Thursday, 18 November 2010

Social Housing and the Labour folly of LSVT

I attended a really interesting of Northumberland's Communities and Place Overview and Scrutiny Committee. You won't hear me say that often!

The chair had "called in" the Lib Dem run council executives decision to approve a full merger of the companies that run the old council housing stock of Tynedale and Castle Morpeth with Nomad housing and E5. The executive had driven a hard deal to get good representation for Northumberland but the merger inevitably meant that there was a dilution of some local representation on boards.

The scrutiny committee started with the Tories in a huff (some of them were board members who would lose their seat - and allowances!), calling for a full meeting of the council to discuss the deal, which would of cost thousands and put a favourable deal the housing people had put together with a bank in jeopardy. After examining the committee was almost unanimous (Conservative leader Peter Jackson was alone in signalling his grumpiness) in approving the executives work on this and asking for more pennant representation if possible. Although my suggestion that a councillor should be replaced by a tenant rep oddly didn't go down well with most of the councillors apart from a sole Labour colleague!

However I am convinced the deal will give the new ISOS group the size to build more social houses. A shocking fact about the deal which the former Tynedale Council got with the spin off company it created was that the new company paid so much for the stock it still has not made a profit as a company ten years later and its business plan only allowed 22 new houses to be built in 25 years! The council raised over £30m from the sale of houses. The deal also gave the council a large share of any "right to buy sales".

This £30m of money built Hexhams new leisure centre and the extension to Prudhoes Waterworld as well as kept council tax down but the trade off was a very low level of new houses for the most vulnerable in society. Labour very heavily pushed Large Scale Voluntary Transfer (LSVT) of  council housing stock. Other deals actually cost the councils to take the stock off their hands and were subsidised by the government. The problem is that councils didn't leave much room for new homes to be built.

I hope we can see a lot more homes built over the next few years despite the cut in social housing grants from government. Billions were spent over the last 13 years by Labour but only 13,000 net new social houses were built. So I think we need to try a new tack apart from throwing money at the problem. Local councils need to play their part. I am looking for local land owned by the council so we can see if we can  get some homes built for the thousands of people who are waiting in the area for a place to live.

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