I was invited to speak at a Labour housing conference in Leicester last weekend. I began my contribution by asking the seventy-odd people present to raise their hands if they believed that Labour’s first housing priority should be a large scale council house building programme. A forest of hands were raised. I could only see one person whose hand remained down. There might possibly have been a couple more who I couldn’t see. However, overwhelmingly this collection of Labour Party members wants a Labour government to carry out a large scale council housing programme.

Unfortunately I had to tell them that Labour’s Mini-Housing Manifesto, Labour’s New Deal for Housing, said that Labour’s first housing priority was to help young people on “low to medium incomes” onto the housing ladder. According to the document income of £100,000 a year is considered a medium income! This appeared to come as a surprise to most people, most of whom were not aware that there was a Mini-Housing Manifesto.

Overall there appeared to be a real desire for a radicalisation of Labour’s Housing policy. The City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby (previously a Labour MP) expressed support for ending Right to Buy rather than Labour’s current policy of suspending it. As I explained, the policy of suspension, came with a caveat that councils might be able to carry on selling homes if they “promised” to replace them on a one for one basis. In the meeting there was general support for ending RTB. Assistant Mayor Andy Connolly, responsible for council housing, asked what is the point of building new homes if they can be sold off after three years?

A workshop on Housing Finance supported the call for the cancellation of the fictitious council housing debt and the idea of a Land Value Tax.

At the meeting the Labour Council announced that it was making a commitment that they would not evict any tenants who were thrown into arrears as a result of going onto Universal Credit. The ‘full service’ will be rolled out in Leicester in June.

Martin Wicks

PS. Andy Connolly and Leicester West Labour Party are supporting STCG’s Appeal on council housing debt. Derby MP Chris Williamson came along to finish the conference. He spoke strongly about the need for Labour to build council homes on the scale of 100,000 a year. Chris also agreed to add his name to our Appeal.