Home Information Packs (HIPS – the model of Labour legislation), which become compulsory on 1 June, will be an expensive but valueless burden – so very New Labour. With a little imagination, however, the concept could have produced something truly useful.
I have written before about Home Information Packs, which I saw as the offspring of civil servants keen to make undemanding work for themselves and New Labour’s zeal to interfere as much as possible in peoples’ private lives and contracts.
It seems unlikely that John Prescott understood what he was promulgating – he would have announced the nationalisation of the newspapers and the Second Coming with as much comprehension if his minders had put it on his cue-sheet – and he was anyway too busy putting his little cocktail sausage round the typing pool to focus on what HIPs included. The junior minister in charge of HIPs, Yvette Cooper, is able by the standard of the Blair Babes (or Tone’s Crones as they have become), but interfering in other peoples’ lives is her mission in life, so she has embraced HIPs with enthusiasm.
Most of the resulting furore has concerned what was covered by HIPs, leading to the embarrassing climb-down over Home Condition Reports. It occurs to me though that there is a mass of truly useful information which has been left out, stuff which really could have helped a would-be buyer decide if he wanted a property and at what price.
The ideas come from the decline of my own area. Oxford City Council now only collects the rubbish once a fortnight. Grafitti covers the walls. The police fill in forms in their offices with an occasional glance at the CCTV. The planners merely react – usually positively – to developers’ wishes and have no concept of active planning or of their role in improving the quality of peoples’ lives. Gangs of feral youths do what they please in the streets, confident that no consequences will ensue, whilst decent citizens face punishment for every minor transgression of parking, rubbish-disposal or exceeding 50mph on a dual-carriageway.
Although most of this information exists, is known to existing residents and can be found by enquiry, it would be salutary, would it not, if it was republished every time someone bought a house? Furthermore, since large financial decisions would be made in part of the strength of this information, the giver would have to get it right or risk being sued. The statistics which the police serve up to the Home Office would have to be published in two versions – a “political” one and a truthful one.
I envisage that the police would have to list all local incidents reported to them in the previous six months, with figures for the call-out times, the action taken and the clear-up rate.
Environmental Health would say what complaints had been made and what had been done about them, which would flush out the noisy neighbours and encourage the officers out of their offices occasionally.
The PCT would have to give statistics for waiting times (what is the average wait in Casualty?), NHS dentists’ waiting lists, and rejected bids for funding for urgent operations. How many people have gone blind whilst you refuse treatment for macular disease? They could be asked to give the ratio of pen-pushers to medical staff by head-count and cost.
The County Highways officers would have to list works done and the cost, together with a summary showing why each job was thought necessary plus the head-count of white-collar officers and the cost per head of keeping them in salaries and pensions (I once asked Oxfordshire County Council about the cost of the Oxfordshire Highways pen-pushers, to be told that no-one knew).
The Rubbish Department (I expect it has a more formal name) would say how often the dustmen bothered to show up and how many people per week drove their rubbish to the tip in desperation at the heaving piles gathering in their gardens.
The council rat-catchers would list all recent calls to the area and compare the volume of call-outs with the equivalent period before rubbish collections were halved
Ward Councillors would give their recent press cuttings, voting record, and a list of successes on behalf of local voters, together with their IQs.
And so on. You get the idea. Home Information Packs could really be packs of information about the home. Instead, we get an expensive repackaging of information which either duplicates what we get anyway or which is unnecessary.
Yvette Cooper is, of course, used to money being extracted from the public to be wasted on useless and unnecessary things. Her husband is Ed Balls, Gordon’s little helper at the Treasury, the architect of Tax Credits and many of the other complex devices used to soak the middle classes. Perhaps they have a family competition – who can cost the tax-payer the most in any one tax year for the least value delivered?
Incidentally, if you need to know what HIPs must actually contain, as opposed to my view as to what they should contain, there is a property lawyers’ page on them here.