A budget to build on
Matthew Kennedy, policy and public affairs manager CIH Cymru, looks at the Welsh 2019/20 budget in more detail.
The highlights came in the form of:
• An increase in Social Housing Grant capital funding to £138m in 2019-20, an increase of £35m on previously-published plans.
• A single Housing Support Grant – £126.7m – encompassing Supporting People, Homelessness Prevention and Rent Smart Wales Enforcement will be established.
• Continued annual funding of £108m to support local authorities and stock transfer organisation in achieving and maintaining the Welsh Housing Quality Standard.
• Investment in the Integrated Care Fund (ICF) in 2019-20 will increase to £85m, as a result in the increase in capital from the Housing budget for the fund, which rises to £35m in 2019-20.
• A £45m allocation to the Innovative Housing Programme in 2019/20.
Whilst on the face of it this looks good, there are three key factors that take some of the shine off this investment.
1. Health spending continues on an upward trajectory
We all see the news story, know people or family members who work in the NHS, and have no doubt consumed services ourselves either frequently or less so and therefore can understand the underlying need to invest money in NHS services.
But the practice seems unsustainable in the long-run as we consider demand isn’t going to suddenly drop and local government investment, as detailed above is only going to impact services and resources that keep people well and healthy.
Add to that the case for investing in the housing sector to build on what is already solid ground will require a considerable change in culture (within all sectors concerned) and political bravery.
2. Local government finances continued to be squeezed
Eight years. This is the eighth year local government have responded to a Welsh Government budget raising their concerns, worries, visions of catastrophe on the horizon. But the political rhetoric on this occasion is worth listening to.
Councils have less and less resources to alleviate the pressure on education, social services and public protection – the cut has been profound in terms of housing where planning departments have been some of the worse hit in recent times.
We’re seeing the real-time impact of that now where despite a swathe of capital investment from the Welsh Government, capacity in planning departments to handle the extra workload just isn’t there. One very welcome piece of news in the form of the HRA borrowing cap being lifted is one pretty vital factor that will make it far more viable for local authorities to bolster their own development programmes to deliver sorely needed affordable homes within their areas.
3. The Westminster context cannot be ignored
Whilst the Welsh Government budget leaves some things to be desired it at least shows strong support for the work of housing professionals in Wales. Like those working through the UK housing professionals in Wales continue to work against the backdrop of Universal Credit roll-out and the impact of the benefit cap.
Despite welcome news to invest in easing the infrastructure issues in the UK budget there’s so much more to do in this area. Combined with the underfunding issue perpetuated by the Barrnett formula and the potential impact of a hard Brexit on the UK construction industry is remains vital we’re grounded in the reality of how we as sector best achieve a scenario where a home for everyone is truly achievable.