Criminalising squatting

[Originally posted at Liberal Democrat Voice, 01/11/11]

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offender Bill has returned to the House of Commons this week. The problems with the Government’s proposed Legal Aid reforms have been apparent for a while. Some people will see their access to justice seriously curtailed, while the courts are likely to silt up with inexpert litigants-in-person. The chances of any money being saved – when considered in the round – are limited. In this context it is good to see reports that Liberal Democrat MPs Tom Brake and Mike Crockart are tabling amendments to seek to address some of the most egregious injustices embodied in this part of the Bill.

But the Bill poses other profound challenges to those concerned with social justice and evidence-based policy making. Read more of this post

Boosting housing supply

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 05/10/11]

The Conservatives’ proposal to resuscitate the Right to Buy through increasing discounts appears to be an attempt to bask in some of Mrs Thatcher’s reflected glory. Unlike the 1980s version, though, Mr Cameron and Mr Shapps are emphasizing that each property sold will be matched with a newly built property at “affordable” rent. This is an attempt to head off criticisms that the Right to Buy reduces the supply of “social” housing. So, it would appear, this initiative could lead to a net increase in the housing stock.

Of course, things are never as they first appear. Read more of this post

Distinctive positions on housing

[Originally posted at Liberal Democrat Voice, 04/07/11]

There is no doubt some soul searching going on at the moment, in part as a consequence of the poor result at the Inverclyde by-election. I’m sure the leadership will seek to dismiss poor election results at this stage in the electoral cycle as to be expected when you’re “in government”. But that can hardly carry much weight, given the Tories aren’t doing anywhere near as badly. It seems to me that rather deeper reflection is needed. Is it clear any more what the Liberal Democrats stand for? Why would someone – beyond the most unwaveringly committed – vote for the Party? Read more of this post

Sense prevails on public services?

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 08/05/11]

The reports this week were that the Government is planning to scale back its proposals for outsourcing public services. A significant policy shift means that the delayed Open Public Services White paper will not feature proposals for “wholesale outsourcing” to the for-profit private sector when it finally emerges in a few weeks time. Read more of this post

The ethics of the case for public sector reform

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 24/02/11]

David Cameron’s article on public service reform in the Telegraph was the opening shot in what could be a significant battle both within the Coalition and across the House. The case presented raises at least three important ethical issues.

First, the way in which evidence is being used to justify these proposals is deeply suspect. Mr Cameron states that publicly providing bureaucratic and target-driven services might be worth supporting if they delivered quality services: “but the evidence shows otherwise. Whether it’s cancer survival rate, school results or crime, for too long we’ve been slipping against comparable countries“. These are very partial readings of the data. These claims in relation to both health and education have already been challenged and debunked a number of times over recent weeks. Yet they continue to be advanced as a justification for change. Read more of this post

Economic liberalism and public service reform

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 22/02/11, and ranked most read post of the week]

Are the Liberal Democrats a party of untrammelled ideology – sorry,“principles” – or do ethics and evidence also play a role in thinking? This question struck me forcefully when reading David Cameron’s article on public service reform in the Telegraph. It appears that the imminent Open Public Services White Paper has been formulated with collaboration from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Nick Clegg is fully ‘on side’. We await the details, but if Cameron’s article gives us an accurate sense of what is to come then I think there is – or should be – a significant battle shaping up. Cameron’s position would appear to be “The answer is marketisation. Now what’s the question?”. Is it appropriate for Liberal Democrats to be complicit in this agenda? Read more of this post

Should we be concerned about the Government’s attempted quangocide?

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 13/01/11]

Quangos – Quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations – occupy a strange place in the British political landscape. They tend to proliferate because governments can’t resist seeing new commissions for this or advisory panels for that as essential, while rarely deciding that existing bodies have outlived their usefulness. Yet, the term “quango” inhabits the same discursive space as “bureaucracy”. There is an engrained association with waste, inefficiency, red tape and pointless interfering. In many people’s minds, and frequently in political rhetoric, “quango = bad” by definition. (For a discussion of a similar equation regarding bureaucracy, see here on my blog.) So, the story goes, quangos need to be treated with suspicion and reined in whenever possible. Read more of this post

The housing policy jigsaw – the changing picture

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 31/12/10]

I started this discussion of current developments in policy towards housing by noting that it is an area in which the tensions in inherent in balancing “the fundamental values of freedom, equality and community” are absolutely central. Housing policy needs to strike a balance between the individual and the aggregate – neighbourhood, city, regional – outcomes if it is going to deliver economically and socially (and environmentally) successful settlements. In this last post I will reflect briefly on changes in where this balance has been struck over time. Read more of this post

The housing policy jigsaw – a picture begins to emerge?

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 30/12/10]

In yesterday’s post I set out key policy developments affecting housing. So what can we discern about the current government’s approach to housing?

For a start there is a continuing emphasis upon choice. This is particularly clear when discussing how to encourage underoccupying social renters to move. The CLG rhetoric is of increasing choice and making choices easier to realise. They neglect to cross-refer to the DWP proposals to cut the housing benefit of any social renter deemed to be seriously underoccupying. The approach isn’t all “carrot”. Read more of this post

The housing policy jigsaw – identifying the pieces

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 29/12/10]

Yesterday, I suggested that it would be valuable to piece together the housing policy jigsaw in order to reflect on the picture that emerges. Policy in this field speaks directly to our fundamental values -freedom, equality and community – and how they are to be reconciled. My aim today is to identify more fully the key pieces of the current policy jigsaw.

So what can we make of the way policy towards housing is developing?

The key proposals on social housing reform in the Local Decisions consultation paper were heavily trailed. Many are embodied in the Localism Bill. They have been discussed in a number of posts here at Liberal Democrat Voice (for example, here and here) and beyond. The proposals are being pushed towards the statute book with what appears unseemly haste (as I discuss further here). Read more of this post

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