Over the past few months New Labour has come out with a string of announcements relating to council housing. It wants to be seen as responding to the crisis in housing.
But the government’s priorities still lie with the market – with disastrous consequences for their policies.
The latest announcements would redirect £1.5 billion to home building, including £750 million for the national affordable housing programme, £250 million for new council homes, and £500 million to kick start stalled private sector developments.
Additional funding is also being made to build 3,900 council homes.
But there are also significant additional proposals on the table for the restructuring of the way in which council housing is financed.
The government is proposing to scrap the existing housing revenue account system and devolve the financing of council housing from central government to local authorities.
There is widespread support for the general principle of allowing councils to become self-financing and to scrap the current model where the Treasury redistributes funding. But there is anxiety about how this could be achieved.
So, councils will have the right to keep money from the rent and sale of council homes – something campaigners have long fought for.
But many of the proposals are simply about moving money from one place to another. In the case of cutting funding for some of the Arms Length Management Organisations (Almos) that run many estates, that is a good thing.
But there is a danger that the plans encourage a competition for funds between essential repairs and new buildings.The actual amount of extra money being offered for maintenance and major repairs in the long-term is derisory.
A mere 24 percent increase for major repairs is a fraction of the 75 percent increase that the government says is needed.
The government’s refusal to write off £18 billion of housing debt, and instead redistribute this to local authorities, augurs badly for the future.
Lesley Carty, a spokesperson for Defend Council Housing (DCH), said, “The government’s outright refusal that the Treasury should bear any responsibility for writing off debt ignores all the main issues.
“They have been willing to write off all the debt for homes which transfer – based on actual costs of maintaining homes and estates, not a ‘national formula’. Now they want to discriminate against tenants who choose to stay with their council.
“Council tenants and their landlords will not be bullied into accepting unsustainable levels of debt based on poverty standards.
“We will not accept anything less than fair funding to bring homes and estates up to genuinely decent standards, and maintain them for a sustainable future.”
The government is trying to rush through the consultation period during the summer.
But the shifts evident in their proposals show that even the most determined neoliberal policies of the government can be challenged and beaten.
The recent shifts in policy should be a spur to tenants and activists to push hard for new decent council houses, repairs to existing homes and an end to privatisation.
For more information and campaigns go to » www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk