Jan 12 2007

Take politics out of the NHS – says Bob Blackman

Patients and public should have real say over local NHS say Conservatives

The next Conservative Government will give patients and the public real influence over the NHS, Bob Blackman, pledged this week. This is the key message from Conservatives’ new policy paper on the NHS. It calls for:

  • Democratically-elected local councils to be consulted before any attempts to downgrade or close local NHS services, and ensure that councils are asked about their views on the future priorities of the local NHS.
  • Ruling out any more pointless reorganisations of NHS services.
  • Linking GPs’ salaries to the success of the treatments they deliver, whilst scrapping the targets imposed by politicians in Whitehall which distort doctors’ clinical decisions.
  • Giving doctors and nurses a far bigger say in how budgets are spent.
  • Local people to be directly involved in helping run local NHS services, by allowing them to become members of the NHS Trusts which provide local NHS services.
  • Giving patients much greater choice over the care they receive, and providing new league tables showing which hospitals and surgeries perform the best, and more information on the prevalence of hospital superbugs.
  • Creating a new, national watchdog consumer voice for patients – ‘HealthWatch’.

The policy recommendations sharply contrast with the sham consultations and ministerial meddling which have resulted in the closure or downgrading of so many NHS services all over the country. And, as a result of Labour’s nine reorganisations of the NHS – which have wasted £3 billion of taxpayers’ money and demoralised hard-working health professionals.

Bob Blackman explained,

“Under Labour, all Gordon Brown talks about is the fact he has raised taxes to European levels, but we have not seen anywhere near the improvement in NHS services which this extra money should justify. Our aim is more ambitious: using these levels of funding, we want to deliver to patients an NHS which is the best healthcare system in Europe. We want the NHS to focus on helping patients get better, not on helping politicians look better.”

The Conservative Prescription

The Conservative Party’s NHS White Paper, NHS Autonomy and Accountability, was published on 20 June 2007.

Core commitments

  • Conservatives will write into law the underlying principle of the NHS that all people will receive universal access to a comprehensive health service based on need and not ability to pay.
  • We will ensure that public funds for healthcare are devoted solely to NHS patients; we have ruled out subsidies to private healthcare.
  • We will not sanction any more pointless reorganisations of the NHS. The proposals in our White Paper are based on existing structures.

Autonomy

  • We will establish an independent NHS Board to allocate money where the NHS needs it, and not where politicians want it.
  • We will abolish top-down, politically-motivated targets through which politicians have interfered in day-to-day clinical decisions.
  • We will put real power – including NHS budgets – in the hands of doctors, nurses and other health professionals.

Accountability

  • We will ensure that doctors and nurses are accountable to patients through greater patient choice, with patients empowered with more information on health outcomes.
  • We will ensure that patients are backed up in NHS service planning by a strong, national patient voice: HealthWatch.
  • We will make the NHS accountable to local councils for the structure of health services and the priorities of the local NHS.

Government responsibilities

  • The Government will be responsible for establishing the framework in which the NHS operates and for setting overall NHS spending and objectives. It will ultimately be responsible for the outcomes of NHS care.
  • The Government will be responsible for ensuring that patient choice and voice mechanisms are strong enough to hold NHS professionals accountable for quality and value for money.
  • The Government will be directly responsible for the delivery of public health outcomes (i.e. the prevention of disease and the promotion of healthy living).

Jan 11 2007

Home Information Packs becoming a “Whitehall farce”

Families may just move beds from their bedrooms to avoid the cost

Bob Blackman critcised plans by Labour politicians to move ahead with new red tape on selling your home – so-called Home Information Packs.

Under the Government’s confused plans for these Packs, householders will have to pay up to £600 to put up a ‘for sale’ sign, or else be fined by the local council. Yet in the latest twist, the Packs will only be compulsory for four bedroom homes from 1 August 2007, and then phased in for three bedroom homes at an unspecified date, and then all homes at some point.

The small print of new Government regulations defines a four bedroom home as a property which is just “marketed” as a four bedroom home. This means that a house which is simply advertised as having “3 bedrooms and a spare room” would not need to spend hundreds of pounds on a Pack. A home owner could just move the bed out of the bedroom to comply with the letter of the regulations.

There will be no fall in the potential value of that home if buyers realise that “3 bedrooms and a spare room” is just language for a home with “4 bedrooms” being used to avoid a Pack.

Bob Blackman said:

“The Labour Government’s plans for Home Information Packs are turning into a Whitehall farce. Just by moving a bed out of one of your bedrooms will avoid the need for family homes to pay for these expensive and unwanted Packs.

“Moving home is one of the most stressful things anyone can do. Yet this new red tape threatens to make it worse, not better. Rather than protecting consumers in Harrow, I fear these new regulations will cause public confusion and undermine the stability of the housing market. Conservatives are calling on Gordon Brown to scrap this chaotic bureaucracy.”

Background Information

Despite warnings from across the housing industry about the flaws in the whole scheme, the Government announced on 11 June that Home Information Packs will still be introduced – in 3 stages:

  • Homes with 4 or more bedrooms – 11 August
  • Homes with 3 bedrooms – date to be announced
  • All other homes – date to be announced

Homes put on the market before these various ‘commencement’ stages will not need a Pack.

The Packs which may cost up to £600 for a typical (freehold) home, must contain as a minimum:

  • Index
  • Energy Performance Certificate
  • Sale statement
  • Title documents for the property
  • Local authority and drainage searches
  • Insurance and lease details if a leasehold property.

Last July, the Government performed a U-turn and resolved to make the crucial ‘Home Condition Report’ (HCR) element of the Packs voluntary. The HCR element – a detailed analysis of the features and state of a property – was notionally supposed to replace valuations and surveys.

Obscure regulations published out on 18 June classify a ‘four bedroom home’ for the first time. It is self-defined as a home which is simply advertised as having four bedrooms.
“A residential property shall be regarded as having or expected to have four bedrooms or more if the manner in which the property is marketed indicates that it has or is expected to have four bedrooms or more.”

Housing Act 2004 (Commencement No. 8) (England and Wales) Order 2007, clause 4a.

Jan 10 2007

Family homes unaffordable thanks to Whitehall red tape

Planning rules creating shortage of homes with parking and gardens

Bob Blackman today warned that Whitehall regulations are pricing a whole generation of low and middle income earners out of buying a family home. Conservatives are pledging to change planning rules to encourage more new homes with bedrooms and gardens for families – in place of dense blocks of flats.

In 2000, John Prescott introduced new national planning regulations for housing – which are forcing all new housing developments to pack in 12-18 new dwellings per acre. The flawed rules also class gardens as ‘brownfield’ land. As a result, blocks of flats are increasingly being crammed in the place of existing homes with gardens. This is also known as ‘garden grabbing’.

Reports suggest that the price of a family house has risen at eight times the rate of a new flat since 2000, and there has been fall in the number of detached and semi-detached homes being built. There is no a relative over-supply of flats in many areas.

Bob Blackman said:

“In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult for families across (area) on modest incomes to buy a home suitable for children to grow up. But house prices don’t change in isolation from government policy. Labour’s national planning rules, laid down on high from Whitehall, have in many areas created a surplus of pokey flats and a shortage of family homes with parking spaces and gardens.

“Conservatives would scrap these rigid density rules; we would allow local communities to decide what developments are best suited for their neighbourhood, and let the market build the homes that people want and need.”

The Daily Telegraph reported on 31 May there is a shortage of family homes and a surplus of flats, due to Government planning rules, suggesting that the price of a family house has risen at eight times the rate of a new flat since 2000.

GOVERNMENT PLANNING REGULATIONS ON HOUSING

In 2000, John Prescott introduced new planning rules on housing (so-called ‘PPG3’). This imposed on housing developments a new density requirement of 30-50 dwellings per hectare (12 – 18 dwellings/acre), and the first time in planning rules, classed gardens as brownfield land.

In November 2007, the Government issued revised guidance – so-called ‘PPS3’. However, gardens are still classed as brownfield land, and councils still must follow density targets of at least 30 dwellings per hectare.

“Previously-developed land is that which is or was occupied by a permanent structure, including the curtilage of the developed land and any associated fixed surface infrastructure” (p.26)

“30 dwellings per hectare (dph) net should be used as a national indicative minimum” (p.17)

DCLG, Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing, November 2006.

LABOUR RULES DISTORTING THE MARKET

The Government’s planning regulations are forcing the construction of blocks of flats on gardens, without sufficient private green space. Often these new buildings are the wrong size, the wrong shape and in the wrong place, depriving the public of what they actually want.

First time buyers want houses not flats.

A study by Yorkshire Building Society found that three-quarters of first time buyers aged 22-40 said they wanted to buy a house not a flat.

People don’t want to live in high-rise blocks.

A MORI poll, carried out on behalf of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), found that half of those questioned favoured a detached house and 22 per cent a bungalow. Just 2 per cent wanted a low-rise flat and 1 per cent a flat in a high-rise block.

Public support gardens and parking.

CABE noted, “The findings reveal a significant gap between the current preferences of homebuyers and the vision of planners… While supply is currently planned around a model of higher density living in a “compact city”, the overwhelming majority of homebuyers still want to live in a suburban dwelling… A crucial factor for homebuyers in choosing a house is the provision of outside space, and of gardens in particular. Over three quarters of the respondents preferred to have a private garden rather than sharing a communal space with their neighbours. Front gardens are also viewed as important, as buffer between private space and the public realm of the street. Only 1 per cent of buyers said they would accept no space between the house and the street and only 20 per cent would accept less than 6 feet.”

Over-supply of flats, under-supply of family homes.

The Government’s density targets are resulting in developers squeezing the greatest number of dwellings into the tiniest of spaces. The increase in the number of small flats as a result of planning restrictions is leading to an over-supply of flats, and an under-supply of family homes. According to property experts, propertyfinder.com, “there is a large oversupply of two bedroom flats, many of which are lying empty and unsold… the lack of availability of larger homes has in turn affected their affordability as excess demand and insufficient supply has increased the gap between the price of a two-bed and a three bed home.”

Young families are being squeezed out.

Industry experts, SmartNewHomes, have added, ‘Homebuilders have increasingly less choice in the types of properties that they build and are constantly restricted by the Government’s insufficient planning policy… Young families are increasingly looking for more space, opting for the stereotypical three bed semi with a garden and a garage but these types of properties are becoming increasingly scarce… Developers are currently being held back from building the types of properties they know people want and as a result the consumer, and young families in particular, are suffering.’

CONSERVATIVE POLICIES

Conservatives have outlined an action plan to help families and young people get on the housing ladder, whilst protecting the environment. Conservatives have pledged to:

  • Protect gardens, by changing planning rules to give stronger protection to green spaces and maintain the character of local neighbourhoods.
  • Ensure that new homes are made more eco-friendly, and remove Whitehall rules that are stopping new homes being built with sufficient parking and garden space.
  • Give local communities a stronger say on where new homes are built, and abolish unelected regional assemblies.
  • Cancel Whitehall’s ongoing plans for a council tax revaluation, abolish inspectors’ powers of entry, and stop new taxes being levied on home improvements and gardens by Gordon Brown.
  • Help more people get onto the first rung of the housing ladder by extending support for shared ownership schemes and new flexible forms of home ownership.
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