Traditional terraced properties in Greenwich on June 4, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour’s Help to Build scheme will succeed where the coalition has failed

By providing government guarantees to small construction firms we will kickstart housing supply. 

Today on a visit to a small builder in Kent, we outlined Labour’s proposal to boost small house-builders and help the next generation on to the property ladder. Our Help to Build scheme would underwrite bank loans to smaller housebuilders and unlock much-needed finance to get them building.

We’re in the midst of the biggest housing crisis in a generation. Families and young people are struggling to get on the property ladder. More and more people are living in the private rented sector which often doesn’t provide them the stability and peace of mind that they need. And if you’re on the waiting list for social housing then there are another 1.6 million households in the queue with you. The key driver of the crisis is that we’re simply not building enough homes. We're currently building less than half the number of homes we need to keep up with demand.

It’s true these housing pressures didn’t begin under this government - after all no government has built enough homes for 30 years. But things have certainly got much worse on this government’s watch. Under David Cameron, house building has fallen to its lowest levels in peacetime since the 1920s. Only today, we have learned that the government’s flagship housing policy, the New Homes Bonus, is redistributing money from some of the poorest Labour councils to the richest Tory and Lib Dem authorities, and is not delivering the homes communities need.

Labour can do better. We want more people to realise their dream of home ownership. But, unless we build more homes, property prices will rise further out of reach because supply cannot keep pace with demand. So today we are setting out our proposal to tackle the housing shortage by boosting small-builders by improving their access to finance.

Emerging findings from the Lyons Housing Commission, set up by Ed Miliband to deliver a roadmap to getting 200,000 homes a year built by 2020, show there is a need to increase diversity and competitiveness in the housing sector. Figures show that 25 years ago small builders were building two thirds of new homes. Now they're not even building a third of new homes. Over the same period, the number of firms building between one and 100 units has fallen from over 12,000 to fewer than 3,000.

What has caused this decline? The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) surveys of small house building firms have consistently shown that for these firms access to finance and land are the most significant barriers to growing their businesses and increasing the supply of new homes. In the FMB’s 2013 House Builder Survey, 60 per cent of house builder members cited access to finance as a major barrier to their ability to increase their output of new homes, more than any other factor.

That’s why earlier this year, Labour set out plans to increase access to land for SME builders. The next Labour government will require local authorities to include a higher proportion of small sites in their five year land supply. We will give guaranteed access to public land to smaller firms and custom builders. And we will guarantee that a proportion of the homes built in the next generation of new towns and garden cities will be built by smaller firms.

But we must do more. As Ed Balls said earlier this year, we need a Help to Build scheme that tackles the root cause of the credit crisis for SMEs. Our proposals would kickstart the supply of homes by providing government guarantees for bank lending to SME construction firms in a similar way to how the current Help to Buy scheme underwrites mortgages.

The Help to Buy scheme may increase access to mortgages but, when even Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, has warned about the risks to our economy of a lopsided housing market where housing demand hugely outstrips supply, it is clear the time is now right for a Help to Build scheme, using the strength of government guarantees to help increase the supply of affordable properties.

Labour’s Help to Build scheme will encourage small house-builders to deliver more homes, as well as stimulating the local economy and helping to prevent prices from spiralling ever further out of reach for young homebuyers. And we would lock in a series of stringent safeguards, such as a cap on the value of loans available for each development, to ensure the scheme is focussed on smaller builders, and the normal bank checks on construction firms' ability to repay.

This proposal alone will not solve the housing crisis. There is no one single proposal that can. That’s why our Housing Commission will report later this year, producing a roadmap of how we can reach our ambition of getting 200,000 homes a year built by 2020. But in the meantime, acting on this crucial issue will help get our small builders building again and it will begin to tackle the housing crisis which is leaving so many people without a decent home at a price they can afford.

Chris Leslie is shadow chief secretary to the Treasury; Emma Reynolds is shadow housing minister.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.