Harry Fone: A browse through Council contracts shows the extravagant spending continues

26 Aug

Harry Fone is the Grassroots Campaign Manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) frequently calls out wasteful foreign aid spending and we never have a shortage of examples. From “friendship benches” in Zimbabwe to a study of Latin American teenagers, millions of pounds go up in smoke every year. A common argument by those who defend overseas aid is that you can always cherry-pick profligate projects.

But I disagree. It shouldn’t be easy to find such examples because they shouldn’t exist in the first place. This brings me onto local authority spending. Despite many councils claiming there is no more fat left to trim from their budgets, one doesn’t have to delve too deep to find some juicy morsels. In what will be at least a two-part series I’ve put together a list of publicly tendered council contracts that are ripe for cutting to help put a stop to inflation-busting council tax rises.

Barnsley Borough Council is currently tendering a contract worth between £25,980 and £30,000 to buy 100 laptop computers which it will loan to European Social Fund (ESF) participants. If you’re not aware, the ESF “aims to improve employment opportunities in the European Union”. Now this may well be a remnant of Brexit that Britain still pays into but why Barnsley Council thinks this is a good use of local residents’ cash at a time like this is beyond me. Especially so considering that council tax increased by 3.4 per cent in Barnsley this year.

The TPA has previously called out so-called ‘Town Hall Pravdas’ – glossy council newsletters funded by council tax which are often nothing more than propaganda. Spending on these was bad enough before the pandemic but that hasn’t stopped Dorset council. The local authority offered a contract worth £225,000 for “the provision of a Residents’ Magazine Publication”. Dorset residents pay the second-highest Band D bill in the country at £2,223 – every penny of which should be going on statutory services not glorifying the council.

In this column, I’ve highlighted questionable spending by town and parish councils. My concern is that many are charging ever-greater precepts and becoming more grandiose in their ambitions. Leighton-Linslade Town Council in Bedfordshire is the latest example. It seeks suppliers to set up a “technology helpline” for those aged over 55 in the community. This is very noble but is it the role of a town council? Especially when the cost is upwards of £30,000. Add to that there are countless private sector organisations already providing training (often for free) and you have to question if this is good value for money.

This next area of spending is interesting to say the least. Both Doncaster and West Lancashire Borough Council have awarded contracts for “terrorism insurance” worth £80,000 and £13,038 respectively. I can’t be certain but I find it unlikely that councils were taking out this kind of cover, say, 25 years ago. Perhaps it’s a worrying sign of the times we live in. In this instance, I’m not saying this is outright wasteful spending either but I suspect many households would be more than a little annoyed to see their hard-earned taxes spent in this manner.

I’ll try and finish on a happier note, or perhaps that should be a ‘hoppier’ note? I’ve discovered that the Isle of Wight council plans to construct a “Brewery and Visitor Centre”. The contract doesn’t go into a huge amount of detail but we know that total value was £1.75 million for “the construction of a steel-framed structure to provide a Brewery facility incorporating a visitor centre, staff offices and storage warehouse.” Begging the question, why is the IoW council building a brewery? Given many councils have a poor track record when it comes to commercial investments one wonders if the council will be able to organise the proverbial in a brewery or will things fizz out?

This is just the tip of the iceberg, so far I’ve only scoured a small percentage of the thousands of contracts put out to tender by councils. In my next column I’ll show you even more wasteful contracts. At a time when the public finances are in dire straits, every penny of taxpayers’ cash matters. Councils can’t afford to waste a single penny. So if you’re concerned about your council’s spending I implore you to join me in this quest to root out waste. Do drop me an email with your findings.

Donna Jones: Red tape is thwarting the efforts of the police to fight crime

13 Aug

Donna Jones is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

From meeting officers at stations across the patch, to getting an understanding of how the Hampshire-based Criminal Records Office functions, I have learnt a great deal about how policing and the criminal justice system functions, both on paper and in practice.

A well-functioning system requires support from partners such as from the NHS and local authorities to manage those people who commit crimes but do not belong in prison. It also requires sensible policies from the Home Office. In this respect unfortunately we have a mixed bag.

There are plenty of good initiatives coming down from Whitehall, such as the Safer Streets Fund and the Violence Reduction Unit programme, both of which provide extra money for targeted action against local crime hotspots. I welcome these and wish to see them expanded.

On the flipside, there are some initiatives out there that have the effect of diluting the fight against crime by wasting officer time on form fillings and meeting targets. One of the worst is the Crime Data Integrity (CDI) measure. Like so many bad ideas, this one started off full of good intentions and it sounds seductively reasonable: to make sure every crime is recorded.

The idea is simply that every crime the police are made aware of must be recorded – and who could object to that? On the face of it, no-one could. So perhaps it is unsurprising that when Theresa May brought this policy in during 2014, most people were supportive.

However, in the same way that Tony Blair’s four-hour target for Emergency Department treatment in hospitals just resulted in doctors prioritising treatment on the basis of who was nearest to (but not over) the four-hour limit rather than on medical need – so recording every crime results in vast amounts of red tape but does not lead to a single extra conviction.

When people call 999 or when witnesses are interviewed, they want to talk about the big thing that has happened to them. Were someone to break into your house and attack you, you’d want to talk about that rather than how the perpetrator damaged your car door mirror or garden gate on the way out. Moreover, any police investigation would focus on the important crimes and so would the criminal case. Were the defence to establish reasonable doubt in the break-in case, the broken gate case would fall automatically.

Recording all this results in a lot of extra work. Call handlers have to check and double-check that they have not missed anything. All reports have to be written up and handed over to an investigating officer, again at a cost in time. The constabulary has people whose entire job is to listen to old 999 calls to scan for any side issues that may have been missed. In due course, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate will request recordings of a sample of the calls received and will calculate how many crimes have been missed. Fall below the target and there will be trouble.

Sometimes this reaches absurd proportions. If a police officer enters a home and a small boy says ‘my brother hit me with his Lego toy’, this now has to be recorded as a crime – even though the alleged perpetrator may be beneath the age of criminal responsibility and the ‘crime’ is just a normal part of childhood. How does this serve the interests of justice?

Of course, the police should record every victim – and they do – but recording additional minor crimes that are not going to be investigated separately from the main incident and are not going to result in a summons is a waste of resources.

Police forces up and down the country are short of detectives. The Home Office needs to recognise that the more time they spend on paperwork, the less time they will have to spend on their real jobs of actually catching criminals.

Individual forces cannot change these policies, but collectively Police and Crime Commissioners have a voice. Some of the failings in policing are local and I will work to fix those that I find in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Some though are national and I intend to use my role as a platform for speaking out when things are not working out, however good the original Westminster intention may have been.

Bob Seely: The Government’s current approach to housing needs intelligent, sensitive reforms – not a complete overhaul

5 Jun

Bob Seely is the MP for the Isle of Wight.

I always enjoy reading Henry Hill’s articles, but I take issue with his ideas on housing. I’d like to put another side to this argument, as it’s important to the future of millions of people and this Conservative government. Rather than the developers’ charter which is, we fear, what will be proposed in upcoming reforms, we need a community-led, environment-led and levelling-up lead approach to housing.

First, though, let’s agree what we agree on. Housing is a divisive and political issue. It is clear that we need to help the young without alienating the old. Henry rightly points out that, concisely put, older people tend to be homeowners and vote Tory, while younger people rent and don’t vote Tory. We agree that Tories need to be the party of the homeowners and the more we create, the better for us; all agreed.

In addition, Tory MPs are sympathetic to Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State’s, aims. However, I – and others – feel Jenrick and his minsters have not made the case as to why we need to scrap the current approach, rather than intelligently and sensitively reform it. The system is, like any, imperfect, but we know its flaws and we would be more likely to achieve our aims through reform.

But over and above that, there are a series of ideas being championed that are – at best – questionable.

For example, Henry says: more and cheaper housing “scares off existing Conservative voters.” Sorry, but this is just wrong. What scares voters is not sensitively built, small-scale housing projects with a decent affordable element (for their kids) which add positively to existing communities, but environmentally destructive, unsustainable, mass-produced, large-scale, low quality, low density, car dependent, greenfield housing estates that despoil the areas they are built on. Oh, and which run a coach and horses through the Government carbon targets and environmental plans too.

Behind much supposed Government briefing is the lazy argument that we are not building. That is not true. For sure, the UK has historically struggled, but last year we built a quarter of a million properties, the best for nearly 35 years. If Boris Johnson’s target – which, by the way, is completely arbitrary – had been 250,000 rather than 300,000 homes a year, we would already be on target. The claim that we must change the system to start to build the houses we are not building is false.

Indeed, so efficient has the planning system been that the big developers are sitting on one million unused permissions. This begs the question: if the fault is with the planners or the developers who “landbank” permissions to restrict supply and inflate price? Rather than giving developers even more land and even less scrutiny, why don’t we reform the system to make sure developers keep their promises?

Henry argues: “Some of the arguments advanced by the Conservative rear-guard have indeed been breathtakingly disingenuous,” such as more housing in the South equals a betrayal of levelling-up. I see where he is going with this argument, but I don’t buy it. The purpose of levelling up is to reorientate development outside the South East. The Government has said that housing will be pump-primed with infrastructure funding; ergo: the more infrastructure projects in the South, the less in the Red Wall. One can’t spend the same money twice, all the time, as we are beginning to find out. Am I missing something?

Henry then argues, bizarrely, that “mass housebuilding isn’t part of the economic interventions needs to succeed.” That’s one hell of an assumption! So Levelling Up doesn’t need more housing? Clearly Henry hasn’t talked to the same Red Wall MPs I do. More economic development outside the South East will require more people and more homes. Again, am I missing something?

In addition, I am utterly fed up of hearing how places like the Isle of Wight must build more. For the record; in the last 50 years, the Island has increased its population by 50,000 – 50 percent. In the meantime a dozen midland and northern cities have seen absolute declines in population. Meantime, we continue to export our young people as housing is not build for Islanders!  We now face overdevelopment. This will kill our economy, much of which is visitor-dependent, and damage our quality of life. If there is one thing guaranteed to feed anger from so-called ordinary folks is the casual dismissal of concerns of overdevelopment by the Westminster commentariat.

We care about planning because we care about our environment, our people and our communities.  In a place like the Isle of Wight, that means building houses which are genuinely affordable (so yes, Council or Housing Association), in sensitive numbers, in a local style, in existing communities, for our local people and with their support. Post Covid, that also means using housing to revive our towns. Yet, the development that developers want; low density, four-bed, retiree cash purchase, has absolutely nothing to do with that vision or our need.  And a developer-led system will make that worse. A developers’ charters will not help to build for generation rent, nor will it help Islanders.

Finally, Henry warns of a NIMBY backlash, yet another slur on NIMBYs that makes me think this is not an accident but a theme being encouraged. This is foolish and bad politics. Rather than see NIMBYs as a latter day Zombie army of the planning undead, which is clearly how the debate is being tediously framed, one could instead see them by their other name: Conservative voters.

Anyone – anyone – who has dealt in any way with formulating local plans will know that many of these so-called dreaded NIMBYs have participated and often led the development of local plans that recognise the need for housing, but distinguish between the development their communities – and kids – need and the developments they don’t: faceless, greenfield estates built by developers whose approach is, literally, thoughtless.

Henry is clearly a student of politics. Implicit in plans as currently understood is the removal of a significant layer of local democracy and local input from the planning process. I hope this changes, but if not, these threaten to give Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens throughout England a rallying cry: Save local democracy from the Tories and their developer chums. We will haemorrhage council seats and support across England. Good politics? I think not.

Conservatives backbenchers are brimming with good ideas to reform intelligently the planning system; changing it to a community-led, environment-led and levelling-up approach. What we are against is dumping on our own voters and our communities to wave through a developer-led system which, many fear, threatens even more land-banking and even less scrupulousness in how developers treat or engage with communities.

Chris Whitehouse: Don’t extrapolate too much from the Isle of Wight local election results

18 May

Chris Whitehouse leads his lobbying agency, Whitehouse Communications, and is a former Cabinet Secretary of the Isle of Wight Council.

In his recent article, Henry Hill rightly highlighted some of the more worrying trends in the South East – exposed by a rigorous examination of some of the local government election results. The Cassandra-like tone of Henry’s analysis should indeed raise a few alarms with the Conservative Party big-wigs, but, on one detail, I suggest a different take.

It is true that the Conservatives on the Isle of Wight lost what was a comfortable majority (holding 25 of 40) seats to end up with no overall control (18 Conservatives out of 39 seats), but the result was much more worrying for Labour and the Liberal Democrats than the Conservatives.

Labour has now only one councillor. The same goes for the Liberal Democrats. The rest are a hotchpotch of: Independents – 13, Greens – two, Island Independents  – two, Our Island – one, and Vectis (former UKIP) – one.

As I have written previously, politics on the Isle of Wight is visceral. It is conducted in a gold-fish bowl of media attention with several local radio stations, weekly newspapers, and online sites reporting every word and sneeze of the more prominent councillors with an obsessiveness that is hard to believe. These news outlets rely on the councillors, and their opposition candidates, to fill page after page in print and online. There’s no hiding place.

The Island also has 33 parish and town councils, ensuring that there is a forum in every town and village for grievances to be aired, quotable comments to be made, and misunderstandings (fake news!) to be promulgated.

That’s no excuse for failing to deliver a Conservative majority on the Council, but if we dig deeper, the real reason is tactical voting on a scale that is unlikely to work in many areas. Indeed, it’s pretty unprecedented in my four decades of doorstep campaigning.

For example, Dave Stewart, the Conservative Group Leader, who lost his own seat, was not at all unpopular locally or across the Island. The issue for him was that Labour, the Lib Dems, and the hotchpotch of independents did not field candidates in his ward, leaving the Green candidate to hoover up any and all anti-Conservative votes. We all dream as campaigners of “decapitation strategies”. But in most cases they are pure fantasy. Yet, the Island electorate and political networks have a brutal record, having removed the then Conservative Leader, David Pugh, back in 2013, and taken the Conservative majority away; and they then took the scalp of the Independent Council Leader through the ballot box in 2017.

This time, in another ward, Cowes North, only Labour fielded a candidate against the Conservative; and, again, the anti-Conservative vote was unified, and thus the Conservative candidate was defeated.

Freshwater South cost another Conservative scalp – there was only one, independent, candidate against him.

Of course, several of the so-called “independents” are nothing of the sort, but they keep their former Liberal Democrat and Labour party membership cards out of sight because that would make them unelectable.

What’s more, there were boundary changes on the Island, using the current map for the first time.

In terms of issues, the chain ferry across the River Medina has cost what to Islanders seems like a fortune, but has, since being brought into service on the Conservative watch, been intermittently out of action, impacting particularly East Cowes residents and businesses. So, it’s hardly surprising that an outspoken local independent candidate was able to shovel in the protest votes, having clearly forgotten to highlight the fact that the demonstrably unsuitable vessel was commissioned by a previous Independent administration.

I won’t bore readers with a detailed examination of all 39 wards, but you get the picture? It’s hard to imagine any other area that would permit such tactical agreements between parties and independents, that would be so obsessively covered by the local media, in which what would otherwise be minor issues get blown out of all proportion, and where the responsibility for such mistakes lies is soon forgotten in the hurly burly.

Whatever the picture elsewhere, the results on the Isle of Wight are hardly a cause for optimism for Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour or Sir Ed Davey’s Lib Dems. Watch out for the Greens, though; they are full of energy and know both how to mobilise younger voters who don’t normally bother with local elections, and how to deploy their resources with targeted precision.

As one of the former team of former Conservative Leader, Dave Stewart, I can only say that in 40 years of political engagement, I have never seen his commitment to the local community bettered anywhere else. He took the Conservative team from opposition into control as a minority administration, and then from that platform to control in the ensuing election. I salute his period in office and observe that the Island’s loss, will be Cunard’s gain!

Chris Whitehouse: Councillor allowances should go up, not down

1 Jan

Chris Whitehouse leads the team at his public affairs agency, The Whitehouse Consultancy, and previously served on South Bucks District Council and the Isle of Wight Council.

As an instinctive supporter of the initiatives of the Taxpayer’s Alliance, I was perturbed by the argument put forward by Harry Fone, the Alliance’s Grassroots Campaign Manager, that councillors’ allowances should be cut to reduce their annual cost of £255 million. This is short-sighted and would be completely counter-productive.

First, I am staggered that the total cost of such allowances is as low as £255 million to fund the thousands of individuals who give up their time to serve their local communities. If the sums in question were broken down over hours served, the rate for most councillors would be demonstrably insulting.

Second, Fone is identifying a problem correctly, namely that despite the generally altruistic desire to serve in public office, the current arrangements, in some areas, are not attracting candidates of the right calibre properly to set strategic objectives and to hold senior management to account for producing and implementing strategies to achieve them.

Third, for all local government’s moans about government interference and control, the reality is that councillors today, particularly during the pandemic, are in some cases taking decisions which impact directly on the life chances and the quality of life of thousands of their residents. Nothing has impressed me more than the way in which some of our councillor colleagues have stepped up to provide real leadership to their communities, to drive forward new school, public health, and social care strategies; to think outside the box about practical changes to policies that will help local economies and reconfigure services rapidly to meet their local need.

Even in good times, the relevant cabinet portfolio holders may have to make individual decisions of huge impact and importance: to close a school, to reorganise a service, to set budgets, to recruit senior officers, to close a care home and rehouse the residents. The responsibility is huge, and I have seen it weigh heavily on colleagues under pressure, and indeed on me when, for example, I found myself Children’s Services Portfolio Holder as an Academy Trust announced the closure of one of our local high schools on the morning of the elections to the council.

Very few councillors will ever have had to take such important decisions in their personal or professional lives – and council Cabinet Members certainly shoulder more responsibility than any backbench Member of Parliament – and I should know having worked in Westminster for nearly 40 years. Put simply, MPs have influence on government and law (a little) but local government makes decisions, day in, day out.

Let me be clear, I also served in local government for many years as both a district councillor in South Bucks and, more recently, as a member of the Isle Wight Council, which is similar to a unitary authority, but with a few shared arrangements with Hampshire. During my service on both councils, I never claimed any expenses, declined special responsibility allowances, and each year donated my basic allowance to local charities and voluntary organisations. I was happy to do so, because I could afford to at the time. But in most cases, the allowances really are paltry and are not the motivation of most councillors – of all political parties and none.

Take that allowance away and the practical consequence is the disbarring from public office of whole sections of the population, particularly carers and single parents, and those whose income ties them to a business or job with no flexibility. In short, the role starts to make sense only for those who no longer have to work, draw a pension, and have no caring or home-making responsibilities.

Do the Taxpayer’s Alliance really want councillors to be a self-selecting bunch of largely retired, white men? Because that’s what they will get if allowances do not attract individuals of calibre, of motivation, and of decision-making experience.

Tinkering with already modest, in some cases derisory, allowances will merely exacerbate the situation that in some areas we are already missing the input of younger talented individuals from a wider range of backgrounds, who can be trusted with their hands on the levers of power – for there really is power in local government.

No, we need to approach this from the other end. Given the huge, and growing, responsibilities of local government, and the pressure on and accountability of its cabinet members, what do we as a party need to do to ensure we are attracting and fielding the right candidates who can deliver effective and efficient services to our local communities? Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick, needs to set local government free to reinvent itself for its local communities after the pandemic, and encourage them to make their own decisions, for which they are accountable to their local electorate, about how best to recruit, retain, and motivate candidates of the highest possible calibre.

Bob Seely: The Government must urgently re-assess its misguided housebuilding strategy

11 Sep

Bob Seely is the MP for the Isle of Wight.

Across rural shires and southern England, the Government is set to impose unachievable and damaging house-building targets which will undermine the levelling up agenda.

Environmentally, they will heap pressure on shires, whose infrastructure is already under strain. Economically, they will reinforce jobs and growth in the South when we have promised to level up the North. Politically, they will prove deeply unpopular.

This latest piece of self-induced, foot-shooting has come in the form of the new Standard Method for house-building. It accompanies the Government’s White Paper on housing, Planning for the Future. Whilst the White Paper itself will face debate and potential amendments, the new Standard Method can apparently simply be adopted. It will damage this Government.

MPs and councillors across Britain are slowly waking up to this. Ministers belatedly claim to be listening; they need to.

If ‘levelling up’ means anything, it means an integrated Government plan to support infrastructure, job creation and house building to revive the Midlands and North, especially towns overlooked in recent decades, and to stop the endless drift of jobs and people to the South. Yet this housing  strategy, as Neil O’Brien has outlined in his well-researched article, results in much lower targets in Northern cities, where we should be kickstarting revival, and significantly higher targets in rural and suburban areas.

This disjointed policy demands significant greenfield development. I know not a single Tory voter in the last election who voted for this. If this is an example of co-ordinated Government, it is a well disguised one.

The 12 biggest absolute decreases in housing targets by local planning authority on 2018/19 delivery are generally Labour controlled Midlands and northern cities and towns, with few exceptions: Salford (-59 per cent, -1882 dwellings per annum (dpa)), Birmingham (-27 per cent, -1131 dpa), Liverpool (-48 per cent, -1063 dpa), Leeds (-30 per cent, -1040 dpa), Southampton (-48 per cent, -784 dpa), Newcastle upon Tyne (-56 per cent, -978 dpa), Manchester (-30 per cent, -699 dpa), and Nottingham (-38 per cent, -559 dpa).

Instead, rural and suburban England is going to be hit. This will alienate both millions of Conservative voters and thousands of Conservative Councillors. Moreover, the withdrawal of powers from local Government suggested in the White Paper will undermine local democracy and the important role of councillors.

Council colleagues should know the following local planning authorities will all be required to more than double their 2018/19 delivery rate. This is likely to result in a tsunami of local anger from those who believed they could trust a Conservative Government not to concrete the countryside. It will fire up our political opponents and may suppress our support in future elections, beginning next May. Here is a modest selection, with hyperlinks:

Arun in Sussex (+239 per cent, +1454 dwellings per annum – dpa), Thurrock (+263 per cent, +1075 dpa), Tonbridge and Malling (+241 per cent, +1018 dpa), North Somerset (+134 per cent, +979 dpa), Teignbridge (+138 per cent, +888 dpa), Dover (+187 per cent, +833 dpa), Southend on Sea (+169 per cent, +832 dpa), Swale in Kent (+120 per cent, +809 dpa), Thanet (+246 per cent, +727 dpa), Havant (+261 per cent, +696 dpa), Isle of Wight (+199 per cent, +695 dpa), Canterbury (+162 per cent, +695 dpa),  Somerset West and Taunton (+129 per cent, +694 dpa), Blaby (+120 per cent, +626 dpa), Shepway (+134 per cent, +597 dpa), Basildon (+141 per cent, +480 dpa), Worthing (+198 per cent, +579 dpa) Sevenoaks (+222 per cent, +565 dpa), Reigate and Banstead (+104 per cent, +556 dpa), Mendip (+108 per cent, +552 dpa), Ashfield (+171 per cent, +513 dpa), Harborough (+170 per cent, +509 dpa) Waverley (+148 per cent, +499 dpa), Bromsgrove (+244 per cent, +492 dpa), Hinckley and Bosworth (+109 per cent, +464 dpa), Fenland (+114 per cent, +450 dpa), Lewes (+126 per cent, +446 dpa), Epping Forest (+104 per cent, +442 dpa), Epsom and Ewell (+266 per cent, +439 dpa), Three Rivers (+292 per cent, +438 dpa), Oxford (+262 per cent, +406 dpa), North Hertfordshire (+181 per cent, +403 dpa), Guildford (+208 per cent, +381 dpa), New Forest (+102 per cent, +395 dpa), Eastbourne (+274 per cent, +356 dpa), Cannock Chase (+146 per cent, +341 dpa), Forest of Dean (+125 per cent, +338 dpa), Rochford (+124 per cent, +324 dpa), Tandridge (+118 per cent, +289 dpa), Broxtowe (+128 per cent, +275 dpa), Hastings (+146 per cent, +269 dpa), Gosport (+461 per cent, +254 dpa), North East Derbyshire (+121 per cent, +230 dpa), Adur in Sussex (+188 per cent, +213), Oadby and Wigston (+132 per cent, +123 dpa), and Rossendale (+153 per cent, +164 dpa).

(A full list is available here.)

Take my constituency, the Isle of Wight; the proposals will see our target increased by over 50 per cent. Half the Island is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, yet we will be ordered to build more houses per year than either Portsmouth or Southampton, both cities with major infrastructure and services, and populations almost 70 per cent larger. This is just nonsense.

Why? First, our services and infrastructure are already overwhelmed with the increases we have already had. We have basically the same Victorian country lanes we had two centuries ago, minus most of our railways. Second, we are dependent on a tourism economy that crammed roads and shoe-horned housing estates will undermine. Third, our island building industry produces between 250-400 homes per year. It can’t build more. Our current targets are already unachievable. The Government might as well order the Island’s Council to develop a Moon Landing programme for all the likelihood of achieving these new targets.

It won’t help our young, either. Increasing in housebuilding do not necessarily result in increased affordability. (The FT explains why here.) Factors such as low interest rates, slow wage growth, and a need for the right type of homes are key. As with many other parts of the UK, we need one and two bed homes for residents, built in sensitive numbers in existing communities, with rent-to-buy schemes to support the young. We get three- and four-bed, generic (sorry, ‘superior’) housing in soul-destroying, low density, greenfield estates because that is what suits developers. From all sides of the political spectrum, people are fed up.

The Government’s Standard Method produces unviable, undesirable targets for swathes of rural England. What is being proposed is not levelling up, but a levelling down – from the cities to the shires. It will cost us economically, environmentally and politically. It will not help young people. It will worsen quality of life. It is not what many of our electorates voted for.