[Ben Reeve Lewis considers the menagerie that is today’s political elite…)
I was in a café the other day with the TV on silent, watching Theresa May doing that strange gawky movement she does where she looks like a distressed Swan with her feet caught in discarded fishing line.
She was immediately followed on screen by new housing minister Gavin Barwell doing the best impersonation of a Hamster that you’ll see outside of ‘Tales of the riverbank’.
May’s husband also looks like the Vince the Mole in Deputy Dawg and I can’t help wondering if the government, in it’s strident attempts to make them look warm, approachable and caring aren’t turning themselves into cuddly toys.
A harmless fuzzy-felt government to shake off the impression that Cameron’s crew gave out of braying, school bullies, fond of nailing the 3rd year juniors to the refectory walls on St Swithun’s day.
Room size and HMO licensing
Barwell is hot out of the traps with his announcement from Tuesday that:
“In order to build a country that truly works for everyone we must ensure that everyone has somewhere safe and secure to live”.
Writ firmly and bullet-pointed in the Westminster press release.
This was the announcement that new measures are going to be introduced to restrict the size of rooms being let our by landlords and the not so secretly leaked plans from the past 9 months that mandatory licensing will be brought in for all properties comprising 5 or more people of two households.
This will effectively render most additional licensing schemes redundant, simply widening the base of mandatory licensing.
More powers, less personnel
Of course, the crease in the kapok stuffing is the statement:
“These measures will give councils the powers they need to tackle poor-quality rental homes in their area.”
All that talk about giving councils the powers they need is all very well, as long as those councils have the staff and resources left to use those powers.
My sources tell me that one London borough who last year completed a reorganization that resulted in 1,800 job losses are now drawing in their belts even tighter and looking to cut another 1,300.
I already wrote a few weeks back about training enforcement officers in Wales who said they don’t have the staff to chase the 75% of landlords still not licensed there.
Increasing council powers to tackle rogue landlords makes for a difficult bedfellow at a time when the same government is applying pressure with the tips of their brogues to the toes of the 3rd year juniors to get councils to cut spending.
I’m all for doing more with less, working smarter not harder, it encourages creativity but there comes a time when the words ‘Blood, ‘Out of’ and ‘Stone’ spring to mind.
The numbers game
Similarly with another gov.uk press release this week that government are making £40million available to councils to prevent homelessness.
Another regular government trick that makes Donald Trump’s shenanigans look sophisticated, is bandying about numbers in the millions of pounds to impress people more used to tapping out a balance at a cash machine and seeing “Insufficient funds in your account”,
Anything with the letter ‘M’ after is bound to impress but lets just draw on the spirit of the excellent Joe Halewood (who if he reads this will I’m sure correct my figures) – there are 330 local authorities in the UK, roughly.
£40 m spread between them all is £121,212 each council. Enough for about 2 homelessness officers, taking into account what is called ‘on-costs’, which adds insurance, office rental, holiday leave etc.
Looked at in this light £40m looks like what it is, pocket money in real terms.
Admittedly the majority of it will probably go to large city councils. Birmingham being the biggest unitary authority but lets recalculate that just for the 32 London councils.
£1.2m per council. Given the size of the homelessness crisis in London, that too is pocket money when it comes to effecting real change when you take into account that most London boroughs will see around 3,000 people each year.
Tenancy Deposit Iceberg
And staying with millions of pounds I read this week about the parlous situation where dodgy letting agents have been convicted in the past year of laying fast and loose with tenant’s deposits which has a knock on effect to landlords as well.
Apparently, in 2016 alone court records reveal that 14 letting agents have been done for deposit protection squirreling (Yes I know it’s an odd term but I like it and it goes with this weeks theme of cuddly animals)
The article tells that ARLA have also revealed that two unnamed firms have been guilty of nicking £500,000. Ajay Agota, himself a letting agent said:-
“If we use an example of a small agency letting out 100 properties and charging the UK average deposit of around £1100 they should have a client account with more than £100,000 in it. But this money still belongs to their clients.
“Assuming tenant turnover of around 10% a month only £11,000 will ever be called upon to pay out and as the account is always being replenished so it’s easy for money to go “missing” and for tracks to be covered.
It’s the tenant’s money
Ajay markets himself as an anti-deposit campaigner and it did not escape my attention that he used the words “This money still belongs to their clients”.
Just to caveat this, deposit money belongs to the tenants at all times until a dispute is decided and tenants are not a letting agent’s clients. Landlords are.
I’m sure Ajay meant to say tenants. Just making sure we are all clear.
What made me smile this week.
Well, chief contender must be finding several hundred quid in a bank account I’d forgotten about. Ok not £40m but good enough to put a smile on my face and also good enough to allow me to spend £40 on a beef joint in a swanky butchers.
Fore-rib of Dexter cow, aged for 28 days, marbled with yellow fat. Beef flavour firmly set on 11 and with the texture of marshmallow.
I only eat roast beef when I can afford the best cut as it is so dry in superrmarkets who advertise their beef as “Extra lean” the kiss of death when it comes to decent meat.
See ya next week