Feb 10 2007

Concern raised over Government cuts to local schools and colleges

Double whammy of cuts to sixth form funding and to colleges’ building programmes

Bob Blackman, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Harrow East, demanded that Government Ministers reassure schools and colleges across Harrow, facing cuts to their funding because of Whitehall blundering.

Sixth form cuts: After telling schools and sixth form colleges how much funding they would receive next year for teaching 16-18 year olds, the Learning and Skills Council, a government quango suddenly changed its mind. It failed to predict the number of students accurately. It has now cut school budgets across the country by up to £350,000 for sixth form colleges and £55,000 for an average school. Bob Blackman is demanding action to ensure that local schools and sixth form colleges in Harrow will not have to turn away students next year because of this gross bureaucratic incompetence.

College building cuts: This latest catastrophe comes just weeks after the Government froze 144 further education college building projects, including Harrow College. Bob Blackman is calling on the Government to come clean about what will happen to these projects.

Together, these Government blunders could deprive thousands of young people of the opportunity to study.

Bob Blackman commented:

“Just a month after reassuring schools that they would be fully funded, the Government has pulled the rug from under their feet. Because of Whitehall incompetence, schools and colleges are being forced to turn away thousands of sixth formers who are desperate to learn and acquire the qualifications they need to succeed.

“Further education colleges have also been plunged into financial turmoil by having their building projects frozen. This is yet more proof that the Labour Government is failing to deliver and can’t be trusted with taxpayers’ money.”

Notes to Editors

SCHOOL FUNDING CUTS

Learner numbers miscalculated: The Department for Children Schools and Families failed to anticipate that there would be an increase in the number of pupils staying on in schools and colleges post-16. There were “predictions of a falling cohort and a participation rate of 78%. This resulted in predictions (by DCSF) that… provision would not grow in 2009/10… [but] we have seen significant increases in recruitment” (Learning & Skills Council letter to schools and colleges, 30 March 2009).

Learning and Skills Council announces funding cuts: On 9 January, the Learning and Skills Council wrote to schools and sixth form colleges giving provisional funding allocations for 2009-10. On 2 March, the Learning and Skills Council wrote again to confirm the funding. They indicated that the number of learners was ‘in excess of the anticipated number’ and that they were seeking permission to fund the learners in full. On 30 March, the LSC wrote a third time, revising their ‘final’ allocation, and cutting funding for schools and sixth forms.

The Association of School and College Leaders has said a sixth form of 250 pupils would be £50,000 to £55,000 worse off next year, while a sixth form college of 3,000 would lose around £350,000 (BBC News Online, 31 March 2009).

Funding reduced: Funding has been reduced in three key ways: The Government originally promised an annual increase of at least 2.1 per cent in funding per learner – the ‘Minimum Funding Guarantee’ – for all school sixth forms with a funding rate per ‘standard learner number’ under £3,200. This has been scrapped.  Schools and colleges which have recruited above their allocation in 2008-09 will not be funded for those learners in 2009-10. This means that learners already on the school or college rolls will not be funded next year – i.e. many students could face having their funding cut halfway through their course. The Government will only fund colleges and sixth forms at their average 2006-07 or 2007-08 levels – whichever is lower.

Ministers approved cuts: In their letter to schools and colleges the Learning and Skills Council confirmed that “[the Department for Children, Families & Schools] have been involved throughout and approved the changes and this briefing note” (LSC letter to schools and colleges, 30 March 2009).

COLLEGE BUILDING CUTS

The school cuts follow the Learning & Skills Council making cuts to plans for further education colleges’ building programmes.

  • 144 colleges have had their building projects frozen -over a third of all colleges:  In early March, the Government announced that they would be a freeze on the 144 (DIUS Press Release, 4 March 2009). Many of these colleges have already started their building programmes, with the encouragement of the Government. The freeze will result in higher costs for institutions, in many cases running into millions of pounds.
  • No guarantee for colleges facing bankruptcy. Sion Simon, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Further Education, refused to give an assurance that colleges would not face bankruptcy: ‘I can’t give you [an assurance they won’t go bust]’ (BBC Radio 4, Today programme, 19 March 2009).
  • The Government has known about the funding crisis since at least November: Concerns over the affordability of the capital programme were expressed at a November 2008 LSC meeting. The November minutes had claimed that capital projects had not been considered due to a lack of time. But this was misleading. The December minutes contain a correction, stating that the “main underlying reason” capital projects had not been considered was due to ‘concern over affordability’ (LSC, Minutes of National Council Meeting, 17 December 2008, released to Conservatives under the Freedom of Information Act). Sources say the LSC had “known for months” but that DIUS had vetoed any advanced notice of the freeze (Guardian, 20 January 2009). The December meeting was attended by a representative of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

List of frozen capital projects

(If a college appears more than once, this is due to multiple projects being frozen).

College Postcode (of main campus)
Harrow College HA3 6RR

 

Source: Letter from LSC to David Willetts MP, 26 March 2009.

Feb 10 2007

Whitehall makes it more expensive to move – as house sales plummet

New figures expose collapse in housing market across Harrow thanks to Government

Bob Blackman, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Harrow East, published new figures showing the extent of the collapse in the housing market across Harrow. This comes as new Government red tape will push up the cost of moving home – in the middle of a recession.

  • Parliamentary Questions have revealed that across the country the number of housing sales in 2008 halved compared to 2006 levels. The latest national figures so far for 2009 show even sharper falls have happened this year. In Harrow, there were 2,157 housing sales in 2008, compared to 4,020 in 2006 – a fall of 50%.
  • Yet new Whitehall rules will make it even harder for home buyers and sellers. The Government’s Land Registry is hiking fees in July to register a new home or to buy an official property search. Ironically, the Land Registry are blaming the recession for forcing them to put up prices as housing transactions have fallen so much, cutting their income.
  • The increases in the costs of official searches will in turn increase the cost of the already expensive Home Information Packs (HIPs). This comes as new HIP rules came into effect in April which will further hinder sellers from putting their homes onto the market.
  • Conservatives are calling on the Government Ministers to use their emergency powers to suspend HIPs immediately, and then abolish them completely. They are also calling for the stamp duty threshold for first-time buyers to be raised to £250,000, taking 9 out of 10 first-time buyers out of stamp duty altogether, giving an important boost to Harrow’s housing market.

Bob Blackman said:

“The new figures expose how Gordon Brown’s recession has sent (area’s) housing market into freefall. It is incredibly short-sighted for Labour Ministers to increase red tape on the housing market in the middle of a recession and make it even worse.

“We need action to revive the market, by reducing moving costs for home owners and giving extra help to help first-time buyers get onto the housing ladder.”

Notes to Editors

SOARING LAND REGISTRY FEES

On 14 April, the Land Registry announced massive hikes in the fees charged for registering a property and for property searches. Fees will increase by as much as 33% and will see the cost of registration of a property worth between £100,000 and £200,000 go from £150 to £200.

The Land Registry ironically blame the housing market crash for the hikes:

“As a government agency with trading fund status we need to cover our operating costs and return on capital employed from our fee income. Due to the downturn in the property market and the deterioration in the economy generally, our intakes of work fell heavily in 2008 and 2009 leading to an unsustainable reduction in our fee income.”

NEW HOME INFORMATION PACK RED TAPE

  • HIP required before you market your home: The Home Information Pack rules apply to England and Wales. Since 6 April 2009, a seller must have a completed Home Information Pack before putting their home on the market. Previously, they merely had to commission a Pack, which can take many weeks to assemble – especially in the case of complex leasehold properties. This is the end of the so-called ‘first day marketing’ provisions.
  • Property searches must be complete: In another change to the HIP rules, Home Information Packs will also take longer to produce. From 6 April 2009, every property search “must be complete”. Previously, insurance could be taken out to protect against the delayed searches missing vital data. This previous provision was introduced because of the delays in obtaining information from local authorities.
  • Pointless property questionnaire: All Home Information Packs must also now have a new ‘Property Information Questionnaire’ that must be completed by the seller before the home is advertised. The questionnaire includes questions on past history of flooding, past insurance claims, treatment for dry rot or damp, when electrical wiring was last checked, if planning permission or building regulation approval was given to past structural alterations and rights of access. However, there is no external checking of the accuracy of the form, and in all those cases, the seller can merely tick a box “don’t know”.
  • HIPs unreliable and add to costs: The independent Carsberg Review in June 2008 warned that HIPs were the “worst of both worlds”, adding to red tape and costs, but not providing reliable information. It warned that they were duplicating costs, since “a substantial number of conveyancers ignore its existence and recommission searches on receiving instructions from their buyer client” (RICS, Sir Bryan Carsberg’s Review of Residential Property, June 2008, p.42).

HOUSING MARKET IN FREEFALL

Answers to Parliamentary Questions have made the Government publish figures for the number of house sales in each local authority, according to Land Registry records. They show that housing sales have fallen by 52% compared to 2006 levels.

The very latest figures show that housing transactions have plummeted even further in the beginning of 2009, with total sales across England and Wales falling to 13,131 in March 2009 – compared to 106,341 in March 2006.

Hansard, 24 March 2009, col. 314W and Hansard, 24 April 2009, col. 969W.

LOCAL FIGURES

The table below shows the number of housing sales in each year since 2006, by local authority.

House sales

2006

2007

2008

% change since 2006

England & Wales

1,331,229

1,276,562

645,405

-52%

 

Brent

4,041

4,369

2,096

-48%

Harrow

4,353

4,020

2,157

-50%

 

Sources:

Hansard, 24 April 2009, col. 963W.

Hansard, 2 February 2009, col. 915W.

Feb 09 2007

Blow to Harrow’s housing market from Home Information Pack red tape

New Government rules will make it harder to buy and sell your home

Bob Blackman, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Harrow East, expressed concern for Harrow’s fragile housing market, following the introduction of complex and expensive new Home Information Pack rules.

From 6 April, extra Home Information Pack (HIP) regulations will hinder sellers from putting their homes onto the market, mislead buyers and create a real danger of £200 fines from town hall officials.

  • New delays if you sell your home: The Government is cancelling the ‘first day marketing’ provision – which allowed sellers to market their home if a HIP had been ordered, but had not yet been completed. Sellers will now have to wait even longer before they can put up a ‘For Sale’ sign.
  • New untrustworthy Property Information Questionnaires: Also from 6 April, HIPs must have a so-called ‘Property Information Questionnaire’ completed by the seller. The Questionnaire is useless as unscrupulous sellers can sidestep difficult questions that could reduce their house price by ticking a “don’t know” box. The buyer cannot be certain that the information is reliable about such things as past dry rot or damp, insurance claims, experience of flooding, and whether past alterations had official permission. Honest sellers will also suffer, as disputes over information in Property Information Questionnaires will end up in the courts, with buyers suing sellers.
  • Heavy-handed town hall fines: Town halls have been instructed to “identify specific cases of non-compliance and enforce the requirements” – and start fining homeowners £200 a time if they do not follow the new rules.
  • HIPs are already harming the housing market: The Government’s own research has found that there is little public knowledge about, or interest in HIPs; that the industry thinks they are a waste of time; that they duplicate costs and that buyers are not bothering to consult HIPs. Ministers have emergency powers under the Housing Act to suspend HIPs, but have refused to use them.

Bob Blackman said:

“Home Information Packs have already damaged the market and discouraged sellers. Now Gordon Brown is making things even worse. You cannot trust the contents of a Home Information Pack, and these regulations will lead to yet more wasted time and expense.

“A Conservative Government will scrap Home Information Packs outright. If Ministers really wanted to help homeowners, they would use their emergency powers to suspend HIPs and provide a shot in the arm to Harrow’s ailing market. Only Conservatives are on the side of Britain’s home owners and the many people who want to move on and up the housing ladder.”

Notes to Editors

NEW DELAYS TO SELL YOUR HOME

New restrictions on advertising your home for sale

The Home Information Pack rules apply to England and Wales. From 6 April, a seller must have a completed Home Information Pack before putting their home on the market. Previously, they merely had to commission a Pack, which can take many weeks to assemble – especially in the case of complex leasehold properties. This is the end of the so-called ‘first day marketing’ provisions.

From then, a HIP must have the following documents as a minimum requirement before marketing can begin:

  • Index
  • The new Property Information Questionnaire
  • Energy Performance Certificate (requiring an internal inspection of the home)
  • Sale Statement
  • Land Registry documents.

All other required documents, such as local property searches and any lease (where applicable), must be included in the Pack within 28 days of the first point of marketing. Government documents explain:

“What can’t you do?

Under the new rules, the agent cannot use information to start marketing the particular property until a HIP meeting the minimum requirements is available. This includes the erection of sale boards, newspaper advertising and the automated daily uplift of information about properties coming on the market from estate agent databases to their websites and on-line property portals, which identify the property and the location. Estate agents are therefore strongly advised to review their administrative processes and use of software to ensure they achieve compliance” (p.2).

DCLG, Industry briefing note: Changes to Home Information Packs, 16 March 2009

New delays in obtaining property searches

In another change to the HIP rules, Home Information Packs will also take longer to produce. From 6 April 2009, every property search “must be complete”. Previously, insurance could be taken out to protect against the delayed searches missing vital data. This previous provision was introduced because of the delays in obtaining information from local authorities.

NEW UNTRUSTWORTHY “PROPERTY INFORMATION QUESTIONNAIRES” RED TAPE

From 6 April, all Home Information Packs must have a new ‘Property Information Questionnaire’ that must be completed by the seller before the home is advertised.

The questionnaire includes questions on past history of flooding, past insurance claims, treatment for dry rot or damp, when electrical wiring was last checked, if planning permission or building regulation approval was given to past structural alterations and rights of access. However, there is no external checking of the accuracy of the form, and in all those cases, the seller can merely tick a box “don’t know”.

Sample questionnaire – DCLG, Property Information Questionnaire (PIQ) – General version, December 2008

Duplication of time and expense

Buyers’ solicitors will not accept the Property Information Questionnaire as part of the conveyancing process, as Ministers have admitted. It just duplicates work and is no substitute for proper documentation.

Hansard, 17 December 2008, col. 793W.

Estate agents take no responsibility

The Government guidance admits that estate agents will effectively no obligation to ensure that the Property Information Questionnaire is accurate and is not misleading. Their only obligation is to sure that the Pack physically has a Questionnaire included.

Agents will have no liability under either the HIP Regulations or the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 for the information contained in the PIQ, provided that the form is completed solely by the seller and the agent has no reason to believe the answers are wrong” (p.3).

DCLG, Industry briefing note: Changes to Home Information Packs, 16 March 2009

Lawyers’ charter: sellers face being sued by buyers

The only recourse to a misleading Property Information Questionnaire is to undertake legal action, Ministers have admitted.

Hansard, 16 December 2008, col. 591W.

Friday Property Lawyers, one of the UK’s leading specialist residential property law firms, have warned that sellers will end up being sued for damages by buyers and potential buyers.

“The PIQ, unlike the HIP, is subjective and complex. The way the law is set up will see many sellers will fall into a trap when completing the PIQ, legally exposing themselves to financial claims should any information in it be deemed inaccurate by a buyer relying on the information. Crucially, a buyer can take this action without ever entering into a contract with the seller. Prospective buyers can, and will, sue for damages, including all expenses incurred.”

“Abolition of caveat emptor: The long-standing British legal principle of ‘buyer beware’ is effectively abolished by the PIQ.  Previously, the onus was on the prospective buyer to ensure they protected their own interests. Now, the seller is responsible for protecting the interests of both themselves and (under the law) the buyer, incurring legal consequence if they do not. Buyers will take advantage of this, making it common practice for buyers’ lawyers to actively seek out discrepancies in the PIQ in order to serve the interests of their clients, at a cost to all parties concerned.”

Fridays Property Lawyers, Briefing note: Implications of the PIQ, 27 March 2009.

PROSPECT OF £200 FINES

The Government is also pushing local authorities to be more aggressive into issuing fines for breaches of the new rules. Ministers have called for:

“Local trading standards agencies to identify specific cases of non-compliance and enforce the requirements.

(Margaret Beckett, Hansard, 8 December 2008, col. 26WS)

HIPS ARE USELESS SAYS INDEPENDENT RESEARCH

  • HIPs unreliable and add to costs: The independent Carsberg Review in June 2008 warned that HIPs were the “worst of both worlds”, adding to red tape and costs, but not providing reliable information. It warned that they were duplicating costs, since “a substantial number of conveyancers ignore its existence and recommission searches on receiving instructions from their buyer client” (RICS, Sir Bryan Carsberg’s Review of Residential Property, June 2008, p.42).
  • Buyers ignore them: In May 2008, property firm MDA estimated that over half of all buyers’ solicitors ignore the HIPs searches and commission their own “to maintain due diligence for their client” and make up for the deficiencies in the HIP – much of the search information is voluntary, meaning the seller has no financial incentive to pay to include potentially negative information about the property (MDA Press Release, 22 May 2008).
  • Short shelf-life to HIPs’ searches: The Council of Mortgage Lenders requires mortgage lenders to ensure that a search is not more than six months old at completion. Hence, any search in a HIP practically has an extremely short shelf-life, requiring buyers to commission their own, even if they did trust the selective information in the HIP. In a falling market, when it is takes longer to sell a home, this is a particular problem.
  • Minimal public knowledge and buyers don’t care: The Government’s own research by polling firm GFK NOP has admitted:

Minimal public knowledge and interest in HIPs:

  • “Amongst buyers and sellers: awareness, knowledge and understanding of HIPs poor; lack of engagement, experience and interest in the HIPs process” (p.6).
  • “Superficial awareness of HIPS; minimal knowledge and understanding; not sufficiently aware / interested enough to ask to see HIP; rarely shown HIP; not seeing advantages of seller paying; In London, concern over HIP cost when selling property in future” (p.11).
  • “Dismissive: don’t see purpose… Neither buyers or sellers are proactively enquiring about HIPs” (p.13).

Packs are a waste of time:

  • “[Amongst estate agents] Attitude: resigned… Majority perceive no benefit / tend to be negative / waste of time” (p.15).
  • “Estate agents struggled to think of positive comments about HIPS” (p.17).

Buyers not consulting HIPs:

  • “First time buyers: Little knowledge / indifferent… Buyers and sellers: More knowledge / dismissive… Estate agents: High understanding / resigned” (p.19).
  • “Buyers/first time buyers: Majority not offered to see HIP; majority not asked to look at HIP; seen as … long, boring, technical” (p.21).

Duplicating costs

  • “Estate agents… Concern over houses being on market for an extended length of time and HIP becoming out of date before sale agreed” (p.26).
  • “Portability of HIPs raises potential problems… Sellers may have to pay for multiple HIPs, if they change estate agents” (p.34).

Full HIPs presentation: http://www.conservatives.com/pdf/SecretHIPsResearch.pdf

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