Eric Pickles: the anti-communities secretary

If you visit the website of the department of communities and local government you will notice their claim, “We are helping to create a free, fair and responsible Big Society by putting power in the hands of citizens, neighbourhoods and councils.” I am sure you will agree that it’s a noble cause. Unfortunately, the man who heads the department does not. Perhaps he hasn’t seen the website.

Eric Pickles, communities secretary, has both placed big business ahead of community and sought to deny those of less wealth the right to a home.

In a bid to boost housing development Mr Pickles plans to remove developers’ legal obligations to build “affordable houses” as part of their quota. This means that more houses will be built for the rich and less for those who aren’t. The Independent claimed that this could deny up to 2 million people their chance of a home. Eric’s not worried about that though. He’s more interested in the potential £4.5 billion pounds the rule change could generate.

To be fair to Pickles he is only toeing the party line. Grant Shapps, housing minister, says flushing out the poor from rich areas is the “blindingly obvious” thing to do. Although he claims it’s just selling expensive council houses to build cheaper ones elsewhere. Others, as Joan Smith says, call it “ghettoisation”.

We shouldn’t be surprised by Eric and Grant’s actions. They are, after all, members of a party who boast Adrian Beecroft as a donor; a man who fought desperately to sack people more easily.

You can see why Adrian might want to do so. Pickles’ campaign to “put power into the hands of citizens” developed with news of his support for a change of supermarket opening times on Sundays. As it stands, shops above a certain size can only be open for a maximum of 6 hours on Sunday. The rule is designed to protect local businesses by allowing them to stay open for longer and attract sales that would otherwise have gone to the big chains.

A temporary relaxation of these laws came into effect during the Olympics and now the likes of Asda are campaigning to relax those rules permanently. This will increase competition for local storeowners and inevitably further line the pockets of American owned giants while simultaneously weakening local business. For the Walmarts et al, however, it means taking on more staff and invariably more cost. So if you were a supermarket you would want to sack people more easily to negate the added risk.

Meanwhile Mr Local Shop Owner will probably not be a local to his shop anymore so who cares what he thinks. Since he can probably no longer afford to live there because his shop closed and was then sacked by the big supermarket chain that caused its closure so Eric stuck him in a ghetto built by Grant.