As you might imagine after 13 years in the political wilderness, the joint was jumping. Lots of happy activists, somewhat outnumbered by the hordes of journalists, exhibitors and lobbyists who have now decided this is the place to be. I remember back in 2002 you could have counted the number of exhibitors on the fingers of one hand. How the pendulum swings.
There was however a very serious side to the proceedings. Unlike the last few years, the tie-less look of the Cameroons had gone and everyone just about was in suits. Government is serious busiess and there is a mess to be sorted out, and right quickly. I went to a couple of fringe events on housing and the main topic of conversation was, how do we get builders building affordable homes when there is no money in the pot? Westminster had securitised their housing benefit receipts and borrowed against them, creating a building fund. That wouldn’t work here as we do not hold a property portfolio and we do not build. But the idea of raising cash against future revenue may be worth exploring, perhaps with our local social housing providers.
I did not get an answer to my concerns about the Equalities Act and I fear we will come to regret allowing this to come into force as much as Labour regretted the Human Rights Act. It seems to me that this statute, rushed through Parliament at the fag end of the last session when MPs’ eyes were on retirement or the forthcoming campaign. should have been repealed. Instead, ministers concentrating on the deficit have taken their eyes off this particular ball. In my professional area of housing law, human rights points are being taken more and more frequently in Court leading to delay and increase in costs whilst the arguments are thrashed out. The European Court of Human Rights has now added to the mix by its recent decision in Kay v UK which, if imported into UK law would effectively kill off the mandatory possession order. Now I expect there be a flurry of equality defences raised which will yet further clog up our already ponderous court processes.
Finally, a word about child benefit. I will be losing out here and I agree with the principle that benefits should be for those who genuinely need them. However there is a real problem with the current proposal in that the family with one earner bringing in £40K will lose out whereas the family with two salaries of £35K each, a net family income of £70K will keep their benefit. The Government needs to reconsider this. Means testing is probably not the answer as the cost of administering the means test will I expect eat up the saving gained by the introduction of the measure.