Council Housing

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2006 National Delegate Conference
3 June 2006

Conference notes with alarm the increasingly desperate situation with housing supply and the ongoing decline of council housing. There are now over 100,000 households in temporary accommodation awaiting rehousing; roughly half a million households on council waiting lists and rising numbers of people living in increasingly overcrowded, poor and unsanitary conditions. Households are now paying the highest proportion of their income towards housing costs for generations.

There is an ever widening divide between those who can afford to buy their own home and those who cannot. The prospect of owning a home is beyond the reach of many workers, with average homes costing nine times the average salary in some areas. The housing charity Shelter has found in a survey that for those on lower incomes home ownership is not a priority.

Conference reaffirms its opposition to any of the forms of privatisation of council housing whether through stock transfer, Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs) or Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and that council housing has been repeatedly shown to be cheaper to build and has lower maintenance costs than all the other options and would make a major contribution to meeting the housing needs of today as well as improving health and well being in the longer term.

Conference welcomes the decision of the Labour Party conference 2005 that overwhelmingly supported the motion calling on “Government to provide the fourth option of direct investment for council housing as a matter of urgency”. We further welcome the Labour Party Policy Forum’s Sustainable Communities Commission working group, to address the terms of Composite 8.

Conference is gravely concerned that the Office of Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) issued a briefing to MPs defending the government’s dogmatic policy and claiming the annual conference ‘did not vote for the so-called ‘fourth option’.

The ‘fourth option’ would not require additional funds as it can be financed by the government ceasing to remove money from councils’ housing revenue accounts as it currently does in two ways: £1.5 billion is siphoned off rental income and £0.5 billion on Right to Buy receipts. The current crisis in housing is being exacerbated by the government’s failure to adopt its own party policy and free up councils to invest in their homes. Housing associations are not filling the gap and are proving to be less effective, less accountable and more costly than councils at providing and maintaining homes.

Councils can finance their repairs, meet Decent Homes Standard and begin to build new council homes to address the desperate and growing demand.

Once ALMOs have come to the end of their contracts to bring homes up to the Decent Homes Standard, those homes should revert back to council management and not be subject to further privatisation.

Conference welcomes the successful ballots against Housing Stock Transfer in a growing number of authorities and the central role UNISON has played in working alongside tenant led campaigns to secure these results.

Conference congratulates Defend Council Housing, the House of Commons council housing group of MPs, UNISON and other unions for organising such an effective campaign and the highly successful lobby of Parliament on 8 February 2006 that saw over 1300 people attending.

To take this work forward Conference resolves to:

1)continue to work with Defend Council Housing to press for the implementation of a level playing field and for direct investment in council housing;

2)encourage branches facing stock transfer, Private Finance Initiative or Arms-Length Management Organisations to work alongside tenants campaigning against transfer and to build links to Defend Council Housing when facing any attempts to privatise housing stock;

3)call on the General Political Fund to look positively at supporting and speedily agreeing bids from branches to support this work;

4)call on the National Executive Council to continue to campaign with More and Better Homes and other relevant organisations to make addressing the housing supply crisis in the UK a national priority;

5)instruct UNISON to reintroduce the production of, for distribution, campaign materials, booklets/posters/fliers/stickers/briefing notes for UNISON members, councillors and MPs, which can be ordered free of charge by branches and regions from UNISON nationally.

Conference also calls upon the government to:

a)accept and act upon the Labour Party Conference decision and allow the ‘fourth option’ for councils and tenants;

b)act upon and adopt the recommendations within the Audit Commission’s report: “Financing council housing” in respect of reviewing the current housing subsidy system;

c)allow councils to use their prudential borrowing powers to borrow against their rental income stream and housing stock in order to raise additional funds for improvements and new council homes.

d)legislate with a view to developers being instructed to set aside a proportion of any new housing development for affordable housing controlled by the local authority or a locally identified housing association.