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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Homes for all

Today's debate on housing shares a common factor with many motions that come to Liberal Democrat Federal Conference, it makes an attempt to acknowledge and take account of the devolution settlement but does not quite make it.

The motion is starred as applying to England only but in fact two proposals, one to create a level playing field for Council tenants by giving them an alternative to stock transfer and the second, suggesting changes to the way that Housing Revenue Accounts are administered, impact on Treasury policy and thus would apply across the whole of the UK.

What is unusual about the motion is that unlike the vast majority of those that now appear at Conference it reads as an uncosted wish list, and a very expensive one at that. The proposal to build 1.3 million new affordable homes across England is very worthy and may well be affordable. However, if at the same time we are to use public money to remove various injustices in the housing subsidy given to local Councils, pay off any debt they may have built up over the years in building and repairing Council housing and change Housing benefit rules so as to put Council's on an equal footing with Housing Associations, then things start to get very expensive indeed.

These last proposals are not set out in the motion but they are a direct consequence of creating a level playing field and creating a fourth option for tenants. They are all very worthy goals but can we afford them?

My view is that we need to prioritise. Stock Transfer puts social housing in the third sector but still heavily regulated by Government and it also enables the improvement of tenants' homes without a significant cost to the public purse. If, by doing that, we can then use what limited resources we have to provide affordable homes to those struggling to get on the housing ladder, then shouldn't that be our priority? It is up to Conference of course, but really, on housing as with everything else, we do need to recognise economic reality.
Economic reality is simple really an Olympic games costing us what 10 20 billion, Llanelii Scarlets getting loans worth millions to play rugby, we have people living in a shanty town in my village, reality is simple no games, but houses homes for the people who we allow to come here.

9 billion we would be able to rebuild a lot of houses, or do up a dam sight more, I counted around me in Llaneli just around me, 30 houses which are boarded up and have been for years. whats wrong with them, they are two dirty or will cost to much to do up, how much is to much to a person living in a shanty town hut on waste ground, to the 5th richest country in the world.
Stock transfer does not keep housing in the public sector. This statement is factually wrong.
"Just for the record Glyn I had my mobile switched off from 10.30am to 2.30pm yesterday as I was with the Queen. It was only when I switched it back on that I got messages asking me to appear on Richard Evans's show. Too late."

That is the most pompous comment I have ever read on ANY blog.
God you must be sad to have writtne that!
Council housing is 100% democratically controlled by Councillors. Housing Associations are only 33% democratically controlled, with a third from tenants (often the usual suspects) and the rest from the assocation. As you pointed out, they still use public money so how are they cheaper to the public purse? I can only assume that you want to offload them because you are incapable of managing the housing stock yourself. Tenants also have less protection through stock transfer, with assured rather than secured tenancies.
Anon 10.55am: I have amended the statement slightly but although Housing Associations would class themselves as being in the third sector, they have all the safeguards of the public sector when it comes to protecting tenants. They are funded with public money, strictly regulated by Government and their rent levels dictated by central government.

Oscar: if that is the most pompous comment you have ever read on any blog then you need to get out more. You have of course taken it out of context but then I suppose I can expect no less

Anon 10.13pm: Like many others I do not want to force the transfer of Council housing. If a Council is able to bring its homes up to standard from its own resources then it should be encouraged to do so. The priority however must be to give tenants the best deal by ensuring that they have the highest possible standard of housing in which to live.

The Community Mutual model adopted by the Welsh Government effectively creates a landlord run by and for the tenants. In many ways that is more effective than a vote every four years for Councillors in an election often decided on non-housing issues.

The issue is not that Councils cannot manage the housing stock but that they often do not have the necessary resources to invest in those homes. Treasury rules mean that the only way this can be done is through stock transfer. I do not accept that tenants have less protection through assured tenancies but I do support a single social tenancy so as to address fears on this issue.

The point of this post is that we can change the rules but the cost of doing so is immense. The question then arises is this the main priority or would the money be better spent on new affordable homes. That is a question each political party needs to answer.
Or stop all immigration you cannot have both without having some kind of plan to house people, then again I'm sure people will make money out of it some how, perhaps selling wood for houses car tyres, and of course tarpaulins.
You should not believe everything you read in the tabloids Robert.
Peter, you have to laugh at some of these comments about council housing being democratically controlled by councillors. Obviously the anonymous contributors have never sat on a Housing Committee. The simple fat is that stock transfer where it has occurred has allowed council tenants for the first time a direct say in how their housing is run. Even if there are independent members they are committed to housing unlike many of the councillors who over the years have neglected the housing stock. Bridgend CBC inherited in 1996 a situation where the previous district council had left with a backlog of repairs totalling £26m whilst spending £9m out of £17m budget on Leisure. Some of the council houses were frankly a disgrace. Instead of individuals getting on their ideological high horse,particularly when theyoftn live in private housing, they should be looking for practical solutions to improve the state of the public housing stock in Wales.Even if councils were allowed to borrow the demands on other services together with the restraints of the prudential borrowing code would make it virtually impossible for most to borrow the money required. The real issue at the moment is that the downturn in the housing market together with government policy on house construction could put off housebuilders from developing a number of marginal sites in Wales. If this happens then it will also effect the social housing which is delivered on the back of most housing developments.
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