This is the initial response of the Defend Council Housing campaign to the government’s consultation on reform of Council Housing Finance, published on July 21st. The consultation finishes on October 27th.
We said we would measure proposals in the government’s consultation on reform to council housing finance against our long-standing demands – and they fall short.
The consultation document explicitly promises “a level playing field between transfer and retention”. But the demand by tenants, trade unionists, councillors and MPs for a ‘level playing field’ with transfer does not mean levelling the field down to the poverty standards previously on offer for retained council housing.
The promise of capital grants in excess of £6 billion to meet the backlog of outstanding works offers real hope to those areas where tenants have refused to be blackmailed into transfer or ALMO. But councils also need enough funding to maintain these standards, to prevent us going round the same cycle of disrepair again.
The government promised that this review would deliver a “long-term sustainable future” for council housing. But the amount of extra money being offered for management, maintenance and major repairs in the long-term is derisory. A mere 24% uplift for major repairs is a kick in the teeth – a fraction of the necessary 75% identified by the government’s own research. It is laughable that the BRE are now suggesting only a 5% uplift in management and maintenance, where they previously recommended 40% (see below for details).
Tenants would welcome a quality standard which includes “lifts, garages, CCTV, TV reception, alarms, play areas, external lighting, walls and fences, and grass and planted areas” – but what confidence can we have that such standards will be possible with so little increase in funding?
The government’s impact assessment gives further evidence that the settlement falls well short of what is needed. With a projected cost of £12.3 billion they are only planning to reduce, not end, their robbery. Under the present system they will take more than £22 billion over 30 years – under the new proposals they will still be taking more than £10 billion (see below for details).
£12.3 billion is a significant breakthrough for our determined campaign over many years for the fourth option of direct investment. It’s real money on the table which will translate into real doors and windows and roofs and kitchens for tenants. But tenants and councils won’t accept a settlement which isn’t going to deliver decent homes and estates for the long term. The door is opening and now more than ever we need a strong united campaign to push it all the way.
The consultation document suggests a reformed national system of allowances as an option. This would be far safer: it would be crazy to accept an inadequate settlement in exchange for all the risks of self-financing.
Finally, the government’s outright refusal that the Treasury should bear any responsibility for writing off debt does not address any of our criticisms. 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’, but now they want to discriminate against tenants who chose to stay with their council! Council housing is a public asset, but the government dares to try and argue that the public should not pay for the historic cost of building it – a government which hands over billions to bankers to pay for their toxic debt.
We welcome the decision by the select committee of MPs which oversees the Communities and Local Government department to scrutinise these proposals before the consultation ends.
Our message to the minister must be clear: 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.
What you can do
Get your council to cost what the settlement means for them – and how much they really need. Get them to send this as evidence for the select committee’s inquiry; and as a response to the government’s consultation.
Organise a meeting to discuss the proposals. DCH will try and send a speaker
Details of submission to select committee
Each submission should:
be no more than 3,000 words in length;
begin with a short summary in bullet point form;
have numbered paragraphs;
be in Word format (no later than 2003) with as little use of colour or logos as possible; and
be accompanied by a covering letter containing the name and contact details of the individual or organisation submitting evidence.
A copy of the submission should be sent by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and marked “Decent Homes”
If you are unable to send an electronic version, please send a paper copy to:
Communities and Local Government Committee
House of Commons