The Reshuffle Revolving Door Takes Another Housing Minister by Vivien Moseley

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With a series of high-profile resignations from Theresa May’s Cabinet at the start of this week, the housing ministry has received its eighth new minister in eight years. With Dominic Raab, a vocal leave campaigner, being promoted to Brexit Secretary, he has become the shortest serving Housing Minister since 2001, with just 181 days in the role. 

Raab’s replacement, Kit Malthouse, a former minister in the Department of Work and Pensions will be the fifteenth housing minister in the last 20 years. Malthouse is a former Deputy Mayor of London who served under Boris Johnson between 2008 and 2012, where he was in charge of policing and subsequently business. He was elected as Member of Parliament for North West Hampshire in the 2015 General Election and became part of Theresa May’s Government during the reshuffle in January 2018. 

Before entering national politics, Malthouse was elected as a local councillor for St George’s ward on Westminster City Council in 1998. During boundary changes in 2002, he was re-elected to the Council to represent Warwick ward. He served as the Conservative Group Chief Whip and was Chairman of the Social Services Committee and elected as Deputy Leader of the Council in 2000, becoming the Cabinet Member for Finance. He stood down from the Council in 2006.

In 2008, Malthouse was successfully elected to the London Assembly to represent the West Central seat, which covers Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham. Taking up the previously mentioned Deputy Mayor role under Boris Johnson.

In 2017, when debating the Finance Bill, Malthouse spoke in favour of house building as a means of energising the housing sector, he stated “The solution to the housing market will be a long-term one. We are trying to build as many houses as we possibly can—we need 250,000 to 300,000 houses a year to bridge the demand and supply problem—but that will take some time to do.”

With Theresa May’s Government claiming housing as a top priority it is understandably frustrating for the industry to see another change in minister. 

Melanie Leech, Chief Executive of the British Property Federation, was quoted as saying: “The housing sector will be frustrated with yet one more housing minister, but there are extenuating circumstances and the national interest must come first. However, if the government is to meet its aspirations of delivering 300,000 new homes each year, this revolving door of housing ministers must stop.”

David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, added: "This is the eighth housing minister in eight years. Theresa May has made it her personal mission to fix the housing crisis and if the prime minister is serious about this, she now needs to make sure Mr Malthouse actually has enough time to get to grips with the real scale of the problem and make meaningful change.”

Ben becomes Account Executive at Comm Comm UK by Vivien Moseley

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We are pleased to announce that following completing his role as Intern and Research Assistant, Ben is now a full-time member of Comm Comm UK and has been promoted to Account Executive. Ben joined the company at the start of the year and has quickly fitted in within the team and is progressing as a key member.

Ben brings a wealth of political experience having been active in campaigning in the most recent Local Election in London as well as the Local Elections in Wales in May 2017. He has also worked as part of an MP’s campaign team for the 2017 General Election. Following completion of his undergraduate degree at Swansea University, Ben went on to complete an MA in Communications, Media Planning and Public Relations. Ben’s background in communications and public relations gives him comprehensive understanding of public engagement and strategic communications.

Ben had this to say on the news, “My internship at Comm Comm UK was fantastic. Being given the opportunity to develop my professional skills within a unique and supportive environment has enabled me to gain a real understanding of stakeholder and community relations as well as the planning industry. I am looking forward to furthering my knowledge of the built environment and continuing to utilise my skills in working with communities on-the-ground.”

Local Election 2018 by Vivien Moseley

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In the first test for party leaders since the General Election, and what was meant to be a seismic change in leadership across London, the results failed to meet expectations. With Labour targeting traditional Conservative councils such as Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster, it was expected to be an election of change for London’s inner boroughs. 

Early expectations had been that Labour was due to make inroads in these areas due to recent scandals concerningConservative councillors’hospitality, the handling of the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy and thereaction of London’s EU residents who are barred from voting in General Elections. However, this vote failed to materialise in great enough numbers to effect a change in council controlin many boroughs.

On a night that was meant to spell change for many boroughs across England, it seems that the status quo has been maintained. While an early analysis suggests a 1% swing to the Conservatives outside of London, the Labour Party saw its vote share rise across metropolitan areas. Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens all have reasons to be cheerful, as the results suggest that all parties took a slice of the vote from the collapse of UKIP.

The Conservatives seemed to be bracing themselves for the traditional anti-government vote on Thursday; the same swing that has been seen for decades in local elections. That did not come. While many local Conservative associations focussed much of their campaign literature on local services such as bins, it seems that voters went into the booths with their minds focused on Brexit. The Conservatives saw an average 13% vote increase in areas that had a 60%+ leave vote in the EU Referendum, with all four council gains coming from strong leave boroughs. 

Unsurprisingly, UKIP’s collapse benefited the Conservatives the most as they saw huge leads in areas that formally had a high percentage of UKIP voters. That being said, Labour collected a sizeable amount of the UKIP vote in areas Labour previously did well in. The Liberal Democrats have the most to celebrate as they have collected over 50 council seats; including recovering control of its former strongholds in London Borough of Richmond and the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, which both saw large swings away from the Conservatives. 

The Liberal Democrat victory in Richmond can be in part put down to the progressive alliance the party entered into with the Greens. Results like these have also ignited arguments within the Labour Party over its stance on not allowing local parties to enter into these sorts of alliances with other progressive parties in elections to ensure a ‘progressive’ outcome. If a change is made in Labour’s stance on this, it could lead to further changes in national election results, favouring left leaning parties. Richmond Upon Thames has traditionally voted Liberal Democrat and the Conservatives short lived control of this area could be associated with the Liberal Democrats poor showing after entering into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010.

Labour probably had the most disappointing result as the Party ended the election with control of fewer councils than it started with. This was despite making over 60 seat gains and taking over control in Plymouth from the Conservatives and gaining a majority in Kirklees from a No Overall Control council and ending Conservative rule in Trafford. While Labour made small gains in urban areas, they saw a swing away from them in rural areas, which resulted in them losing control of Derby, Redditch and Nuneaton.

Both major parties felt the heat of controversy in the run-up to the election, with Labour’s anti-Semitism row costing it a large part of the vote in areas such as Barnet. The Conservatives also had significant losses in areas with large black communities due to the Windrush scandal and accusations of inherent racism. The Conservatives experienced a backlash from a hard stance on Brexit in Remain areas such as Richmond that has now reverted back to Liberal Democrat control. The voter turnout for Richmond improved from 2014 by 5.25% and may have been former Liberal Democrat voters returning to the party. 

The results may not have offered a great change in leadership at a local level, or even bolster the national parties’ confidence. One thing can be clear; neither party seems to have grasped the best way to address a divided nation. While Labour made gains across metropolitan areas, there is little capacity for this to be translated in the next General Election as they already represent a majority of these constituencies in Parliament. The Conservative vote is solidifying in rural areas, particularly in areas that had the highest percentage of Leave voters, and these areas now sit as part of the Conservatives core vote. 

This divide is most clearly seen when the local election results are broken down. As it stands, the Conservatives currently hold 60% of seats on district councils and 67% of county council positions, with Labour holding 18% and 14% respectively. When you move into urban areas, this story is reversed with Labour holding 71% of Metropolitan seats and 61% of London borough council seats, while the Conservatives hold 15%-27% of seats in cities across England.

Former Northern Ireland Secretary to replace Sajid Javid as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government by Vivien Moseley

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James Brokenshire is set to take over from Sajid Javid as Housing and Communities Secretary, as Theresa May appoints Javid to replace Amber Rudd after her resignation as Home Secretary on Sunday evening.

Downing Street confirmed that Sajid Javid has been moved to the Home Office, while Brokenshire, will now replace him at the Department for Housing, Communities, and Local Government (DHCLG).

Brokenshire stepped down from his Cabinet role as Northern Ireland Secretary in January 2017 due to ill health, he has been a Member of Parliament since 2005 and is seen as a key ally of Theresa May. A former solicitor who specialised in international law and advised a range of companies, businesses and financial institutions in the UK and overseas.

With the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government recently being renamed to include the housing portfolio with that of communities, along with a long-term inconsistency in post holders, Brokenshire is sure to face some challenges on his return to frontline politics.

As his brief includes a raft of key environmental policies he will certainly be receiving immediate calls for central government to reintroduce zero carbon home standards for new properties and boost the enforcement of existing energy efficiency standards.

Brokenshire will also be tasked with adjudicating over the increasingly intense debate over allowing more building on the green belt and he will no doubt be confronted with demands for the government to rethink its stringent planning rules for onshore renewables energy projects.

Catherine's USVI Disaster Relief Blog - Charlotte Amalie by Vivien Moseley

Video credit to Connor Shafran

I have always been interested in the human impact from natural disasters. From studying it at school through to university and following intently on the news, the dangerous world is something far removed from my life. So when the hurricanes hit last year, I knew I wanted to help however I could and do something aside from giving money to a large international aid organisation. That is when I began my research into different ways to get involved. Most of the coverage I came across was on Puerto Rico, which sits west of the US Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico was also hit by the storms and devastated but the American media seemed to have forgotten St Thomas, St John and St Croix almost completely. 

Over the past weeks, I have learnt more from the locals as well as long-term volunteers about the politics and history of the islands. In 1917, America bought the US Virgin Islands from the Danish. The people of US Virgin Islands are American citizens, carry American passports and pay federal taxes but residents are unable to vote for the President of the United States. The US Virgin Islands’ Congresswoman, Stacey Plaskett, can participate in debates but does not have any voting rights. The disconnect between the United States and US Virgin Islands is apparent in so many different spheres. I experienced this disconnect as soon as I landed in Miami International Airport. The Immigration Officer questioned my intentions for travelling. After explaining about the programme, he asked ‘Are you not a bit late? The hurricanes were over five months ago’. This completely took me by surprise. As someone who worked in Florida - a hurricane-torn state - it was clear that his experience of hurricanes and hurricane relief was polar opposite to that in the Virgin Islands.

The one area in US Virgin Islands I really saw flourishing five months later was Charlotte Amalie, the capital. This area faces onto the waterfront and is the port for large cruise ships that voyage around the Caribbean, bringing approximately 1.5 million people to the island of St Thomas each year. Immediately after the storms, this was the main area of focus for the government. Beaches, shops, restaurants and roads were top priority so cruise ships could land and tourists could enjoy paradise. It was seen to be vital for the island's economic recovery that tourism resumed as soon as possible. Today, when you step off the ships, you are greeted by a picture perfect Caribbean scene. It is only when you start heading inland and to the neighbouring districts that the sea of blue tarped roofs appears and the devastation that still remains is realised. 

The priorities of All Hands and Hearts while I have been here is mucking and gutting of homes, debris removal and rebuilding of schools. This is such a rewarding project and has opened my eyes to the vast amount of work that there is to do. I have now worked on mucking and gutting of 12 homes and the rebuild of two schools. But we are not done yet!

Catherine's USVI Disaster Relief Blog - Tutu by Vivien Moseley

Catherine with Austin and the volunteer group in Tutu

Volunteering for All Hands and Hearts involves fairly intensive communal living alongside the disaster relief work. I am living with around 60 volunteers and staff members in a space graciously provided by Holy Family Church, Tutu. 

The camp is extremely organised and runs like clockwork. Everyone sleeps in one large room in DIY bunkbeds. Lights come on at 6.30am and we have breakfast and pack our lunch for the day (either peanut butter and jam sandwiches or mystery ration packets). Each team then meets up, gathers tools and equipment needed and heads out to site. After work, we head back to camp for the 5 o’clock meeting and full debrief. Exercise club follows the meeting then dinner is served around 6.30pm (chicken and rice). Lights out are at 9.00pm but there is plenty of space and time for socialising with the other volunteers. Volunteers have travelled from every corner of the globe to help survivors of the hurricanes on St Thomas. Ages ranges from 19 to 70. Everyone is equal and has a unique skill to bring to the table. I have truly met some of the most inspiring, positive and careless people here. Everyone is keen to make a difference, put in a hard day's work and become the change they want to see in the world. 

Located directly behind the camp is one of the island’s housing projects, which was devastated by the hurricanes. During the storm, the external walls were blown straight through from one side to the other and down the hill side. Living in the area, we heard many tragic stories about people that were blown out of their apartments along with the walls. Although we did not work on these housing projects, we worked on many homes in the area of Tutu. Austin and Jenny’s home overlooked the projects. The house belonged to their mother, who unfortunately had passed away a couple of days after the storm. Jenny showed me and our team leader, Caleb, around the home but could barely look up or even walk into the rooms. There was little space to move around as the home was full of personal items that looked like they had been through a blender. The roof had fallen in through the kitchen and mould covered every single wall. We worked with Austin (Jenny’s brother) over four days to sort items. Austin assisted lifting wall after wall up the hill as we filled two skips with debris. 

Jenny came back to her home on the last day. All the salvageable items were placed in one room and there were now no walls - so you could see directly through the studs. In each room her smile grew bigger and bigger and she hugged me as we moved through the house. Jenny and Austin currently have no plans to rebuild the home. With no insurance and the home being in their mother's name, they are in an unfortunate situation. Even after we finish with initial disaster relief these families and individuals have a difficult road ahead of them. Blue tarped roofs are a more than common sight across the island and most will not be replaced with anything substantial before the next hurricane season, which is looming. 

Catherine's USVI Disaster Relief Blog - Contant by Vivien Moseley

 Catherine (far right) with her volunteer group

Catherine (far right) with her volunteer group

This week marks six months since Hurricane Irma hit St Thomas. The storm brought 185mph winds, which took the roofs off thousands of buildings, then just two weeks later Hurricane Maria came, bringing huge downpours of rain. Homes were flooded and the loss was epidemic. 

All Hands and Hearts has led the efforts in disaster response since October 2017, helping over 5,000 people and logging more than 46,000 volunteer hours. I have been on the island for 10 days and have logged 100 hours. In this short amount of time, I have already seen so much strength and determination amongst communities across the island. The work is hard, physically and emotionally, it is +30 degrees and a long way from London but I have had the privileged opportunity to get to know the island on a whole new level. 

The very first home I worked on was in the neighbourhood of Contant. As we gathered our tools for the day, our team leader briefed us that this project was extremely sensitive. Mr and Mrs Ferguson, an elderly couple, had shipped their 15-sided home over from the mainland, where they were told that it would be strong enough to withstand a hurricane. But when two hit in the same month, the house and the area crumbled. They were trapped in their home for three days with no water and no food. The roads in Contant were completely blocked with debris and it was impossible to get in or out. Mr Ferguson told me that when he was rescued he was so weak that he had to be airlifted straight to Puerto Rico for medical treatment. He was taken so quickly that he lost his wife en-route and had to leave her behind. Mr Ferguson ended up in a shelter in Puerto Rico for several weeks. The shelter held over 1,200 people in one room with only two toilets, while his wife was alone in their home dealing with the devastation the storm had left. Despite this trauma and complete loss, the couple were back together and full of laughter, love and graciousness. They were smiling and sorting through personal belongings while we removed mouldy termite infested walls, floors and ceilings around them. In less than two weeks, I have worked on mucking and gutting, debris removal, quality control and sanitation across six completely unique homes. I’ve learnt the basics of plumbing and mastered several new power tools, but hearing the inspirational stories of the survivors has been the highlight so far. The ability to pick yourself up when your home and life have been torn before your eyes is something that I am finding breathtaking. Many people in St Thomas literally don’t have a roof to sleep under and yet are so positive. 

To find out more about the charity or to donate to the efforts that enable the work to continue here on the island of St Thomas visit - www.hands.org/projects/usvi-hurricane-response/

So far, I have 1001 inspiring stories and 1001 mosquito bites...next blog post coming soon. 

Catherine embarks on sabbatical to assist with hurricane disaster relief by Vivien Moseley

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We are extremely proud to announce that Catherine has been offered a placement in the United States Virgin Islands assisting with on-the-ground disaster relief for Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. She will be joining the response team undertaking mucking-out, gutting of buildings, debris removal and sanitation.

On 6 September 2017, Category 5 Hurricane Irma hit the region, with winds and flooding causing mass damage and devastation. Later that month, the Caribbean islands were hit again by Hurricane Maria, which affected 100% of the 100,000 residents. In January 2018, power was restored to most of the islands, however, thousands of homes are in such a state of disrepair that they are still, four months later, unable to be connected to the grid. Catherine will be volunteering as part of All Hands and Hearts, a volunteer-powered disaster relief organisation dedicated to rebuilding hope on the island of St Thomas. The organisation responds to the needs of communities impacted by the immediate devastation by engaging and leveraging volunteers, partner organisations and local communities.

Check back here to follow Catherine’s journey and read about life and work on the camp. Following volunteering, Catherine will also be travelling around Central America for a month while she dines out on four successful years at Comm Comm UK before returning to the office in May 2018.

In the meantime, we would like to welcome and introduce you to Vanessa Moon, who has joined the Comm Comm UK team, to take over from Catherine while she is away. Vanessa is owner of Voom Media a public relation and copywriting agency specialising in strategic communications, media relations and content development. With a background in regional news and business journalism, national trade press and public and private sector stakeholder communications for 20 years, Vanessa has an eye for a story and experience developing messages. Vanessa also has extensive experience in stakeholder consultation and engagement, working with clients such as Asda and Durkan and within public sector, consulting with housing tenants on the transfer of housing stock from local authority control.