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David Orr

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The Budget Was a Lost Opportunity for Housing and the Economy

Posted: 21/03/2012 16:23

Dear Mr Osborne,

After all the leaks and press speculation, I guess in the end there weren't many surprises in your budget. The headlines around the 50p tax rate have been interesting, although they don't mean much to most of the tenants of housing associations.

For those of us involved in housing, the growth agenda is what matters. We understand how important growth is for the economy and how essential it is that we create new jobs, not least because so many housing associations are exploring ways of assisting their residents to get into work. So for us, there's an irony that houses appear so strongly in the budget - but not housing.

It is a shame we didn't get a technical change on stamp duty land tax that would have helped housing associations. This is the kind of boring change in legislation that can actually make a big difference. The amount potentially saved could have helped to build new homes and support lots of neighbourhood projects. But of course we know the big stamp duty story is putting stamp duty up to 7% for £2m homes and your welcome determination to stop wealthy people using a loophole to avoid paying the tax.

And here's the connection. These taxes on houses could be a major boost to housing if you would agree to use some of the money you will raise to build new homes. Just £1bn of that money would allow housing associations to build 67,000 new homes for shared ownership, thereby giving people on moderate incomes a much-needed foot in the door. Housing associations, of course, could add around £9bn of private borrowing to make the sums add up, so you would get £10 of investment for only £1 of taxpayers' money. That's really great value.

But it doesn't stop there. It would put 150,000 people into jobs directly and sustains up to 400,000 jobs in the wider economy. And your initial investment all comes back in benefits saved and income tax paid.

There's one other really important measure we would have loved to see. If you had reduced VAT on refurbishment to 5%, (as many of our European partners already do) it would give a real boost to improving the energy efficiency of our homes, making a real contribution to reducing fuel poverty and reducing CO2 emissions. It also creates real new jobs and training opportunities and helps you to meet your welcome promise to be the greenest government ever.

I recognise you might be anxious about the apparent reduction in tax income but a recent study in Switzerland apparently demonstrated that reducing VAT in this way actually increased the tax take as the incentive to avoid it was so greatly reduced. That's an argument I know you understand well - it's the basis for your decision to cut the 50% tax rate, isn't it?

Across the country, housing associations are ready to do all they can to help you to stimulate growth. We just need a very little bit of help from you. And all these good things can actually be delivered before HS2 has even got planning consent.

Best wishes

David Orr