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14 COMMENT THE SOCIAL NETWORK


Patrick Mooney, managing director at Mooney Thompson Consulting


OPTIMISM THROUGH GRITTED TEETH IN OUR TOWN HALLS


Patrick Mooney recaps the Government’s recent actions in the social housing sector, explaining how far the new measures will really go.


t’s been a roller coaster few weeks for the social housing sector with hopes and fears being given almost equal helpings of good cheer and mid winter gloom. While it feels like the Government has finally got the message about housing as a force for good, there is also a sense that at any moment Brexit could derail this, send us down a slow line or even into the buffers!


I


IN THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY IT APPEARS SOME COUNCILS WILL BE ABLE TO BUILD NEW HOMES IN BIG(ISH) NUMBERS, BUT NOT UNTIL 2019/20 AT THE EARLIEST


WWW.HBDONLINE.CO.UK


There is a pent-up frustration over whether local authorities can join the housebuilding programme and if so, to what extent. In the run up to the Budget, it looked like councils were finally going to be trusted with the tools (and more importantly, the money) for embarking on a drive to construct tens of thousands of low rent homes – the sort of building programme not seen for decades. In the cold light of day it appears some councils will be able to build new homes in big(ish) numbers, but not until 2019/20 at the earliest and even then only in a somewhat modest way through increased borrowing. But the money involved is limited to about £1bn (which is small beer when you compare it to the sums available for Help to Buy, or abolishing


stamp duty for first time buyers) and will only be available to councils in ‘high demand’ areas who submit a winning bid. On this occasion the small print details really did take the gloss off!


Instead of going on a housebuilding drive councils up and down the country will continue investing huge sums of money in buying commercial properties and business parks – all with the approval of the Treasury. Personally I’d be a lot happier if most of that money was instead going into building new houses. Given the occasions when residential property actually loses value are very rare, housebuilding can be regarded as a (very) safe investment.


POSITIVES


But sitting alongside this gloom, there were two overwhelming and unexpected positives recently – firstly the annual rent reductions have ended and from 2020 rents will be able to keep pace with inflation. Secondly the Government agreed to make a number of concessions on Universal Credit, which should alleviate some, but not all, of the hardship which this reform of the welfare system has caused.


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