Labour Housing Group
Report on our Policy Day held on 24 October 2015 in Liverpool by Paul Eastwood, LHG Secretary
Labour Housing Group’s second Policy Day of 2015 was held at the Cunard Building in Liverpool. LHG wishes to thank Cllr. Frank Hont, Cllr. Ann O’Byrne, and the Liverpool Labour Group for making the venue available and also arranging for lunch and refreshments on the day. LHG also wishes to thank UNITE for their support with sponsorship, and to all the speakers for their presentations.
48 attendees were present at the event, which was chaired by Kerry Pollard, Chair of LHG, and which included presentations from the following:
- Cllr. Frank Hont, Cabinet Member for Housing, Liverpool City Council
- Cllr. Ann O’Byrne, Deputy Mayor of Liverpool
- Robin Lawler, CEO, Northwards Housing
- Andrew Dixon, Policy Adviser, The Federation Master Builders
- Jenny Osbourne, CEO, Tenant Participation Advisory Service
- Mark Hoskission, UNITE
In his introduction, Kerry expressed concern at the radical shift in Tory government policy since the General Election, which is unlikely to result in any additional new affordable homes being built; is likely to lead to a loss of much needed Council homes; and is also likely to put some housing associations into conflict with local authorities.
Following each presentation speakers responded to questions from attendees, the main points from the presentations being:
Cllr. Frank Hont
Frank outlined some of the key achievements that Labour had secured since taking control of Liverpool City Council in 2010. Liverpool now operates on an elected Mayor and Cabinet system. Liverpool is now 1 of the 2 best performing local authorities for dealing with homelessness, having adopted a “no more than 2 nights” sleeping rough policy. Labour had also begin to overcome the negative legacy of the Lib Dem administration by leading the way on neighbourhood renewal, including the innovative “Homes For A Pound” scheme.
Cllr. Ann O’Byrne
The Deputy Mayor drew attention to housing markets operating very locally – there was not 1 national housing crisis, but many local and regional ones’ that needed responding to. The “back room deal” on extending RTB was likely to prove damaging to Council - housing association relationships, given the requirement for Councils to dispose of higher value stock to compensate associations for RTB losses. Concern was expressed at the decline in Council representatives on housing association boards, and the present reluctance of lenders to offer mortgages to people on low incomes. Government needs to follow through on devolving powers to local authorities to allow local solutions to be developed.
Robin stated that climate change is the biggest single issue facing society, and that the Government’s removal of green energy initiatives was impacting disproportionately on people on low incomes. Up to 36,000 jobs could be lost from reduction of Feed in Tariff for PV. In north Manchester, Northwards Housing was implementing a range of solutions to help keep homes warm in winter, and reduce fuel poverty. The 10 Councils in Greater Manchester had committed to reducing carbon emissions by 48% in the period 1990 to 2020 – this was on target to being achieved. Northwards Housing was also training staff and tenants on carbon literacy.
Andrew gave an overview of the role of small building companies in addressing the housing crisis. Two thirds of construction apprentices are employed by SME builders, but there remains an acute skills shortage, with 400,000 construction jobs being lost during the recession, investment in training sharply curtailed, and two thirds of SME builders reporting difficulties recruiting bricklayers. SME builders contribute to local growth and employ local labour, but SME builders face constraints in terms of finance, and the planning system which prioritises larger sites. Good examples exist where SME builders have worked in partnership with Councils ( Birmingham, and York ) and this seems to be the right way forward.
Jenny confirmed that housing is facing an onslaught from government, threatening future supply and security of tenure, added to which is the continuing demonisation of tenants. Inspite of this, there is evidence that where landlords involve tenants in decision making this has benefits for their organisation - including contributing to cost savings. While the Regulatory Guidance for registered providers still includes the Tenant Empowerment Standard, there is a concern that the 1% rent reduction may be used to reduce training and service quality for tenants.
Mark invited everyone to view the paper, “Housing Is A Human Right”, which is on the UNITE website. It is difficult not to conclude that the Tories are pushing hard for the next few years to see the end of social housing. One third of Council homes sold under RTB are now owned by private landlords, charging market rents; there are more than 660,000 overcrowded homes in England; and, the “Pay To Stay” proposals are likely to see tenants on modest household incomes paying full market rents. Now is the time for unity between councils, housing associations, housing workers and tenants working together to defend jobs, to ensure that security of tenure is preserved, and that affordable homes at properly affordable rents remain a tenure option for the future.
Following a concluding discussion, Kerry thanked everyone for attending, and said that the points raised during the presentations and discussions would be fed into a policy statement that LHG will be developing over the next few weeks which will then be taken forward to a meeting with members of the Shadow Cabinet.
Secretary, Labour Housing Group