in turn were rehashes of programmes introduced under that last Labour Government). Instead, there will be a levy on energy companies to fund local energy efficiency programmes for 200,000 households in or at risk of fuel poverty a year and making cash available to fund 1 million interest-free loans for energy efficiency.

We all know the Green Deal hasn’t worked quite as it should have done and that ECO has been watered down so that it’s half as effective so a manifesto recognition of this is welcome. However, I’m not convinced any of them really understand the best way of funding efficiency improvement on the massive scale that is required if we are to get anywhere.

Labour’s also talking about exempting first-time buyers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland from paying stamp duty when buying homes that cost below £300,000, for three years. This would certainly help to free up cash at the bottom of the ladder, but I don’t think anyone these days makes a decision to buy a house simply because they’ll save a few grand. In any case, the last Budget went quite a long way along this path anyway.

The Labour idea that locals would also get “first call” on half of new homes in their area is interesting as there’s always political comment about how people are being priced out of areas they grew up in. Not sure I see quite how it will work in practice though. “Hello, can have a look at your show house for this new estate please? Certainly, do you live in one of these postcodes? Er, no. Then, sorry, you’ll have to wait for two/three/four/five months.”

Then there’s the Lib Dems who plan to build 300,000 new homes each year , bring in ‘affordable land’ plots for self-builders, prioritise development on brownfield and town centre sites and ensuring that local authorities have clear 15 year plans to lead development in their local areas as well as reducing Council Tax for residents whose homes have an energy saving improvement.

I’ve already blogged here about my thoughts on the Conservative idea about extending Right-to-Buy to housing association tenants, however, it’s not the only housing idea in that party’s manifesto. There’s the pledge to build 200,000 starter homes and the 20% discount for first time buyers under 40 which would help get people on the ladder, allowing others ahead of them to move up, bringing the well-documented benefits of plenty of property transactions to the whole construction industry supply chain.

Even UKIP has its ideas about how to improving the housing market – some of them even printable – and plans to work hard to develop brownfield sites and to bring back into play the 700,000 or so homes that it says are currently standing empty.

Many of these ideas have merit and if only we could cherry-pick the best bits and use them, we might stand a chance of getting housing policy that really works for future generations.

I suppose, the argument is that if we have hung Parliament next week that ends in another Coalition, we might be able to do just that. But judging by the last five years, I’m inclined to think not.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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