Labour should end Right to Buy

February 12, 2018

During his first leadership election Jeremy Corbyn was interviewed by Red Brick, the blog of London Labour Housing Group. He was asked about the issue of Right to Buy (RTB). He responded that he would vote against the extension of RTB to housing associations and was personally in favour of “ending RTB, full stop”.

However, such was the symbolic importance of RTB in relation to New Labour that even Jeremy’s campaign team was hesitant about crossing this particular Rubicon and calling for an end to RTB sales. His campaign document “Tackling the Housing Crisis” spoke instead of “reducing the harm it causes to our affordable housing stock”. It proposed giving local authorities the power (though only in “areas of high housing stress”) to suspend RTB in order to protect “depleting social housing assets”. We know there was a discussion in the campaign team though we don’t know the detail. Undoubtedly there were fears that ending RTB would be denounced by his opponent as left wing lunacy. Small c conservatism won the day. Read the rest of this entry »


Is Labour’s Housing policy shifting leftwards?

February 8, 2018

Is Labour’s housing policy shifting leftwards? It’s official policy of suspending Right to Buy (RTB) sales was introduced by Teresa Pearce1 when she was temporarily Shadow Housing Minister. This was after John Healey had participated in the coordinated resignations of Shadow Cabinet members aimed at forcing Jeremy Corbyn to resign. Pearce had said that the policy “could only make sense in a time of surplus, in a time of shortage it makes no sense at all”. It didn’t go as far as we would like. We believe RTB should be ended as in Scotland and Wales. However, the new policy did at least mark a step away from New Labour’s craven support for RTB.

When this attempt to force Corbyn out failed and he won the second Leadership contest John Healey, somewhat magnanimously was invited back as Shadow Housing Minister.

In March of last year I wrote to John Healey on behalf of Swindon Tenants Campaign Group when Housing Minister Gavin Barwell made a statement about RTB. He said that the policy was only “politically justifiable” if homes sold are replaced by new homes built. Here was the political equivalent of an open goal but John Healey ignore it. We suggested that Barwell’s statement was an opportunity for him to demand that the Minister suspend RTB given the fact that homes were not being replaced. Alas, we did not get a response to our suggestion from Mr Healey. We did eventually get confirmation from his office that the policy of suspending RTB still remained in place. Yet nothing was done to campaign for it. It remained a policy on paper only. Given John Healey’s well known support for RTB we suspected that he was on strike against implementing the policy. Read on below or download a PDF here healeyland Read the rest of this entry »

Councils need government grant to fund large scale council house building programme

January 28, 2018

This is an article published on the Labour Briefing website


Raising the ‘borrowing cap’ is not a solution to the council housing shortage

There has been much talk of late about councils being able to “ borrow to build” new council housing. They are each currently subject to a borrowing cap/limit. Calls for raising the cap or ending it are based on the premise that this would enable councils to significantly increase council house building. Shadow Housing Minister John Healey recently suggested that lifting the cap would enable councils to build “tens of thousands” of new council homes, though he offered no evidence.
It’s the contention of Swindon Tenants Campaign Group that the funding crisis which local authority Housing Revenue Accounts (HRAs) suffer precludes building again on a large scale by means of taking on more debt. To test out this view we have analysed government data on local authority HRAs. What we found undermines the idea that more borrowing can open the way to re-launching a large scale council house building programme.

Read the rest of this entry »

“Tenants pay for housing fiascos, from post-Grenfell bills to ‘self-financing’ “

January 28, 2018

This was a letter published in the Guardian.

The suggestion that lifting the borrowing cap will enable councils to build council housing on a grand scale ignores the funding crisis faced by local authority Housing Revenue Accounts. Council HRAs still have £26 billion of ‘debt’ which they have to service. When 136 authorities were given an extra £13 billion debt in 2012 when ‘self-financing’ was introduced, it was based on estimates of income over 30 years which bear no comparison with the rent councils are actually collecting.

They are taking in much less rent than was built into the ‘debt settlement’. Over the course of their 30 year business plans individual councils are taking in hundreds of millions of pounds less as a result of government policies such as the four year rent cut. This shortage of funds has led them to cut back on vital work on existing stock. Failing to renew key housing components before they wear out can only lead to a deterioration in the conditions of the stock and hence tenants’ living conditions.

Fundamentally, council HRAs have insufficient funds to maintain and renew their existing stock. The ‘debt’ was manipulated by governments of all stripes to fleece tenants who have in fact paid more in rent than the cost of historic building programmes.

There can be no large scale council building programme without central government grant.

Martin Wicks

Secretary Swindon Tenants Campaign Group

Lessons from the collapse of Carillion

January 26, 2018

There is a lot to unpick from Carillion’s demise and the lessons to be drawn. Here are some initial observations.

The House of Commons Library Briefing, The collapse of Carillion, tells us that

In the eight years from 2009 to 2016, Carillion paid out £554 million in dividends, almost as much as the cash it made from operations. In the five years from 2012 to 2016, Carillion paid out £217 million more in dividends than it generated in cash for its operations.”

It also informs us that over the eight years from December 2009 to January 2018, the total owed by Carillion in loans increased from £242 million to an estimated £1.3 billion; more than five times the value at the beginning of the decade. Reportedly Carillion was left with only £29 million of cash when it collapsed. The banks to whom it owes money are exposed to the tune of £2 billion. Read on below or download a PDF here lessonscarillion Read the rest of this entry »

Swindon Advertiser journalists strike

January 5, 2018

Congratulations to the Adver journalists on having the courage to take industrial action. For the younger ones amongst them this will be the first time they have taken strike action. They would not have done so without having genuine grievances. Sometimes you have to act against over-mighty management or they will continue to take advantage of you. You have to act together and stick together to improve your wages and your working conditions.

This situation tells us some interesting things about the town. Some time ago I had a conversation with Chris Humphreys about the housing situation. I was surprised to find that the younger journalists tended to live in shared accommodation. They couldn’t afford the rent for a flat. Private rents are outstripping wage increases year after year.

According to the Valuation Agency Office the average rent for a room in a shared house in Swindon for the year ending September 2017 was £444 a month as compared to a one bedroom property with an average rent of £595. That’s a big difference. Even a lower quartile room in a shared house costs £395 whilst the average for a one bedroom flat was £550. Annual rent of £6,600 is a lot of money given the pay that these journalists are receiving. Read the rest of this entry »

Why is housing benefit stopped when claiming Universal Credit?

November 2, 2017

The difficulties facing people on Universal Credit are now widely known. People making a claim are faced with a wait of 6 weeks or more before they get their first payment. One of the critical components of UC is the housing element which replaces housing benefit (or local housing allowance for private tenants). An application for UC is treated as a new claim which means that somebody who has previously been receiving housing benefit suddenly finds it stopped. This inevitably means that, unless they have some savings, they are cast into rent arrears. The poorer somebody is then the more difficult it is for them to extricate themselves from debt, which, in this case, is no fault of theirs. Even though advance payments can be issued (the DWP kept this quiet for a long time) it is a loan which has to be repaid over 6 months. Read the rest of this entry »

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