Home, security and locatedness

Bishop_James-003There seems to be an awful lot of housing news and comment circulating just at the moment. And it isn’t just more of the same. The arguments for a change of gear on housing policy seem to be growing louder and more frequent. The housing sector, it’s argued, needs to come out fighting. Some of this is no doubt about manoeuvring for position in the run up to the next election. But I don’t think it is only that.

Concerns about the consequences of current policy directions are growing. There’s a lively debate going on about the significance and consequences of the Government’s Affordable Rent programme, and whether or not participation in it means housing associations are complicit in the demise of social housing. There are suggestions that a change of government might herald a reorientation of housing policy. And there are growing concerns about the levels of gearing in the owner occupied sector and the impact that increased interest rates, as and when they arrive, are going to have on household budgets.

But perhaps the most interesting and important element of the debate is the discussion over housing supply. [Read more…]

Dreaming of Nick Clegg

The other night I dreamt that I’d won a competition and the prize was the opportunity to meet Nick Clegg.* Not only that, I wasn’t meeting him simply so he could tell me what he thought about policy and government. It was a proper discussion, which meant I could give him some thoughts on current policy. This was rendered even more surreal by the fact that this conversation took place in the dining room of the house owned by my long-departed grandparents. As I say, it was a dream.

I woke up with a very clear recollection of three policy points I made during the conversation. [Read more…]

The policy that dare not speak its name

Buses. Buses and markets. Markets for buses. It’s not a topic I have spent much time thinking about. But it’s been on my mind. And it’s my own fault.

Last week I ran a session with some students discussing the economic critique of government and its consequences, mostly privatisation. One point we explore is that an understanding of why an activity is in the public sector in the first place can be helpful in anticipating what will happen when it is transferred to the private sector. If we’re talking lame duck industry nationalised to stop it going under then we’d expect one sort of outcome from privatisation. If we are privatising the production of a good subject to one of the classic technical market failures – public goods, externalities, information failures, failures of competition – then if we’re not careful with regulation it is likely that the problems of inadequate coverage, undersupply, or whatever will reassert themselves pretty quickly. There is a need to descend from abstract pronouncements about the benefits of private markets to thinking about the characteristics of specific markets and industries. It’s not rocket science, in the context. [Read more…]

The elephant in the (waiting) room

The McNulty report – Realising the potential of GB rail – is a queer beast. The report, published last week, is the final report of a long term investigation, established by the last government, into the efficiency of the British rail industry. And the report identifies a sensible and quite extensive set of barriers to efficiency in the rail industry. But it then proposes a slightly odd set of solutions to address those barriers. Or, rather, it fails to address the most obvious question of them all – are the problems generated by the fragmented and semi-privatised ownership structure of the industry?

Actually, that’s not even true. The report identifies industry fragmentation as key part of the problem. But it doesn’t explore the most obvious solution to that problem – large scale reintegration. Whether that is a result of Sir Roy McNulty’s disposition or the DfT setting a brief that precluded asking the question publicly is less clear. It does, however, mean the review is a missed opportunity. [Read more…]