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 »

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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 »


Homelessness and the Housing Revenue Account

May 11, 2017

Swindon Council’s second raid on the housing account

As Swindon Council faces the decline of central government Revenue Support Grant year on year, it has scrabbled around desperately looking for ways of saving money. Its imposition of parish councils on the town without a democratic mandate was one such means, transferring services and costs to the new parishes1. Casting its eye around for other sources of money to cover the growing financial chasm in the General Fund, it organised a “transfer of assets” between that fund and the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), the separate account for council housing. It transferred garages and some shops owned by the HRA to the General Fund, giving the latter an extra annual income of £1.25 million. After some housing owned by the General Fund was transferred to the HRA as a sweetener, the housing account still loses an income of more than £500,000 a year. The ruling group had said that the outcome of the transfer between the two accounts would be “fair and balanced”. In reply to a question at a cabinet open forum the Cabinet Member cynically replied, “yes, but we never said it would be equal”! “Fair and balanced” meant the General Fund gaining at the expense of the HRA and tenants.

Now faced with a funding gap for homelessness prevention and relief (for reasons explained below) they decided to make another raid on the HRA. The Council Cabinet proposed to use £17 million of HRA money to buy 80-100 properties on the open market so that they could transfer some families currently housed in the private rented sector and thus prevent the General Fund from having to pay for them. Their presentation of this as action to deal with homelessness was pure propaganda. This was simply a means of preventing the General Fund having to cover a funding gap of £400,000. (Read on below or download a PDF here sbcraid ) Read the rest of this entry »


Housing Associations capitulate over ‘right to buy’

October 3, 2015

When the idea of the extension of ‘right to buy’ to housing associations was first floated housing association representative, including David Orr, head of the National Housing Federation (the ‘trade organisation’ of housing associations) were talking of fighting the proposal. There was also discussion of legal action. Yet the NHF has organised an ignominious capitulation to the government’s destructive housing agenda. Mr Orr negotiated an ‘agreement’ with Housing Minister Greg Clark in which instead of being forced to sell off their homes they will do it ‘voluntarily’. HA’s affiliated to the NHF were given just a week to decide on whether or not to sign the capitulation terms or else the government would proceed to legislate to introduce RTB extension. The spurious argument in favour was that this was a means of defending the ‘independence’ of housing associations. What sort of independence is it when private organisations are told by central government that they have to sell off their assets? (Download a PDF here hacapitulation or read on below) 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 »


Ending right to buy “full stop”

August 8, 2015

Tackling the Housing Crisis, produced for Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for the Labour leadership stands in stark contrast to New Labour’s housing policy. The document recognises the need for a large scale council house building programme to tackle the crisis. It’s a welcome contribution which would have been unthinkable coming from a Leader, or potential leader, of the Labour Party prior to Jeremy’s nomination. I’ll comment on the document in due course, but here’s just one important point of difference with it.

Tackling the Housing Crisisis disappointing in one important respect: its failure to call for an end to ‘right to buy’. It says that “we should be reducing the harm it causes to our affordable housing stock”. To that end it proposes giving local authorities “in areas of high housing stress” the power to suspend right to buy “in order to protect depleting social housing assets”. It also says that the discount could be reduced. 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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