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Andy Burnham – Metro Mayor for Manchester

Andy Burnham, respected MP for Leigh, was elected as Metro Mayor for Manchester in May. His election campaign focused on housing and housing standards and now elected, he has announced his plans for how he attends to address the issues of poor housing and homelessness.

His first step was to announce that he would donate 15 per cent of his annual salary as Mayor to the recently set-up Homelessness Fund with the aim of ending homelessness in his aegis of responsibility by 2020. Obviously, even a donation of 15 per cent of his salary will not be enough to tackle the problem, but it may encourage others to donate to raise sufficient funding to make a significant difference.

It seems a very big challenge, to end homelessness by 2020; a stranger visiting the city on foot would be shocked at the number who live on the street; every shop doorway has its’ resident, with sleeping bags and pillows. Providing the homeless with housing is crucial, but that is only the start of the process of eradicating homelessness – mental health issues, budgeting, socialisation issues when their community has been street-based. Will there be enough for everything that is needed to make a permanent difference?

Associated with the drive to end homelessness is Mr. Burnham’s pledge to buy run-down and dilapidated properties from landlords he describes as ‘Unscrupulous’. There are landlords who have invested in the NorthWest because of the lower property prices who then fail to maintain them properly. Mr Burnham wants to work with local authorities to identify this stock and bring it back into use. A reduction in poor quality housing is to be welcomed and is possible with the legislation already in place.

Government have tried to address issues of poor standards in the private sector by licensing schemes. Licensing schemes are not popular with landlords, who feel that all landlords are punished by licence fees, when only the poor landlords should be targeted. Mr. Burnham believes that licensing schemes will answer the poor property standards and allow him (via his local authority officers) to gain powers over property standards.

Blanket licensing

During the campaign, he spoke about blanket licensing of all private rented properties in the 10 boroughs that make up Greater Manchester. Blanket schemes had been introduced in Liverpool and some of the London Boroughs, but then were outlawed; any local authority now wishing to impose licensing on more than 20% of the area, either in terms of area size or numbers in the private rented sector, must apply for consent from the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government.

When this was introduced, it seemed that this could curtail local authorities; however, I no longer think this could provide some protection for landlords. With the carefully worded consultation that we have grown used to, a suitable case will be put forward for blanket licensing and almost certainly, permission will be given.

How is Mr Burnham going to fund his plans? There is a devolved house building fund which is currently being used as a loan fund, available to private developers. Under the new Mayor, it would be used for compulsory purchase of housing. This Greater Manchester housing fund would be used in its’ entirety to tackle the housing crisis in Greater Manchester. It appears that much of this funding will go to social housing and on ‘rent to own’ properties on long-term leases for the under-35.

So, interesting times ahead for Liverpool. Whether all the plans are achievable, only time – and 3 years seems very short – will tell. 

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