Defend Council Housing Conference launches Open Letter to Blair

A DCH conference on May 22nd has agreed to step up the pressure on the government by launching an open letter to Tony Blair demanding the right for direct investment in Council Housing.

Tenants, trade unionists and councillors from across the UK met at the TUC in London for the DCH national conference on May 22. The conference launched a new Open Letter to Tony Blair as a focus to unite all those demanding the ‘Fourth Option’ to provide a long term secure future for council housing. The ‘Fourth Option’ directly benefits areas retaining council housing, those in ALMOs opposed to two-stage privatisation and those facing transfer, PFI or ALMO in the coming year.
Jack Dromey reported to the conference that the Labour Party working group to address the ‘Fourth Option’ motion passed at their September conference was due to meet for the first time.

Download copies of the open letter to use in your area – get tenants, trade unionists, councillors and MPs to sign. Put motions through tenants and trade union organisations supporting the open letter, get leading tenants and union reps and councillors to write a letter to the local press and help get the open letter circulated as widely as possible.

Downlaod the Resolution passed at the Conference.Report from the Conference

Council tenants from across the country met with councillors and trade union delegates attending the DCH national conference at TUC Congress House in London. 42 areas were represented.
The plenary session, chaired by Alan Walter heard from Michael Meacher MP, Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary T&G; Reg Edwards, Milton Keynes councillor; David Eggmore, UNISON London Local Government; Mike Tansey, Sunderland councillor and Eileen Short, from Tower Hamlets. Austin Mitchell MP on a Public Account delegation to US sent apologies along with Jenni Morrow, secretary Scottish Tenants Organisation.

Delegates split into four workshops. Janet Sillett from the Local Government Information Unit explained how the ‘fourth option’ can be funded and answered questions. Dexter Whitfield from the Centre for Public Services and Paul Burnham, a tenant involved in Haringey DCH, lead off a discussion on the ‘Future of ALMOs’. Eileen Short introduced ‘Organising Effective Local Campaigns’ and Lesley Carty briefed delegates on the Case Against Transfer.

Jack Dromey, T&G deputy general secretary, informed delegates that the Labour Party NEC working group set up to address the terms of the 2005 conference decision was finally going to meet: “two years running at the Labour Party conference there were overwhelming votes in favour of the ‘fourth option’ and they were until January of this year simply ignored by government and that’s absolutely wrong.”

“I must say that as well as the campaign for the ‘fourth option’ that I also think that we need a second string to our bow and that’s councils once again being able to engage in new build. In 1970 there were 172,000 council homes built. By 2001 councils built 487 council homes. In the same year RSLs they built only 22,000. So at a time when the trend is for more people wanting houses what we have got is a decline in social housing and at the heart of that is councils not being able to engage in new build.

But crucially at the next stages we need the twin objectives of on the one hand a free choice for tenants and that must mean a wider range of options open to councils and if tenants vote to stay with their council why should the council not have the resources to renovate council homes. And on the other hand because we need many more units of accommodation councils should be free once again be able to engage in new build with the support of government.

Now today is very well timed because it happens that we have finally have got started tomorrow, Tuesday, the debate within the party around the future options of the councils, including the fourth option and also councils once again engaging in new build. I have to say by the way that in January of this year that was agreed and here we are almost at the end of May but I raised very strongly ten days ago with the party secretary saying that look we can’t have the situation where two years running we ignore decisions then at last you agree to enter into a debate and then we wait the best part of five months and bugger all happens.

I think we conditioned the thinking and that debate will commence tomorrow. I don’t want to mislead. I wish that I could say today that we are going to be able to quickly make the kind of progress that we would like to see. But I tell you this. The door is open and it’s in our hands at the next stages as to how this progress is made. What’s been said is that there will be a process over the next eighteen months, leading up to the next comprehensive spending review, with housing a central issue within that, around those twin issues of councils being able to build and councils being able to renovate their housing stock.

I suspect that you like me will take the same view which is we are not going to wait for eighteen month for an outcome. And that then leads on to how we conduct ourselves at the next stages.”

I think it is disrespectful for tenants to say to tenants that you can have any choice provide that it is not the choice you want.

You can have the best arguments in the world but to break through what you need is overwhelming community and political pressure and from within the party pressure on government for a change of policy. That means therefore that all of us here today have got a very important role to play. Tenant activists at the sharp end working together with trade unionists and others. MPs like Micheal and Austin. A lot of good councillors who have bravely spoken out on this issue. Working together with us in the trade unions at national level so that we do is win the argument but also win then that change of policy. I am confident, like Michael, that we can do it. I applaud the work that you have done thus far and at the next stages, I’ll tell you what, us having forced that door, it’s not just people like me – it’s all of us together, all of us together – having forced that door open in government let’s go through that door and win what tenants deserve and that is a genuine choice for the future and councils once again engaging in new build.”

Michael Meacher MP, a member of the House of Commons Council Housing group supporting the campaign, criticised Ministers for saying:

“You can’t have money for investment in repairs and improvements unless you privatise, go to a housing association or to an ALMO. This is one of the great scandals of our time. Just look at the government’s own arguments. Well the government says they believe in real choice. ..Why can’t we choose to stay with our local authority and receive the same funding for council housing.

The government says that it believes in transparency and fairness. So do we all. How do they justify siphoning off this £2b a year in housing revenue account and right to buy receipts. How do you justify prohibiting councils from using their own rental income and the value of their own housing stock in order to support borrowing to fund housing improvements…”

Alan Walter, DCH chair, summed up where the campaign has got to:

“We’ve build an unprecedented alliance of tenants, trade unions, councillors and MPs. We’ve won the argument almost everywhere except in the Cabinet.

The government has come under sustained pressure in the last year, including: evidence from the House of Commons Council Housing group (May 2005); the Audit Commission call for a ‘review of housing finance (June 2005); 98 local authorities opting for stock retention (July 2005); the almost unanimous vote at the Labour Party conference (Sept 2005); the DCH Lobby of Parliament (Feb 2006), 144 MPs signing the current Early Day Motion and a growing proportion of NO votes including Sedgefield, Tower Hamlets, West Lancs, Waverley, Edinburgh, Selby, Mid-Devon, Cannock Chase and Waveney.

Our job now is to unite all those in the 98 authorities retaining their council homes, the 50 odd councils with ALMOs who don’t want the second stage of privatisation and help those facing new privatisation proposals to see the threat off in their area.

We need to take the open letter to Blair onto every council estate, get trade unionists signing up at work and ask every elected councillor to sign too. Ministers need to realise that come September, when the Labour Party conference meets again, the spotlight will be on whether they are capable of listening and respond to the overwhelming demand that they deliver on improving all our council homes and estates.”

1. Help get the open letter circulated as widely as possible
2. Download copies of the campaign open letter to use in your area
3. Get tenants, trade unionists, councillors and MPs to sign
4. Put motions through tenants and trade union organisations supporting the open letter
5. Ask leading tenants and union reps and councillors to write a letter to the local press urging others to sign too

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