Why is it that when politicians claim to put forward a policy there is usually very little detail?
It's almost as if they think we are all going to be fooled into believing they have actually formulated a plan to solve a particular problem if they just say they have come up with a plan
Last week saw the Conservative Party, under David Cameron or “Dave” as he wants us to call him, unveil “plans to help first-time buyers get a foot on the housing ladder", which apparently included a pledge to fight the government scheme to introduce expensive "sellers' packs" into property transactions.
The problem was on closer inspection, the all but casual or downright lazy reader of the press release issued by the Conservative Party would have noticed there was no fresh plan to get first-time buyers back onto the property ladder.
In fact, the only thing the Tories had come up with was a commitment to block the secondary legislation required to make Home Information Packs (Hip) work when it is read in Parliament - presumably sometime later this year although the government has given no real indication of when.
So rather than coming up with several plans, one of which was opposition to Hips, the Tories had in fact come up with one plan, and it wasn't even a new one.
For those who think this is simply an anti-Tory rant let us first be clear on several points: Labour’s plan to introduce Hips is a really bad idea because they will be ridiculously expensive and utterly counterproductive to the house buying process. They will mean it takes longer to sell a property, will deter first-time buyers and in reality may in fact be fairy harmful to the industry in that they will discourage people from putting their property on the market at all for fear of having to shell out £1000 if something goes wrong or their circumstances change.
If Hips do become a reality - and that in itself is far from a sure thing - it may not be long before they face their first legal challenge. Presumably no-one in Whitehall has considered what happens if someone puts their house on the market, pays out for a Hip, and then for a perfectly legitimate but unforseeable reason has to remove their property from the market. Such an act of God is rare so the burden of proof lies with the claimant who must prove that "right minded people could not have reasonably expected" the particular event to occur.
How long will it be before someone claims to have been unfairly penalised by having to pay for a Hip which was then useless because they were forced to withdraw their property from the market and seeks a return of the money they paid for the said Hip? Of course, it could go the other way and the Hip could be drawn up with payment to be made on completion fo the sale of the property, the seller could then remove their property from the market and it could leave the estate agent out of pocket. Now while I know our collective heart bleeds it certainly would not stop the estate agent chasing their former clients for payment for the Hip. Either way someone loses out.
What isn't really clear is why the Conservatives haven't got a better idea of what they would do if they were back in government. Where are the policies? Why don't we have more detail? It’s all well and good to say you want to help first-time buyers onto the property ladder but how do you actually do it? Isn’t it worth speaking to the people who are regularly involved in trying to get first-time buyers onto the property ladder? And isn’t it worth at least attacking those policies the government has come up with that are at best far fetched and at worst a waste of everyone's time as well as a considerable amount of money?
And, lest we forget, governments have to be seen to be doing something. That’s one of the downsides of getting into power. One of the good things about being in opposition is the fact that you get to pick holes in government policy. But no-one seems to have really attacked Labour on its record in the housing market.
Sadly, little Labour has come up with has actually made a real impact on the housing market. The single biggest thing the government has done since 1997 that has been of any tangible benefit was to set the Bank of England free to control interest rate rises or falls. And Ken Clarke is adamant Gordon Brown nicked that idea from him.
Labour's key worker scheme is useless, even to the people it professes to want to help. If a teacher buys a key worker home they have to sell it to another key worker, which means that it doesn’t matter if the property they own has tripled in value because the property has to be kept artificially "affordable". The result being that most key workers have made little capital gain on their first property and five years on are still struggling to own decent accommodation.
Then there is the government policy that will see thousands more homes built in the South of England. Why? Well, largely because people are moving South because unemployment is more of a problem in the North of the country. So here we have a Labour government plugging the gap rather than thinking about the long term needs of the UK.
And while the government encourages the building of more houses in the South and talks about the need for creating sustainable communities dozens of communities are collapsing in the North.
It is, in fact, not that there are not enough houses in the UK but that there are hundreds, possibly thousands, left derelict in once thriving towns which have since gone into decline because the local economy, which was reliant on one industry or another, has fallen apart as that particularly industry has gone into decline and disappeared.
Then there’s the Homebuy Scheme which only a couple of mortgage lenders want to be involved with - the rest deciding its probably going to be too costly and a bit of a waste of time and effort.
So what are we getting from Labour? Well, so far there have been promises to build more houses in the South and schemes that really don’t seem to do much in the way of helping people to own their own property, despite apparent government aspirations to have most of us own a property. But then at the same time with the Tories putting up such a woeful display of opposing Blair, Brown and the rest, it doesn’t really matter if the government’s plans are a bit rubbish does it?
If the Conservatives want to take a stand on housing issues then they should take a stand. But that means actually coming up with something more than “we want to help first-time buyers onto the housing ladder”. So far that’s all we’ve had from “Dave” and company and it’s just not enough.
If you have any comments you would like to add to this story or would like to speak to its author about a similar subject, telephone Matthew West on 020 7484 9893 or email [email protected].IFAonline
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