Focusing on the issues is so much better than personality politics …. sometimes

I agree with Craig (a variation of the theme ‘I agree with Nick’). Craig Turton, from time to time, criticises this blog for not dealing with the ‘isshoos’, as he says Tony Benn says it.

When, the other day, I posted on the protest camp in the Old Steine, I anticipated comment from the usual suspects, perhaps even from all four of my regular readers (Warren, Grizzly, Doris and Councillor Christopher), but there have been more comments than on any other post ever! Sadly, the tone of one or two comments reflect the intellectual calibre of those who leave comments on the Argus website (pond life). So I agree with Craig. This blog will focus more on issues (although I think many readers do enjoy the personality stuff as well!).

There are a number of pressing issues at the moment, many on a national scale. They are well covered elsewhere, although there is often a local dimension, such as the campaign to protect legal aid which is gathering pace. On the legal aid campaign, there is an excellent website and video and an online petition to sign.  I would encourage you to do so.  Even the Brighton Argus is taking up this issue, there is a strong editorial opposing the proposed cuts. Sometimes an issue such as this can gain momentum and could destabilise the reputations of MPs on the government benches, in our case, Simon Kirby and Mike Weatherley.

What are the other isshoos locally?  There is the Green Party agenda – housing, ‘ethical estate agents’, ‘Meat-free Mondays’, food recycling, ‘retrofitting’ homes (making them more environmentally sound, to you and me), the right to protest.  No doubt Paul Perrin of UKIP will find a reason to say these matters are a European/Green international conspiracy.  In all seriousness, having spoken to senior Greens, the economy of Brighton and Hove is an important issue, not least bringing in appropriate inward investment.  For too long, going back 20 years or more, the City has tried but failed to redevelop key sites in the City – Black Rock, Preston Barracks, the Municipal Market, the Open Market, etc.  There have been some successes, such as the New England Quarter, now in the heart of the Greens’ heartland of St Peters and North Laine.  But wouldn’t it be ironic if it was the Greens who achieved results on these long-neglected sites?

The biggest issue for the Greens, however, is how the cuts imposed by the Tory-led central government will be managed. What has impressed me (apart from Ben Duncan’s ill-advised comment on protests) has been the absence of big statements or initiatives that would be counter-productive.  The Greens would be wise if, as it appears, they are taking their time to set priorities and to come across as measured in how they are addressing the issues.  I hope that Craig agrees with me on this.

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44 Responses

  1. The issues are constantly revolving around the problem of housing, the amount of empty houses and the wasted land in our city.

    I actually started a group the other week to try and promote this issue, and we will be carrying it through over the summer holidays and hopefully over the next few years. (check it out at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Project-Brighton-and-Hove/121643917917971?ref=ts)

    From what I can see the sights that need most development fall within the St peter and north laine ward, and especially the old Astoria and the Royal Alexandra.

    The issue is there, and if the Greens can deal with this problem, and work with Project Brighton and Hove in order to fix the problem then I would even give this new local council my praise.

    However I am not impressed that I only got one response from one of MY green councillors (I live in SPNL).

  2. “There is the Green Party agenda – housing, ‘ethical estate agents’, ’Meat-free Mondays’, food recycling, ‘retrofitting’ homes” – whoa, hang on there BPB, the Greens don’t have exclusive ownership of these policies!

    Labour was comitted to food recycling collections in it’s 2011 manifesto, we had some decent policies on housing too (don’t forget it was Labour that brought in the 40% affordable principle to much Tory opposition) and we have plenty to say on retrofitting, sustainable energy generation and feed-in tariffs (introduced under Labour).

    And failiure to redevelop key sites? What about the Jubilee Library (yes, I know, PFI) and Churchill Square? As with them, it was a Labour administration that delivered the New England Quarter against, and correct me if I’m wrong, Green opposition. You could say that pushing ahead with key projects like the Marina, Black Rock, the Brighton Centre and the King Alfred cost Labour the 2007 elections, in part at least.

    Look back at the voting record of the Greens on some of those key projects when they came to planning or to committee/council, and you might find that on occasion they had something to do with things not going ahead….

  3. Say you are going to focus on the issues, then have an unjustified dig? Not very clever…

    Landfill tax was promoted in the EU by the Greens, and now the local Greens seek to avoid paying it and claim that it is a ‘saving’. That is simple fact if that is a ‘conspiracy’ in your eyes so be it – its your blog.

    The spanish reolution issue is an EU/Euro issue, again if commenting on that in an EU context is a ‘consipiracy’ in your eyes…

    On genuinely local issues I am not aware of having mentioned the EU at all – maybe you have been reading a different blog? Or maybe a certain bias/prejudice blinds you to comments I make that aren’t eu related and you are just seeing what you want to see.

    • Hi Paul, it wasn’t an “unjustified dig”, it was a bit of affectionate banter! Sorry if it offended. No offence intended. BPB

  4. Does the lack of initiatives and announcements not mean that the new intake of Councillors are simply swamped by their new roles and that, as in the finest traditions of Sir Humphrey, the officers are now running the show?

    In which case our more conservative (small c) residents can breathe a sigh of relief.

    • Woah, we’re only a month into the administration. Surely a bit soon to be proclaiming that its all over and the new intake of councillors have lost control!

      • I don’t think anyone is suggesting that it’s all over, but I do know councillors who are feeling swamped by their roles. Their response has been perfectly sensible – don’t try and do too much until you’re on top of your brief – and even then probably do as little as possible. This may not appeal to the more radical elements within the Green Party, but I’m sure that the majority of their supporters and opponents do not want to see radical gestures for the sake of it.

  5. Ishoos then:

    With only 14% of the population pensioners like me, B & H is very much a youthful city. This is borne out by having 40000 students( 1 in 6).

    Student housing is an ishoo-in that it reduces the stock of rentals avaliable to locals. I am Brighton born and my trainee probation officer daughter is in a poor privately rented flat off Lews Road and hasn’t a hope of anything better until her parents die and leave her enough for a decent deposit. More on campus housing would help as a palliative.

    Higher insistence on social housing provision in private schemes would help too but on a national level more much more social housing is needed. This was done postwar by successive Labour and Tory governments. The problem is only partly being cash strapped, it is also political will.

    The handouts to the near bankrupt banks has been bought very cheaply by them. More could have been done in requiring lending to responsible younger people for housing purposes.

    Housing has always been a particular problem here but it is more difficult than ever. A return to some form of controlled fair rents would diminish abuses and supply of rentals but free up stock for purchase and l lead to lower prices.
    I would like to see a two tier market for purchase in B & H- like Jersey’s. Only locals would be able to buy lower priced housing, with rest on a free marlet.

    Jobs and transport are other key ishoos but I feel that this post is long enough!

  6. I agree with Zombie, affordable housing is a real issue city wide. However, it is one that doesn’t have an easy fix. Prices have gone up way beyond average local salaries. This is in part because of the influx of Londoners looking for a better quality of life and cheaper mortgages. We need to ensure it is local people who benefit the most.

    The council needs to address two existing problems – the poor quality of the existing housing stock and the need for more family housing. Children need space and gardens – not “prestigious” blocks of flats in areas like New England Quarter.

    • Too true.
      Its quite staggering to see the amount of land that is available to be built upon. Naturally there will be problem with people who think Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) but in the end this has to be overcome. I saw stats that say 2.93% of houses in Brighton are unused. Thats insane!?

      Like I said earlier, Project Brighton and Hove will try to help get these homes back into use and turn old ruined sights into new community areas and houses. Caroline Penn is totally correct, children need many more things than just blocks of flats, they need courts to play, parks and hobbies! These things we severely lack on our estates and newbuilds

  7. Caroline and Zombie are right about the need for affordable housing particularly for ‘locals’ (though good luck with defining the criteria for being local – length of residence in excess of a decade or born and bred here?) as it is the #1 issue in my postbag. Zombie is also right about student housing putting pressure on the private rented sector. One of my personal ‘isshoos’ for the new Green administration is related to students.

    Between Brighton and Sussex universities we have one of the largest rates of post graduate student settlement anywhere outside of London but in a relatively small geographical area. This can be beneficial for employers (ie; a virtually permanent pool of highly educated workers) but can equally create problems (ie; competition from graduates leaves local people with few or no educational qualifications at a disadvantage even for jobs not requiring a degree. Without wishing to appear facetious, we probably have the most over qualified call centre workers and bar staff in England).

    What should we do? It’s mainly about attracting all types of employers who require a divese range of staff and skills sets to the City. Arguably the Council should be working harder to attract better quality jobs which are better paid and require high skills in order to lift those over-qualified post graduate call centre staff out of those roles allowing those with fewer qualifications the opportunity to gain those jobs which don’t require a degree.

    It’s also about addressing those in the older population with no or few qualifications with more targeted support to upskill them but also those young people who are NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) and have difficulty in competing for jobs. We desperately need more adult education in the City to address skills deficits amongst older people and we also need to introduce young people far earlier to the reality of the world of work. Skills development should reflect the current/future needs of business and there must be a closer relationship and better mapping between those responsible for the provision of education and employers. I think it was either the CBI or the IoD who recently expressed concerns that young people leaving education are ill-equipped to compete on a number of levels including problems with basic literacy/numeracy but also poor inter-personal, presentational and leadership skills.

    It would be unrealistic for anyone to expect B&HCC to sort this out by itself. However, it can and should be leading the process of change and acting as a catalyst with the Economic Partnership, FSB, the Chamber of Commerce, City College, the two universities, etc.

    • While the highly-skilled are also filling unskilled jobs, training up the unskilled won’t make any difference – they will just not be getting different jobs instead.

      Brighton needs more unskilled jobs, once people are working they can consider whether they want (or are capable) of skillng up.

      But if unskilled labour isn’t actually ‘worth’ the ‘living wage’ then the ‘living wage’ will keep them priced out of work altogether.

    • I agree that housing and jobs would be great issues to solve. Would be very difficult though.

      Are we seeing the birth of blue labour though with this idea they should be kept for “locals”. Don’t want any of those students stealing our houses and jobs…. Is student a code word for immigrants? Sounds like it to me.

      Why are students not locals??? We live here to.

      Besides Paul Perrin won’t like this but I’m pretty sure any policy to reserve things for “locals” would be illegal under European law. It certainly undermines one of the basic principles of a single market – free movement of labour.

      Both universities are planning on building more student housing. The Preston baracks are due to be developed by the University of Brighton into teaching space and new halls of residence. And the University of Sussex has almost finished building over a thousand new bedrooms ready for the next academic year.

      However, Sussex is planning on knocking down the oldest residences and re-building it which will mean over a thousand less rooms on campus whilst that goes on.

      Personally I don’t think regulation works very well, I’m continually screwed over by renting agencies that don’t follow the current regulations. I would like to see lots more housing coops in Brighton, then we don’t get the exploitation of private landlords. And surely thats what our local labour party should be calling for – after all they claim to be Labour and Cooperative (or is the coop bit just a trendy buzzword?)

      • No Allie. No one is using the word “local” or “student” to mean anything other than local or student. I think it is wrong to suggest otherwise.

        As far as I am aware, most students still return home in the summer and leave the city after the end of their degree.

        No one is suggesting that students shouldn’t be treated differently to other residents. However, the massive increase in student numbers over the last 10 years has not been without its issues.

      • OK. Maybe I’m being oversensitive about students, I read Zombie’s post as saying there should be a market for locals and a seperate market for others (including students) who can take the leftovers and then everyone else agreed with that, but maybe thats not what they meant. Sorry.

        But surely anyone that isn’t local is by definition an immigrant from outside the city? What else do you mean by non-local apart from people who have migrated to Brighton from somewhere else?

        I was going to make an argument that many students do want to stay in Brighton after they graduate but I don’t think thats the point. I don’t think its right to demonise students. Yes i would agree that the noise problems are the students fault and we need better systems for stopping inconsiderate noise. But the state of the houses is the landlords and agencies fault, they’re the ones pursuing profits at any means necessary. I’m sure most students would like to live in nicer houses but continually get ripped of by landlords.

        Thats why i think the answer is housing coops. I’m not sure how it would work in the student market as people don’t live in the houses for long enough but then I’m no expert on how coops work. I would like to see our Cooperative councillors (In both Labour and the Greens) looking at how we can get more housing coops going.

      • As far as I’m aware, a migrant is someone who moves to a new region, an immigrant is someone who moves country.

        I have nothing against students. I’m sure most of us here were students once. It’s wrong to blame them as you say for many of the issues that have arisen. While friends have had issues with student parties, a more responsible landlord (and better university liaison) should deal with that.

        However, I would disagree with your assertion regarding preferential treatment for locals. Often the most vulnerable people in society have to prove a connection with the an area before they can claim support. This is particularly true of homeless people. I know in Camden many rough sleepers are offered little support other than a train fare “home”.

        The fact remains that many local people are priced out of the housing market in the city. Without safe guards insuring these people benefit from affordable housing, many developments would end up as buy-to-let or worse, second homes.

  8. Craig- you are so right about the council working harder to bring better jobs. There is too much reliance on the public sector, Amex, call centres and hospitality.

    As for NEETs, truncating EMAs will certainly not help. Get these kids into college and you’ve a chance of interesting them in a career. As for overqualified call centre staff, I have a Phd student relation working in one and I think one problem there is a relative lack of career guidance and counselling when at Sussex Uni.

    Colleges are now taking 14plus kids to give practical experience of trades-a good Lab Govt initiative.
    Improving suplply of labour won’t offend supply-siders but it will do little good if demand for labour does not respond.

  9. Its curious that many people argue that expanding road capacity doesn’t solve congestion because demand will expand to consume it.

    But when it comes to housing they argue that expanding capacity will somehow solve the housing ‘congestion’ problem.

    Brighton has among the smallest average household size in the country – all those sitting rooms for 2, kitchens for 2, bathrooms for 2, halls for 2 etc…

    If locals are being displaced by rich incomers, it is the original local owner who made a huge profit by selling to them at high prices!

  10. Isn’t there a trend for houses and bungalows formerly occupied by retired people in Patcham and Hangleton to be bought by people with families?

    • Over the years, the sense of community has been eroded in Brighton & Hove. In part due to the need of many to commute to London due to the limited job opportunities in the city an high rental & house prices. The council needs to focus on encouraging commuters that Brighton can match the opportunities in London.

      It would be sad if families are being priced out of areas such as Hove, and moving to a “family ghetto” (for want of a better word). Diversity is what keeps this city so vibrant. New housing needs to cater for everyone.

      • I was highlighting a trend. I do not know that Patcham etc are “ghettos”. They seem rather jolly, and such buildings can contain more peopel than they have done. An improvement to evening buses is vital, though.

      • I think you have chosen to deliberately misunderstand my words Mr Hawtree.
        My point was, we want families able to afford to live in the whole of the city, not just specific areas such as Patcham. Jolly as they may be.

      • I am a commuter to London (writing this on the train!). I’d love to work in my home city (Brighton, obvs.) but I’d subject myself to a life of abject poverty. So it will never happen until the council starts pulling in big business. That should be the goal. Well done on the new Amex building and all that but let’s get the Brighton Centre and New England House sorted next or the city’s economy will disappear down the dunny quicker than a Lib Dem losing the last Lib Dem seat on the council.

  11. Chris – like you lots but isn’t it about time you stepped up to the plate and moved beyond these ocassionally amusing observations of village life with some hard policy analysis and intentions? Following Allie’s point about rip off private sector rental agencies, I’d be interested in whatyou would suggest to the Green administration as a proposal to regulate/curb current poor practice in this sector particularly as a large number of HMOs are in your ward.

    • Allie’s reply to a point above was made after my perfectly serious one about shifting demographies, and I am interested to see, from his post, about University of Sussex proposing to knock down original halls of residence. I was up there this afternoon to look at the latest ones proposed. Site visit.

      As for HMOs, which are perhaps distinct from halls of residence, these are very much on the mind. Central Hove is indeed a hive, a warren, so to speak, of them; and I was dismayed by a self appointed “security” man at one, with a wonderful staircase, on west side of The Drive who would not let me go from door to door within, and, as I lingered in the hallway, I heard him up above say to somebody else “I’m Labour, ha ha, bring back Gordon Brown”. Goodness knows what happened to the leaflets I left on the hallway table… But I tried. Thought of getting envelopes and addressing each one, but in that time could have got to another two hundred doors. I made every possible attempt to speak to as many people in such buildings as I could, and, when I could get in a building, was often asked inside individual places, such as the one at the bottom of The Drive on the east side at the junction with Church Road.

      I found a lot of interest in the flats above the shops of Victoria Terrace. And from somebody in a small flat, with child, next door to a multi millionaire.

      A particularly interesting aspect of Central for me was that the Green party did well there, in such a continually varied set of buildings; it is not the archetypal Green terrotiry of “mums in terraces”, and the same goes for the very good showing in Patcham: the Green vote now defies easy categorisation. And there were Central votes in what were thought Tory strongholds.

      For all the undeniable hardships with which some people have to contend, I have an abiding impression that there is an enjoyment of being in such a place, of being able to stroll by the sea, of being able to go out in an area where things happen, in which one can talk with others so much more readily than in many other towns.

      As for building, it has always been a puzzle to me that the “affordable” percentage in a development is by number of units not by floor space. That particualrly struck me in Avalon on West Street last year, where I found a Tory councillor’s son in the affordable section…

      • Sorry Mr. Hawtree, but you haven’t answered Craig’s question at all – amusing anecdotes of canvassing coupled with musings on the pleasures of seaside life do nothing to address the very real problems experienced in your ward (I know – I live next to it). There are countless young families stuck in cramped, unsuitable, converted flats, unable to make the move into proper family homes due to their phenomenal purchase prices and rents. To buy a 3 bedroom family home will cost well in excess of a quarter of a million pounds, while rents for such properties are generally over £1000 a month. What do you as a councillor intend to propose to help these people. What policies will the new administration implement to help remedy this problem, which exists pretty much citywide.

        We’ve had 5 years of a Tory-led administration and now have a soi-disant progressive one. It’s time that instead of encouraging ‘prestigous developments of one and two-bedroom luxury flats’ we start to see some action on a housing economy which is driving ordinary people, many of whom were born here, out of Brighton & Hove.

      • A few questions:

        What can the council actually do about empty residential properties? The figure Harrs mentions in the first comment way above is indeed outrageous, and from anecdote and personal observation it doesn’t sound to be way off the mark.

        At the moment council tax is (as I understand it) not payable on houses/flats for fully six months after they become empty. Is there any way that this could be reduced without central govt action? Seems to me that if anything, owners of empty properties ought to be paying more, not less or nothing.

        Similar story with second homes – at the moment these still attract a council house discount (correct me if I’m wrong). Why should the rest of us be subsidising the under use of precious housing stock? Is it within the council’s power to do anything about this or is it down to Eric ‘localism’ Pickles?

        On letting agencies: I haven’t rented myself for about 8 years, so can I ask if the main problems are still illegal ‘finding fees’ and retention of deposit for no good reason?

        If so, a council-backed ‘mystery shopper’ approach to the finding fee issue, followed up by high profile legal action against transgressors, could have a salutary effect. The deposit problem is larger – the idea of monies being held in some way that the agencies couldn’t simply swipe it has been floated. Not sure if the council could get involved without great expense though.

        Chris makes a decent point at the end of his post, though I have to point out that the Tory councillor’s son could easily be a) skint and b) not a Tory.

        That said, a lot of ‘affordable’ and rent/buy housing does get abused – got gazumped myself a few years back by a particularly nasty, profiteering estate agent.

      • I am certainly aware of the number of people with children in cramped conditions. I met many of them, as I described. And I have always boggled at previous adminsitrations’ insistence upon the number of “units” rather than places suitable for those with children.

        As I said in my post, and i am glad that Clive has picked up on this: a potential way of increasing available space is by making “affordables” a proportion of land space. If that could be achieved, it would be quite a step.

        Exactly how, and when, in Central Hove space can be found for family homes at an affordable price is a subject that would take more space than a blog post to formulate. But I take the cogent point about second homes: the seafront has many of these, along through Brunswick and into Regency.

        I see from the Plans list that there is a proposal to turn a couple of flats into a maisonete on Medina Terrace.

        It would be interesting to know whether people welcome a reversal of subdivision.

        Several times, however, I met people who were saying that they were looking at Peacehaven and Shoreham, and that did not appear to be in any spirit of bitterness.

  12. As a private tenant, with a young child, who receives some Housing Benefit, and with ref to Clive’s questions, here are some observations re landlords and letting agencies:

    Letting agents charge new tenants outrageous fees, usually many hundreds of pounds per property. These include for example a £50 fee for keys, plus hundreds for performing standard credit checks that only costs them a few pounds. All agencies charge these amounts, from the small agencies to the biggest and best known. The withholding of deposit issue has improved somewhat however, with the introduction of just the kind of independent deposit-holding body that Clive is talking about. (Of course agencies also charge the landlords themselves pretty outrageous amounts. I really have no idea why landlords go through an agency. If they have even a tiny amount of spare time and legal know-how they could easily do everything the agencies do themselves, probably much more efficiently, and save themselves thousands every year.)

    My second point is that it is very very hard to find agencies and landlords who accept Housing Benefit, even when tenants have multiple guarantors, credit checks etc etc. This is despite the fact that HB is now always paid directly to tenants, so there is no need for landlords to have any dealings with the benefit office themselves. Also, because of the very high rents in Brighton, anyone on a low (or even medium-low) income is likely to be eligible for at least some housing benefit, especially if they have children. However, to end this moan on a positive(ish) note, I would like to say that Brighton Housing Benefit Office in Priory House is really excellent, full of supportive and (usually) efficient staff. Unfortunately I really cannot say the same about my past experiences of the Jobcentre on Edward St. The general incompetence of the DWP, at every level, is staggering, and makes being unemployed an even more unpleasant experience than it already is. I’m just glad that I no longer have to deal with them. So, rant over, down with letting agents and the DWP, but hats off to Brighton Housing Benefit Office!

    • This is extremely informative. I shall see what steps can be taken, locally, over letting agencies’ practices.

      This evening, there has also been some discussion, informally, about the new Core Strategy, which will be known as a city plan.

      As for the University of Sussex halls of residence, at the Planning meeting, I raised the question of demolition of older blocks, which is indeed envisaged, and also the fact that the new blocks lack the very obvious solar panels. I was told that the CHP plant is deemed adequate to meet the eco standard, but I feel that is not good enough. After all, at a time when universities are strapped for cash, it is surely simple enough to use such a site for energy to be sold back to the supplier. I also raised the question of grey water, what with every room having shower etc. Had I thought, I could have also asked whether each occupant is on a meter… you can’t can’t cover everything.

      Of course, previous applications cannot be changed, but I should be interested to know what plans the University has to add any such thing as panels as technology advances. If anywhere should be doing so, and in such a setting, it is the University.

      • Councillor Hawtree, I believe your manifesto spoke about setting up an ‘ethical letting agency’. Could you provide more information?

    • Thanks for the info GD – good to know that the deposit issue has been tackled, at any rate.

      I remember being charged ‘key money’ and for credit checks and resenting it, though it was nothing like the kind of sums you mention. Presumably, unlike ‘finding fees’, these aren’t illegal (?) in which case the council can’t do a lot about it. Unless they set up a council-run agency that didn’t charge such fees, of course.

      Didn’t know HB was now paid direct to tenants either, though I reckon that could actually account for the landlord reluctance that you describe. Many would rather not deal directly with tenants, for whatever reason – maybe they feel they are less likely to suffer from non-payment problems with direct DSS contact, I don’t know.

      The same observation applies to your point about why most landlords choose to use agencies in spite of the sky-high fees. For whatever reason there is a great reluctance of people involved in property transactions of any sort to look each other in they eye, shake hands and agree on a deal. There has to be some kind of middleman involved.

      I find this odd, but I suppose it is down to the large sums of money involved and the strange things that this can do to people’s behaviour.

      • As is probably evident, I hadn’t read Chris’s and the blogger’s most recent posts before hitting send … glad the idea of an ethical agency has been floated already, hope something might come of it.

  13. I have asked about the Ethical Letting Agency. It is an attractive notion that would surely benefit both tenant and landlord. Hope to have more details anon. A friend who lets places, and does so herself, without agent, is frequently dismayed by the problems with which she has to contend, despite offering a good deal. Somethign that has always puzzled me is the assertion that everybody in Germany rents. So who owns the places they rent?

    • The Ethical Letting Agency is an attractive idea. Until you wake up with a hangover the next morning and actually think about it. To distort the local lettings market in such a way would almost certainly (if its terms and conditions were sufficiently better and fairer than those offered commercially to make it worth doing) result in the loss of well over a thousand jobs in the city as the private sector lettings agencies retrenched and failed. Not a good idea in the current state the country’s in.

      That’s not to say there isn’t a massive problem with lettings agency practises in the city – there certainly is. Regulation is the only answer, but even if suitable rules could be applied within the city, agencies outwith our borders would be unaffected – and it’s by no means unusual to see agencies from Worthing, Lewes, Eastbourne and so on letting properties in Brighton & Hove. So again we’re left with a market distortion which could result in job losses and would remove any notion of a level playing field.

      So really, although B & H has problems that are, if not unique, then undeniably of a different order of magnitude to most in the region, this is an issue which requires a national (or at the very least countywide) solution. Unfortunately the current government is unlikely to provide such regulation without considerable pressure, of the sort that only a united and confident opposition can provide. It’s up to those of us who are politically-active (and who are in influential positions within local government) to apply pressure upwards and galvanise those on the national stage to pay attention to an issue which, on current trends, will only get worse.

      By the way, lots of people do, indeed, rent in Germany. Swathes of property are owned by financial institutions who accept a slower ROI than they will in our business culture; but far more are owned by huge not-for-profit housing trusts and associations.

      • You think letting could be done more cheaply, but would rather it was kept expensive to protect jobs that aren’t ‘really’ needed (so creating private sector ‘non-jobs’!) and then add even more expense by adding more regulation? Gosh!

        The only new-money going ‘in’ to letting is from tenants – they ultimately pay for *everything* – you would deprive them of savings and add to their costs?

        How about do it as cheaply as possible, let the tenants keep a bit warmer, eat a bit better, smarted their property up (or just go to the pub more often), and let those ‘let go’ from their non-jobs find something wealth–creating to do with their time — including supplying other, new, genuinely needed/wanted services to the newly enriched tenants and landlords maybe?

  14. Well it’s very easy to be sanguine about people losing their jobs when it’s not your own livelihood that’s on the line, isn’t it?

    Public sector intervention to destroy private sector jobs seems a bit rum from someone who seems to be on the right.

    The jobs aren’t ‘non-jobs’ as at present there is a private sector demand which sustains them – a Council-run lettings agency would, as I said, be a distortion of the market taking advantage of the fact that there’s no real requirement on the public sector to make a profit. It seems that you brand any job you don’t like the sound of as a non-job, anyway.

    Look, I hold no brief for lettings agencies – I think they’re, for the most part, greedy parasites on a market which acts in direct opposition to the interests of its consumers. Those consumers are stuck with what they’ve got because there is no demand from landlords – who hold all the cards in this – for a different model. If that demand was there, there would already be privately-run ethical lettings agencies who, presumably, would triumph in competition over their rivals due to the improved deals they offered tenants. Hasn’t happened.

    Regulation, if it forced the removal of unfair credit-check fees and other sharp practise whould reduce costs, not increase them.

    • Just like tenants, landlords can only choose from the agencies available. Landlords will go the agent who can let the quickest (with reasonable service and costs) – it would be up to tenants to register with a new agency to get landlords interested.

      If the city currently requires (say) 1000 people to manage its lettings, how were you planning on running a new agency without any staff? Maybe there would be rather fewer job losses than you imagine?

      But my issue was not with the situation, but your acceptance that you would be content for tenants to pay over the odds to fund ‘unnecessary jobs’ (non-jobs) – jobs for people who the tenants have no particular responsiblity for. Even if you accept these non-jobs should exist, why should the burden for funding them fall on tenants?

      Anyway, lettings are rarely complicated, all that is needed is a national standard contract – that landlords and tenants could *choose* to use – being standard all issues could be sorted out by rapid and simple arbitration. The legal profession may not be too happy, but that is tough. No one is forced to do anything, no business (except the legal profession) is undermined or unfairly competed with – its all upside.

      So for a few thousand taxpayer pounds, lettings across the UK could be standardised. The whole process is simplified (and so cheaper for tenants/landlords), everyone knows what they are getting (no small print), disputes are resolved quickly and cheaply (cheaper for the taxpayer), Regardless of how small the state should be, it has 100% responsibility for ensuring legal agreements are honoured and doing so at minimum cost – the arbitration could be state funded, or there could be a ‘stamp duty’ on each contract to fund it.

      • There already exist boilerplate Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreements and it is these that are used by members of Landlords’ associations and so on (they also form the basis of most lettings-agency contracts).

        What’s being discussed here is the practice of various money-grabbing tactics by lettings agencies, taking advantage of the supply/demand imbalance in the private rental sector in B&H.

        It is usual, these days for a prospective tenant to be charged £200 or more to ‘register’ with the agency; a further £50-100 non-returnable credit check fee; a deposit equal to 6 weeks rent; a month’s rent in advance; often a further ‘security deposit’ of £200 or so; a ‘checking in’ fee and, at the end of the tenancy, a ‘checking out’ fee. Lettings agencies are also so well-known for retaining all or a portion of deposits over simple wear and tear that many tenants consider their deposits as forfeit even as they sign the tenancy agreement.

      • Tim,

        So there isn’t an approved/recommended ‘terms of service’ agreement for agents and prospective tenants – but could be. It could simply be created, promoted and then let the market choose.

        No public money or unfair competition – just freeing up a bit of the market that seems to have got into a rut. Free markets aren’t about doing anyone over they are about not artificially restricting people choice (tenants, agents and landlords) – its just a bit of grease on the wheels.

        For insurance (and landlord piece of mind) credit checks have to be done, property does get damaged (and its not unknown for the last months rent to go unpaid) so deposits are required, check in/out is required so the terms for the return of the deposit are set etc..

        And only *ONE* party has any money to pay for all of this – the (potential) tenant. both the agent and landlord only have the tenant to recover their costs from.

  15. I gather that the Green party has started talks with the Brighton Housing Trust which fields many complaints about letting agents. By enrolling some of the city’s bigger and more ethical landlords as customers, the aim is to provide a transparent agency with no hidden charges that gives a good service to tenants, many of whom are currently ripped off by unregulated letting agents. This would, as I previously suggested, also give more certainty to landlords. A form of mutual, one might say.

    Tenants who feel less fraught are, in turn, in a better position to work in ways that suit the general community.

    Why give place to the rogue middleman even if his shiny-suit practices count as “jobs”?

    • Priceless.

      You slate some lettings agencies, then in a single bound talk about working with ‘bigger and more ethical *landlords*’.

      So the relatively little local guys who have scraped together enough to own a property (or maybe two) which they let out to help supply Brightons demand for rental accommodation are cut of at the knees because a lazy council finds it less bother to deal with bigger commercial organisations with shareholders living goodness knows where.

      It is this kind of ignorant policy that destroys individual ambition and transfers wealth from the less well off locals (who just about make ends meet) to the mega-corps who pocket the profits off-shore and pay little or no tax. Remind me, which party do you represent?

    • So the Council is to use taxpayers’ money to pick and choose ‘ethical’ landlords to be represented by an agency which will, by its very nature, likely send many other commercial firms into bankruptcy.

      ‘Why give place to the rogue middleman even if his shiny-suit practices count as “jobs”?’

      We can agree on the undesirability of ‘shiny-suit practices’ and I’m sure that ‘rogue middlemen’ will easily find other ways to maintain their incomes. Can the same be said for those who type their letters, answer their phones, clean their offices, show tenants around flats and so on? Those are the jobs I worry about – ones held by ordinary men and women who happen to work for firms of which the new Council disapproves and will put out of business. It’s important to note that these firms aren’t engaged in illegal activity and they’re not (as they would if the problem was being engaged via regulation) being given a chance to comply with a new set of rules in order to stay in business. No, they’ll be faced with the sudden entrance of a large competitor enjoying huge benefits and no, or a greatly reduced requirement to make a profit. This is not joined up politics – it’s a quick and ill-thought out fix.

      I have to say that it worries me to see elected representatives on this blog thinking and writing in such simplistic terms.

  16. That is a hysterical reaction. The aim would be to provide an agency available to all.

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