Once upon a time Governments cared about the neutrality and independence of people that were appointed to undertake public tasks. But the announcement that the Cabinet Office’s ‘Red Tape Challenge’ review of housing regulation is to be championed by Simon Randall and Stephen Greenhalgh puts two of the country’s most dedicated Conservatives in charge of a dangerous exercise that could have major ramifications for the social, private rented and construction sectors.
Simon Randall CBE has a string of Tory appointments and Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh – described by Conservative Home as ‘a successful entrepreneur and landlord’ (no conflict there then) is of course the Tory Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham. Greenhalgh notoriously co-wrote the Localis pamphlet on social housing which, despite denials by Grant Shapps and others at the time, became the template for the destruction of the social rented sector which the Government is now pursuing. He is also behind the policy of redeveloping social housing estates in his borough against the wishes of the residents.
We have previously warned on Red Brick that the Red Tape Challenge holds serious dangers for the sector and the standards it operates to, and is mainly a device to bring in deregulation whilst no-one is looking.
As an example of the lurking danger in this exercise, most people in the sector believe that there is a need for stronger regulation of standards in private renting and in particular in houses in multiple occupation. Yet a series of regulations to do with private renting and HMOs are on the Red Tape list for review and possibly for abolition. Indeed, the Cabinet Office trumpets as beacons what has already been done by the Government to deregulate short-term holiday lets and HMOs.
The need for greater not less vigilance in housing is amply demonstrated by the publication of a shocking report by a group of housing associations in Staffordshire warning that the housing benefit cuts could see private landlords ‘subdivide’ properties to provide homes for those displaced from social housing. The report shows the extreme danger posed by de-regulation when it is driven by the supposed need to provide ‘choice’ for tenants and reduce the ‘burden’ on landlords. Unlike the Red Tape Challenge, the report concludes that councils should increase regulation of the private rented sector and give higher priority to the ‘enforcement of minimum standards’ as the number of low quality but more affordable houses in mutliple occupation increase.
The Staffordshire case is the reality of what is happening in the sector, with benefits increasingly cut well below even reasonable social rents and many more desperate people seeking solutions on the private market.
Messrs Randall and Greenhalgh claim they wish to hear the sector’s views and, always willing to help, here is the reply email: email@example.com I hope points like those contained in the Staffordshire report are made loud and clear. But I fear that the Red Tape champions will hear only that which fits their world view. Deregulation is set to become the next in a long line of battlegrounds.