Regulation, and the whole process of creating new bureaucracy frequently has ‘unintended consequences’. This is an inevitable byproduct given the mushrooming oeuvre of regulations in the UK, their increasingly complex interaction with high-level legal principles, and the intensely issue-focused nature of politics. It is significant that frequently the key drivers for new regulations are ideologies that are fundamentally reductionist in nature.
The impending misery for ‘second-home owners’ was, in fact, writ large on the wall of Welsh Government. Plaid Cymru were all for the tax penalties, so were the Welsh Labour majority and the Lib Dems pretty much fell into line. The entire polemic was couched, from the word go, in binary terminology, so I did not entertain much optimism about balance and proportionality. It would have been reassuring to have seen some evidence (ie. media reportage) of a more nuanced consideration, as this might at least have helped preserve some confidence in the nature of the democratic process. But no, we are well past that point. This issue is simply about power and its deployment, which does not require rational debate. Ideology, with all of its distinctive lack of finesse was at play, encouraged by a media apparently unconscious of the very idea of implications.
Of course, for anyone watching on the touchline, the kinds of ‘unintended consequence’ that might arise out of a doubling of the Council Tax are not that difficult to envisage. The fact that the politicians in favour of it betrayed little evidence of concern for any such implications, suggests that they were so wholly invested in the circumstances of those allegedly priced out of the market that they saw little else to occupy their attention. And the flip side of the equation seems to be that they had also bought into the kind of outlook which concluded that ‘second-home owners’ were somehow guilty parties who deserved a bit of good penalising.
Shoehorning folk into a role that has been contrived for them by someone else doesn’t sound like a recipe for a happy ending, and sure enough that’s what I’ve already begun to hear about. Such as the middle-eastern refugee living in Cardiff, who now finds themselves on the cusp of losing their low-cost (ie. affordable) rented accommodation. Why is that, you ask? Is this another example of those damnable property owners exercising their egregious control over the proletariat? No, actually, this is about a single elderly landlady who now cannot afford the doubled council tax in her second investment property, and is therefore having to sell up.
Is any of that a surprise? Nope. Could it have been anticipated as an undesirable byproduct of the Welsh Government’s policy decision? Easily.
So why the unintended consequences?