The new financial year marks the introduction of some of the government’s most contentious housing policies, so you would expect government ministers to be focused on the major changes and their impact on millions of people. So what have Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps been up to, what are their key messages to the nation at this crucial time?
Well both have been extremely excited by the fact that some councils sent people to the Local Government Chronicle’s children’s services awards dinner at council expense. Personally, I don’t like such functions, all that dressing up in dark lounge suits and posh frocks, and think they should be held in a dusty town hall somewhere with municipal nibbles and compulsory hair shirts. But the ministers spotted a headline in the making: according to the Daily Mail, Pickles “condemned the councils for ‘pleading poverty’ while using public money to ‘swill champagne’ at London’s five-star Grosvenor House hotel.” Shapps accused the councils of “hypocrisy”.
One of the councils in attendance was Mr Cameron’s favourite of Hammersmith and Fulham, who sent the Leader, the Chief Executive and 4 other officials, according to the Mail. But they seemed to think it was ok because the bill was picked up by the council’s IT supplier Agilysys. Another council offered the defence that their attendance was paid for by Capita and Price Waterhouse Coopers.
Not a word about these sponsorships from our deadly duo. As the government is embarking on a new era of compulsory competitive tendering for services, some may think it is even more scandalous for councils to be accepting gifts from private companies who have lucrative contracts with them and may be bidding for many more in the future.
And, of course, Pickles and Shapps never eat at anyone else’s expense, do they? I’m sure Pickles never touched the grub or the liquid refreshment at the British Curry Awards or at the County Council Network Dinner, amongst several required to be declared by this scourge of the freebies. Shapps is either an abstemious sort of chap or he doesn’t get many invitations, I suspect the latter, but he did have dinner with the House Builders’ Federation, who might be regarded as having a vested interest in the department’s work.
Not satisfied with his day’s work, Shapps then set off in pursuit of a ‘union baron’ in the shape of Bob Crow, who was ‘accused’ of living in social housing and, according to Shapps, is “taking advantage of publicly subsidised housing.” (unfortunately the original story is behind the Sunday Times paywall, so I have to rely on secondary reports).
Now why the Housing Minister feels free to comment on the housing status of individuals is beyond me. Normally I don’t comment on such matters but I suspect Mr Shapps is an owner occupier and “takes advantage” of a number of hidden public subsidies to the sector like exemption from capital gains tax. According to the Telegraph he may not need public subsidy anyway because “He is the multi-millionaire minister with his own private plane” who has “taken to sleeping on a camp bed in his parliamentary office.” I wonder if they charge hostel rates?
Meanwhile, over at RMT a spokesperson said: “Bob Crow makes no apology for living in social housing at the heart of his local community. Bob was born into a council house and has lived in one all his life, and actually turned down a union mortgage in favour of remaining a tenant. Bob also turned down the right to buy his council house at a discount, as he believes social housing stock should remain available for future generations.’
I don’t agree with Bob about much, but at least someone in this tale has some principles.