01 April, 2008
Improving deprived areas through regeneration, promoting work and enterprise and strengthening local accountability appear to underpin the government's approach to housing, as an empowerment white paper was announced this month.
Communities Secretary Hazel Blears revealed that the white paper featured 'radical' plans to address each of these issues, which represent the pillars of the government's new approach to facilitate the development of social housing.
These radical plans could include the promotion of 'community contracts' which would attempt to reward 'good citizens' for their model behaviour. Such rewards could include reductions in rent or even the offering of points that would push tenants up housing waiting lists and effectively fast-track them through the social housing route.
Whilst such talk about rent cuts has been dismissed by the National Housing Federation as 'speculation', the idea of providing similar incentives to encourage families to control their children or look after their homes remains a distinct possibility.
However, the government's proposals have triggered several reservations amongst housing commentators, not least with regard to the question of how such initiatives would be financed.
For many this latest development resembles a double-edged sword. Understandably, many housing providers appreciate the benefits of reward systems but fear that the offer of such discounts would reduce the amount of money available for other projects.
Nevertheless, whatever criticisms have been levied at the new incentive scheme, the government's pledge to make local services more accountable appears to be a welcomed move.
Under the same plans, councils or 'public service providers' would be required to issue a statutory response to any petition signed by more than 250 people or 1 per cent of a neighbourhood. It is hoped that through enabling active citizens to connect with their local leaders will help to 'reinvigorate the grassroots of local democracy'
Such plans have arisen as a response to Ms Blears' claim that six out of 10 people no longer felt that they were given enough input into how local council services were run, whilst nine out of 10 believed the accountability of councils could be improved.
In theory the suggestions appear to be a positive step towards engendering grassroots involvement. The progression of this white paper will be monitored with interest.