Here’s a policy idea for you. You may not have thought of things in this way but this may just be a really wizard way of achieving something really smart.
Answer me these questions. Which of the following should be policy priorities for the country?
- Reducing youth unemployment
- Strengthening the construction sector of the economy
- Reducing housing benefit payments to non-governmental property owners
- Increasing the stock of affordable and social housing thus bringing down house prices
- Allowing house prices to increase through a shortage of available housing
- Getting from London to Manchester in under 2 hours (or vice versa)
Don’t know about you, George, but I would put a high priority on policy objectives 1-4 and a pretty low priority on 6 and discount 5 as a policy objective altogether.
You may think that these things are entirely unrelated but they’re not; and the key to it is the government spending directly on building more publicly owned housing. I think that this would make a huge difference to our lives in many ways and be a genuine public good which could, if handled right, tick boxes 1-4 above. George I am sure that you are ahead of me in understanding how this could work; but for my and others’ benefits; I will spell it out in a few easy stages.
A national housing programme driven by and funded by the government could address the shortage of affordable housing (for sale and let) in key areas of the country, and take some of the steam out of the market for housing generally.
Building this housing would give the construction industry a shot in the arm, and would enable it to hire more staff.
Contractors would be awarded contracts only if they had certain proportions of young people on the payroll. They would therefore be forced to employ youngsters and train them or the properties would not be built.
Inevitably a high proportion of the let properties would be rented to people in receipt of housing benefit which would mean less reliance on the private sector and more housing benefit money coming back into the public purse. Anyone who has bought a commercial building in a SIPP and then rented it through their business will know the effect. Provided the rents are above the government’s cost of borrowing (which at the moment they almost certainly will be) the effect in practice will be that housing benefit spending will fall, because of the cash coming back in; or looked at another way we will get some of the housing for “free”.
And how could we pay for this largesse? The answer is in the last policy objective above. George, HS2 is the answer to a question that I think you will find no-one is asking or, actually has asked since about 1990.
If we want to talk to someone elsewhere in the country we pick up the phone, Skype them and share information over the internet.
It would just be so much better if we improved broadband connections across the country and in particular on trains. At the moment trains are scandalously bad places for broadband bearing in mind that the technology for them to get a signal is old hat and they all have an enormous aerial under their (steel) wheels. This is an extension and beefing up of an existing government policy objective and needn’t cost the government much, if anything at all.
I would like to emphasise that I am not a legal expert and this plan may well be thought to be ageist. Frankly I say too bad. Our youngsters need a break; they need jobs, skills, wages, self-confidence and they need to be able to afford to buy houses. They are the country’s future and it’s incumbent on the generation in power to help them make their way in life.
They will after all be paying our pensions and looking after us in our dotage.
Photograph credit Architects Journal