Earlier today I met tenants representatives at a meeting of the Reading Federation of Tenants and Residents Association to discuss my response (as Lead Member for Housing) to the Government's consultation on the future of social housing. At that meeting I was able to reassure tenants that the Government is not proposing scrapping lifetime tenancies for existing tenants, and that following careful consideration the Coalition Administration of the Council has no plans to introduce 'fixed term' tenancies to new Council tenants in Reading. This is because we feel the negative impacts could outweigh the benefits for residents and communities. That said, we are pleased that the Coalition Government is giving councils the choice - rather than foisting changes on us from the centre (as Labour used to do!).
No thanks to the national media and the local Labour Party there has been considerable confusion and concern stirred up about the Government's housing proposals, and I was pleased to be able to put our continuing commitment to tenants and residents on the record again today.
There are several elements of the Government's consultation we are supportive of - including giving councils more power to decide allocations policies (in consultation with tenants), requiring councils to consult and publish strategic policies on tenancies in their area, and giving councils more flexibilities to best meet the needs of their local area - after years of micromanagement from Whitehall (under Labour).
At the meeting today we had a very positive discussion about various issues linked to increasing availability of council housing including whether or not we need to do more around banding and allocations to avoid people being stuck on waiting lists for long periods of time, homeswap and empty homes. A number of tenants spoke out against the Right To Buy policy which has led to a net loss in the number of family-sized homes to rent - I agreed that this was a very damaging policy.
If the Labour Group Spokesperson disagreed radically with our response she did not express this at the meeting and I was pleased there was a broad consensus about the need to increase the supply of Council homes - something we hope will happen when councils get to keep council rents - part of the Government's housing reforms.
The reality in Reading is that we have half as many council houses now as we did 10-15 years ago thanks to the Right To Buy policy introduced by the Conservatives and not curbed by Labour. In addition, let's not forget also that in 13 years of a Labour Government no new council houses were built in Reading.
As a result the number of people on the housing waiting list has rocketed and overcrowding is a real problem for many families. This is a concern and I really hope the Coalition Government's record in relation to council housing is better - only time will tell. Reading is a phenomenally popular place to live and work but rest assured that in my role as Lead Councillor I am doing all I can locally to ensure that local people have the widest possible choice of and access to good quality housing from council, housing association and private rented sectors.