Sunday, 26 September 2010

On contracting-out

I am getting older. Despite a perspectives on ageing course I attended a few years ago trying to teach me that age is just a social construct there appears little doubt that I now use my personal stereo for listening to Radio 4 just as much as I do for music.

This Saturday I took the opportunity offered by possibly the last sunny weekend day of the year to get out into the country on my bicycle. As I wound my way down a hillside I was listening to a political show on the station which featured Lib Dem Chris Huhne.

One of the topics was of course the whole business of the 'virtual-council'. Huhne was firmly in the against corner. The point he made was that if a council needs to make changes to improve standards then it can take whatever action it feels is necessary. In a contracting-out system the council cannot act straightforwardly as actions can only be through the framework of the contract.

It seems contracting-out is like giving up owner-occupation for renting. Overall control of the property is lost; if I want to paint my room anything other than magnolia I cannot simply grab a brush and paint-pot I must negotiate with the owner of the property first as per the contract and there is no guarantee they will agree. Then there's issues like long-term planning. Is it worth a renter on a 6 month contract planting an apple tree in the garden or constructing a conservatory knowing they may themselves may not receive future benefit from these? Then there is the issue of increasing housing prices. The owner-occupier and landlord both benefit from increased asset value, the renter loses through higher costs.

There are of course benefits to renting. The Landlord bears responsibility for repairs and building insurance. They must also absorb costs from raises in mortgage interest rates which occur during the lifetime of the contract (though this is only in the short-term as these will be passed on when the contract is up for renewal).

Perhaps unsurprising that not many people who are in the position of owner-occupation would elect to switch to renting.

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