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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #76

[Ben ReeveBen on a chair Lewis has been a strutting his stuff on camera   …]

I’ve spent several days being filmed for an upcoming BBC documentary on the PRS. It’s a curious affair.

Just be natural they say and you think you are, but after a while you can’t stop yourself becoming a bit of a cartoon version of yourself.

You become more aware of how you talk and endeavour to finish sentences properly and not swear so much.

The other difficulty is trying to remember to mute your microphone when you go to the toilet or start slagging people off to your colleagues.

They also seem obsessed with long shots of me walking away that go on for ages. If I make the final cut then you will become very familiar with my arse on a Wednesday night.

And so to the news.

PriskWell new housing minister Mark Prisk did his first proper speech this week at the National Housing Federation Conference in Birmingham speaking to social housing providers.

24 Dash handily printed the transcript of his entire offering.  What seems remarkable in it is a complete lack of any ideas apart from the notion that social housing providers must come up with them.

“Many of the organisations represented here provide a wide range of innovative social housing, and good services to existing tenants. But I think you can do more”.


“Take it from me that we want you to be bold”.

He doesn’t say what he expects, but he does say that he right behind them in whatever it is they may choose to do ….. just as long as it is ‘Bold’.

Keep calm and carry on

The speech reminds me of the rare appearances of young Mr Grace in 70s TV sitcom “Are you being served”, when visiting the department store and announcing in his doddery old voice “You’re all doing very well”, to a gathering of bowed heads solemnly replying “Thank you Mr Grace”.

I think he meant the speech to sound rousing and supportive. He admits he doesn’t know much about social housing and vows to listen but the plans and initiatives he speaks of are simply the existing ones. No radical new polices to offer, just statements of intent to keep calm and carry on because that’s what government are going to be doing.

Labour’s plans

Jack Dromey on the other also laid out Labour’s plans in the Guardian  with more clear statements of intent. A marked improvement on predecessor Alison Seabeck whose tweets always seemed more concerned with her miserable bus journey to work than housing issues.

“Economic recovery requires us to build our way out of recession. Whether it was the revival from the depression of the 1930s or Britain’s post-war recovery”.

Says Jack, in amongst a general slagging of the government and suggests that one way this might be achieved is:-

“Consider schemes to provide public land to housing associations and other developers for free at the point of use with pay back over time. Such a scheme would overcome the initial cost of land and get affordable house building going”.

No joined up thinking (so whats new …)

To my mind the trouble with both labour and government’s strategies for dealing with the housing crisis is they don’t seem connected. Planning permission, building, mortgages, rents. They are treated as separate issues when in reality you can’t make a change in one area without it having a knock on effect in another.

Easing planning permission to increase supply does not address the fact that with consumer confidence so low who is buying?

Also many developers who bought land a few years back paid a premium for it so it is bad business for them to start work in a shaky economy, better business sense to hang on in there until things improve and they get a better return on investment.

I’m not saying that is right or proper but they are businesses and that’s what businesses do.

Bad news for homeless families

Meanwhile, over at the homelessness end of things I read on Housing Excellence  that there has been a 50% rise in families being placed in Bed and Breakfast accommodation in the first few months of this year.

For those of you who might not know, a few years back the Labour government introduced a rule saying homelessness units mustn’t place families in B&B except in emergencies and then only for 6 weeks maximum.

Well that’s gone out of the window. The rule is still there but it’s unachievable and government seem to be quite wisely, not complaining about it, their tenure having seen a 38% increase in homelessness since they got in.

An investment opportunity?

The problem highlighted by the National Housing Federation is that councils have been beavering away procuring PRS properties to use as alternatives to B&B but suggests that come Universal Credit many families won’t be able to afford the rent on the more secure forms of temporary accommodation.

The good news is, if you have any spare cash, invest in a couple of B&Bs next year, you’ll be guaranteed a steady line of guests.

ChallengeHouse sale challenge

Swinging widely away from ill thought out strategies and the plight of the homeless I liked what I read on “What Sam saw today” a blog of a property developer. She has put a house up for sale with a high street agent and an online one to see which one comes out best all round.

If her online agents pull it off she will save £1,742.40, a sizable chunk of money but will she get the service? Time will tell. Keep an eye on the unfolding story on her blog.

An HMO tenant’s story

And finally I couldn’t go without highlighting HMO Landlady’s excellent interview with one of her tenants  Nadine, who is trying to get over cancer whilst living in a shared house full of strangers.

I really felt for Nadine when she said:-

”At this point I’d love to have my own place just to have that bit of serenity and calm and you don’t have to worry about who’s coming in and out of the house and if there are too many people drinking there’s going to be a fight.”

I shared for 5 years but it was with mates in a community, not strangers. You know how you feel when you just have a heavy cold and want to be left alone?, I can’t imagine how you cope with a serious illness in that kind of environment.

She’s lucky she has such a great landlord I suppose.

And there you have it. A bitty week news-wise, no great dramas but precious little good news either, just like last year and the year before.

I’ll let you know how filming progresses as my bum makes a bid for stardom in its own right as my head will most probably be unusable due to frequent bouts bad language.

Ben Reeve Lewis

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4 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #76

  1. Prisk! He’s as good as Shapps but after learning to speak from the Yes Minister Script Book! ‘Bold.’ Ha! Oh and please will Labour look at rents and letting agents? Please? We’d all vote for them.

  2. Boris johnson is doing a 3 month survey of tenants in London at the moment. It will be interesting to see what it throws up, although I doubt he will actually respond but the problems wil be out there for all to see……I’ll make sure of that ha

  3. Next year Smithy on BBC1 but I have also been filmed for a Panorama programme airing next month on the state of the nation’s housing.

    After that I’m taking over from Tess Daly co presenting strictly come dancing with Brucie haha



About the post author:

Ben Reeve-Lewis

Ben is an enforcement officer for a London Local Authority, a housing law trainer, an author on housing law who writes for the Guardian & occasionally pops up wittering away on TV. He also runs Easy Law Training with Tessa & Graeme. Occasionally he sleeps. Find him on Google, and Journalisted. Any opinions expressed are Ben's personal views & don't reflect those of any organisations he may refer to.

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