Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Housing matters

I read with interest who the Reading Labour Party is putting forward to take on Cabinet positions at the Council's AGM tomorrow.

I note that my portfolio has been split into three - do we infer from that it will require three Labour councillors to cover the work I did across housing, health and community care?

As I suspected Whitley Councillor Rachel Eden will be taking on the housing portfolio.

I wish her the best of luck.

She will need it.

The wellbeing of thousands of local people young and old depends on her and the decisions she makes.

After the previous Labour government in coalition with the bankers bankrupted the country spare money for new housing is short.

We face an affordable housing crisis in Reading and for many years I have been a lone voice in the Council campaigning for more and better quality housing for all.

Local Labour councillors have been silent on housing issues for years (not a record they were proud of?) and even Cllr Eden failed to raise a single question with me on the subject during my time in office.

In contrast since I was first elected in 2006 have championed the rights of Council tenants and thousands of people who live in Reading's large private rented sector and exposed the scandal of Reading's empty homes.

You only have to visit many Council estates in Reading to see what years of Labour neglect looks like and thanks to the Decent Neighbourhood Fund which we campaigned for improvements are now starting to take shape.

I wish I had longer to put right years of Labour non-delivery on housing but I am proud of our local record of action on housing and the work I have done leading the debate both in opposition and in power.

Working with the the town's two Conservative MPs I have helped win more funding for new homes and set up innovative new partnership arrangements with neighbouring councils to save Reading Council tenants money.

Working in coalition the Lib Dems delivered Reading's first new Council homes for over twenty years and sent a clear message to government that fixed term tenancies were not wanted.

I also launched a new Landlord Accreditation Scheme in the face of stiff opposition from Labour councillors - is this now under threat?

For the sake of the thousands of families stuck in overcrowded homes I hope Labour's tribal appoach to local politics doesn't damage this important progress.

I have tabled a question to the Council's next meeting on the subject of affordable housing - in my view one of the most urgent issues facing us as politicians.

It will be interesting to see how Cllr Eden and her Labour colleagues respond.

But whatever happens I won't fall silent about housing - there is too much at stake.

And I will not rest until every man, woman and child in Reading has access to an affordable, comfortable and above all safe place they can call home.

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