Activists and tenants from around the country discussed new government proposals on the reform of council housing finance at a national Defend Council Housing (DCH) meeting last Saturday.
Eileen Short, the chair of DCH, opened the meeting saying,“A few years ago we were told to give up the campaign to defend council housing—that the privatisation agenda had won.
“But today we can proudly say that we have turned it around. Council housing is back on the agenda.”
The impact of a hard fought campaign and the economic recession has pushed New Labour to make a number of significant concessions on council housing.
The government has also announced that it will make more money available for the building of council homes. But the number is pitiful—just 3,900 with a waiting list of around 1.8 million.
These concessions are a start, but are not enough.
DCH campaigners voted unanimously that any proposals to change the way in which council housing is financed had to be tested against the following demands:
Allowances for the maintenance and repair of estates, fully funded at the level of need to ensure every council home and estate is improved and maintained at a decent standard.
Guaranteed capital funding to meet the improvement backlog.
Write off of the historic debt from councils. This has been repaid a number of times over through the siphoning off of all rents into the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), known as ‘rent robbery’.
A mass programme of first class council house building.
A moratorium on stock transfers, sell offs and demolition in England, Scotland and Wales.
A reformed national HRA with the above measures in place, would provide tenants with the greatest security and guarantee the survival of council housing.
The break up of the HRA, which the government is proposing, holds risks.
Proposals for maintenance and repairs allowances are around 30 percent lower than even the government’s own research estimated is required for necessary works.
Without secure ringfencing of funds, councils could raid the accounts instead of using them for maintenance and repairs.
The message from the meeting was clear—we have fought and won concessions, now we have to push the campaign forward to win the battle for council housing once and for all.