Sunday, 11 April 2010

Brown's council housing election bribe

Another day, another visit to Reading West constituency from a senior Labour figure - yesterday it was Deputy Leader Harriet Harman. Labour must be really worried about losing here. And from the feedback we're getting - they should be.I spoke to one gentleman on the doorstep in West Reading who said he had supported Martin Salter at previous elections. I pointed out he was standing down. "That's the problem" he replied. And it is clearly a huge problem for Labour in Reading. The same resident told me he wasn't planning on voting Labour this time. Many people I've been speaking to on the doorstep across the constituency are ditching Labour and backing the Lib Dems this time. Anyway, I read online that Harriet Harman was in town to unveil her Party's housing policies for the election. Apparently they include plans to build 50,000 council houses by the end of the next Parliament. This is a drop in the ocean when you consider the demand for affordable housing in places like Reading. It's a bit like Labour's 'death-bed' conversion to political reform. Er, in the next Parliament. A Guardian article I read last summer made the point that back in the 1950s local authorities built around 250,000 units a year. The current rate has been reduced to a trickle - with around 130 new council homes being built each year. You can see the impact of Labour's failed housing policy wherever you go in Reading - with overcrowding a major issue and approximately 6,000 people left languishing on the Council's housing register for years. Nationally the number of people waiting on council lists for cheap housing is expected to reach 5 million by 2010. Labour politicians have had 13 years to reverse the harm done by the Conservative's Right to Buy policy and enable councils to build the homes they needed and they have failed to deliver. In Reading this can be seen by the chronic shortage of larger, family-sized properties. Gordon Brown talks about 'reforming' housing policy to enable councils'to keep rent from council homes and invest it locally. This is welcome but why did his government fail to deliver this between 1997 and 2010 when they had the power to do so? For years council tenants in Reading and elsewhere have been subsidising the Treasury when rent should have been spent on investing in existing and new council homes. The Lib Dems nationally and in Reading have led the way in arguing for reform of housing finance and devolving power down to councils to make decisions over social housing. Of all the candidates in the race to be Reading West's next MP I have been by far the most vocal in campaigning for action to tackle Reading's affordable housing crisis - to include making better use of empty homes and the private rented sector (both areas that were neglected for years for Labour-run Reading Borough Council). I am passionate about the right for everyone to live in a decent home and I'm proud to stand up for people in Reading who have been badly let down by Labour and the Tories because I believe strongly in fairness and social justice. Locally over the past year I have stood up for council tenants hit by Labour's double whammy: rent rises and unfair charges for basic services , as well as campaigning for tenants in private rented housing threatened with eviction. As Nick Clegg has rightly said, Labour cannot be trusted when it comes to their election manifesto. And Labour politicians will promise anything to cling on to power when it comes to housing. But the electorate here in Reading is not stupid and locally evidence of 13 years of Labour's failed housing policy is there for all to see.

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