Have Labour pushed back their key housing pledge already?

by admin on 30 June, 2014

Labour’s flagship policy– and the backbone of their local election campaign in May – has been a claim they will build 11,000 new council homes in the borough. Now the local elections are over, there are growing suspicions they are rowing back on the plans…

The announcement of a new house-building programme first came at a cabinet meeting on 16 July last year with “a commitment to build ten thousand more new homes in the next 25 years.

But within barely an hour, the council immediately confused the matter by issuing a press release on the same day saying it will “build 10,000 new council homes over the next thirty years”.

So from an initial announcement of a 25 year plan, the policy was already pushed back five years within a matter of hours. Even by Labour’s normal back-of-a-fag-packet way of doing things, it was pretty remarkable to see a major new policy in disarray on the day it was announced!

There was plenty more confusion to come…

So presumably, after having this blunder pointed out to them by helpful opposition councillors, the Labour hierarchy took immediate and decisive action to clarify the situation, right?? Err, not exactly….

Labour councillors carried on regardless, some quoting the 25 year figure, with others claiming the policy was meant to be over 30 years. Even Labour Cabinet members couldn’t agree on their own policy.

Then when the issue came back to cabinet on 28 January this year, the report talked about a 25 year plan – but the appendix gave details of a housing plan covering the next 30 years. (To confuse the situation further, the 10,000 figure had also been changed to 11,000 to include 1,000 new homes previously announced. Still following?)

Southwark Liberal Democrats wanted to get to the bottom of this, so we asked for clarity at a council assembly meeting on 26 February. “It is 11,000 new council homes over 30 yearssaid Labour’s council leader firmly (adding perceptively “I note there seems to be a little bit of scepticism”!).

So that seems clear then… Except that at a Council Assembly meeting just a month beforehand, the very same Labour leader was crowing about “the council’s commitment to deliver 11,000 new council homes in the next 25 years. Confused? He certainly seems to be…

But it only got worse….

The local elections came and went, with Labour (interestingly) stating simply that they would be building 11,000 new homes, and avoiding previous promises about the timeline – though presumably happy to try to get votes from promising new homes to people who desperately need them (and need them now, by the way, not in 30 years time).

At least one Labour candidate took to Twitter to campaign on the basis that Southwark Labour “will build 11,000 in the next 25 years, before it was pointed out they didn’t seem to know their own party’s flagship policy, which is always a bit of a worry.

The confusion about this policy would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. People want new council homes, but the Labour administration seems more interested in announcing new homes than building any.

Surely council officers could clear it all up for us…

Last week, we had an opportunity to clear up some of the figures when council officers made a presentation on the pledge to the Overview & Scrutiny Committee which I sit on. I took the opportunity to ask senior council officers exactly what the policy is. Surely that shouldn’t be too much to ask, given that they are presumably now the ones given the task of making it happen?

Extraordinarily, the committee was then told that the homes would be completed by the end of 2045/46 – which is not 25, not even 30, but 33 years after the initial commitment to building new homeswas made!

This seemed to be on the basis that the plan will begin from next year, even though there was no mention of a delayed start to the building programme when Labour first announced in 2013 that they will get the homes built “in the next 25 years”. That would seem a pretty clear commitment that the work will be done by 2038, not 2046.

So the Labour administration now seems to have pushed back its housing pledge from 25 years, to 30 years, and now 33 years. Can the residents of Southwark really have any faith in this ever being delivered? And can people on the housing waiting list really wait that long anyway?

We want answers.

Every time the Lib Dems push Labour on their key policies, they seem to backtrack or make excuses. Now just weeks after the local elections, Labour seem to be pushing back their house building deadline to water down the policy.

It became clear long ago that the figures involved were plucked out of thin air by the Labour leader making up policy on the hoof. But it has left the borough with a shoddy policy that even council leaders aren’t sure about, with council officers to try to paper over the cracks. It is really not good enough, and a ridiculous way to make public policy that will affect the lives of thousands of people. Southwark residents deserve to know what’s on offer and when it will be delivered.

No doubt they will claim they are getting on with delivering new homes, but with 935 council homes sold or demolished in the past four years and 33 new ones built, we are losing council housing stock much quicker than the council is building it.

Labour must come clean on exactly what their policy is, and why they have backtracked from the initial 25 year plan. Liberal Democrat councillors will continue to press them until we get the answers.


Labour’s housing pledge timeline in short

16 July 2013 (4pm):    10,000 homes over 25 years
16 July 2013 (6pm):    10,000 homes over 30 years
22 Jan 2014:                  11,000 homes over 25 years
28 Jan 2014:                 11,000 homes over 30 years
08 Mar 2014:                11,000 homes over 25 years
25 Jun 2014:                11,000 homes over 33 years?
Today:                             Your guess is as good as ours!

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