Response by Cornwall Green Party to panel recommendations

Introductory remarks by Matt Valler and Jonathan How, Cornwall Green Party

The Penzance Citizen’s Panel was convened to provide a set of policy recommendations drawn from a deliberative process by non-specialist residents of Penzance. The following recommendations were made, and Cornwall Green Party was invited to comment.

Before dealing with the specific policy recommendations, we would like to commend the Cornwall Independent Poverty Forum and its partners for this excellent report, and for a well-facilitated process that demonstrates the possibilities of deliberative, democratic engagement. At a time when it seems harder than ever to listen to one another, this report – and the process it represents – provides a credible alternative.

In recent years, when our existing political systems have seemed broken beyond repair, some have begun to advocate for Citizen’s Assemblies as a direct democratic replacement for representative Parliamentary democracy. That is not our position; we believe that the State is in need of major reform, but that this will be achieved by devolving far more power to local authorities, and through them to local communities. Government should be more transparent and accountable, and should engage much more frequently in deliberative citizen engagement forums such as this one.

In order to provide clear responses, the headline of each policy recommendation has been repeated here with our comments underneath. Of course the commentary provided by the report to accompany each headline was considered, but for the sake of readability was omitted from this response.

Matt Valler,
Joint Coordinator and Policy Officer,
Cornwall Green Party

Citizens Panels with members selected by a proper sortition process can prove an invaluable way of understanding what people think once they are provided with the full information. In this sense they are a far wiser form of public consultation than, say, focus groups or opinion polls.

I hope that Cornwall Council, and Derek Thomas MP, will look carefully at these recommendations and consider implementing them. Many of the people of Penzance clearly deserve better.

Cllr Jonathan How,
Penzance Town Council

Penzance Citizen’s Panel policy recommendations, with Cornwall Green Party responses:

You can download the PDF version of recommendations here

1. Address street homelessness by…

    • Restore grant money cut by Cornwall Council 
    • Provision of mobile or fixed night shelters in population centres
    • Warden-supported accommodation for young single people
    • Implement early-intervention mental health support for young people vulnerable to homelessness
    • Provision of emergency accommodation for families within Cornwall
    • Cornwall Council and Housing Associations to work with social enterprises that directly address needs of homeless people
      • Be transparent about disused land available for alternative housing solutions
      • Be transparent about empty homes owned that could be renovated
    • Allow Rebuild South-West to have its own housing list and housing criteria 

The Green Party believes that nobody should be left homeless, and nobody should sleep rough on the streets, in the 21st century. Too many live in insecure, unsafe places. As a national priority, we would aim to end rough sleeping within our first term of office.

Each of the specific policies advocated here under #1 are something we would support in principle. (We don’t have enough knowledge of Rebuild South West to comment specifically on their specific projects or involvement.) What is crucial in tackling homelessness is ensuring that responses tackle the causes and not only the symptoms. Funding must be made available to support those who find themselves on the streets, but far less people should be forced there in the first place. In that sense we strongly endorse the approach taken in this proposal to think about how to tackle the problems that lead to homelessness as well as ensuring that individuals and families get the immediate support they need.

2. £10/hr minimum wage, with optional 16hr/wk minimum contracts. 

The Green Party has campaigned for many years for a Living Wage, currently set at £9.30/hr by the Living Wage Foundation. We would introduce the Living Wage for large and medium sized business, but not require it of small businesses – for the reasons you have articulated. We would also introduce a number of measures designed to make small businesses much more competitive, and cooperative. Where small businesses might not be able to afford the Living Wage, cooperative structures ensure that all employees benefit when a small business does become more profitable.

3. Restore Sure Start centres 

We would support this as part of a broader set of policies designed to ensure children and families are supported through a child’s early years.

4. Implement large-scale Social Housing building in Cornwall

    • Redefine ‘affordable’ housing
    • Build environmentally sustainable homes
    • Integrate with other related infrastructure (see policy 8)

The Green Party is committed to building high-quality, affordable social housing in Cornwall. Existing ‘affordable’ provision is not actually affordable to the people who need it – ‘affordable’ being defined as 80% of local market rates. Since house prices have skyrocketed relative to wages, this definition is woefully inadequate in the face of a genuine housing crisis. A more appropriate standard for affordable housing is where rent or mortgage payments are at 35% of median local income.

As you’d expect, we enthusiastically support the building of environmentally sustainable homes – and would update Building Regulations to make strong environmental credentials standard. We also think it’s important to build homes that improve quality of life more generally, so we’d introduce the Parker Morris standards for social housing which require minimum dimensions for space, ensuring homes are not cramped.

5. Review Universal Credit and either reform or replace

The Green Party would scrap Universal Credit and replace it with a Citizen’s Income. This is a basic payment to every UK citizen, regardless of their employment status. Universal Credit has proved itself a particularly cruel system, but even the more effective welfare systems of previous years relied on the idea that waged employment was the most valuable contribution a person could make to society, and that only those unable to find work should receive any benefit. We think this vastly undervalues the immense contribution made by non-waged members of society – for example, parents, carers, and volunteers – whose work is no less real or important than that achieved by people in paid employment. The Citizen’s Income changes the relationship between work and security by providing a tax-free basic income which should be enough to live on.

Crucially, however, the Citizen’s Income should be understood as part of a wider policy approach to restructuring the economy so that daily life is more affordable for all.

6. Unfreeze Local Housing Allowance

Housing Benefit has to cover the costs of housing, or else what is the point of it? Local Housing Allowance should definitely be unfrozen, and instead local authorities should provide more social housing, an alternative (and fairer) way of saving on the housing welfare bill by reducing the number of payments going to private landlords.

7. Charge Double Council Tax on all Second Homes and Holiday Lets, and scrap tax loopholes that mean Second Home owners can avoid paying both Council Tax and Business Rates. 

Second home ownership is a major challenge for Cornwall, pushing house-prices up and gutting the heart from many historic communities. At present, local authorities can charge double Council Tax on homes that have been empty for over two years, but not for Second Homes. The Green Party would give local authorities the power to decide on Council Tax premiums for Second Homes. In Cornwall, we would certainly support policies to disincentivise Second Home ownership.

Re the loophole – at present it is not the case that the loophole allows Second Home owners to avoid paying both Council Tax and Business Rates (there is currently no regulation that could require them to pay both); the loophole is allowing them to pay neither. Under the current legislation a house should either be a ‘home’ (in which case is should be charged Council Tax) or a business (e.g. a B&B – in which case it should be charged Business Rates). The loophole means that Second Home owners can say their property is a business, but claim tax relief (because they don’t make enough money from the business) so they end up paying no tax on the property at all. Our position is that a Second Home is not a business; it is a home and should therefore be charged Council Tax. The level of Council Tax should then be determined by Cornwall Council – but this would currently require further devolution of powers.

The Green Party’s much bigger idea, however, is to replace all these taxes with a Land Value Tax. This is an annual tax (of around 1.4%) on the value of land. It would have a major impact on stabilising property prices by disincentivising land speculation, and would discourage Second Home ownership by linking tax to the current value of land, a better approach than the current Council Tax system which sets levels based on whatever the value of a property was in 1991! Since house-prices in Cornwall have risen disproportionately to the rest of the UK since then, our Council Tax income does not reflect the value of our properties.

8. Treat housing as national infrastructure and place other infrastructure – e.g. roads, schools, surgeries – alongside

For the Green Party, this is probably the most important statement from your list – especially the follow-up line ‘Housing is a basic human need’. For us, since housing is a basic human right, a house should not be treated as an asset for investment; it is a home that forms part of a community. This underpins our whole approach to housing, which extends to radical reform of taxation on the value of land as well as local planning processes.

Infrastructure planning should be both strategic and sustainable, designed so that communities can thrive together. The Green Party would approach this using the concept of Lifetime Neighbourhoods, where construction, housing, energy, transport, food, waste, water, health, the economy and natural habitats, are all interconnected with a long-term future in mind.

9. Suspend Right to Buy until social housing stock in Cornwall is replenished and on a par with national social housing stock

The Green Party would end Right to Buy. We would give local authorities the decision over which properties to sell as part of their duty to ensure neighbourhoods continue to thrive. Any income from property sales should be used for the provision of more social housing, ensuring that supply does not fall.

10. Reduce the pay ratio between highest and lowest paid workers in Housing Associations, including Cornwall Council 

The Green Party would make it illegal for any organisation to pay its highest-paid worker more than 10x what it pays its lowest-paid worker. (We’d also ensure organisations couldn’t get around that by outsourcing the lower-paid tasks.)

11. Housing associations to create tenants panels enabling them to have a greater say over decisions that affect them and communities they live in

Tenant panels are important, but the Green Party would go further and make it a requirement for Housing Associations to have tenant representation on their governing board.

12. Legislate to impose a cap on rents charged in the private rental market

Rent controls are essential to ensure that houses are homes first and assets second. The Green Party would aim to set rents at 35% of local median take-home income – a ‘Living Rent’ – recognising landlords need to charge enough to make appropriate investments in the upkeep of the home.

13. End Section 21 ’no fault’ evictions

Yes. This should be abolished immediately.

14. Replace Assured Shorthand tenancies with long-term tenancies of between three and five years. 

The Green Party would abolish Assured Shorthold Tenancies full stop. We would only allow landlords to end a tenancy in order to sell the property (with proof of purchase), to move in themselves, or where there has been a serious breach of the contract.

15. Take action against bad or rogue landlords

The Green Party would simplify and toughen up the Housing Health and Safety Rating System and make sure that local authorities proactively enforced it. We’d also introduce a landlord licensing scheme to stop bad or rogue landlords getting away with negligence or hassling behaviour.

16. Educate ‘accidental landlords’ on their responsibilities. 

The landlord licensing scheme (see #15) would help with the education of all new landlords.

17. Cornwall Council must explore other options than discharging homeless people back into the private rental sector

Homeless people should be discharged into social housing, where ongoing challenges can be dealt with in a much more holistic way by Cornwall Council.

18. Planning controls to avoid ghost towns – preserve cohesive communities

Planning needs to be radically reformed so that power is placed in the hands of local communities. There is rightly a requirement to build more homes, but these need to come from the needs of local communities, not be imposed by developers. The Green Party would strengthen the powers of local authorities to decide their own planning priorities, right down to Parish level.

19. Give employees a choice as to whether they want zero-hours contracts

Zero-hours contracts are a real challenge for the reasons you’ve identified: they can create very valuable flexibility for certain people, but devastating uncertainty for others. The Green Party would regulate zero-hours contracts so that any contract guaranteeing less than 16hrs per week could not be exclusive. And that any employee who has been engaged for an average of 16hrs per week over a 3-month period would be entitled to a contact stipulating their minimum hours. However, for us the bigger idea is the introduction of a Citizen’s Income (see answer to #5) which removes – or at least drastically reduces – the effects of wage insecurity.

20. Restore funding to Citizens Advice

Yes definitely! One of the primary roles of government should be to ensure that every citizen has access to all the information they need to access all of the services they need. Citizen’s Advice plays an extremely valuable role in supporting this work with independent advice.

21. Scrap cap on child benefit

We would reform the welfare system entirely so that any benefits paid were a top-up to the Citizen’s Income (see #5). Children would receive a reduced level of Citizen’s Income, payable to their parents (directly replacing Child Benefit). This would not be capped.

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