Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Affordable Housing Conference - "A Bold Plan for Local Authority to Deliver it’s own Housing"

My speech today at this "Affordable Housing" conference in central London.

"Thank you. As I think I am the only politician speaking today, I hope you will find our perspective of what we are doing in Newham of interest. 

First the bad stuff, which no one here should be surprised about but just needs saying.

Like many Councils up and down the country, Newham is desperately in need of good quality, affordable social homes. For too long supply has failed to keep pace with demand, and a series of damaging Government policies have compounded to result in a disastrous impact on the lives of our residents. As house prices and rents have rocketed in recent years, many of our residents continue to struggle on low incomes.

· In Newham, the impact is stark:

- Nearly half of all Newham residents are now in poverty once housing costs are accounted for.

- Over 28,000 households are currently on our housing waiting list

- More than 5,200 households are living in temporary accommodation(remember this figure).

- And not only does Newham has the highest number of homeless people in England – shockingly, we have 50% more children in temporary accommodation than in the entire north of England.

We have an ambitious local plan to tackle this national crisis – and we are calling on the government and partners for additional action that will help local government to step up the building of truly affordable homes.

Our central argument in that the market alone won’t deliver what people need – you need bold action from government, partners and from local authorities to drive forward affordable housing delivery.

We have set out demanding plans for direct housing delivery:

o 1,000 new Council owned homes at social rent in 4 years.

o 100 started in the first year

o Half of homes delivered in the borough to be genuinely affordable

Our recently agreed Local Plan sets out over the longer term that we will deliver 43,000 homes over 15 years. We have the land available in Newham, and we have the ambition to make a serious impact on London’s housing crisis. We want to work in partnership to do just that.

Our approach to delivering affordable housing has 3 main objectives.

1. Build

a. Direct delivery on Council owned sites &

b. More than 1,000 genuinely affordable homes paid for by grant

c. 1,000 homes for sale with all profits recycled into more affordable housing

2. Acquire

a. Buy into third party schemes

b. Increased provision for a mix of permanent and temporary solutions as part of a housing pathway of homeless prevention and advice

c. Make full use of RTB receipts. 

3. Secure

· Working within the planning system to increase genuinely affordable provision

· We have more than 4,000 affordable homes already with planning consent - of which 40 per cent have started

10 months in to our new administration in the borough, and we are already delivering:

We successfully bid for £107m from the Mayor of London’s Building Council Homes for Londoners Fund - the highest allocation of any London authority.

We have invested £500k to recruit a new housing delivery team, enabling us to have capacity and step up delivery

And we have made sure that our own housing delivery vehicle - Red Door Ventures – is focused on delivering the genuinely affordable homes that Newham needs. RVD is a 100% council-owned company, will be an important driver in the delivery of affordable homes in the borough in the coming years.

There is much more to do – but we want to work in partnership to deliver the genuinely affordable homes that Newham needs. For example, we are also actively looking into with other LA and investors whether our Council pension funds should invest in social housing.

Of course, this cannot just be about numbers of units – we need to involve people in the process. The key phrase of our administration in Newham is ‘putting people at the heart of everything we do’. That means genuinely involving people in decisions – including major decision about their local area.

There has been a strong feeling in Newham and many other communities that regeneration does nothing for the existing local residents – that it displaces local people and just pushes up rents.

It is a feeling that has developed over recent years as the housing crisis has worsened, despite major developments and luxury flats springing up across the capital. And it has also developed because local people do not feel sufficiently consulted and involved in the process. They have often felt ignored

So we will also be pioneering new engagement approaches to involve residents in decision making – in major development like the Carpenters Estate in Stratford.

Finally, as the only politician on the panel, I do need to point out the changes we need from government. We have ambitious plans in Newham. But we continue to be shackled by disastrous Government policies.

The housing crisis is worsened by the government’s damaging and poorly implemented welfare reforms.

And while the lifting of the HRA cap is welcome, we need more funding for local authorities to build the social homes that we need. We need subsidy to make homes truly affordable.

Crucially, we also need to see an end to the Right to Buy (RTB) policy, which continues to strip away our social safety net depriving our residents of hundreds of desperately needed social homes:

Since 1982, Newham Council has lost almost 10k (9,707) social homes to RTB. 1/3 of our stock. The high discounts, the low qualification period, and the restrictions around the use of RTB receipts also mean that it is almost impossible for LA to replace these greatly needed homes.

RTB not delivering its original intention of helping social tenants to purchase and live in their own home. Instead, it is increasingly supporting the growth of the private rented sector - it is shocking that nearly half of all these 10k properties purchased through RTB in Newham are now in the private rented sector. Remember I said earlier we have just over 5k homeless households. Do the maths

England needs to follow the example of Scotland and Wales and end RTB, as a crucial part of a package that will help LAs deliver Localism but also the homes we need in a sustainable way.

Thank you for listening

Monday, March 18, 2019

Sunday, March 17, 2019

United against Terror #Christchurch #Pittsburg #Manchester

Yesterday, following the fascist massacre of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, the Newham Labour Movement family and friends, came together at a vigil outside Stratford Station. All of us were "United Against Terror". 

Newham Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, Stephen Timms MP, Councillors and religious leaders spoke passionately against the foul vile haters, who have murdered innocents in Christchurch, Pittsburg, Manchester and so many other places.   

Afterwards, many of us went with the Mayor to join the "Stand up to Racism" march in Central London which ended up at a rally in Whitehall. 

My own personal views were echoed by many of the speakers at the vigil and the rally.
We were doing at least 3 important things that day. 
  • We were there firstly, to grieve and show solidarity with those murdered or injured at Christchurch. 
  • Secondly, to publicly demonstrate against and campaign against the scourge of fascism, bigotry and hate in all its forms. 
  • Thirdly, out of misery and tragedy sometimes there can be a positive. Despite this latest mass murder by haters, why can there not be be a rainbow alliance of everyone opposed to hate? 

Let us build a movement based on our common humanity. 

WE are the many - the Haters are the real "other". 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

A year since Rokhsana Fiaz elected was as Labour Party Candidate for Newham Mayoral Contest 2018

What a great picture. I believe taken after 3pm that day when the Labour Party informed Rokshana that she had been elected by Labour Party member in Newham to be our candidate in the Newham directly elected Mayoral elections on 2018.

Bizarrely, I was on a train when I heard the news, while coming from Richmond following a debate with Vince Cable MP at the Richmond UNISON AGM.

What a fantastic result. One of the best days in my life ever.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has". Margaret Mead


Friday, March 15, 2019

Greater London UNISON Housing Associations Branch Annual Report 2018 (1) Branch Chair Report

Branch chairs report: Tony Power

It's been a year of uncertainty for all of us. The Brexit vote of 2016 still continues and has consequences that are still not clear and this has become particularly unsettling for our members who have come from the European Union and beyond. These members are our friends, neighbours and work colleagues and it is upsetting for us to see the distress this uncertainty is causing them. Unison is doing all it can to provide support for those most worried about what lies in store post Brexit. It has published two guidance documents; Migrants and the future of social care and Your Right to Remain, both of which are excellent sources of support and are available on the Unison website. As Dave Prentis says in the introduction:

“Now, more than ever, our union must show its support for members from across the EU. They have given so much to our communities and our services – now we must stand with them and defend their right to remain”

This year has seen the branch restructure still ongoing and I'd like to put on record my thanks to all of the staff for bearing with us during this process. There have been a lot of factors that we've had to take into consideration including budgets. As well as agreeing a new structure with current staff that provides the best possible service for you, our members. We are working closely with the region to ensure this process is concluded as soon as possible and with the full co-operation of our branch staff who throughout the year have worked incredibly hard supporting our members. I would like to thank them personally for all of the help they have given me and the rest of the executive team over the past 12 months.

On a sad note we have had to say goodbye to a couple of highly respected and regarded Unison officials this year.

Firstly, I'd like to put on record my thanks to Colin Inniss our previous Regional Organiser for all of his hard work and support that he is given both to you the members and us in the branch executive during his time with us. We are sad to see him go but we all wish him well in his new post in the local government sector. On behalf of all of the branch I would like to say a big welcome to Ezequiel Kramer our new Regional Organiser. It’s great to meet you Ezequiel and we look forward to a long and fruitful working relationship.

The second sad goodbye is to our current branch secretary John Gray. Who I have been fortunate to work with so closely over the past number of years. John's been a terrific Branch Secretary and has made a real impact on the branch and how it works. We are sad that he's decided to stand down but we hope that he remains an active member of the branch executive committee.

In conclusion I want to remind all of you that we are only as strong as you, our members, make us. I urge you to not only continue your membership but also commit to making 2019 the year that you become more active in your union by becoming a shop steward, health and safety rep or a staff contact and by so doing join the current activists to that are the backbone of Unison.

With so much uncertainty around at the moment there has never been a better time to be a part of an organisation like Unison which is fighting for the rights of all of workers in your workplace, region and worldwide.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Labour rebuilding Burham and Wouldham - May Council elections

Today I attended the UNISON National Labour Link Committee and offered support for Labour Council candidates, who are standing in May 2 in our UNISON East and South East regions. London does not have any "planned" elections this year, so we hope that London activists will go and help out comrades elsewhere.

The Eastern and South East regional reps present were more than happy with this offer.

In the meanwhile may I pass on a plea for help by my UNISON branch assistant secretary, Lola Oyewusi, who is standing in Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council for Labour. It is currently a Tory ward but anyone who underestimates Lola - does so at their peril!

Obviously we will target marginals but I will be off to Kent at some stage to help out my branch colleague.

Check https://twitter.com/lab_ton_malling?lang=en  and https://www.facebook.com/LabTonMalling/

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

West Ham Trades Council Banner 1957: Vic Feather

Hat tip Captain Swing for "Souvenir programme" of West Ham Trades Council "unfurling ceremony" of their new banner by Victor Feather, Assistant Secretary of the Trade Union Congress (later General Secretary of TUC).

Captain Swing and I wonder where this banner is now? Does anyone know?

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

UNISON Housing Associations Branch AGM - Sarah Jones MP keynote speaker

We held our branch AGM at Committee room 17 in the House of Commons. Sarah Jones MP, Shadow Housing Minister gave a superb presentation on Labour housing policy and stayed for an extended questions and answers session. She then had to rush off to vote in the Brexit debate.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Sunday, March 10, 2019

John McDonnell MP at West Ham Labour dinner

Picture collage from last Thursday West Ham Labour event. Many thanks to everyone involved. We had solid 250 tickets. It was a great night out and we have raised loads for money for the CLP.