The campaign against the Tories’ hated Housing and Planning Act took a big step forward yesterday, Saturday, with a 300-strong summit of activists, tenants, residents, trade unionists and councillors.
The Axe the Housing Act campaign is growing as more people get involved and start a local group.
Groups of activists came to the summit from over 15 towns and cities outside London, and most London boroughs.
The Tories' vicious attack means council housing could disappear within a generation.
One of the key questions of the summit was what Labour councils and councillors should do to oppose the Act. Some 20 Labour councillors wrote a letter to the housing minister earlier this year, voicing their opposition to the Act.
This is welcome but campaigners want to know what that opposition means if the Tories push ahead. In one session, the lead councillors for housing for the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Camden, Rachel Blake and Patricia Callaghan, said that they couldn’t break the law.
“All the Labour councils are against this, but are constrained by law,” said Callaghan. “If we resist then they’ll either bring in the civil service, Tories or Lib Dems to run the council.”
If the Act is to be defeated then defying the law will be necessary. Labour councils will not refuse to implement the Act unless they are pressured by strong campaigns. Saturday’s summit was important because it brought councillors together to show how many people are opposed to it.
The Act will also see councils billed for the value of their “higher value” council housing stock when it becomes vacant, whether or not they sell it off.
One Green Party councillor from Brighton argued that Labour should guarantee money taken from councils by central government will be refunded if Labour gets in to office.
The mayor of London Hackney borough, Philip Glanville, said the Act is unworkable at the moment. He said, “We simply won’t be able to implement Pay to Stay next year.”
Pay to Stay (PTS) is another part of the Act. It means that council tenants with a household income over £40,000 in London and £31,000 outside London will have to pay "market rents", a big increase.
Even the Local Government Association (LGA), which housing minister Gavin Barwell is vice chair of, has said PTS is unworkable.
Workshops at the summit came up with concrete ideas to push the campaign forward. Some argued about the need to involve housing associations in the campaign. Another idea was a mass campaign of spoiling Pay to Stay survey forms.
The argument for council housing as the most affordable and secure housing available should be central to the struggle against this Tory assault. Trade unions should actively oppose the Act.
Campaigners now plan to protest outside parliament on the day of the Autumn Statement.
The campaign to beat the Act is going forwards.