“20% discount on your first home announces PM” reads the press release headline describing one of David Cameron and George Osborne’s latest moves to keep their mitts on the tiller of power.
Ostensibly it’s a new bold initiative to give a leg up to 100,000 wannabe first-time buyers. Desirable, you might think.
In reality we all know it’s yet another policy aimed at a key but unsettled element of the electorate to ease fears about their potential or the potential of their children to own a home. Devious, you might conclude.
It also smacks of recognition by Osborne that the housing numbers might not look quite as rosy as he’d like in the run up to voting. Worrying, I might suggest.
The plan has been wrapped up as part of a scheme to change planning rules in a way that will “unlock” more “under-used” or “unviable” brownfield land. The new homes will also have to meet a high bar on housing design. Now all that’ll be cheap.
Somehow it’s also linked to hardworking young (perhaps flatteringly defined as under 40 years old) people and the Government’s long-term economic plan.
The scheme, it appears, will mean 100,000 new homeowners being given a theoretical bunce of say £20,000 or so in housing equity they can’t release until a few years down the line. So boiling it down and tearing away the tinsel it might look to the more cynical like a £2 billion piece of Yuletide pre-electoral bribery.
I have to take a more generous view. I’m obliged to. I suggested a not dissimilar scheme in 2009 when house building was in freefall. It wasn’t as complicated, but I don’t have endless time to concoct marketing-friendly public policy. I suggested a more modest 20,000 “deserving” first-time buyers be given £10,000 to buy a new home. I admit it was a slightly flippant blog, but one that I hoped at the time contained a grain of an idea to provoke sensible thinking.
There is of course one major difference between this latest policy initiative and the idea outlined in the blog. Five years. Timing is all.
When I suggested the idea it could have preserved construction jobs, reduced unemployment and kept the fabric of the house building supply chain more intact.
I estimated then it would save the Treasury £20,000 a home sold despite paying out a £10,000 gift.
As seems so worryingly clear to me after penning the previous two blogs, the timing of this policy is like so many of Coalition creations in the housing market. They seem to arrive after the train has left the station. This rather suggests this Government recognises far too late where it should have been heading.
Anyway George, in case you or your advisors are reading this blog here’s a free policy idea for the Budget to support hardworking families and plumbers. 50% discount on kitchen sinks for everyone in marginal seats.
What have we come to?
ps I’m rubbish on keeping to house style, but I expect more craft from Government press release writers. So please be consistent with whether it’s hardworking or hard-working.