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2004 National Delegate Conference
9 June 2004

Conference condemns the government’s failure to tackle the country’s housing crisis.

Conference notes that since May 1997, only 1343 council houses have been built. Futhermore, housing finance rules mean that local authorities are prevented from directly investing in existing council housing in order to bring it up to a decent standard.

The government’s priorities on health and education are being undermined by an incoherent approach to the housing market and in particular social housing. Public service workers are being priced out of the housing market, with schools and hospitals struggling to recruit and retain staff who can no longer afford to live locally. High housing costs are leading to benefit dependency and social exclusion, creating exported costs to other government budgets such as health, education and policing.

The Barker report published in December 2003 revealed a dramatic under supply of housing and in particular affordable social housing, with only 175,000 new homes built in the UK in 2001; the shortage of housing increasing the level of homelessness and private house builders reluctant to develop brown field sites.

Conference believes that the country needs investment in decent, affordable, secure and democratically accountable housing to provide first class homes for all who need them. The country’s political leadership must be made forcefully aware that the continuing failure to provide decent homes for all is fundamentally inhumane, a prime cause of racism and altogether unacceptable.

Conference notes that existing council housing stock has suffered from years of under-investment, a fact recognised by government through its pledge to achieve a decent homes standard for all by 2010 in England, with parallel commitments from the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly. Unfortunately the options available for the vast majority of local authorities to fund such a programme have involved privatisation or part privatisation of the stock or the service through transfer, arms length management organisations or PFI. This has proved deeply unpopular with many authorities and with tenants and has undermined the government’s target.

Successive pieces of research, including a national audit office report, have shown that these options are more expensive or far lengthier in process than direct investment by local authorities themselves. Conference applauds the work done so far by UNISON in raising the call for a direct investment allowance on the top of the housing agenda. This formed the core of UNISON’s submission to the ODPM select committee on decent homes in England and has been taken up by a number of prominent organisations, including the parliamentary council housing group.

Conference believes that:

1)the present ideological obsession with pressuring councils to get rid of the housing stock they have built up over the years to serve the needs of local people is doctrinaire, inefficient and more expensive than council control;

2)council housing can pay for itself, but privatisation requires subsidy through council housing revenue account and general funds, huge debt write-offs, gap funding, private finance credits and substantial fees for consultants, estimated by the Audit Office at £435 per house;

3)stock transfers, PFI and Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMO) reduce tenant participation and local democracy, and does not produce any real increase in tenant satisfaction.

Conference recalls that last year’s Local Government Conference gave a clear condemnation of the privatisation of stock, with a commitment that every branch should have access to national support so it is able to respond locally when councils are considering investment options, both to fully participate in and inform the process and to protect the workforce; and also to ensure that the views of local tenants and their housing needs are fully taken into consideration. Conference is aware that investment options vary throughout the country and reiterates that only by recognising that solutions to local problems lie locally, can UNISON keep faith with all council tenants who live daily with decades of housing neglect.

Councils notes that in February there were still up to 200 councils that were still defying government and refusing to choose a privatisation option.

Conference welcomes the successful campaigns in the past year in Stockport, Nuneaton, Stroud, Islington and Wrexham against stock transfer and the massive 77 per cent no vote by Camden tenants against an ALMO. Conference congratulates those tenants’ organisations that have defeated government plans for stock transfers or ALMO and recognises the valuable contribution made by UNISON and in particular the role of local UNISON branches and Defend Council Housing in working with local tenant’s organisations. These broad-based campaigns have shown that we can defeat privatisation of council housing.

These victories have increased pressure on the government to allow a fourth option of direct investment in council housing. We welcome the increasing number of MPs who are signing up to the council housing parliamentary group and the decision of the Welsh Labour party spring conference to call for an investment allowance.

Conference agrees to continue and step up joint campaigning and calls on the National Executive Council, the national union, Labour Link, regions and branches to undertake a major campaign with Defend Council Housing, and with the aim of ensuring that:

a)the government and the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly introduce an investment allowance within housing revenue accounts as a revenue stream against which borrowing can be undertaken using the prudential framework;

b)resources are made available nationally for the investment allowance so that all council homes can be brought up to a decent standard as fast as can be completed;

c)the Treasury gives local authorities new borrowing powers to allow them to invest directly in a wide-ranging programme of council house building;

d)all members of UNISON parliamentary group of MPs sign the Early Day Motion Investment and Choice for Council Tenants;

e)opposition is continued against the three-card trick of privatisation through PFI, stock transfer and ALMO and instead supporting direct investment in council housing without strings;

f)local, regional and national tenant’s movements, organisations such as Shelter, politicians, trades unions and other appropriate professional and voluntary bodies are encouraged to be part of the campaign, to broaden the call and to further highlight the links between decent housing, health, education and social inclusion;

g)the government and housing minister are condemned for backing down from the manifesto pledge to improve all sub-standard housing by 2010, not providing a level playing field in housing finance and not giving tenants a real choice;

h)full support is given to UNISON branches fighting to retain the housing stock and service directly with the local council.

Conference calls on the government to:

i)make a choice for council tenants genuine by including the option of staying with the council and improving homes through direct investment through an investment allowance, instead of restricting choice to stock