The campaign for the 'fourth option' and the right to build council housing

SOLIDARITY News Bulletin February 24th 2006

After the rally and parliamentary lobby in support of the ‘fourth option’ (direct investment in Council Housing) attended by 1,300 people, the Labour Party has announced a working group within the National Policy Forum to address the motion passed ‘almost unanimously’ at the Labour conference. Jack Dromey of the TGWU is on the new working group.
However, Ministers want to drag out the discussion until the Treasury Comprehensive Spending Review in 2007. The Defend Council Housing Campaign says that “‘Fourth Option’ supporters are pleased the government is now moving but we’re not prepared to wait that long!”

Speaking at the Labour spring conference DCHC fringe meeting, Jack Dromey said that the working party will look at two things – “greater freedom for councils to improve their housing and for councils to have a role in new build”.

“My view is that the door is open, but it won’t be easy. We can only win by a combination of the power of our arguments and the power of campaigning. We must continue to engage nationally and to campaign for NO votes until we see tenants having a real choice and councils having real freedoms.”

Writing in the Guardian, Helene Mulholland reported that:

“The government has caved in to Labour party demands and agreed to explore ways of increasing investment in council housing without forcing local authorities to relinquish control of their stock.”

‘Caved in’ is, however, too categorical. This could prove to be a time wasting manoeuvre. Moreover, there is an ideological obstacle to the government giving way. The committee is headed by Sir Jeremy Beecham. According to him the party is exploring ways for Councils to invest directly, but keeping it off the “public expenditure books”.

One of the options apparently could be a ‘community trust’ model, whereby the stock would be collectively “owned” by tenants while remaining in council hands. “It is an idea to be explored,” he said. If this is some semi-privatisation then it is not direct investment.
The obstacle here is the ‘prudence’ of the Chancellor and his dogma in relation to public spending. He is indulging in crooked book keeping. For instance, whilst Network Rail had to be closed down as a private company listed on the stock market, Brown and Blair refused to re-nationalise the railways because the debt currently held by Network Rail as a company limited by guarantee, and run on a commercial basis, would transfer over to the public purse. However, in reality the company is supported by public money and the government will have to pick up the tab if it went belly-up.

Whilst the campaign for the ‘fourth option’ has largely been based on allowing Councils to bring their stock up to grade without privatising them, it’s high time the emphasis of the campaign shifted to the clear demand that the government end the financial penalties against Councils should they build new Council stock.

The campaign has tactically called the bluff of the government by saying that if tenants are to have a real choice, then it should allow a “level playing field”. However, given the growing housing crisis the question of building new stock is urgent.

In a recent press release the GMB released figures showing that since 2002 the number of households on council waiting lists had jumped by 450,000 to 1,545,509. The statement of GMB Acting Secretary Paul Kenny is welcome.

“GMB has long argued that the only way to reduce the number of household waiting for social housing is to allow local councils to build council housing for rent. GMB also wants to see an end to the policy of moving up social housing rents up to the level of private sector rents.
It is a complete fallacy to expect private house builders to meet the demand for low cost housing. Workers in low paid sectors of the economy need affordable homes in their local areas. The Labour Government must reverse the Tory government’s policy of ending the building of council houses. This demand is increasingly urgent.”

To this should be added an end to the ‘right to buy’ policy which has helped to create the current housing crisis.

For more on the parliamentary lobby go to:
http://solidaritymagazine.blogspot.com/

Visit the Defend Council Housing web site at:http://www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk/

You can download a single page printable version of this News Bulletin for circulation, from:
http://uk.geocities.com/solidarity_magazine/e-news.htm


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