The Roundup from Hough Bellis Communications - June 2024

Hi everyone,

This time in three weeks, it’ll all be over and we’ll know who our Prime Minister will be.

But what will the parties actually do if they win? Our MD Bobbie was in the room in Manchester as Keir Starmer unveiled his manifesto and chatted to the great and the good to gauge how it went down among the party.

We’ve studied the speeches and picked through the manifesto documents, so you don’t have to. While there is plenty that we still don’t know – including the order in which anything will actually be done – we now have a much better idea about what we can expect for the next five years.

As ever, if you have any questions or want to pick our brains on anything below, please drop us a line and we’ll do all that we can to help.

Take care and speak soon,
Ben, Bobbie, Els, Will and the Hough Bellis team

P.s. Because we love this stuff, we’re also working with our friends across housing again later this year to make sure the sector is represented at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool.

Any organisations who would like to get involved can drop us a line to talk about our plans. Slots do fill up very quickly though so let us know asap if you’d like to get involved at hello@houghbellis.co.uk

How is the campaign going?
It remains a two-horse race, but one of the horses has got lost, left the racetrack and is currently wandering around an industrial estate somewhere near Swindon. In truth, if it was all but certain at the start of the campaign that Keir Starmer would be the next Prime Minister, any lingering doubt seems to have been removed.

The re-emergence of Nigel Farage has led to serious talk that the Conservatives might face a complete wipeout leaving the Lib Dems as the official opposition after the election. Conservative ads are now warning of this very possibility in a desperate attempt to convince their remaining 17 voters to stay on side.

It’s been genuinely extraordinary to consider that Rishi Sunak chose to have this election now, on purpose.

My personal hunch is that the polls are overblowing things slightly and while we will still see a Labour majority, it wont be quite on the scale predicted. But I’ve also been wrong many many times before!

Labour’s manifesto launch
We were chuffed to have been invited to co-op HQ in Manchester as Labour unveiled their “pro-growth, pro-business, pro-worker” manifesto. We can confirm that the optimism and expectation in the room was as palpable as you would expect from a party that has spent 14 years away from power.

We’ve been working hard both behind and… in front of the scenes to campaign on behalf of the sector for a much more progressive set of policies on housing. While there are some notable omissions and big questions about how things will be delivered, our view is that there is plenty to be pleased with.

Starmer’s speech was teed up by Daniel, who rents a one-bedroom flat along with his partner and two children. He spoke emotively about the very real impact of the housing crisis and looked to Labour to provide the change that he desperately needs.

After being largely absent from Labour’s missions, first steps and major speeches, housing finally got some attention in the manifesto – but what does it say?

What will Labour do on housing?

  • Build 1.5 million new homes over the course of the next parliament – an average of 300k each year. This would be a massive change from recent years, with the number of new home completions currently languishing at half that rate. They tell us that the key to unlocking this will be a comprehensive reform of the planning system. This all sounds good, but the tensions will become very real once local communities see the planning applications go in.
  • There is reference to the “biggest increase in social and affordable housebuilding in a generation,” which is great, but there is a real lack of clarity about how this will be delivered or funded. To see building new social homes actually mentioned is really welcome – but we’ll need to see much more detail before we get our hopes up too much.
  • £6.6bn is pledged for a Warm Homes Plan to be delivered over the next five years, which is a lot of money, but also loads less than we’ll need if we are serious about decarbonising some of the oldest and coldest homes in Europe. It’s a downgrade from Labour’s original green energy plans, but also an upgrade on the status quo.
  • Labour has promised to finish the job on private rent reform by scrapping s.21 “no-fault evictions”, extending the scope of Awaab’s Law and giving tenants the power to “challenge unfair rent increases.”
  • Labour has also pledged to “finally bring the feudal leasehold system to an end” by banning the sale of new leasehold flats, making commonhold the default tenure and enacting the 2020 Law Commission proposals in full. What is missing is any mention of reducing ground rents to a peppercorn, which Michael Gove previously promised and failed to deliver. But it’s hard to see how the “feudal system” can end if ground rent remains a problem for leaseholders.
  • On building safety, the manifesto promises to “take decisive action to improve building safety, including through regulation, to ensure we never again see a repeat of the Grenfell fire.”
  • Labour has also pledged to make homelessness a “cross-government priority”, which we expect to take centre stage in a new Office of the Deputy Prime Minister led by Angela Rayner.

What’s missing
Phew! You have no idea how good it felt to almost bore myself by having to write up so many promises on housing after a few years of forlornly pressing “ctrl-f” and typing “housing” and finding no results in speech and documents. But it’s not all good and there is plenty missing from Labour’s plans.

First is money. This is very much a UK problem rather than one specific to Labour, but there is only so much that can be achieved with reforms, prayers and vibes. We want more than anything to see a new generation of social homes and a comprehensive retrofit plan, but it’s still not yet clear how we’ll pay for it. If Labour does plan to leverage prudent borrowing for capital projects, perhaps they are wise to play their cards close to their chest and avoid political attacks.

Second is hope for some of the most disadvantaged people in the country. Starmer has said that Labour cannot afford to scrap the two-child benefit limit, despite leaving more than enough money unallocated “prudently” in the party’s spending plans. There is also no plan to back the essentials guarantee and ensure that the basic rate of Universal Credit should at least cover the cost of essentials like food, household bills and travel costs.

Third is clarity on where the axe will fall, with widespread real-terms spending cuts currently sitting in government forecasts following the budget.

But perhaps this is harsh – if they win, as expected, Labour will inherit a situation where just about everything is broken. The scale of the task facing them is immense and they will have all of my prayers and vibes if and when they take office.

What about the Conservatives
The bit on the Tory manifesto will be a shorter section for two reasons: 1. they almost definitely won’t win and 2. there isn’t much to report.

  • Hilariously, the Conservatives have planned to deliver 1.6 million new homes, 100k more than Labour. But there is even less in terms of a concrete delivery plan than Labour has offered, besides scrapping “defective the EU laws” that they have inexplicably failed to scrap while in office.
  • There are only two mentions of social housing, and neither of them are good. They merely reiterate plans to expand “local connection” rules and introduce a new “UK connection” rule – a policy which is somewhere between a dog whistle and a dog’s dinner.
  • There is a plan to introduce the level at which first-time buyers pay Stamp Duty from £300k to £425k, a recognition of rising house prices which is notably absent when it comes to private rent. There is also a return to a Help to Buy style scheme, which would at least probably get the market moving again, albeit at the cost of inflated house prices.

That’s pretty much it. I’m not trying to be partisan or score points. It’s just that the thing that we really care about isn’t really a priority for the Conservative party, which is what it is.

What about everyone else?

  • The Lib Dems have promised to deliver 380k homes per year (1.9m over the Parliament). Notably, this target includes 150k homes for social rent each year and giving councils power to end the Right to Buy in their areas. In the unlikely event that they become the official opposition, they will be able to put pressure on Labour to up their game.
  • The Green Party has also promised to deliver 150k social rent homes per year and has also said that it would scrap the Right to Buy entirely. This is really welcome, but is also like me personally pledging to scrap the Right to Buy, in that I won’t be in government next month either.
  • Plaid Cymru has argued that everyone in Wales should have an affordable has said that Local Housing Allowance should cover the bottom third of rents.
  • Reform UK has published a “working draft document” rather than a Manifesto, reminiscent of the number of files I have titled “final FINAL USE THIS ONE v2.3”. On housing, they pledge to scrap the Renter’s Reform Bill (which has actually already been scrapped lads), to use the tax system to “encourage more smaller landlords” and blah blah blah all kinds of other rubbish.

***AWAY FROM POLITICS*** What’s next for WhatsApp?
Ever since twitter became X and descended into culture war chaos, we’ve had a news-shaped gap in our social media channels. We’ve explored other platforms but still haven’t found our fix.

Now there’s a new kid in town. WhatsApp Channels (find it via the Updates button) was launched at the end of last year. We all know it’s foolish to predict the future of anything – especially the success or otherwise of social media apps – but it’s worth taking a look at this.
Check out our latest blog and download our handy guide here.

Don’t panic! FOI for housing is absolutely fine
A reminder for anyone who missed it that you can download our guide to the government’s consultation on the new Access to Information scheme here. 

It’s not just Warren G that Regulates
You can all blame Bobbie for that slightly obscure 90’s rap reference. We’re working with a number of landlords on their comms plans around the Consumer Standards as the new regulatory regime kicks in. It includes things like ensuring that all of the information that the Regulator wants to see is in the right place.

Drop us a line if you’d like a chat about this or if you have any comms concerns ahead of inspection.

Thinking about your next away day?
Hough Bellis is working with landlords across the UK to develop sessions for senior leaders and boards on understanding and managing reputational risk.

We can create space for honest and open conversations about the challenges the sector is facing and whether your organisation is ready to stand up to intense media and political scrutiny. We’ve got great speakers and a few fun (coughs) activities to put you through your paces. If you’re interested in finding out more contact bobbie@houghbellis.co.uk

CommsFest
A massive thanks to everyone who attended CommsFest 2024 in Manchester. It was great turnout and we had a brilliant day! Special thanks to our speakers Amanda Coleman and Hannah Fearn – I presented too, but thanking myself feels a bit much even for me.

We’re planning more events looking at crisis comms throughout 2024, so watch this space, or drop us a line if you’d like us to come and do some work with your comms team.

Bobbie Hough
managing director, Hough Bellis Communications