Department for Communities & Local Government

The end of meddling?

Eric Pickles has announced that he will abandon plans to charge people for their use of waste collection services (the "bin tax"). He will use the "carrot" of rewarding people with vouchers for the volume of recyclable material they produce, rather than the "stick" of charging them for the amount of waste they produce.

Mr Pickles justified this announcement as part of an effort to end "meddling" laws. (The other example of "meddling" that he planned to scrap was allowing people to choose whether to apply for redevelopment of their land.)

The move was also justified because charging people for their use of waste-disposal services would result in more fly-tipping and "bin wars".

And it was argued that the move would save money, because of avoided landfill tax (directly) and thereby European fines (indirectly).

Meanwhile, David Cameron was today warning people how much worse the government finances are than he had expected (for which, read: as bad as he knew they were but didn't dare to tell people during the election).

And let's not forget the great theme of this government: decentralisation.

Let us count the number of ways this is wrong:

Pickles' rubbish economics

Fly-tipped asbestos in Thornton (from The Times, 17/08/06)Here is Cameroonian Conservatism in action. If people are inclined to avoid paying for goods, get taxpayers to pay for them, so they appear to be "free" at the point of consumption, in order to reduce the temptation to commit unlawful acts.

The specific example is that Eric Pickles, the Conservatives' Shadow Local Government Secretary, thinks it is wrong to charge people proportionately for the waste-disposal services that they require:

"We all want to increase the level of recycling but bin taxes will harm the local environment by leading to a surge in illegal dumping and backyard burning. Whether they can't pay or won't pay, many irresponsible people will dump instead."

Having discovered this radical, socio-centric approach to law & order and public welfare, there is no limit to the ways in which this logic can be applied in other fields. The Tories will doubtless wish to propose:

  • The extension of this model to all other waste producers. The image (right) associated with this article in The Times illustrates that fly-tipping of commercial and industrial waste is a more common problem. Shouldn't we also relieve businesses of the temptations of illegality, in the interests of society?
  • As many burglaries and thefts are committed in order to fund drug habits, we should legalize drugs, and if that doesn't make them sufficiently cheap, provide them free to ensure that junkies are not tempted to steal to fund their habit.
  • Provide free snacks and drinks outside convenience stores, so shoplifters are not tempted to steal. The same, of course, will go for a selection of the latest fashions outside clothes stores, and phones and ipods outside electrical-goods stores.
  • Make cars and motorbikes freely available to young people, so they don't have to hotwire someone else's vehicle.
  • Free taxi-rides from pubs and parties, so no one is tempted to drink and drive.

The opportunities are endless, now that we can forget about economics and focus on the good of society.

The HIPs loophole

So after all the fuss, u-turns, backtracking, re-packaging, delays, spin and farce it seems that HIPs may not be enforceable after all!  That is right,  even if the government does go ahead with its pseudo-implementation on 1st August, there are loopholes which will mean houses can still go on the market with that all important information pack.  According to the FT:

"When you've dug yourself into a hole you should stop digging"

So yesterday, as promised, Ruth Kelly outlined the plans for the implementation of HIPs. All houses with four or more bedrooms will be required to have them from August 1st, then it will be a phased implementation with three bedroom houses next and then the rest of the market to follow. That is that all cleared up then. Thank goodness for that.

Brown's Britain - talent is nothing, the inner circle is everything

The HIPs saga rumbles on. The latest is the news that the government may well be getting sued over the whole matter. That is to say, we are going to have pay for their incompetence if legal action goes ahead - because there is no chance they would win! Since the scheme was "delayed" last month to start on 1st August and is now to only include houses with four or more bedrooms, companies have been laying off trained inspectors as they are no longer needed - many firms have even gone out of business.

Unintended consequences of discrimination legislation

It is a general rule that legislation often has the opposite effect to that intended, and that government action usually hurts most those that it is intended to help. We have a beautiful example reported in The Times today. One consequence of recent legislation to outlaw age-discrimination, is that Saga, provider of holidays tailored to the over-50s, is to be forced to open its holidays to all ages. If a group of 18-30-year-olds wish to book a Saga holiday and behave as they would on a Club 18-30 holiday, Saga are not allowed to prevent them.

HIPS: A nice little earner (not for us though)

The Home Improvement Pack (HIP) disaster is slowly coming to the boil. The Law Society believes that Home inspectors could make up to £250 million a year on producing packs that never get used! If a property has been on the market for 6 months it will require a new HIP, leading to nearly half a million packs being pulped every year. With each one costing at least £500, the total bill would hit £250 million. Whilst 6 months will not be a legal requirement, in reality renewals will be required if the property is to sell. Nearly two million homes are put on the market every year, with a quarter going unsold after a year, it is estimated.

Not so HIP

The government is determined to force home owners to pay more than £200 for a green energy certificate when they put their house on the market. HIPs (Home Information Packs) which will be obligatory from June this year, will rate houses' energy efficiency and must be available even before potential buyers view a property.

The initiative might encourage some people to make their homes more energy efficient but more likely it will reduce the housing stock and force prices even higher. Older houses are obviously less energy efficient and the new complication arising from the certificates might deter people from selling their properties.

Blue plaques for trees

The Tree Council is calling for historic trees to be awarded "blue plaques" like historic buildings, concerned that "historic trees are left to wither and die".

Are blue plaques (or something equivalent) supposed to stop trees from withering and dieing? Can the Tree Council hold back the forces of nature?

The joy of protecting buildings is that owners are prevented from carrying out many essential improvements. Now owners of properties on which "historic trees" are located are to be faced with the same constraints.