As Liz Truss deploys big guns in energy crisis, Edinburgh Council dithers over housing crisis – John McLellan
The flags are back at the top of their masts, life goes on, and the many challenges mounting before the death of the Queen must now be faced.
The energy crisis was top of most domestic agendas over the summer and there was only just enough time after Liz Truss’s appointment as Prime Minster for her to announce a price freeze which will at least give householders the certainty they need to budget for the next two years.
The £2500 cap is in addition to the £400 already pledged, the biggest single injection of government money into the UK economy in living memory. It does not solve the underlying problem of short supply, and is a high-risk strategy based on stimulating fast economic growth to minimise the impact of high borrowing, but the alternatives come with a higher risk of immediate instability, or worse.
More detail about the scheme, and other tax cuts, will be presented tomorrow in Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget, but if the Covid package was a “big bazooka” these plans are a battery of howitzers.
While it will stick in the throats of political opponents, with the billions spent on protecting livelihoods through the pandemic and the world-leading vaccine programme, reasonable voters in the wavering middle will recognise such decisive action. And without the lightning rod of Boris Johnson’s chaotic operation, it leaves other parties feeding off scraps.
By contrast, without much thought about how it might work, the Scottish Government’s contribution to the cost-of-living crisis includes a rent freeze and eviction ban for both public and private landlords which, without legislation or investment, is simply rhetoric.
It’s probably just as well, because the most immediate impact of preventing landlords from responding to rising costs or bad debts is, as the sector pointed out, a mass exodus from the market. For housing associations, it risks putting maintenance and building programmes on hold.
A court challenge awaits any attempt to effectively collapse a market without compensation, so if immediate action is needed, this isn’t it.
As normal business returns, a motion to today’s Edinburgh Council meeting not only welcomes rent freezes but calls for rent controls, which would not just crush the market but kill it.
In Ireland, rent pressure zones pushed small private landlords out the market, and the increased shortage encouraging institutions to charge higher rents for new properties to build in bigger margins to compensate.
The only long-term answer to high prices is increased supply, which is what the UK Government hopes to do with energy, but far from a plan to properly address lack of housing supply, here Edinburgh Council just bends the figures and ignores reality.
Within Edinburgh’s ruling Labour group, there is not only support for rent control, but increasingly aggressive opposition to purpose-built student accommodation, which would be essential if private landlords left the market.
What to do? There’s not enough brownfield land to meet demand, but all parties reject greenbelt development, so the best Edinburgh can come up with is hoping businesses sell up and move out of town to make way for housing.
Even building 3,500 homes in Granton doesn’t come close to dealing with the shortage, and as long as elected representatives refuse to see further than their next leaflet, homes in Edinburgh will never be truly affordable.