(Title Image: © Copyright Penny Mayes and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence. BY-SA-2.0)
Here’s a round-up of this afternoon’s questions to Housing & Local Government Minister, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West).
“Inhospitable environment” for private housebuilders following Minister’s remarks
Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central), took issue with remarks made by the Minister on private housing developers, which she claimed were creating “slums of the future”. Poor planning laws, poor regulatory enforcement and alike couldn’t be laid at the door of private developers and such comments were creating an “inhospitable environment”.
“….we need a housing market that brings together the public and private sector, large and small housebuilders, and national and local government in a positive public-spirited partnership. And a robust housing strategy to increase supply needs more than the very necessary expansion in social housing; it also needs private housebuilders to significantly increase market housing to boost affordable delivery in general, mixed tenures, and everything else that goes hand in hand.”
– Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM
The Minister was quite happy to stand by what she said. There were too many examples around Wales of poorly-built estates, lack of open space and like – though the qualified her comments as being aimed more at big developers, not the smaller private developers who often manage to produce “really lovely” developments.
Following discussions with the sector, the Minister was confident the larger housebuilders are taking that on board and upping their game.
Department of Work and Pensions “cheating” universal credit claimants out of rent money
Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) isn’t a fan of the UK Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), describing it as “Europe’s most vindictive and incompetent department”:
“The regulations for universal credit state that tenants with weekly tenancies will have their universal credit entitlement calculated on a maximum of 52 weeks. This means that every five or so years, tenants paying weekly on the same day will be charged rent on the basis of 53 weeks, but will only be able to receive universal credit to cover 52 weeks. Therefore, there is a shortfall that Community Housing Cymru (CHC) have estimated could affect 13,000 people in Wales.”
– Leanne Wood AM
Leanne Wood added that CHC has called for the Welsh Government to use discretionary housing payments to cover any shortfalls, though her preference is administrative devolution of social security.
The Minister was in no doubt that policies such as these were driving rent arrears, with local housing allowance rates having been frozen for four years. While she offered no commitments on discretionary payments, there is further work being done behind the scenes on the possible future administrative devolution of welfare – though unintended consequences had to be avoided.
Local authorities should have a bigger role in public health
Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) said that in conversations with members and officers of a Welsh council, he was told that public health has had a better focus in England since most statutory responsibilities for public health were passed down to councils, including sexual health clinics and substance misuse. Was this worth considering in Wales?
Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) expressed support for this seeing as several policy areas linked to public health – like education, environmental health and building regulations – were the responsibilities of councils.
Health isn’t part of the Minister’s portfolio of responsibilities, but the forthcoming Local Government Bill will encourage regional working, but it was about more than government structures:
“We’re not actually in the game of moving functions from one to the other. You can make an argument that social care should be in health, or the whole thing should be together in one body or whatever. Generally speaking, I’m a proponent of the view that it’s not the structure the matters, it’s the working arrangements and the culture. So, we’re going down the regional partnership board route, because we want all of the public services to work well together.”
– Housing & Local Government Minister, Julie James