Housing Policy Will Be the Conservatives Nemesis
This will be the start of what is going to undoubtedly be a long running issue which given the Leader of the Northampton Borough Council announcement that the Conservatives intend to transfer the Council Housing including Sheltered Housing to a Housing Association may well turn out to be their Nemesis.
Housing naturally enough because it is about people’s homes has and will always be not only a complex but very emotional subject of debate which if not handled carefully and honestly will inevitably lead to a polarisation of opinions.
The Conservative administration are trying to pass housing off as an issue that only affects Northampton Council Tenants which demonstrates their real lack of understanding of the subject, so perhaps to be helpful – a history lesson may be in order.
The last time Northampton Borough Council carried out an Option Appraisal around the choice of whether to retain or transfer the Council Homes to a Housing Association, (also known as Registered Social Landlord) was in 2005.
It was Government Legislation at the time that required all Councils to carry out an option appraisal and as the Cabinet Member for Housing at the time it was my responsibility to make sure the information, both Pro’s and Con’s on all options was provided to Council Tenants before a “democratic ballot” was carried out, the result of which would be binding on the Council.
It was an issue that all political parties recognised needed to be free from political interference and comment if we were serious that the advice to tenants was fair and independent which is why all three groups, Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats had someone on the “Project Board” along with tenant representatives to monitor the work being carried out by the Independent Tenants Advisor.
Some may say it wasn’t successful but at least we tried and to be fair to the other parties housing representatives Cllr Lee Mason for (Labour) and Cllr Sally Beardsworth for the (Liberal Democrat) they allowed the process to be fully implemented without voicing their views or preference an any desired outcome.
The latest Option Appraisal of course will not have the same fair and unbiased approach because in stating that
“the difficulty we’ve got is that if we continue with the borough council being the housing provider, we know we can’t get to the standard we would want to. So we think stock transfer is the way forward” (Chronicle & Echo 2nd March 2012)
Councillor David Mackintosh the Leader of the Council has already gone on record that the decision has been taken before any Independent information has been produced and in fact even before a project team has been put in place.
The inference that the Conservative administration has “inherited a £194 million debt” is itself misleading.
The Conservatives knew that under the Governments proposed Localism Bill Housing Reform there was a strong probability that the Council would have to take on a “notional debt” in order to keep all of the rent from Council Housing.
It was a policy that the Leader of the Council as an advisor and friend to the Local Government Minister Eric Pickles MP well aware of and was taken into account when forming the May 2011 election strategy in which it was made very clear that the Conservative administration would enter a “consultation” with every tenant who will “decide” who they want as their landlord.
It was a policy which clearly stated that “Sheltered Housing” would be retained by the Borough Council a matter that the Conservatives were challenged on at the Council meeting to discuss the Budget on the 29th February and for which they did not have an answer.
Labour raised the issue of Sheltered Housing because in leaving any mention of sheltered housing out of their budget proposals it was clear that the Conservatives were trying to sneak through the reneging on the promise.
It was Labours challenge that has forced the Conservative Leaders to admit that sheltered housing will also be transferred to a Housing Association.
The facts are that the Government are providing enough money over the next 3 years to improve Council Homes, and even after paying the interest on the £194 million (spread over up to 30 years) there will still be in the region of £15 million a year to spend on further improvements and the provision of new homes.
In taking the arrogant “we know best political dogma approach” that we are increasingly seeing from the Conservatives on the Borough Council they have now isolated themselves from any reasonable support they may expect from the opposition parties and from the council tenants themselves.
It will not only be the tenants who will be ranged against them.
As someone like many across the whole of Northampton I was raised in a Council House and encouraged by my parents to buy a house.
The “children” of council tenants will support their parents and especially those in sheltered housing right to retain the Borough Council as their landlord.
They will also have to take into account all of those who have exercised “their right to buy” and “leaseholders” who live on the estates being transferred who may well see the value of their properties come under scrutiny.
Having already made public their decision to transfer the council stock before carrying out a fair and unbiased consultation the Conservatives may well find themselves subject to a judicial review and subject to a challenge in the courts.
The fundamental problem the Conservative administration will now have is that having declared their position any “fair and independent” consultation will be perceived as being “biased” to achieve a “their chosen transfer result”.
It demonstrates the lack of experience, knowledge and understanding of the Conservative Leadership in dealing with complex human issues away from the “Guildhall Political Bubble” which cannot be address or solved by press releases or spin but by bringing people together.
Which bring me back to the beginning?
Nemesis is defined as “a spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to excessive arrogance”
Will this be the turning point that will be the Nemesis of the Conservative controlled Borough Council?