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

Alex’s Archives – Most read posts 2010

Here’s the list of the top half dozen posts since I began this blog in October 2010, starting with the most frequently visited:

  1. The poverty of Nick Clegg’s “new” progressives
  2. Exit, voice, loyalty: what’s a Libdem to do?
  3. A fairer future or no future for social housing?
  4. The continuing saga of Housing Benefit “reform”: unaware or just don’t care?
  5. Why the unseemly haste on housing reform?
  6. “Us” and “Them”. Yes, them over there. The benefit scroungers.

I’ve very much enjoyed writing these, and all the other, posts. And I’ve been very encouraged by the rapidly increasing number of visits to this blog.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading some of what I’ve posted, whether or not you agreed with what I had to say.

Here’s to 2011. And may it bring plenty more to blog about.

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

Piecing together the housing policy jigsaw

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 28/12/10]

The Coalition government is seemingly intent upon drowning us in a blizzard of consultation papers, green papers, white papers, and hasty legislation. No doubt there is also a bit of kite flying taking place for good measure. One problem with all this activity is keeping track of overlapping agendas. How do we sum the parts in a way that allows us to get a sense of the likely cumulative impact of change?

One area in which this is particularly acute is housing. Policy which impacts upon housing and the housing market sits with a number of government departments. Housing policy and planning policy are formally the responsibility of Communities and Local Government, while responsibility for housing benefit and the local housing allowance rests with the Department for Work and Pensions. At the same time, responsibility for aspects of housing finance that fundamentally affect access to and affordability of housing – such as mortgage market regulation – lie elsewhere. Housing also crops up in the Department of Health’s (DoH) bailiwick: it gets frequent, though vague, mention among the determinants of well-being in the recent public health white paper. Interestingly, one of the more specific housing initiatives the DoH white paper mentions approvingly is the ‘warm front’ fund, which the Department for Energy and Climate Change has just announced it is freezing (if you’ll pardon the pun). Read more of this post

Short-term and short-sighted: ‘Cuts’ to deliver less independence

Various organisations are collating information about the incidence of the Coalition’s programme of spending cuts as it emerges. Following the publication of the local government settlement, attention has recently switched to the impact on services provided by local authorities. A recent article posted at Guardian Society provides some insight into how local authorities are dealing with the need to prune budgets. The answer is not looking good for diverse groups of vulnerable households.  But things are playing out as, perhaps, might be anticipated.

The Government’s approach is politically cute. They are getting enough flak for cuts in other sectors, without being seen as culpable in cutting local services as well. A classic gambit identified in the literature on policy implementation is to hand a politically contentious problem on to someone else to sort out – typically the implementing organisations. The hope is that they get the blame and none of the mud sticks to you. I’m not sure it’s going to work in this case. Read more of this post

Mr Ed’s Team Invisible

Yesterday LabourList posted the results of their most recent survey of approval ratings for members of the Shadow Cabinet. While it would be unwise to place too much weight on such figures, they gave me cause to reflect on the current state of the political game.

The survey indicated that the approval ratings for some key members of the Shadow Cabinet – Ed Miliband and Alan Johnson in particular – have weakened, with the proportion of respondents indicating they felt these senior politicians are doing a ‘poor’ job increasing markedly.

In contrast, the approval ratings for the dynamic duo of Balls and Cooper held firm, while Andy Burnham recorded the most positive net rating of any Shadow Cabinet member. Equally notably, a good chunk of those surveyed felt unable to pass judgement either way on a significant proportion of the more junior members of the Shadow Cabinet. Read more of this post

What a relief!

[Originally posted on Bristol Running Resource, 23/12/10]

Finally managed to get out the door for a run today – first time in a fortnight. Obviously the weather hasn’t been great for running. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t usually put me off. I find something vaguely satisfying about finishing a run and discovering that the sweat in your hair has frozen on the way round. Makes me feel vaguely virtuous. No, the problem has been this winter bug that’s going around. I wouldn’t claim it was the flu. But I’ll dispute any accusation that it was man-flu!

After a dozen or more days without being able to pull on my trainers I was really beginning to miss it. There were plenty of cobwebs that needed blowing away. And you start to get the sense that all that hard-won fitness is beginning to ebb away. Read more of this post

Analysing policy change: institutions and ideas

[Originally posted on The Policy Press Blog, 23/12/10]

The analysis of continuity and change is a preoccupation for scholars of the policy process. While a range of frameworks have been proposed, it would be fair to say that institutionalist approaches are currently flavour of the month. A long-standing challenge for historical institutionalism, however, is an asymmetry in its explanatory power. While plausible accounts of stability and continuity have been offered – invoking notions such as path dependency and lock in – providing credible accounts of policy change has proved more challenging.

Recent debate has called for a move “beyond continuity”. The idea of agents exploiting ambiguity within institutions has been proposed as one way forward. Another focus of attention is the role of ideas and how they might be deployed strategically by political actors to achieve change. We are even encouraged to look to a new – discursive – institutionalist approach. Read more of this post

Frickin’ Bureaucrats

The current government is engaged in substantial reorganisations in many parts of the public sector. Frequently these changes are not following up on commitments made at the General Election. Some embody changes that were, indeed, explicitly ruled out. But I think we’ve now learnt the value of such commitments emanating from the mouths of politicians. Some might say zero. It would be fairer to say they are of indeterminate value – is this a commitment they are intending to keep or one being offered for short term electoral advantage?

The other day I was reading comments generated by a relatively positive blog post at Liberal Democrat Voice on the restructuring of the NHS. In a response to comments the author of the blog post noted the reform as “passing power from a national bureaucracy to locally accountable organisations”. That particular phrase is worth unpacking. It taps into the prevailing discourse that uses the term ‘bureaucracy’ as a pejorative. We’ve had governments for thirty years, influenced primarily by the simplistic nostrums of public choice theory, railing against the inefficiencies of bureaucratic administration and ‘red tape’, usually accompanied by a presumption in favour of marketization or some form of hybrid network structure. There is similarly a strand in the literature on private sector organizations that has described or prescribed – it is never quite clear which – the arrival of the post-bureaucratic organisation. Read more of this post