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Politics

End of the line for Right to Buy?

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Carl Sargeant: Social housing ‘under considerable pressure’

NEW LEGISLATION which will abolish one of the most controversial policies of the 1980s was introduced in the National Assembly this week.

The Right to Buy legislation was introduced by Margaret Thatcher in 1980, though individual councils could sell properties to tenants prior to this.

While some credited the policy, which was one of the bedrocks of the Thatcher administrations, with raising money for public finances, and giving people their only opportunity to own a home, it was also criticised for creating a shortage of affordable rented property and artificially inflating the housing market. It led to the sale of 139,000 Local Authority-owned houses in Wales – around 45% of the available stock – since 1980.

In enacting this Bill, Wales will follow from Scotland, who banned Right to Buy in 2016.

The Bill will provide for the Right to Buy, the Preserved Right to Buy and the Right to Acquire for tenants of local authorities and registered social landlords to be abolished after a period of at least one year following Royal Assent.

In introducing the Bill, the Welsh Government aims to protect the Welsh stock of social housing from further reduction, ensuring it is available to provide safe, secure and affordable housing for people who are unable to take advantage of the housing market to buy or rent a home.

To encourage the development of new social housing, the Bill, if passed by the Assembly, will provide that the Right to Buy and Right to Acquire will end for new homes two months after Royal Assent. This will help encourage social landlords to build new homes in the knowledge that they will not be at risk of being sold after only a relatively short period.

The Bill complements other actions being taken by the Welsh Government to increase the supply of housing.

Ahead of the Bill’s introduction, Communities Secretary Carl Sargeant said: “Our social housing is a valuable resource, but it is under considerable pressure. The size of the stock has declined significantly since 1980 when the Right to Buy was introduced. The number of sales is equivalent to 45% of the social housing stock in 1981. This has resulted in people in housing need, many of whom are vulnerable, waiting longer to access a home they can afford.

“The Bill supports the Welsh Government’s wider aims of a more prosperous and fairer Wales, helping to tackle poverty by protecting our stock of social housing from further reduction.

“I recognise the proposal affects existing tenants and we will ensure tenants are made aware of the effect of the Bill in good time before abolition takes place. The Bill will require the Welsh Government to publish information, which social landlords in turn must provide to every affected tenant, within two months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent.

“We have set an ambitious target of creating 20,000 affordable homes in this term of government. Alongside social housing this will include schemes such as Help to Buy and Rent to Own to enable people on modest incomes to own their own homes. We are supporting low cost home ownership and we are expanding the social housing stock. Abolishing the Right to Buy will complement these other actions we are taking in order to support people in housing need.”

Councillor Dyfed Edwards, the Welsh Local Government Association spokesperson for Housing, said: “At a time of acute shortages of social rented homes, and with many thousands of people currently on housing waiting lists, the proposal from the Welsh Government to abolish right to buy is a welcome step in tackling a growing problem in Wales. It is essential that people’s access is improved to good quality social rented housing in order to enhance people’s lives, and also to revitalise local communities”

The plans were backed by Plaid Cymru. A party spokesperson said: “We welcome the proposed move to scrap it altogether and regret that the Labour Welsh Government has taken so long to abolish this most Thatcherite of policies.”

However, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Welsh Conservatives were less enthusiastic about the proposal.

Party Housing Spokesman, David Melding AM , said: “The Welsh Government’s bid to end the right of social housing tenants to buy their homes begins its journey through the National Assembly for Wales today.

“Labour’s decision to revoke the Right to Buy in Wales will undermine social mobility, depriving thousands of families of an opportunity to get on the housing ladder for the first time.

“It’s easy for Welsh Government ministers to lecture, but this legislation will simply serve to deny hardworking families an opportunity to own their own homes.

“There is a severe shortage of affordable housing in Wales because Labour hasn’t built enough affordable homes, and not because council tenants have had a chance to buy theirs.

“The Right to Buy Scheme doesn’t deplete the housing stock, it empowers people to take a stake in the home in which they already live.”

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Politics

New Year’s messages from party leaders

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Leanne Wood: Wales needs powers to tackle its own problems

Andrew RT Davies

AS ASSEMBLY Members we have the privilege of being in a position to make a meaningful difference to the lives of the people of Wales.

My New Year’s resolution will be to carry that mantra into 2018, and concentrate on the things that bring us together rather than things that drive us apart.

As a country we are often accused of looking at our feet rather than at the horizon. Let’s make 2018 the year that we challenge that narrative and look ahead to the opportunities in front of us.

New Year’s Day is a hopeful time, as we mark the passing of one year and look ahead to a healthier and happy new one.

It is a time of positivity, and a time to be open to change.

2017 was a difficult year in so many ways. Yet it was in the very depths of adversity that we witnessed the best of human nature – and the true strength of community spirit.

The Assembly itself also witnessed great tragedy, but we have to continue to look forward and reach for the more positive future that’s just around the corner.

Above all, we must remember that in spite of our political differences there is much that binds us together.

There are huge opportunities ahead for this country and there will be times when our ability to come together will serve the people of Wales far better than working in isolation.

Wishing everyone across Wales and the United Kingdom the very best for 2018.

Carwyn Jones

AS the year draws to a close, it is a good time to reflect on the events of the last 12 months and look ahead to the year to come.

2018 offers us new opportunities and a chance to build on the progress we have made this year, and over the past two decades of devolution.

There are certainly challenges and uncertainty ahead, but many reasons for optimism too. I look forward to my ministerial team and I driving forward our ambitious plans for Wales – focusing on growing the economy, creating jobs, supporting our public services and improving the day-to-day lives of the people of Wales.

I want 2018 to be a year that unites us – a year in which we celebrate all we have in common and work together to build the fair, open, prosperous nation that we all want Wales to become.

I wish you and your families a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

Leanne Wood

PEOPLE here in Wales face many problems and challenges which cannot be solved by our National Assembly because of its limited powers and because its current Labour government lacks the necessary will and ambition to get those powers.

Neither can our problems be solved by Westminster, where the concerns of Wales are an afterthought at best. I very much hope that 2018 will be the year where we collectively conclude that only people in Wales can solve the problems this country faces.

As the political landscape changes alongside our relationships within the UK and Europe, as people in countries like Catalonia and Scotland push for self-government to have more control over the decisions that affect them, we have the chance for 2018 to be the year that people here consider how we in Wales can be empowered to tackle more of our problems for ourselves.

While the other parties may be content for many big decisions to be taken on our behalf in London, Plaid Cymru believes that decisions are best made by those who are directly affected by them. Plaid Cymru therefore believes also in further devolution within Wales.

My team and I will be dedicating time in 2018 to be in open consultation with people right throughout the country about how we can make the most of the opportunity devolution has given us to practice a different kind of politics, how we can extend and deepen our autonomy to develop a real alternative to the mess that Westminster has to offer.

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Politics

Mandy Jones sworn in as AM

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Taking office: UKIP's Michelle Brown AM (L) welcomes new AM Mandy Jones

MANDY JONES has been returned as an Assembly Member for the North Wales region following the resignation of Nathan Gill.

Mr Gill, whose sporadic attendance at the Assembly had become a running sore, resigned just before Christmas.

When a regional Assembly seat becomes vacant, the Llywydd informs the Regional Returning Officer for the relevant region.

Where the seat was vacated by a Member who was elected at an Assembly general election from a list of candidates submitted by a political party, the Regional Returning Officer is required to contact the next candidate on the list submitted at the time of the general election by that political party.

Once the Regional Returning Officer has established that the person is able and willing to serve, the Regional Returning Officer informs the Llywydd of the name of the person.

When the Llywydd receives notification of the name, that person becomes an Assembly Member. However, he or she cannot undertake the work of an Assembly Member until the oath has been taken.

The Regional Returning Officer informed the Llywydd on 27 December 2017 that Mandy Jones is able and willing to serve and was therefore returned as an Assembly Member for the North Wales region on that day.

And, on December 29, Mandy Jones AM was sworn in as the new Assembly Member for North Wales, in a ceremony at the National Assembly’s North Wales Office in Colwyn Bay.

Mrs Jones was accompanied at the ceremony by her family, and fellow UKIP AM for North Wales, Michelle Brown.

Mandy Jones commented: “I am extremely grateful and honoured to have the opportunity to be the Assembly Member for North Wales. I live here, I raised my children here and I promise to serve this region to the best of my ability.

“I will work hard on your behalf by supporting local businesses in delivering good jobs and campaigning for better local health and transport services in north Wales.”

UKIP Wales Leader Neil Hamilton welcomed Mandy Jones to the UKIP Assembly Group stating: “We are looking forward to welcoming our new team member, Mandy Jones into the group. UKIP is stronger with an additional member in the National Assembly and on the front foot in Wales. We are looking forward to 2018, where we will be even more active and vocal, as we continue to stand up for the people of Wales against the cosy Cardiff Bay consensus.”

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Politics

‘Payroll vote’ attacked

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23 on the roll: Carwyn Jones

THE EVER-INCREASING size of the Welsh Government ‘pay-roll vote’ is damaging the effectiveness of democracy in Wales according to the Welsh Conservatives.

Following Carwyn Jones’ last reshuffle, twenty one Labour Assembly Members now hold remunerated positions – be it ministerial, commission or committee chair posts – which currently represents a staggering 75 per cent of the governing party in Wales. In Scotland, the percentage of SNP members in similar paid-up positions is closer to 50 per cent.

The pay-roll vote and democratic deficit intensifies in Wales with the inclusion of Independent AM, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, and Lib Dem AM, Kirsty Williams, as Welsh government ministers.

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies, has said the ‘bloated’ government pay-roll vote is damaging the heart of democracy in Wales.

He said: “The ever-increasing and bloated size of the Welsh Government ‘pay-roll vote’ is damaging the effectiveness and heart of democracy in Wales.

“As an opposition party, we work around the clock to hold Carwyn Jones and his chaotic government to account, but the Welsh Parliament is unquestionably being harmed by the ever-shrinking voice of genuine backbenchers.

“By bringing three quarters of his Labour members into the ‘paid-up tent’, the First Minister is effectively closing down scrutiny of his actions and those of his government.

“A tired government of 18 years standing and devoid of new ideas is seeking to cover-up its numerous failures by increasing the democratic deficit in Wales – people and communities deserve better and for that we need to start with a fully functioning democracy and smaller government pay-roll.”

‘Welsh Government pay-roll vote’

Labour Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers (12):
Carwyn Jones – First Minister
Ken Skates – Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport
Vaughan Gething – Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services
Huw Irranca-Davies – Minister for Children and Social Care
Mark Drakeford – Cabinet Secretary for Finance
Alun Davies – Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services
Rebecca Evans – Minister for Housing and Regeneration
Lesley Griffiths – Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs
Hannah Blythyn – Minister for Environment
Eluned Morgan – Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning
Julie James – Leader of the House and Chief Whip, with responsibility for digital infrastructure and equalities
Jeremy Miles – Counsel General

Other Welsh Government Ministers (2):
Dafydd Elis Thomas – Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport
Kirsty Williams – Cabinet Secretary for Education

DPO and Committee Chairs (7):
Ann Jones – Deputy Presiding Officer and Chair of Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister
Lynne Neagle – Children, Young People and Education Committee
Mike Hedges – Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee
Mick Antoniw – Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee
John Griffiths – Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee
David Rees – External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee
Jane Bryant – Standards of Conduct Committee

Other roles (2):
Joyce Watson – Commissioner – Equalities and the Commission as the employer of Assembly staff
Julie Morgan – Chair of the All-Wales Programme Monitoring Committee (EU funding oversight)

During the last Assembly term, the scope of the payroll vote was demonstrated when a Labour AM, Jenny Rathbone, was sacked by Carwyn Jones as Chair of the All-Wales PMC for breaching ‘collective responsibility’ by speaking out against a policy decision made by the Welsh Government – despite fulfilling a number of supposedly ‘backbench’ roles such as sitting on Assembly Committees as a Labour representative.

While Mr Davies’ point has merit, in the Westminster parliament the total number of ministers in government posts in June 2017, following the general election and reshuffle of Theresa May’s Government, was 118.

This was the same number as under the Cameron administration in May 2015, but more than all other post-1979 general elections bar 2010.

As a point of comparison, there were sixty government ministers in 1990 and India, with a population of over 1.3bn, has under eighty.

There are nine unpaid ministers in Theresa May’s June 2017 Government.

The Prime Minister is able to invite Ministers to attend Cabinet without making them Cabinet Ministers. There are five people in Theresa May’s June 2017 Government who attend Cabinet without being full Cabinet Ministers.

There is no formal definition of the payroll vote. It is generally considered to refer to all those who hold a role in the administration, whether paid or unpaid. This includes senior roles, as well as more junior roles including Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs).

The proportion of Members of the House of Commons who have been part of the payroll vote has varied from 19-22% between 1979 and 2017. More recently, the Conservative Government rigged the Select Committee system, which is supposed to scrutinise the government, by appointing nine members of its payroll vote to select committees.

There have been calls for the size of the payroll vote to be limited.

Most recently, in a 2011 report, the Public Administration Select Committee noted that the proportion of those holding government posts would be exacerbated by the proposed reduction in the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 following the forthcoming Boundary Review. Their recommendations included cutting the number of PPSs to one per Government Department and that the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 should be seen as imposing a strict limit on paid and unpaid ministers.

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