Sunday, June 12, 2011

Caroline Flint MP “a tough love sort of girl”

Caroline Flint, the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was the guest speaker at the Tower Hamlets Labour Party Housing Policy forum at The Centre in Merchant Street, E3 last month. I was invited as a member of Tower Hamlets TULO. She gave us a presentation followed by a Q&A.

Now, some of the things she said that I thought interesting. “Housing is not just about having a roof over your head. It is linked to your journey
through life and what are your aspirations. People still want to buy their own home.  Home ownership may be “the english disease” but this is what people want if they win the lottery. They want a stake in life.  Not only for their children but for help with social care when they are older. How to increase the supply? Look at finance and supply. There are uncompetitive banks and building societies. It is easier to get a mortgage on a £200k new build than get £50k to do up and refurbish a home. There are over a million empty homes in UK. New build is VAT free, with a refurbishment you pay VAT. A very narrow range of builders.  A few big ones and lots of very,very small ones.  

Caroline was brought up in the private rental sector then the family had a council flat.  But with secure tenancies with fair rents. This is nonexistent nowadays.  While the private sector needs to be part of the solution.  This governments unfettered faith in the private sector is wrong. Labour is now engaged in a completely open policy debate. Willing to look at piloting housing policies in Labour Councils. Turn a talking shop into reality. 

In the Q&A I made a comment about despairing about housing in London due to the very high land prices.  Each Social housing unit in London had cost an average £100k in subsidy.  My question was related to her comments about pension funds and housing investment.  The Local Government Pension scheme has £160 billion investments and wants to invest long term secure low risk asset based investments.  What joined up thinking can her Shadow CLG team bring on this matter?  She said they will be looking into such ideas.
Question about Paris having a more successful housing policy since most people rent. Caroline said they may rent in Paris but many own homes elsewhere. Then one on the sub-letting of social
Housing it not only immoral - but should it be made illegal? (No real answer to that one)  

Social housing should not be a refuse of last resort. We need mixed neighbourhoods. So if someone gets a pay rise and they then risk losing their home, what is the incentive to work? Cameron and Shapps have a lack of understanding about what is and what isn’t possible. We need to help people make the journey they want to make.

Caroline says she is a tough love sort of girl. You should respect your environment, your neighbours and pay your rent. There are not only entitlements but responsibilities.

Caroline has three messages to Labour Councils. Show that Labour can get good value for money for services, they can get more people involved and have a say and have a sense of what you want to do.

Finally “aspiration”. Not everyone can own their own home at the end of the day. It is sad that so many people from all walks of life think their children will not do better than them. We should be on the right side of these people. Most people don’t want too much from government. The 1945 victory was broad based coalition who believed that Labour was about offering them a better future”.

Great action picture taken by Dan McCurry (with my camera!). Many thanks to TH Labour Party for the invite (and well done for arranging such good events.  Next one is on Health in July with John Healey MP). 

This post was from the last time I attended a "meeting" with Caroline, also in Tower Hamlets.
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