Wednesday News Review

Tories and Lib Dems face backlash over housing benefit cap

A planned housing benefit cap could hit London hard and the MPs are alarmed that they will suffer from the fallout. It has been estimated that some 200,000 people could be forced to move out of London because they would no longer be able to afford their rents if housing benefit is capped. Labour accused Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, of “sociologically cleansing” poorer citizens out of London through the policy, which was announced last week as part of the spending review. A dozen London Tory MPs met to decide to push Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, for an exemption or the imposition of a higher cap than the £400-a-week one currently planned. But there appears little chance of a concession according to senior Government sources. – The Telegraph

Nick Clegg reacted with fury yesterday to accusations that ministers were “sociologically cleansing” the poor out of parts of London with planned cuts to housing benefit payments. A visibly angry Deputy Prime Minister told Chris Bryant, Labour’s shadow minister for constitutional reform, that his comments were “outrageous” and “deeply offensive to people who have witnessed ethnic cleansing”. Last night Mr Bryant said he stood by his remarks on the Coalition’s plans to cap housing benefit at around £400 a week for a house rented in the private sector. Critics say this will force up to 80,000 families out of London and other major metropolitan areas because they will no longer be able to afford their homes. “Personally I prefer to live in cities which are not ghettos,” he added. – The Independent

The government may have to amend its plans for a cap on housing benefit payouts, the BBC has learned. The proposed cap could force people out of cities where rent is higher, some MPs and charities have argued. But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said people living in areas that many working families could not afford should not expect to be subsidised. A Whitehall source said the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, was listening to MPs’ concerns. The coalition’s plans include capping housing benefit at around £400-a-week for a four-bedroom home, and cutting the benefit for anyone on jobseeker’s allowance for more than a year by 10%. – BBC

Flagship Tory Council spends more than saves

It was billed as Britain’s first “easyCouncil”, a flagship for the government’s town hall spending cuts and a model of no-frills prudence. But it has emerged that the London borough of Barnet is spending more trying to find efficiencies than it is actually saving. The Conservative-controlled north London council has committed to spending £1.5m this financial year on a much-hyped reform programme to help close a yawning budget gap, but it is on course to recoup just £1.4m in savings in the year.The programme is budgeted to deliver savings of £13m a year by 2014, about a third of the total cuts planned by the council. It had been projected to save £3m by the end of the financial year, but Lynne Hillan, council leader, has now admitted the savings will be less than half of that. News of the shortfall emerges days after Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, named Barnet as a pilot for the government’s “community budget” system to hand councils control of all spending in their area free of conditions from Whitehall. – The Guardian

Questions over licence fee deal

The shadow culture secretary, Ivan Lewis, has demanded an urgent parliamentary inquiry into the BBC licence fee settlement following thehastily negotiated deal agreed with the government last week. Lewis has written to John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, asking him to hold an investigation into the six-year deal. His request follows the agreement last week between the government and the corporation that will see the BBC licence fee frozen at £145.50 for six years until 2017. The settlement was announced by George Osborne in last week’s comprehensive spending review. Lewis wants ministers and BBC executives to give evidence to MPs about how the deal was reached and answer questions about its implications for the corporation’s services. He described the settlement as a “dodgy deal” in parliament this week. – The Guardian

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