council housing - tenants step up fight


COUNCIL TENANTS vowed to step up their campaign in defence of council housing at a packed conference at Congress House, London, organised by the Defend Council Housing campaign on 29 October. The conference was also supported by the TUC.

The conference celebrated the fact that at the Labour Party Conference in September delegates had ignored Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's plea to withdraw their motion and voted by 8:1 in favour of funds earmarked for housing stock transfer to the private sector to be made equally available to local councils. A rattled Prescott claimed his review of the public financing of council housing was conditional on the withdrawal of this motion.

Following massive opposition to housing sell-offs in Birmingham, Dudley, Wrexham and Camden, 250 MPs have now backed the call for direct investment. This line is also supported by the Local Government Association of England and Wales, exposing as a lie housing minister Keith Hill's assertion that "there were simply no takers".

It is widely recognised that the government's agenda is political, not economic. Evidence from tenants, local authorities, trade unions, and professional organisations right across Britain, together with the government's own National Audit Office, has forced MPs to conclude that the government's "dogmatic pursuit of the separation of stock management and strategic management" is not economically justified.

Under EU rules RSLs (Registered Social Landlords, such as housing associations) are allowed to borrow and invest "off balance sheet", whereas borrowing in the public sector is restricted. MPs have finally shown the first sign of resistance to this accounting fiddle by pressing the Treasury to commit additional funding to meet its Decent Homes target by 2010.

Against a background of mounting repossessions and bankruptcies, and with so many young couples unable to afford private rents, the task now is not to let Prescott off the hook, but better still, to take a cue from the people of the North East and reject Blair's agenda in favour of saving local authorities and council housing.

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