Saturday, April 20, 2013

London Labour Housing Group Policy Conference April 2013

Last Saturday (April 13) I went to the London Labour Housing Group policy conference in Paddington. This event was sponsored by UNISON.

I was a little late since I had my Council surgery in Newham first. By coincidence I had 3 people come to me with separate housing related issues and was presented with a petition!

So I missed the key note speaker Jack Dromey MP and arrived during the first workshop.  I did manage to have a very quick word with him about the possibility of Council Pension funds investing in Social Housing. 

The workshop was on "London’s changing tenures: what are the implications for policy?" The report backs from the workshops on policy implications included the need for a mansion tax; a London "not for profit" letting agency; we need new build since 93% of money spent on housing is spent on housing benefit and not on new housing investment; need to build communities; leaseback of right to buy properties if owners unable to maintain; build more homes is the solution to bedroom tax.

Newham Council was praised for its Local Space Housing company which has bought private homes for temporary lets and for its Borough wide Private Sector licensing project.There was also mention of the need of a concordat with local authorities and the more democrat and responsible housing associations. After lunch there was the 2nd workshop on "Housing policies: what should Labour’s key promises be in 2014?"

Key promises from the report backs included the regulation of landlords across London and a "Fair Deal" for the private sector; stop fraud and tax evasion by landlords; no eviction for non payment of bedroom tax (but you cannot write off the debt); pledge to build more homes at affordable rents; CPO abandoned properties and bring back into use; increase Council tax on empty properties; green our existing stock; look at balance sheets of Housing associations that are not building; support TRA and instead of "right to buy" what about a "right to build" for homeless or overcrowded residents in every borough?

Finally (see picture) there was a plenary and panel discussion, Chaired by Karen Buck MP on "Campaigning on housing in 2014".  On the panel was Sir Steve Bullock, Jacky Peacock OBE, Councillor James Murray and myself (in my UNISON capacity).

Karen in her introduction praised Tory Secretary of State for Communities, Eric Pickles, as being "brilliant" for the way he tries to justify his despicable policies by antidote e.g. inferring that if only Councils did not pay their CEO's so much then no cuts would be necessary. She pointed out that Government by antidote is a disaster but perhaps we should learn from the Tories how to campaign with antidotes.

Steve gave a measured but powerful speech about how our policy and values towards housing defines us as a London Labour Party.  In Q&A Jacky reminded us all of the vital campaigning role that tenant and residents groups had played in the past and how they must be part of any housing solutions future.

James stressed how we must be pragmatic in our campaigning. When Labour took control of Islington Council in 2010, they announced that they will build new homes on spaces in Council estates but were taken back at the hostility to this idea by existing residents. The solution was to promise that any new tenancies would firstly be offered to any residents in need on the existing estates that they were planning to build upon.

I pointed out that we must have a living wage plus in London Housing. Not only a living wage but to defeat poverty, a living pension and sickness benefits for all workers - whether directly employed or sub-contractors.  Also we need to change the debate about taxes in this country. We will not be able to do what we want to do with regard to the provision of housing unless we spend more money. The rich must play their fair share but all of us will also have to pay more in taxes to get decent housing for all.

LLHG secretary (and Red Brick blogger) Steve Hilditch closed the conference and then Karen thanked him and all members of the Executive for their hard work in organising such a successful event.

Some of us then retired to the nearest pub to continue putting our London housing world to rights.

(picture Cllr Ross Houston)
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