The following was penned by James Marcou, senior account executive (London) at UK Property Forums’ partner DevComms.
Much of the recent debate in the Commons has centred around the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Spring Budget.
This sought to address the UK’s present economic situation with specific Budget support given to the effects of the cost-of-living crisis.
Critically, Jeremy Hunt’s Budget addressed burgeoning fuel poverty, by extending the freeze on the fuel duty rate by 12 months and ensuring the rate would not increase with inflation.
Furthermore, under the Energy Price Guarantee, Hunt’s Budget doubled down on support for households facing growing energy bills, extending the energy cost cap on gas and electricity until June.
Unsurprisingly, this has received vocal support from Tory MPs. This included the member for Chipping Barnet Theresa Villiers, who praised the support packages for the most vulnerable of households amidst the cost-of-living crisis.
Though opposition members have also readily pointed out inadequacies in the Budget, with members asserting the Budget does not provide long-term support for vulnerable households and an overall lack of emphasis on welfare and the NHS.
Lib Dem MP for Richmond Park, Sarah Olney, succinctly challenged the government on this stating: “Liberal Democrats are calling for more help with energy bills and mortgages and investment in our public services”.
The Budget also reinforced the government’s growth rhetoric and policies for Levelling Up. The 12 investment zones, originally proposed under former PM Liz Truss, were introduced and are set to provide full relief from stamp duty land tax (SDLT) on sales of commercial property as well as business rates on new or extended properties.
This was framed as supporting new business and SMEs, as well as ensuring a more skilled population with a focus on improving links between universities and employers.
Indeed, funding of £80m is available in each investment zone for supporting businesses. However, the coupling of this policy with changes to ensure the UK has a more investment-friendly tax system, along with a perceived lack of emphasis on improving public services, has garnered criticism from Tory opposition.
In line with his position as Shadow Financial Secretary, James Murray, Labour member for Ealing North, has levelled consistent criticism around the alleged shortcomings of the Spring Budget. Mr Murray asserted that while his constituents would continue to suffer from successive cuts under the Conservative government, “any good ideas in the budget were ones that Labour had been calling for”.
Indeed, while James Murray supported extending the energy cost cap, he stated this is something Labour had been specifically calling for. He again claimed Labour’s ownership of the Chancellor’s plans to review business rates, outlining that while Labour favoured the proposed support, particularly for high street retail, this was inadequate, long overdue and again policy Labour had presented for over three years.
This was echoed in comments made by the Labour member for Brent North, Barry Gardiner. Indeed, while Mr Gardiner was quick to praise the continuation of the energy cost cap as well as the action taken on prepayment meters, he stated that these policies should be credited to his “constituency neighbour” the Labour MP for Brent Central, Dawn Butler.
He reported that she had been “urging every Chancellor since George Osborne to resolve this inequality”. Indeed, as recently as February Ms Butler had challenged the government on making prepayment metres cheaper per unit of energy and even removing them altogether from vulnerable households.
Ms Butler acknowledged this stating: “I thank the Chancellor for his announcement on prepayment meters, because I have been championing that campaign for the past seven years”, though she pressed the Chancellor on the government’s plans to address the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on local authorities.
Ms Butler specifically cited council’s reduced ability to provide quality housing stock, due to budget cuts, further expressing that this would be a significant barrier to London council’s achieving their priorities of addressing homelessness and improving their delivery of affordable housing in the capital.
The Labour MP for Hammersmith, Andy Slaughter, has further addressed this in the Commons. Mr Slaughter was heavily critical of the current shortcomings of social housing stock and the Conservative’s cut to the Social Housing Grant, calling for more focus on better quality affordable homes.
These issues were also debated by Bob Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East. This is expected owing to his involvement in spearheading the joint inquiry, by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Housing Market and Housing Delivery and All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness.
Members involved in this inquiry have challenged the government to reinvigorate the of supply affordable homes, by making it easier for council housing associations, individuals and organisations to build, with an increased focus on delivering homes for social rent over the next 18 months.
Furthermore, Mr Blackman has recently sponsored the Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill, which seeks to address spiralling private sector rents and protect leaseholders as “the most important people we have to look after”.
Mr Blackman has already had some success in protecting leaseholders, as he was recently able to extend London Zoo’s (ZSL) lease in Regents Park from The Crown Estate by a minimum of 150 years.
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