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Scandalicious – The man from the ministry who wasn’t

Andy ‘ship the poor out of London’ Gale has been in all kinds of trouble.

This year, the government cut Local Housing Allowance down from potentially covering the bottom 50% of rented properties so that now it only covers the bottom 30%.

It was a ‘demand-side’ solution, which they said was to lower the high Housing Benefit bill, and make poor families live in cheaper districts within their boroughs.

But those of us who rent our homes (instead of living in second homes where the taxpayer covers the mortgage IN ADDITION to our £50k salary) were already on the lookout for cheap rent deals within our boroughs, and you know what – there just aren’t many about. Many of us, including such radicals as Boris Johnson, before his reelection (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/apr/25/boris-johnson-kosovo-style-cleansing-poor), considered that maybe the effect of the Housing Benefit/ LHA reforms would be to ship the poor out of London.

But the government held their line and denied it. There were plenty of cheap properties, they said, but feckless scroungers were gaming the system, using their native cunning to get the taxpayer to fork out huge amounts – in some cases as much as an average rental price!

So when a Labour council in one of the most deprived parts of London, cash strapped after Tory local government cuts, was found seeking lettings for it’s homeless applicants 160 miles away (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/newham-council-accused-of-social-cleansing-after-attempts-to-move-poorest-families-7674939.html), then Housing Minister Grant Shapps criticised the council and issued specific guidance telling naughty councils NOT to cut costs this way.

And then he went on Radio Four to slag them off for it:

Mr Shapps insisted there was no legitimate reason for forcing families out of London, saying an internet search revealed almost 1000 empty homes within a five-mile radius of Newham that were available at rents within the benefit cap.

Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme “The system is still very generous and I think that Newham are perhaps playing politics, given that we are in an election season, by writing these letters out.

But where would this misguided council get such a crazy idea?

Certainly not from the DCLG, the government department with responsibility for housing issues. This erstwhile department had been trying to do the best it could in these hard-up times, pushing through ‘localism’ so that councils like this could make their own creative solutions to the housing crisis.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/nov/09/deserving-families-council-housing-priority

Then, in November, we got an answer. Housing blog Nearly Legal and the Guardian broke the story that a government adviser– from the DCLG, no less- had been advising councils (including Newham) that the new policies on finding homes for the homeless may, “For some authorities in London, inevitably mean looking for accommodation outside of their area,”. Andy Gale’s briefing to Newham and other councils is called “Localism Act: Ending the homelessness duty” and it’s about (can you guess what?) using the Localism Act to end the duty that councils have to homeless applicants for social housing.

(there’s a copy of his briefing paper online- http://nearlylegal.co.uk/blog/2012/11/homeless-legislation-a-thing-of-the-past/ )

It contains such kernels of wisdom as “removing the perverse incentive to become homeless …[by] ensuring that being accepted as homeless does not result in social housing“. We’ve all been there. You’re happily renting a perfectly good quality private let and one day, you think “Hmm, if I got myself kicked out of my flat, then I’d only have to spend a couple of short years homeless before I could manipulate Newham council into getting me a Housing Association place!”. BTW, just in case this does appeal to you, it’s not actually a couple of years of homelessness you need, it’s more like seven. But, nevertheless, the selfless logic of the DCLG is clear to see – by making councils deny social housing to homeless applicants, they’re actually reducing homelessness.

The many thousands of people being being made homeless due to LHA cuts, who Gale advises should be sent to live far away, will no doubt be grateful.

 Bang to rights, then?

The Tories lied, the DCLG lied. They knew the devastating effects their policies would have but pretended not to and did it anyway, parachuting in their own adviser to advise hard-up (due to DCLG cuts) councils to do their nasty business for them. Right?

Well, this is where it gets interesting – in the same way as they refuse to see the bleeding obvious effects that their cuts are having, the story as told so far seems to offend the DCLG’s internal logic, or rather that’s the only explanation I can see because if it wasn’t for what the DCLG did next, the story would have stayed within the rather dry realms of the housing-law world. They would have (near-as-dammit) gotten away with it.

Silly DCLG.

‘No, no, no’, they pouted, ‘Localism gives councils the choice. We wouldn’t tell councils what their austerity policies should be – we’re just giving them the freedom’.

But what of the DCLG advisor telling the councils how it’s gonna be?

‘Ah.’ say the DCLG, ‘”He has advised the Government in the past, but he is not employed or seconded by DCLG, and it’s not true that this advice reflects our views. This alleged advice was not paid for, or commissioned by, or given to DCLG

He has been told he should not present himself as a government advisor

Wow! Scandalicious indeed! Drop the boring ”government department actually quite right-wing” story – there’s a rogue government adviser on the loose, blagging his credentials to persuade London councils of his own warped plans to screw over the homeless!

Weirdly enough, while this fantasist is pursuing his one-man agenda, he’s also advising councils to provide the government political cover for their HB and homelessness services cuts.

(As Nearly Legal’s excellent blog describes it:

The paper advises local managers how to persuade local councillors to adopt the new homelessness powers, some of whom it suggests may be reluctant to use them. It urges officials to “avoid as far as possible the risk of the changes being used politically, leading to statements such as … ‘Isn’t this all about cuts and welfare reform?’ … [and] ‘Surely the homeless are in the greatest housing need?’)

Odd strategy for a one-man band, isn’t it? If he’s not employed by the government or DCLG, then why’s he trying to protect them from the flak from their cuts?

Well, obviously enough, despite DCLG’s denials, Andy Gale is indeed their man at Newham Town Hall. This Guardian journo unearthed the whole story:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/patrick-butler-cuts-blog/2012/nov/13/beyond-cynical-ministers-housing-benefit-cuts-homelessness

Turns out Andy Gale is paid using DCLG money given to Newham especially for the purpose of employing him, so that he can give Newham ‘independent’ advice on which particular creative solutions they should employ in response to the cuts and the Localism Act. Advice which is not really creative, but more like the only thing that Newham could do in the circumstances, given their lack of social housing and their decimated budget. But advice which DCLG could never legally suggest to Newham themselves, because it would be contradictory to the guidance that they publicly gave out. It’s all a bit Nineteen Eighty Four.

Kind of reminds me of the payments that Westminster council made in 2010 to the Met to secure extra police officers to enforce their policy of moving the street homeless on. Westminster paid for those police out of their housing budget. I’ll repeat that – Westminster paid for police to wake up and move on the homeless from their housing budget!

The new Housing minister has fessed up that Gale was paid from grant funding ‘to support the provision of advice on preventing homelessness’, so presumably his wages come from the ‘transitional funding’ which the government trumpeted as helping families hit by the LHA cuts. I’m sure those families see Andy’s £56,000 p.a. plus hotels as money well spent.

But it wasn’t the new Housing minister, whatever the nonentity’s name is, that came up with this scam. This happened on Grant Shapps’ watch. Who’d have thought it? The same Grant Shapps who’d been running a get-rich-quick pyramid scheme under an assumed name, until he got elected.

(Of course Mr. Shapps / Green is not involved in such spivvery nowadays – he’s transferred the business to his wife ‘Sebastian Fox’. Well, that’s alright, then!)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/sep/30/grant-shapps-alter-ego
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/sep/21/grant-shapps-posed-web-guru
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/sep/02/grant-shapps-google-howtocorp-adsense
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/oct/12/grant-shapps-parliament-michael-green
http://zelo-street.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/grant-shapps-montys-part-in-his-downfall.html

This is the same clumsy sleight of hand trick over and over again: “It’s not our advice! It’s ‘independent'” (but we paid a guy to say it our way)

“It’s their money, they can spend it how they like” (except it’s our (ie- taxpayers’) money and it was earmarked for helping the people we made homeless, not screwing them over further)

“The police do their job, and we, the Housing department, do ours” (except we commisioned the police to keep kicking the homeless out of their sleeping bags until they’re not in our borough anymore)

“That was my main home, but now it’s my second home” (now that I want to renovate it on expenses then  rent it out for profit)

And, of course “I’m not involved in a shady business like that” (…anymore – and of course, my wife and I don’t share finances, discuss our joint business at home, or anything like that).

It’s odd- ’cause when you don’t work for the government, those same people call stuff like that ‘fraud’.

Imagine telling the Jobcentre peeps that your partner, or even spouse, living with you is a totally separate person and their business has nothing to do with yours. It’s not going to fly.

But Shapps is not a Housing Minister anymore, so we can breathe a sigh of relief, right?

Well, almost. He was so good at his job, that he’s been promoted to Conservative Party chairman. Whose main job is.. um.. raising and accounting for donations to help them win the 2015 election.

A copy of Shapps’ ‘I Can Make You Rich Pack’ is the prize for the lucky reader to come up with the best ‘explain it all away’ statement for Shapps to use when his election-funding spivvery comes to light….

Answers in the comments, please!

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2 thoughts on “Scandalicious – The man from the ministry who wasn’t

  1. Why would the article mention Newham licensing? It’s not the author’s topic. Digs have certainly questioned the political motives of the Newham scheme, but it’s not the subject in question here.

  2. i can’t think of anything shapps could say – don’t think i can muster the bare-faced cheek, but i do want to say this is a cracking post! shame that won’t win me a copy of his wonderful and not-dodgy-at-all book.

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