A week is a long time in Politics

imagesOnce a week my blog appears as a column in the Argus newspaper under the heading ‘I do like Mondays’. This is today’s piece:      Last week should have been important for most people in the UK as two events were due to take place. The first was scheduled for Tuesday and related to a promised announcement of funding for training providers to enable them to help deliver apprenticeships in 2018. The day came and went and so far the announcement has failed to materialise and there is no indication when it will be made. This is very disappointing for small businesses and training providers alike. In April the Government introduced a form of taxation for large companies that is intended to help fund apprenticeships and the target is to raise £2.5bn for 3m apprentices to be trained each year to reduce the skills shortage in areas such as house building and manufacturing. The payment made by big businesses along with additional money from the Government is intended to operate in two ways. The first is to enable companies who pay the tax to fund apprenticeships in their workforce or new employees. Due to the business profile here in Sussex, the vast majority of companies are not making such payments, but they are entitled to use the second part of the scheme. This should have been introduced by now, but due to problems within the Department for Education in determining how this would be distributed and which training providers they wish to commission, this it is still not available. Tuesday’s announcement was critical to this and so its delay adds to a catalogue of hold ups and minor u turns in the process. In the period from April to July 2016 117,000 people in the UK started apprenticeships while this year in the same period, the number fell to 48,000. This indicates that the Government target of 3m is a long way off!

The second event from last week which did occur was the budget. There are many elements to budgets and lots of details, but housing was one of the big issues.

  • The detail that created the most impact on the day related to Stamp Duty for first time buyers. Whenever Governments make surprise announcements about such things they risk getting it badly wrong. When Nigel Lawson gave three months notice to end the pooling of MIRAS by unmarried couples 30 years ago there was a huge surge in house buying which led to a dramatic increase in prices as home owners saw a chance to gain at the expense of the buyers who in turn wanted to get the most tax relief. The same impact albeit on a much smaller scale will take place now as the upper limit of first time buyer budgets will be extended by the abolition of stamp duty and so many property owners will increase their sale prices. This means that taxpayers including those who are badly housed will subsidise the value of other people’s property assets.
  • Another element was the promise of 300,000 homes every year by the mid 2020’s which demands a doubling of current levels with no clear plan for this! One of the barriers is the issue of training as mentioned above. Hammond did not explain why the decision on apprenticeships had been delayed, yet made a token offer “We are providing an additional £34m to develop construction skills across the country”. This represents less than 2% of the apprenticeship levy, the problem is not money, it is the infrastructure needed to provide the training.
  • Finally on Homelessness “It is unacceptable that in 21st Century Britain there are people sleeping on the streets. So we’ll invest £28 million in three new “Housing First” Pilots in the West Midlands, Manchester and Liverpool. And establish a homelessness taskforce. As part of our commitment to halving rough sleeping by 2022, and eliminating it by 2027.” These aspirations have many challenges implicit within them. Bearing in mind the levels of street sleeping in Sussex it is disappointing that the pilots are all taking place elsewhere.

A small item in the budget related to transport and the statement “Our future vehicles will be driverless, but they’ll be electric first. And that’s a change that needs to come as soon as possible.” Bizarrely following the budget I was at a lecture at Sussex University about that very subject. What is clear is that any prospect of widespread use of electric cars is decades away. The sums set aside by Hammond to assist this are mere decimal points in the finance needed but the big challenge again is not financial. We will need major changes to our infrastructure such as electricity distribution and just as importantly the UK will need a huge manufacturing resource to build batteries. The work on driverless vehicles is even more distant, however the biggest gap is in the understanding of our politicians!

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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