Its very fashionable amongst Conservative commentators to speak of reaching out to younger voters. About time too. If I chip in my tuppenyworth before any of the speeches, I can't be accused of being divisive! Much of today's pre conference discussion focuses on tuition fees and housing. The Prime Minister has been setting the scene. It's still a few weeks before the budget, but seems to me today's discussion has committed to Chancellor to spend/invest quite a few billions under these budget heads.
Let's take tuition fees first. Much of the coverage has been about cancelling proposed increases in fees. I agree with this, but it will deliver a reduction in university's income. They will not be happy about this, not happy at all, but its not earth shattering. And won't be much public sympathy for universities either, after the publicity a few days ago about what uni bosses are paying themselves. But it seems to me that increasing the income level that a graduate must reach before having to repay any loan from £21K to £25K is rather more significant. It's going to cost the Chancellor many billions. So much that in the long run, I think this could be so expensive that it could lead to fewer places at university. I hope it's not too controversial a comment for me to make that this would not be an unwelcome development.
And so on to housing, thought to be a 'touchstone' issue for young people. This really is a key issue. We need young people to have a personal stake in capitalism - through ownership. No better way than through home ownership. I've been saying for a while that we need a dramatic commitment that takes the headlines. "A million new houses by 2022" or something similar. Today's discussion has been about Gov't commitment to 'Help to Buy'. Asking myself if this will work, or will it just feed into higher prices. And it's a lot of public money. Only real way to tackle the housing issue is through allowing more freedom to build. Increase supply. Seems obvious to me. And we need to end hoysebuilders stockpiling land. We need more permissive planning systems. Let the people build, not just let housing associations and councils build. It's the planning system that killing development through limiting supply.
Difficult for me as a past president of CPRW to advocate greater freedom to build - and limiting the ability of planning systems to frustrate development. I recall my astonishment when I was asked to take on presidency of CPRW. I had been Chair of a planning authority for many years, and was in favour of more development. Yes I thought it should be of quality, and sensitively located, but new houses, new factories and new transport infrastructure there has to be. Not sure there's a need for Govt to throw billions at this - just set the private sector free to deliver. Hope these are the messages coming out of Manchester this week.