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Westlake Legal Group > Policy Exchange

Claire Coutinho: The booming FinTech sector can help those on low incomes

Claire Coutinho is MP for East Surrey.

The UK’s FinTech sector is booming. Investment into UK FinTech – new technology to improve financial services – is at record highs, accounting for over a third of all investment into the sector in Europe. Last year, London had more people working in FinTech and a greater number of venture-capital investment deals than any other city in the world. Companies like Monzo, Revolut and Starling are some of the great financial success stories of the post-2008 era.

Amidst this surge in technology, a new Policy Exchange report suggests, there is an opportunity to address a long-standing undercurrent working against Britain’s lowest earners – and to develop a financial services market which works for the traditionally underserved.

This is no small problem. There are an estimated 10 million people, largely on low incomes, who are under-served by their bank. This has led to a chronic poverty premium with a higher overall cost of banking and poor-quality insurance and savings products for people on the lowest incomes.

Lack of access to affordable credit has driven people towards high-cost short-term loans. For our lowest income households, a broken washing machine can quickly spiral into an endless cycle of crushing debt.

And although successive governments have made progress in tackling the systemic drivers of problem debt, more needs to be done for people on low incomes. Low income customers are not well served, in part because they tend to be loss-making under the traditional banking model.

But unburdened by the legacy costs of older banking providers, FinTech providers can and do see low-income consumers as sought after, valuable customers. This gives them the ability and incentive to provide more accessible, more tailored and cheaper services.

Policy Exchange’s report, Fintech for all, sets out a series of ambitious solutions to help encourage the development of FinTech services and products for people on low incomes. For example, the Government could look to open up the “Help to Save” scheme to FinTech providers. This saving scheme allows certain people entitled to Working Tax Credit or receiving Universal Credit to get a bonus of 50p for every £1 they save over four years.

Allowing FinTech firms to participate could allow customers to benefit from innovative saving tools, such as “rounding up” their everyday transactions and putting the difference in a savings account. Other tools include using AI to predict future financial commitments and the optimum amount for low income customers to save each month.

Another of its ideas is for the Government to fund Universal Credit Banking Vouchers. Banks could reclaim vouchers funded by the largest providers of personal current accounts if low income customers banked with them. This could inject sorely needed competition for low income customers into the banking market, increasing the incentive for our best FinTech innovators to develop new products designed especially for them.

The good news is there is some countrywide support in the Conservative Party for fresh thinking in this area. Gareth Davies, MP for Grantham and Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham are two fellow newly elected Tory MPs who also contributed to this report. Many more of our new and older intake are passionate about effecting real change in left-behind communities. They too should consider carefully the opportunities presented by our thriving FinTech sector.

After all, an inclusive banking system would allow those on low incomes to fully share in the advances in banking services as they continue to develop. From access to affordable credit, bespoke budgeting tools, savings and insurance products, a new wave of FinTech offerings could transform the way we approach Financial Inclusion in the UK and ultimately lead to low income individuals getting the banking services they want and need.

The UK FinTech industry presents an exciting growth opportunity for our economy to push new boundaries in technology and to allow access to good quality financial services for all. We must support these changemakers if we are truly to unleash Britain’s potential at home and on the world stage.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Jack Airey: The next Government should revitalise Key Worker Housing

Jack Airey is Head of Housing at Policy Exchange.

For a long time, it was common for certain public sector workers to be provided a home as part of their job. Housing support used to be included in salary packages of Metropolitan Police officers, for example, either as free or subsidised accommodation or a paid housing allowance. Firefighters, teachers and nurses have also been eligible for subsidised housing schemes.

Support with finding a home allowed people whose job necessitated them to be close to the community they serve to do just that. The outgoing Labour Member of Parliament for Poplar and Limehouse, Jim Fitzpatrick, has spoken of how “When working as a firefighter in the 1970s, I was provided a home… [It] allowed me to get on with serving the public rather than worrying about next month’s rent.”

Although many of these homes have been sold off over recent decades, the extreme costs of buying or renting a home in some parts of the country in relation to public sector wages means that it is time to look again at how vital local workers can be supported with housing.

Many of the most valued and important front-line public sector workers are simply struggling to live in or near the community they serve. Instead, vital local public servants like police officers, teachers, nurses and firefighters have to commute from further and further away. This is a danger to local public services, making it more difficult to recruit and retain staff at the same time as impacting service delivery.

The NHS is a case in point. Recruitment and retention challenges are causing a high rate of vacancies for a range of roles which means that NHS trusts are using more short-term agency staff – at significant taxpayer expense. Staff health and well-being is also a major concern. Nurses, for instance, report that long shift work is a burden on their health and causing tiredness that puts their lives at risk if driving home after work.

The cost of housing compounds these issues in places where it is most unaffordable. Healthcare workers are competing for the same homes as private sector workers who are often better paid. It should come as no surprise, then, that four in ten nurses plan to leave London because of high housing costs.

The Metropolitan Police Service is similarly challenged by the cost of housing. Up until recently, the Met had a policy of recruiting new constables that had lived in London for a minimum of three years within the last six. This was because the police needs a workforce that understands and reflects the communities it serves. Past recruits who did not come from London were much more likely to transfer to another force outside the capital after a few years, lured by cheaper housing and family links. The Met’s residency criteria have now been relaxed, largely because they could not attract enough Londoners to apply. Again, the cost of housing is a deterrent to people choosing to work in a vital public service.

There are some public sector workers, of course, that require no housing support at all, either because they earn enough money or because they live in a place where the cost of housing is affordable relative to public sector wages. However, for the many vital local public sector workers who are struggling to pay next month’s rent or save enough to buy a home anytime soon, a helping hand would go a long way. The next government should commit to helping them as part of their housing agenda.

A report published today by Policy Exchange, the think tank I work for, outlines some of the steps the Government can take to support nurses, police officers and other vital public sector workers like firefighters and teachers in the housing market. We argue for the Key Worker Housing policy (first introduced by the Blair Government but later dropped during the Coalition era) to be revitalised.

This initiative allowed certain public sector workers – those who met ‘Key Worker’ eligibility criteria – to access affordable homes. It included demand-side measures, like equity loans, and supply-side measures, like funding for new Key Worker homes built for intermediate rental and for discounted ownership.

The Blair Government’s Key Worker Housing scheme had its flaws. Eligibility criteria for Key Worker Housing, for example, sprawled wider than necessary. A more narrow focus is needed in the criteria on workers from the local area who genuinely are a necessary part of the community infrastructure. The guiding principles of the Key Worker Housing programme, however, offer the next government a platform to support front-line public sector workers whose job requires them to live close to their workplace the chance to do so. A mix of new measures is then required involving local authorities and housing associations.

Reforms are firstly needed to increase the stock of Key Worker homes. Future capital funding programmes for Affordable Housing should be directed more towards the building of Key Worker homes. Public sector landowners like the NHS should also be encouraged to partner with housing associations that can build and manage affordable homes reserved for local Key Workers on their surplus land and property.

Local authorities and housing associations in areas where high housing costs are causing the most acute staffing challenges for front-line public services should, secondly, give greater priority to local Key Workers when allocating social housing. This will provide Key Workers a more immediate opportunity to access an affordable home.

Lastly, the Government should announce a Met Police Key Worker Housing Deal. This would be an important part of the Met’s recruitment drive, especially if the proposed 5,000 new officers are to come from London. To this end, London’s Affordable Homes Funding Programme should be topped up by £70 million to help finance the building of 2,500 affordable Key Worker homes specifically reserved for Met officers. Ministers should also consider extending the Forces Help to Buy scheme – this is a more generous version of the standard Help to Buy scheme – to help Met officers buy a home in London.

Both candidates hoping to lead the country after December’s election talk a lot about boosting public services and supporting vital public sector workers. Revitalising Key Worker Housing would show that they mean it.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

John Bald: Children are being indoctrinated about the legal system

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Chairman of the Conservative Education Society.

Policy Exchange’s panel debate on the Supreme Court’s (SC’s)  prorogation judgment co-incided with the publication of a children’s book,”Judge Brenda and the Supreme Court”, describing the career of its President, Lady Hale, and written with her co-operation. Both had as much to say about educational, as legal, issues.

The main attraction at the panel debate was former Supreme Court Justice, barrister and historian Lord Sumption (Eton and Oxford).  Lord Sumption, a former adviser to Sir Keith Joseph, is a long-standing opponent of judicial expansion.  His conclusion, that the 11-0 prorogation was correct, accepted the SC’s argument that prorogation was not a proceeding in parliament, but an attempt to prevent parliament from proceeding. As Ministers were now responsible to parliament, and the Queen was bound by their advice, to allow this prorogation would leave Ministers responsible to no-one, and so was unacceptable.

Sumption’s clarity, logic and ease of delivery made his six-minute slot sound as if he had all the time in the world. The same could not be said of his co-panellists, QCs John Larkin (Attorney General for Northern Ireland),  Helen Moutfield, ( Matrix Chambers and Mansfield College Oxford), and Patrick Laurence. John Larkin recounted a series of criminal cases during the troubles that had little obvious relevance to prorogation. Helen Mountfield said little more than that the judgment was “of course” correct.  If this seems harsh, check the link above. John Larkin overran his time, but argued that the judgment was likely to lead to legislation by litigation, with cases fast-tracked, putting judges under pressure and leading to exactly the kind of judicial expansion that Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project is trying to check.

It is hard to know if this is correct. Lord Sumption thought not, and cited the first paragraph of the judgment.  The 11-0 result, indicating the assent of some justices who are known to be opposed to judicial expansion, suggests he may be right, and that the underlying axis of the Human Rights Act and expansionist justices is a separate issue. Helen Moutfield is certainly an authority on the issue, as editor of Blackstone on the HRA and a senior member of Matrix, whose activities, I suggested, are the main thrust of judicial expansion and not conducive to the public good.

Lord Sumption also said that there was no difference between the procedures of the SC and those of the House of Lords Judicial Committee which preceded it, “except for its £26m budget.”  There lies the rub, and “Judge Brenda”  illustrates it to perfection. The SC and the HRA are a radical attempt to establish the judiciary as the senior partner in the legislative process, and this book, distributed free to all children in Derbyshire by the Legal Action Group, of which Lady Hale is a long-term supporter, is another step in this direction. Lady Hale makes decisions, writes new law, and is pictured socking a male judge on the jaw, albeit under a statement that disagreements between judges “are not the same as having a fight.”

The Mail described the book as “something out of the Soviet Union”, though it’s hard to see Lady Hale presiding over a gulag. The outsize spider brooch she wore while delivering her judgment, and her appearance at the Girls School Association, had an element of gloating, but most of us would gloat if we’d just won 11-0, and I’m happy to join her in standing up for swots, as I’m a bit of a swot myself. Wearing her Doctor’s bonnet with the judicial robes is another matter – if the court has no headgear for judges, that should apply to her too, and she is pictured without it on the team photograph at the end of the book.

Lady Hale encourages children to work as hard as they can at school, and the book’s author, Afua Hirsch, tones down the feminist angle in the interactions between children – girls are not always perfect, and “Class 3 boys” – from a visiting school party – “are on our side.” Still, the idea that the judges “decide our laws”, with no mention of parliament, and the presentation of the President as a person of infinite benevolence, goes beyond the favourable presentation we can expect in an authorised biography, and into the realm of propaganda.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Jack Airey: The planning process is burdensome and risky for developers – while imposing eyesores on our communities

Jack Airey is the Head of Housing at Policy Exchange.

In his first speech, as Prime Minister, on domestic policy, Boris Johnson said that his Government will “emphasise the need, the duty, to build beautiful homes that people actually want to live in, and being sensitive to local concerns.”

The winner of the Royal Institute of British Architecture’s Stirling Prize – a council housing scheme in Norwich – seems to exemplify the exact sort of homes that he and other government figures are thinking of when they demand better standards of development. The homes are simple but beautiful. They are built along terraced streets to high eco standards. And, as a council scheme, they show that homes can be built to the highest quality, whether they are destined for the private market, or for social housing.

Promising people more beautiful homes and more beautiful places to live makes sense. Not only will it help to unlock support for – or at least reduce opposition towards – the building of new homes where they are most needed; it is also popular with the public. Policy Exchange polling shows that people want to live somewhere beautiful with a real identity, but around half of the public think that poor quality environments are the norm. People want tree-lined streets and homes that make them feel proud, not drab ones that look and feel like they could have been built anywhere.

The importance of building and retaining a sense of place is recognised across the political divide. As Lisa Nandy, the Labour MP for Wigan, said at a Policy Exchange event ‘Beauty for the many, not the few?’ earlier this year, “arts, culture, architecture – these things that come up all the time when I’m having discussions with constituents on the doorstep – they matter to people because they feel that they’re being erased from our national story.” It isn’t Brexit that voters want to talk to her about, but the town’s beautiful old buildings falling into disrepair, a high street becoming derelict and a campaign for a statue to be put up in tribute to the area’s mining history. Any party hoping to win these kinds of constituencies in a forthcoming election should take note.

The Government has recently published guidance on building beautiful places for developers and planners. But there remains much more to be done if the Prime Minister’s duty to building beautiful homes is to be fulfilled. Whichever comes first, forthcoming election manifestoes and the final report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission (due by the end of the year) are big opportunities for ensuring government policy makes it as easy and profitable as possible to build beautifully. This is why Policy Exchange has published a collection of essays with new ideas for building the sort of homes and places in which people want to live. From reading each of the excellent essays, it is obvious that there are two areas which require particular attention.

Firstly, we need to encourage more landowners to develop their land in partnership with builders and architects rather than selling it on to the highest bidder. Whether the landowner is an aristocrat or a farmer, this would mean they have a long-term interest in what is built on their land. Their profit becomes dependent on the abiding beauty and attraction of the development. This would be a similar approach to the way ‘great estates’ in places like Mayfair, Marylebone and Belgravia in London and the older parts of Glasgow and Edinburgh were built centuries ago. It can also be significantly more profitable to the landowner than simply selling their land for an upfront sum.

Yet, as Charles Dugdale argues in Policy Exchange’s essay collection, the development system is geared against and actively frustrates landowners who want to take this long-term ‘stewardship’ role. There are changes to the planning regime, infrastructure delivery and the tax code which will make it easier, notably charging capital gains tax (at 20 per cent) rather than income tax (at 40 per cent) on landowner development receipts.

Secondly, we need to look at the basic principles by which land use and development is regulated. Despite existing to enhance public welfare, we seem to have created a planning system that sucks in money and productive energy at exactly the wrong points of the development process. Instead of being spent on beautiful design and good quality construction materials, huge amounts of money is spent by developers on consultants who can navigate the statutory thicket of our planning framework and on the acquisition of land at prices that are artificially inflated by local authorities rationing developable land.

The whole planning process is overly burdensome and risky when it doesn’t need to be. It is a huge barrier to smaller and entrepreneurial developers and needs wholesale reform. The Prime Minister has announced a total review of planning regulations – it is essential that this opportunity is grasped.

Beauty as a policy objective has become much more valued over the past year – and these are two ways that the Government can keep their promise to the public. What should give us particular hope, however, is that beauty is also increasingly valued by real estate investors.

As Professor Yolande Barnes writes in Policy Exchange’s essay collection, global capital markets are increasingly valuing assets for the longevity and quality of their income, rather than their future capital growth potential. This means that lenders are looking to invest in the sort of built environment in which people want to live. Ugly and alienating buildings are, in other words, no longer good economics. But beautiful ones are.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Izzi Seccombe: The Party Conference has given our councillors reason to feel upbeat again

Cllr Izzi Seccombe is the Leader of Warwickshire County Council and the Leader of the Conservative Group of the Local Government Association.

Despite the political turmoil prior to conference, and concerns that it may in fact be cancelled, delegates, including many colleagues from local government, came together in Manchester to meet with Ministers, share best practice, and interact with all sections of the Party. It was a great opportunity for the Conservative family to celebrate our achievements and set out our vision for the future.

This year’s slogan was ‘Get Brexit Done: Invest in our NHS, schools and police,’ which clearly demonstrates the importance of having a strong domestic agenda beyond Brexit.

Among the many great speeches from Ministers, I was particularly pleased to hear, Sajid Javid, the Chancellor of Exchequer, emphasise the importance of infrastructure, and highlight the fact that public services are at the heart of Government’s agenda.

Among the policies that the Chancellor announced, which will positively impact on local government, are investment in our roads network, the creation of a national bus strategy, and £5 billion in funding to provide full-fibre broadband across the country (the latter being an issue that the LGA has strongly lobbied on for many years).

The conference had a really good vibe and upbeat mood, and the feedback that I have received from Conservative councillors has been very positive. There were lots of outstanding fringe events covering a wide range of policy issues that matter to local government, including devolution, housing, social care, homelessness, and domestic violence. I am grateful to my LGA Conservative Group colleagues who spoke at many of these events.

I was delighted to speak at a number of fringe meetings myself and also to take part in a Question and Answer session in the main auditorium titled ‘Forging Stronger Communities’ with Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands; Ben Houchen, Mayor of the Tees Valley; Javed Khan, CEO of Barnardo’s; and David Goodhart, Head of Policy Exchange’s Demography, Immigration and Integration Unit.

The Local Government Association (LGA) also hosted two events at the Conference: The LGA Debate, which was titled, Why is the Queen’s Speech important for local government?; and our ever popular evening drinks reception.

I was delighted that both events were so well attended with lots of Conservative councillors present.

As part of our #CouncilCan campaign, the LGA is asking the Government to use the forthcoming Queen’s Speech to give councils and local communities greater powers and freedoms. Our panel for the debate brought together a wide range of experts and a lively debate ensued with plenty of strong contributions from the audience.

We were grateful that Robert Jenrik, our Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, came to our drinks reception. Following his recent appointment as Secretary of State this was an excellent opportunity for him to meet so many Conservative councillors in one room. In his speech, Jenrik thanked our councillors for their hard work on behalf of their local communities and recognised the crucial role that they play within the Conservative Party. Rishi Sunak, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (and former MHCLG Minister), and Andy Street were also were present and received a warm welcome from our guests.

I believe that if we can get Brexit done we will have the opportunity to fully focus on our domestic agenda, allowing us to build a county that works for everyone with a strong economy and world-class public services. With a general election possibly only a few weeks away I came away from the conference more motivated than ever for the fight that lies ahead.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Nicholas Boys Smith: New homes and places can and should be beautiful

Nicholas Boys Smith is the Director of Create Streets and a Fellow in Urban Design at the University of Buckingham.

Do you remember the old Bob Monkhouse joke? “When I told people, I wanted to be a comedian, everyone laughed – they’re not laughing now.” I feel a bit like that this morning.

Six years ago I chucked in my job to set up the social enterprise Create Streets, to argue on the ground, in councils and in parliament that new homes and places should be more popular, more beautiful and developed in line with the strong evidence of the types of places which people like and where they want to live. Real places with real centres and “gentle density” of terraced homes and mansion blocks benefiting both from the advantages of lower density (more space, cleaner air, less stress) but also from the advantages of greater density (more walking, knowing more of your neighbours, more sustainable energy usage). People are healthier and happier in such places and, if they can afford it, will normally pay more to live there.

But everyone, or nearly everyone, laughed. Those on the right, I was told, only cared about feathering the nests of the big developer friends or in a ‘bonfire of the regulations.’ Those on the left, I was informed, only cared about maximising the number of social homes. Everything else was a middle-class distraction.

Well maybe most people do care about the quality of new places after all. Slowly, calmly, rationally and I hope politely we have made the case for creating streets of beauty and popularity not lumpen, over-crammed tower-blocks or sprawling drive-to cul-de-sacs. We have made the case by talking to officials, councillors, MPs and developers. We have made the case by working for neighbourhood groups, councils (of all political colours) and landowners. And we have made the case by asking the big questions that somehow get missed out of too much of the political debate about planning and new homes. Why do people oppose new housing? (Design is not the only issue, but it is one of the big ones. Expectations of new developments are just so low). What are the similarities, and what are the differences, between the English planning system and those in other countries? And what are the discoverable relationships between urban design with happiness, mental health, physical health and crucial attributes of the good life such as knowing your neighbours, breathing clean air or not feeling stressed and overwhelmed as you go about your daily business?

There is a revolution of available information now accessible to urban researchers and we have made use of it gleefully, modelling, for example, every property sale in six British cities in 2016 or exploring human reactions to 19,000 streets and squares. We have probed important issues – such as the “design disconnect” whereby most professional planners and architects have provably different tastes to the wider public. And we have highlighted the fact that too many of the volume housebuilders barely use architects or urban designers at all. Something is going very badly wrong in how we create new places, or rather how we don’t. As one very experienced engineer put it to me yesterday having reviewed a live estate regeneration plan in South London, “I saw this in the 1970s – we’re building the slums of the future again.” Small flats. Long corridors. Over-density. Ugly sheer buildings. Unclear public and private space. We’ve been here before and it did not end well.

It is time for a change. And, step by step, we are making progress. We work with all parties. Liberal Democrat councils have cited our work in their manifestos and asked us to improve their development processes. Labour councils have asked us to review their plans and their engagement with residents. Some councils and housing associations have started, routinely, to seek our guidance on good and popular design or in setting their development framework for land they own. Above all, time after time, almost daily, put upon and harassed neighbourhoods and community groups have approached us. Rich or poor, young or old, north or south, the story is always a variant of the same: someone we do not know from a company we have not heard of is trying to do something horrid to our neighbourhood. We think something better is possible. Can you help? Funds are normally very tight but wherever we possibly can, we do.

Other think tanks and specialist housing charities (from Policy Exchange to Shelter) have picked up elements of our argument and evidence. And earlier this year, in a bold and admirable move, the then Secretary of State for Housing, James Brokenshire in conjunction with the excellent former Housing Minister, Kit Malthouse, formed the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission to investigate how new places could be more beautiful and more popular to ease the undoubted pressures on supply. I co-chair this alongside Sir Roger Scruton who has risked ridicule all his life by daring to think and write about beauty. The Commission’s creation was met with a tsunami of criticism from some professionals. However, rather to their own surprise, our interim report, published in July, was met with wide-spread professional support. The humane case for popular place-making is just too strong for all but the mono-minded to ignore.

Yesterday, in a highly welcome move the Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick, has announced the Government’s new design guide crammed full of good sense and good guidance on the types of places that people like and in which they flourish. It’s great to see the Commission’s work already being taken forward. For the first time, ever I think, and in the teeth of the perverse, self-defeating and provably false architectural fetish that “what buildings look like doesn’t matter” it has dared to make the case for buildings that actually look, well, nice. (As our book and major statistical study, Of Streets and Squares, shows you can predict what people will like very readily indeed: variety in a pattern, complexity and composure in the façade, a sense of place and some level of symmetry and colour are normally winners with the public. Sheer glass, spreadsheet regularity, over-sized buildings, or chaotic facades are normally losers).

This announcement is particularly timely because if we are going to ease the supply of new homes by making it easier for SMEs, self-builders, market entrants, modular innovators, councils and small landowners to build more homes and affordable homes then we need to remove the regulatory barriers to entry which have led to the most concentrated home-building market in the Western world. This in turn means changing the nature of “planning risk” and moving the democracy forward from the development control process to the Local Plan. What and where you can build, and what and where you cannot, should be more certain so that it is easier for a wider range of providers to create homes. But they should only be freer to do so within a clear carapace of locally acceptable designs and betterment taxes – certainly if they want an easy ride through planning. The best regulatory systems are predictable and consistent. Ours is the opposite of this. Despite the decency and deep honesty of planning officials, the system is just too discretionary at present and is thus most open to those with the deep pockets who can risk millions on working up hundreds of pages of planning applications. As one developer put it to me, “The worst thing that can happen during a planning application is that a development control officer changes.” This is not how it should be.

This is why the most exciting part of the design guide is the bit that has not yet been published. It talks rather coyly of a section which will set a code for local councils and neighbourhoods to adapt to their needs. This is the crucial bit and would get away from subjective and pointless arguments over ‘good design’ (which just feather lawyers’ pockets) and instead set the types of segment, street ratio, façade pattern and material that are acceptable ‘around here.’ This would be a quiet revolution. It would make our approach to planning more similar to that used in, for example, Holland or an increasing number of cities in the US. In such places a clearly visual and numerical framework (sometimes called a form-based code) is set for certain places, defined locally. Within that framework it is very easy to build and the SME, self-build and custom-build markets flourish.

Beyond that framework, it is very hard indeed. This is not a new idea. Many of our Georgian or Victorian streets (certainly those in London) were created under statue that set very clearly what you could build but were very liberal about your right to build it. Indeed, the development patterns of towns and cities have always and always will be regulated. It is part of the irreducible core of what government does. The externalities are just too great for it to be otherwise. (Do you want a tannery next to you? Or a thatched roof come to that?)

So this is very welcome news and the government is to be warmly congratulated in facing down the siren voices. And it is great news for Create Streets – though I don’t think we’ll be out of a job any times soon. So much of what is currently being built is just so inhumane in its conception and design.

What should the government do next? It should more firmly bed popular design into the National Planning Policy Framework. It should dare to turn down a few developments because they are just too hideous. And it should follow through with the next stage of their design guide so that what you can build is more firmly and visually defined locally in a process agreed with local citizens. Create homes and places, streets and squares of beauty and walkability. Sometimes the answer, or part of the answer, has been staring us in the face all along.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Lord Ashcroft’s Conference Diary: Could Tory MPs be whipped to vote that they don’t have confidence…in their own Government?

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For more information about his work, visit www.lordashcroft.com and www.lordashcroftpolls.com.

In most spheres of life, whether in politics or business or anything else, when trying to predict what will happen in an uncertain situation you usually have some kind of solid foundation from which to project.

But what makes it so hard to forecast where it will all go with Parliament and Brexit is that there are no firm assumptions from which to build. The combination of Boris Johnson’s determination to hold an election, Labour’s refusal to do so until No Deal is off the table, and the SNP’s newfound resolve to topple the Prime Minister, potentially takes this uncertainty to new heights, or depths.

So could we see Conservative MPs whipped to vote that they do not have confidence in their own Government, while the official Opposition are whipped to vote that they do?

– – – – – – – – – –

Correspondents are supposed to opine on “the mood of the conference” – so, for what it’s worth, the atmosphere seems to me to be pretty cheerful, even though it hasn’t stopped raining in Manchester since we all arrived.

That was certainly how activists seemed at the annual meeting of the National Conservative Convention, where activists gathered on Sunday morning to grill the powers that be, including the Prime Minister.

“I think we’re in a pretty good mood,” he observed, and not just because we were “full of beans after our lavish hotel breakfasts.” The real reason was that this was “one of those times in history when the Conservative Party really knows what it’s all about.”

Getting Brexit done was not the only thing on the government’s agenda – he would be talking about spreading opportunity, which in turn meant the rollout of gigabit broadband: “It will be sprouting through like vermicelli, or something. I don’t know how it works or what it looks like, but it’s going to be fantastic.”

– – – – – – – –

Not everyone is so ebullient, however. Penny Mordaunt warned a Centre for Policy Studies fringe meeting dedicated to the subject of “Britain After Brexit” that things could still get worse. “MPs are about to move out of their building and spend billions refurbishing it, while not every tower block has been re-clad after Grenfell. If you think things are bad now, we haven’t seen anything yet.”

But ultimately, we should be optimistic and take the long view: “Only history is neat and tidy. Living through it is messy.”

– – – – – – – – – –

“It would be fun,” chortled Ken Clarke when asked by Nick Robinson if he fancies being Prime Minister of a “Government of national unity.”

I doubt it would be as much fun as he thinks. But be that as it may, as 1922 Committee Chairman Sir Graham Brady puts it, “all the people suggested as members of such a Government seem to represent the minority view of the country. Which is a very odd idea of national unity.” Indeed.

– – – – – – – – – –

Kate Hoey received a heroine’s welcome when she spoke at a Policy Exchange meeting on the Irish backstop. It was her first time at the annual Conservative gathering: “I must say it’s a much better dressed party conference than I’m used to.”

She said she had been sceptical about the burst of expertise and concern that had emanated from fellow Labour members since the border became an issue: “It’s been interesting to hear so many of my colleagues expanding on Irish affairs when they previously hadn’t a clue where Belfast was.”

And she furiously rejected the argument that the wrong border arrangements could promote terrorism: “It makes me so angry that we could shape our policy on the economy and everything else on a few criminal thug dissidents.” The Chief Constable “should be saying we’re going to get these people and put them away.”

– – – – – – – – – –

Arlene Foster was asked at the same meeting if she trusted the Prime Minister. “It’s funny, I’m often asked ‘do I trust Boris Johnson?’ but I was never asked ‘do I trust Theresa May?’ and frankly I should have been.”

People often made the same mistake with her party, she said: “The thing about the DUP is that when we set out our position, that’s our position.”

But if it came to a vote of confidence, “putting Jeremy Corbyn into government is not something the DUP will ever be accused of.” For Corbyn to be “talking about the rule of law when we supported a party who were quite happy to see judges killed in Northern Ireland is really quite something.”

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Lord Ashcroft’s Conference Diary: Could Tory MPs be whipped to vote that they don’t have confidence…in their own Government?

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For more information about his work, visit www.lordashcroft.com and www.lordashcroftpolls.com.

In most spheres of life, whether in politics or business or anything else, when trying to predict what will happen in an uncertain situation you usually have some kind of solid foundation from which to project.

But what makes it so hard to forecast where it will all go with Parliament and Brexit is that there are no firm assumptions from which to build. The combination of Boris Johnson’s determination to hold an election, Labour’s refusal to do so until No Deal is off the table, and the SNP’s newfound resolve to topple the Prime Minister, potentially takes this uncertainty to new heights, or depths.

So could we see Conservative MPs whipped to vote that they do not have confidence in their own Government, while the official Opposition are whipped to vote that they do?

– – – – – – – – – –

Correspondents are supposed to opine on “the mood of the conference” – so, for what it’s worth, the atmosphere seems to me to be pretty cheerful, even though it hasn’t stopped raining in Manchester since we all arrived.

That was certainly how activists seemed at the annual meeting of the National Conservative Convention, where activists gathered on Sunday morning to grill the powers that be, including the Prime Minister.

“I think we’re in a pretty good mood,” he observed, and not just because we were “full of beans after our lavish hotel breakfasts.” The real reason was that this was “one of those times in history when the Conservative Party really knows what it’s all about.”

Getting Brexit done was not the only thing on the government’s agenda – he would be talking about spreading opportunity, which in turn meant the rollout of gigabit broadband: “It will be sprouting through like vermicelli, or something. I don’t know how it works or what it looks like, but it’s going to be fantastic.”

– – – – – – – –

Not everyone is so ebullient, however. Penny Mordaunt warned a Centre for Policy Studies fringe meeting dedicated to the subject of “Britain After Brexit” that things could still get worse. “MPs are about to move out of their building and spend billions refurbishing it, while not every tower block has been re-clad after Grenfell. If you think things are bad now, we haven’t seen anything yet.”

But ultimately, we should be optimistic and take the long view: “Only history is neat and tidy. Living through it is messy.”

– – – – – – – – – –

“It would be fun,” chortled Ken Clarke when asked by Nick Robinson if he fancies being Prime Minister of a “Government of national unity.”

I doubt it would be as much fun as he thinks. But be that as it may, as 1922 Committee Chairman Sir Graham Brady puts it, “all the people suggested as members of such a Government seem to represent the minority view of the country. Which is a very odd idea of national unity.” Indeed.

– – – – – – – – – –

Kate Hoey received a heroine’s welcome when she spoke at a Policy Exchange meeting on the Irish backstop. It was her first time at the annual Conservative gathering: “I must say it’s a much better dressed party conference than I’m used to.”

She said she had been sceptical about the burst of expertise and concern that had emanated from fellow Labour members since the border became an issue: “It’s been interesting to hear so many of my colleagues expanding on Irish affairs when they previously hadn’t a clue where Belfast was.”

And she furiously rejected the argument that the wrong border arrangements could promote terrorism: “It makes me so angry that we could shape our policy on the economy and everything else on a few criminal thug dissidents.” The Chief Constable “should be saying we’re going to get these people and put them away.”

– – – – – – – – – –

Arlene Foster was asked at the same meeting if she trusted the Prime Minister. “It’s funny, I’m often asked ‘do I trust Boris Johnson?’ but I was never asked ‘do I trust Theresa May?’ and frankly I should have been.”

People often made the same mistake with her party, she said: “The thing about the DUP is that when we set out our position, that’s our position.”

But if it came to a vote of confidence, “putting Jeremy Corbyn into government is not something the DUP will ever be accused of.” For Corbyn to be “talking about the rule of law when we supported a party who were quite happy to see judges killed in Northern Ireland is really quite something.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The Supreme Court’s ruling. Why not now go all the way – and let Bercow deliver the Queen’s Speech?

‘Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows’.

Those are the words of the Enacting Formula – the standard pattern of words which, with certain variations, precede the clauses of Bills at Westminster.  In a single sentence, they capture the meaning of Parliamentary sovereignty.

They clearly don’t say that the legislature is the only source of this sovereignty – in other words, of law-making power.  Rather, they tell a story.  It is one of that power being shared by the Queen, through the executive branch of government, with the legislature.

That’s why it’s said that we’re governed by the Queen-in-Parliament: it is the place where the monarch, her Government, and the legislature come together.  Parliament should work with harmony of a stately dance (come to think of it, “stately” is le mot juste), in which each dancer has his or her part to play.  Some of its most riveting steps came about because of the English Civil War. The dance continues to this day.

The best way of understanding the Supreme Court’s ruling on Tuesday is to grasp that it reads the dance very differently – and, frankly, wrongly. “As long ago as 1611,” its ruling declared, the court held that “the King [who was then the government] hath no prerogative but that which the law of the land allows him”.  Like this site, the Court clearly has that civil war, and long-run up to it, very much in mind.

But the King (or, in this case, the Queen) is no longer “the government” – a truth that the learned judges seem to have forgotten as soon as they uttered it.  Government is now a shared exercise between “the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty” and those “Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons”.  Or, to put it another way, Boris Johnson in no way resembles a Stuart Monarch.  Quite apart from anything else, Charles I did not offer the Roundheads the chance to vote him out of office.

Neither is Dominic Grieve John Hampden; nor Lady Hale, Sir Edward Coke; nor Dominic Cummings “Black Tom Tyrant” – the Earl of Stafford, Charles I’s formidable adviser, who was eventually sacrificed as a scapegoat.  If anyone thought they were.  Above all, this Gollum of a Speaker is not, repeat not, John Lenthall.

It is baffling that the highest court in the land so misunderstands our constitution – with more errors spawning from its first.  “[Parliamentary sovereignty] would be undermined if the executive could, through the use of the prerogative, prevent Parliament from exercising its power to make laws for as long as it pleased,” it ruled.

Once again, it conflates the legislature with Parliament.  Yes, MPs and peers are part of Parliament.  But so is the Queen – hence the Enacting Formula with which this article opened.  So, for that matter, are Ministers.  They sit and speak and vote in the same chamber as backbenchers, because they are also MPs.  Do we really need to make the point that there is no separation of powers in our constitution?  If a lowly blog can understand this, why on earth can’t the Supreme Court?

Perhaps the answer lies in its title.  Ponder it again for a moment.  The.  Supreme.  Court.  Where does your mind travel to when you hear those words?  If you’re at all like us, the answer is “America”.  And there, of course, one does find the separation of powers.  Once judges have them, in the sense that they do in the United States, they become political.  Which explains why those nominated to America’s Supreme Court must face confirmation hearings.  And helps to demonstrate what is happening here.

Not so long ago, our judges were part of that ceremonious Parliamentary dance.  It was Tony Blair, with his characteristic tin ear for our constitutional music, who turfed out the Law Lords from Parliament and set up the Supreme Court.  Once you establish such a body, and look towards United States, American-type controversy is likely to follow.

In a curious way, then, the Court was acting explicably by making a judgement about the lawfulness of the Government’s prorogation with only a single reference to a particular statute.  By basing most of its case on principles rather than statute (contrary to usual practice), its judgement had a flavour of America – or, more precisely, of continental law, in which judgements are induced from abstractions, rather than Common Law, in which they are deducted from practice and precedent.  There, judges make the law.  Here, they discover the law.

Or did – until EU law, the ECHR, and concepts from continental law, such as proportionality, slowly coloured parts of our own system: for evidence, consider the growth of judicial review.  Perhaps that’s desirable.  Maybe it isn’t.  But, either way, politicians since the Blair era have tended to stick their fingers in their ears and pretend that the change isn’t really happening.  Policy Exchange has pointed to the problem, by means of its Judicial Power Project, while Ministers have looked the other way.

No wonder the Government’s collective response to Tuesday’s judgement has been a shambles.  Some Ministers want to leap forward – or at least sideways – and have America-style confirmatory hearings for judges.  Others want to go back to the future, scrap the Court and revive the Law Lords.  The Johnson Government is paying a price for the thoughtlessness of its predecessors.

In a nutshell, the Supreme Court’s ruling begins by misreading Parliamentary Sovereignty and thus ends by exalting one part of Parliament at the expense of the others.  So prorogation is something that is somehow done to MPs and peers “from outside” and “is not a proceeding in Parliament”.

However, as we have seen, the Queen and her Ministers are inside: they are part of Parliament.  Where does the Supreme Court’s logic take us?  Should Royal Assent end, because it is also “from outside”?  If so, what about the Queen’s Speech?  Why not send the Speaker up from the Commons, and let him deliver it instead?

It is tempting to mull the implications of the Supreme Court’s ruling, allow one’s imagination to soar, and picture a future in which the legislature alone “takes back control”.  Over six hundred MPs could have a go at negotiating treaties at once, or mastermind detailed battle plans from the green benches. And if some of them had no right to, because their party didn’t command a majority in the Commons, too bad.

If you find the prospect fanciful, ponder real life.  MPs actually are seeking to direct a treaty negotiation: that’s the point of the Benn Act.  Oliver Letwin has been like a shadow Prime Minister to their shadow Government, exercising control of the Chamber’s proceedings and timetabling.

But unlike a real Prime Minister, he can’t be held to account at the despatch box or before Select Committees. And unlike a real monarch, Bercow is unrestrained by convention – and apparently untouchable by the courts, too.

‘Be it enacted by the Speaker’s most Excellent Person, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows’. If this is the Supreme Court’s vision of the future, perhaps it ought to tell us.

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Richard Ekins: What the most recent nominations mean for the future of the Supreme Court

Professor Richard Ekins is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Oxford, and Head of Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project.

While all eyes have been on the formation of the new Government, some other important appointments have been made and are at risk of being overlooked.

From January through June next year, three new Justices will join the Supreme Court.  Two are serving Lord Justices of Appeal; the third, unusually, is a distinguished academic lawyer (with considerable part-time judicial experience).

All three are men, and so with Lady Hale’s retirement on 10 January, the number of women on the Court will drop from three (of twelve) to two. Lord Reed has been appointed President of the Supreme Court and will replace Lady Hale in this important role, with effect from 11 January.

Lord Reed’s appointment is no surprise: he is an experienced and very able judge. He has served on the Supreme Court since February 2012 and as Deputy President since June 2018. Only three of the current Justices have served for longer, two of whom, Lady Hale and Lord Wilson, retire early next year. The third, Lord Kerr, will continue in office until February 2023 (retiring at age 75, which was the retirement age when he was first appointed a judge).

Lord Reed will remain in office until September 2026 (retiring at age 70, which is now the mandatory retirement age).  He is thus likely to be the longest serving President the Supreme Court has yet had. This is a significant appointment.

It is also an excellent appointment. Lord Reed is a careful, impressive judge, keenly aware of his responsibility to do justice according to law and, conversely, to avoid the temptation to subvert law in an attempt to do justice. In a series of important judgments, Lord Reed has acted on a traditional understanding of the judicial function, recognising the limits of judicial power and hewing close to settled law, rather than taking himself to be free to remake it in the course of adjudication.

In Bank Mellat, the Supreme Court considered a challenge to the Treasury’s use of counter-terrorism powers to freeze the assets of an Iranian bank in order to hinder the pursuit of nuclear weapons by Iran. The majority, led by Lord Sumption, quashed the order as an irrational and disproportionate interference with the bank’s convention right to enjoyment of its possessions.

Lord Reed, in dissent, took a more restrained view of the Court’s competence, especially in this domain, to conclude that government action was irrational and disproportionate, and thus unlawful.

In Tigere, he joined Lord Sumption in a fierce dissent from the majority’s decision to go beyond Strasbourg – that is, to require more of UK authorities than the European Court of Human Rights would require – and effectively to introduce into UK law a novel right to taxpayer support for tertiary education for non-citizens. In Nicklinson, he strongly resisted those of his colleagues who were intent on cajoling Parliament to change the law on assisted suicide. (The next round of litigation is about to begin.)

And in June last year, he was, to his credit, in a minority of the Supreme Court that refused to depart from the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and to denounce Northern Ireland’s abortion law as incompatible with human rights law.

Lord Reed’s unwillingness to go beyond Strasbourg is a principled limitation on the authority of UK courts, a limitation which is required by the scheme of the Human Rights Act. It makes for a striking contrast with Lady Hale, who has always seemed willing to go beyond Strasbourg.

In Miller, the Article 50 litigation, Lord Reed was one of three of eleven judges in dissent. His dissenting judgment was masterful, navigating the questions of statutory interpretation and constitutional practice with painstaking care. Likewise, in the recent judgment of Privacy International, Lord Reed dissented from the majority’s misinterpretation, in my view, of the ouster clause protecting the jurisdiction of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

More importantly, he also rejected dicta by three judges – Lord Carnwath, Lady Hale and Lord Kerr – to the effect that parliamentary sovereignty is not fundamental and that in a future case it would be lawful for courts openly to defy Parliament and to quash a crystal clear ouster clause.

Lord Reed’s refusal to countenance judicial challenge to parliamentary sovereignty is good news. Less happily, in Evans v Attorney General, he joined Lord Neuberger’s judgment, misinterpreting the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and effectively quashing the ministerial override for which it made provision. Lord Reed seems to have wrongly taken the override to be an unconstitutional transgression on the jurisdiction of the courts. But even if this analysis had been sound, it would still have been wrong for the court to foist a clearly unintended meaning on the Act.

In another important case, UNISON, Lord Reed led a unanimous court in quashing the Lord Chancellor’s decision to raise tribunal fees. Lord Reed reasoned that the level at which the fees had been set limited access to justice and thus lay outside the power Parliament had conferred. This case has been widely hailed as a victory for the rule of law (contrast Evans).

But the problem, as Sir Stephen Laws has argued, is that the judgment is grounded on an implausible inference about Parliament’s intention and involves the courts in second-guessing policy choices, the merits of which should be for the minister, for which he or she is accountable to Parliament.

While I do not agree with all his judgments, and think in some types of case he may be more likely to go wrong, I welcome Lord Reed’s appointment as President of the Supreme Court, and admire his judicial record and philosophy. The future for the rule of law turns in part on how willing Justices of the Supreme Court – including the three incoming Justices – are to expand their jurisdiction, to challenge the authority of Parliament and to undercut the freedom that government otherwise has within legal bounds to make policy and to act for the common good.

Lord Reed’s appointment to succeed Lady Hale seems to me to be good news for the rule of law, reducing the risk that the Supreme Court will abuse its mighty jurisdiction.

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