Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Autumn statement: schools and housing not deemed infrastructure

Autumn Statements are about perceptions - and the perception that the Coalition seeks to address with today's grandiose National Infrastructure Plan is that the government is spending money on 'bricks and mortar.' 

A closer examination of the Plan reveals some re-announced schemes (especially transport, e.g. Camden Town and Holborn, and science, e.g. Francis Crick) and a series of private sector case-studies.  There is little on other aspects of infrastructure which will help to build a better economy - more homes, and better schools, historically where spending was vired from Whitehall through Town Halls up and down the country. 

Only a small section of the Plan discusses local investment (4.15-30).  No joy here - the minor Growing Places Fund help 'unlock' schemes with government loans only totaling £500m nationally. Meanwhile the lower 'project rate' for borrowing on the Public Loans Works Board is not available for London!

This is symptomatic.  The Fabian's Rob Tinker argues:  "During the course of the government’s fiscal consolidation there has been a significant shift away from investment in the future and towards spending on the present, particularly healthcare and social security. Whereas by 2017-18 the level of public spending is expected to be back at pre-crisis levels, gross capital investment below the average for the 1990s and 2000s."

Camden's New Financial Strategy discussed tonight at our Cabinet outlines just how far council budgets for future investment have been crippled - only 1% of Camden's current investment in schools and homes comes from central government.

In the past central government would fund out programmes through schemes such as Raising the Standard for housing and Building Schools for the Future.  Today councils are forced to do all the heavy lifting - and if you can't find the money, then tough.

Due to high land values and large landholdings purchased in the 1970s Camden has considerable fixed assets worth £2.8bn, mainly consisting of council housing land and schools. 

To develop and maintain these assets the Council has developed our own capital programme - known as the Community Investment Programme - of £1bn over the period 2013/14 to 2019/20 including £215m in 2013/14.    

In total we have over 100 projects which will improve and modernise:

- 53 schools
- Over 13,000 homes
- build 2750 new/replacement homes, of which over 40% will be council homes 

The funding for the programme comes from a variety of sources but remains heavily dependent on our own capital receipts (51%), revenue contributions from the Housing Revenue Account (23%) and new borrowing (14%).  

Today central government grants provide only 1% of total funding for our identified need and grants from the Greater London Authority only 5%.  How much further could Camden's self-financed scheme go, given that many projects are near 'shovel-ready', if we weren't starved of capital by central government? 

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