The recent UK government cuts to support for mortgage interest (SMI) payments from next month will cause financial difficulty for thousands of home-owners on lower incomes. There are currently 110,000 claimants of SMI. A recent answer to a parliamentary question from Shadow Housing minister for England, Melanie Onn MP, revealed that up to 5% – 5,500 – of those affected haven’t had full information about the end of the scheme. A recent FOI request revealed that fewer than 7,000 households have signed up for the loan scheme which replaces SMIs.
This scheme is much valued and the Government needed to answer for its treatment of low income households. Instead the minister pointed to my voting record. What he failed to note was the reason why Labour voted against the stamp duty measures in England. We voted against the Government’s proposals because independent researched showed that it would only benefit the wealthiest in society and to make matters worse would inflate house prices not make them more affordable.
On Monday, I asked the Housing Minister for England, Gavin Barwell MP, if he would welcome the work of Flintshire County Council to build more council homes.
As you will be aware, Local Government and housing is a devolved matter in Wales. The work of Flintshire County Council demonstrates what we can achieve if we are serious about tackling the housing crisis. In England there is a Government who is reluctant to take on the issue of the housing shortage meaning more people are struggling to achieve their dream of owning their own home. Whereas in Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government and Flintshire County Council have worked hand in hand to deliver the much needed 500 new council homes.
These new homes will help people get truly affordable accommodation, delivers jobs for the local economy and helps the small and medium sized builders grow in troubled times.
The Minister referred to his new White Paper, which is designed to build more homes in England. However, his proposals merely scrape the surface of the underlying issues. If we are truly going to enable people to rent affordably or own their own home we must build. Simple as that. The UK Government is ducking this task, as they have for the past 7 years, but Labour has shown that in Government we can deliver the homes we need.
On Monday, I asked the Minister for Communities and Local Government, Andrew Percy MP, what help and support the Government will be giving to Local Government – and local businesses in turn – to compete against large out of town retailers who are able to provide free car parking.
Local Government budgets have been cut dramatically by the UK Government as well as the budgets to the Welsh Assembly – who fund Local Government in Wales. This has seen budgets in county councils being stretched so free parking is no longer something that can be provided. This has allowed out-of-town retailers, who own large plots of land and car parks to give free parking. This undermines the competitive edge that in-town businesses used to have.
The Minister didn’t provide a response. Instead he chose to talk about an isolated example in North Lincolnshire. Therefore we can only be led to believe that the Government has no plans to help small and medium size retailers in North Wales.
I will continue to pressure the Government to support our small businesses, who are the backbone of our economy.