We shouldn’t attack Theresa May's £1bn deal with DUP. But we should demand it for the rest of the country, too

DUP leader Arelene Foster and MP Peter Dodds understandably pleased with themselves. Image: Getty.

The government’s deal with the DUP has come in for a lot of criticism recently – but I actually think it’s a good sign. It shows that the intellectual arguments for austerity are finished, and that the country is ready, and indeed, is demanding, to move on.

Like anyone, I have doubts over the timing and nature of Theresa May’s sudden conversion to investment in public services, but I don’t think we are well-served by complaining about it, or attacking the DUP. The DUP fought their corner, fought for their constituents, and won £1bn of valuable money for health, education and infrastructure. It’s now up to us to do the same for our communities.

We can win this fight, because we have already won the argument. The country believes that we need to put more money our public services. People are tired of cuts, as their impact comes vividly into view. Indeed, they told us as much last year when they voted to leave the European Union, and again this month when they took away the Conservative majority.

Now, the government is seeing the consequences: they know that once the ideas of austerity have been abandoned in Northern Ireland, the call for justice for the rest of the country will be irresistible.

There is a special case for investment in Northern Ireland to support the peace process after years of neglect during the Troubles, so I’m not suggesting we ask for £33bn (the amount Great Britain would be due if money were distributed based on population size). Yet if Northern Ireland needs more nurses, so too does England and so too does Wales.  If rural Ulster needs better broadband, so does rural Cornwall and rural Scotland.

We are all part of the UK, and this government has claimed a mandate to represent the whole country. It should act accordingly, and all nations and all cities access to the opportunities which public investment brings. 

As a start, it can address the crisis in our NHS and social care, as it appears to have done in Northern Ireland. The Chancellor’s most recent budget only partially addressed the £2bn funding gap in social care – this is an opportunity to fill it in full. The NHS is also struggling with record financial deficits amid unprecedented demand for its services – this is an opportunity to relieve some of the pressure.

The NHS’ Five Year Forward View set out a minimum level of investment – £ 8bn – which the health service would require. David Cameron’s government provided that bare minimum, but still required the NHS to meet an extraordinary efficiency savings target of £22bn. This is an opportunity to bring that target down to a more manageable level.

 The government can also offer support to local authorities in Great Britain, as it has done through city deals in Northern Ireland. Councils have borne cuts of up to 40 per cent over the past few years. Real services which matter to real people have suffered – housing, bin collections, and social care to name a few. The LGA has estimated that local government faces an overall funding gap of £5.8bn by 2020 – this is an opportunity to fill that gap in full.

The government has made life difficult for itself in a few cases, and should take the chance to avoid a few scrapes. Schools cuts, for instance, make no sense, and I hope and expect that Conservative MPs will join Labour colleagues and council leaders of all parties to prevent them. The public sector pay cap is another issue I hope they will soon revisit. I hope really that ministers see this deal with the DUP as a chance to do some fresh thinking, and realise that the problems of 2017 can’t be answered by George Osborne’s political games from 2010.

In the end, it’s not about the politics – we just want a fair deal for the whole country.

Cllr Paul Watson is leader of Sunderland City Council and chair of the Key Cities group of 21 mid-sized cities. 

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Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.

Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.