“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


May: limping towards the finishing line?

June 5, 2017

Writing this on the Monday before the election only a mug would predict the outcome. The polls are all over the place. However, given the fact that May called the election to give herself ‘a stronger mandate’, if she does not secure an increased majority she will have suffered a big defeat. She went into the election with a working majority of 17, with predictions of a landslide, some suggesting she would outdo Thatcher’s 1983 majority of 144 seats. The landslide looks increasingly unlikely and her campaign has been so bad that the usually Tory supporting media are deriding her performance.

Far from being strong and stable, Mrs May has looked curiously brittle” said the Financial Times in its not very enthusiastic call for a Tory vote. Perhaps the only reason they adopt such a position is that “the alternative to Mrs May is worse.” The FT bemoans the “sad indictment on the state of Britain that neither of the main party leaders is particularly impressive.”

Still, even though Mrs May is “the safer bet” this “does not amount to a blank cheque (for Brexit)”. Her ability to deliver “the best deal for Britain in terms of the closest possible relationship with the EU is worryingly unclear”. The FT thinks that she “limps towards the election finishing line”. It’s verdict is that

The Prime Ministers campaign has diminished her standing and unleashed recriminations within the Conservative ranks.” Read on below or download a PDF here limpingmay Read the rest of this entry »

The surplus and the parishes

July 1, 2016

Some while ago I suggested to Swindon’s Cabinet that they should be pressing the government to abandon their target for a £10 billion surplus by 2020. As I pointed out to them if the target was break-even then the £6 billion of cuts to local government would not be necessary. They wouldn’t even have to abandon their support for ‘austerity’.

The anti-democratic parishes proposal was premised on acceptance of the level of cuts from central government, based on the surplus proposal. Yesterday, Theresa May, one of the candidates in the Tory leadership election indicated that this surplus target, described by the Financial Times as ‘extreme’ and unnecessary, said it should be abandoned. Today the Chancellor has dumped it, citing the dangers of a recession and the economic shock following the vote to leave the European Union.

We can argue over whether the ‘austerity’ programme was necessary in the first place (obviously I don’t think it was) but this announcement provides an open door for Swindon Council to press for an end to the £6 billion cuts to local government. If the surplus has been abandoned then there is no need for this scale of cuts.

If the Tory administration does not recognise the significance and consequence of this announcement, and simply proceeds with its plans then it will be doing so for ideological reasons. Of course, we do not know to what extent the budget plans of a new government will differ from Osborne’s but the abandonment of the aim of a £10 billion surplus by 2020, at the very least offers the possibility of a scaling back of local government cuts.

There is nothing to stop the administration supporting such a move and pressing their MPs to do likewise. To proceed with their parishes proposal as if nothing had changed would reinforce the widespread feeling of the local population that they are contemptuous of the opinion of local people.

This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser

Osborne keeps piling up the debt

August 28, 2015

The House of Commons Library has just produced a briefing note, “Government borrowing, debt and debt interest: historical statistics and forecasts”. It shows historical statistics for

  • Public sector net borrowing (PSNB) – current account borrowing;

  • Public sector net debt (PSND) – government debt overall;

  • Debt interest payments – annual.

The Table (extracts of which are shown below) shows the amount in billions of pounds and as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Examine the figures and you can see the extent of Osborne’s big lie about the crash being the result of Labour’s profligacy in public spending. In fact Osborne announced in September 2007 that the Tories would match Labour’s public spending projections for the next three years. He said:

The result of adopting these spending totals is that under the Conservative government there will be real increases in spending on public services, year after year. The charge from our opponents that we will cut services becomes transparently false.” (Read on below or download a PDF here osbornesdebt) Read the rest of this entry »

Tory war of attrition against Council housing

August 11, 2015

Just before the general election the Tories announced that they were going to extend ‘right to buy’ to Housing Associations and to force Councils to sell off so-called ‘high value’ Council homes to fund it. Not only will this mean that Councils will lose scarce housing stock but it will undermine the finances of Council housing for reasons we will explain below. Only 6,600 Council homes were built in the five years of the coalition government. More than double that number were demolished: 13,530 in the first four years of the coalition (we don’t have a figure for the last year yet). The coalition introduced an ‘enhanced right to buy’ scheme with higher discounts which increased sales significantly (see Appendix). Over the first four years of the coalition government Council housing stock shrank by 104,000 in England alone.  {Read on below or download a PDF here attrition } Read the rest of this entry »

Tory ballot-rigging threatens democratic right to strike

June 16, 2015

“Today’s Queen’s Speech is a speech for working people, from a One Nation government that will bring our country together.” David Cameron

The government’s ‘reform’ of trade union law constitutes an anti-democratic ballot rigging proposal designed to undermine the potential power of trades unions and to strengthen the power of employers over their workers.

One of the government’s key Bills in the New Parliament is the Trades Unions Bill. The declared purpose of the Bill, according to Minister Sajid Javid, is to “ensure hard-working people are not disrupted by little supported strike action”. The legislation is said to seek to ensure that strikes were the result of “clear, positive and recent decisions by union members” giving strikes a “democratic mandate”, “minimising disruption for hard working tax payers”. The centre-piece of the legislation will be amendment of the balloting regulations, but there are other proposals included which show that the purpose of the Bill has nothing to do with a democratic mandate but is designed to weaken trades unions and give more powers to the employers. (Download a PDF here balloting  or read on below)  Read the rest of this entry »

Get off the fence Harriet – Labour should oppose the theft of ‘social housing’

June 7, 2015

At the recent Prime Minister’s Question Time David Cameron goaded interim Labour Leader Harriet Harman on Labour’s attitude to the extension of ‘right to buy’ to Housing Associations. Did Labour agree with it? She failed to answer, repeatedly. Why? Her failure to respond reflects Labour’s fear that they will be denounced as being against “aspiration”. Yet the answer to Cameron should have been obvious. The government has no right to tell independent organisations that they have to sell their properties. With a little intelligence, something seemingly beyond the Labour front bench currently, she could have pointed out that if Labour has proposed extending the ‘right to buy’ to the properties of private landlords the Tories would have screamed that this was theft, class war, or even worse, socialism. Heaven forbid, this would challenge the sanctity of private property. But isn’t that what the government is proposing in relation to Housing Associations which are private businesses, albeit that most of them have charity status? How can they tell these independent organisations what to do? Whatever happened to ‘localism’? Download a PDF here getoffthefence of read on below. Read the rest of this entry »

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