(Title Image: Wales Online)
Here’s a summary of this afternoon’s local government & housing questions, answered by the Deputy Minister for Local Government & Housing, Hannah Blythyn (Lab, Delyn).
Rent and Mental Health
Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) raised a recent report published by Tai Pawb and the Chartered Institute of Housing about private renting and the effect on mental health.
“For tenants, the stress and worry of accruing rent arrears, for instance, can exacerbate existing mental health problems, and for some, of course, it can trigger those mental health problems. And the cognitive and behaviour changes that often accompany mental health problems can make it extremely difficult to prevent arrears in the first instance, or to resolve them once they’ve occurred.”
– Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM
In addition, a third of mental health support organisations and half of private landlords said there wasn’t enough support for, or information about, mental health and tenants.
The Deputy Minister welcomed the report and consideration is being given to Rent Smart Wales – which licenses the private rental sector in Wales – offering a training module on mental health. She commended any effort to tackle inequality and discrimination within the rental sector.
Senior Council Officer Pay
Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) asked that, in light of the “costly and long-running farce” at Caerphilly Council, was the time right to introduce a single national pay scale for all local authority officers? It would end the massive variances you see in the salaries of different chief executives and end the competition and internal market we have at the moment.
The Deputy Minister was somewhat ambiguous but didn’t flatly rule it out and asked Dai Lloyd to discuss it further:
“….anything of that sort needs to be done in partnership and in discussion with the trade union representatives in local government, as well as local government representatives…..obviously, you raised the benefits of it, but they can also bring clear challenges as well, if there’s any reorganisation of that sort, in terms of harmonisation of pay scales as well.”
– Deputy Minister for Local Government & Housing, Hannah Blythyn
Building More Houses
Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) said that Wales was falling far short of house-building targets and the Federation of Master Builders has complained that planning processes are too complex. As a result, three-quarters of all new houses were being built by the “Big Five” large firms (Redrow, Persimmon etc.). What were the Welsh Government looking to do to change this?
The Deputy Minister told him planning policies had recently changed and small/medium-sized businesses were being approached with regard to a recently-announced £40million self-build programme.
Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) asked whether the government could consult with local authorities to find plots for five or fewer homes in order to encourage self build, while Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) said bringing empty properties back into use may negate the need for new house-building in the first place.
The Deputy Minister said councils now have to maintain a register of small sites, but it’ll be down to them to decide which sites to put forward. The Deputy Minister has also asked officials to come up with ways to boost council enforcement powers when it comes to empty properties – which is a vital part of regeneration.