Labour fail on social housing in Liverpool

This picture shows housing in Liverpool in the 50s and the squalor in which people lived. For the last 11 years Liverpool’s Labour Council has followed the advice of the Tory election poster on the right.

Last week I asked the Council how many homes for social rent they have built since the Tory Government allowed us, from 2017 onwards, to build council housing again. The response from a supposedly socialist council was laughable.

They are currently on site with just 20 units in Fazakerley, have built none to date, and have no plans to build any more in the years running up to 2025. There are Tory controlled Councils with a better record than this.

Every year the social housing stock is being reduced in the City through ‘right to buy’ and our housing needs get worse. Instead of concentrating on the housing that people need the last decade has seen the Labour Council concentrate on expensive upmarket developments and shoddy City Centre apartments.

The Right to Buy still eats away at our housing stock. We should always remember that although introduced by the Thatcher Government it continued absolutely unaltered during the 13 years of the Blair and Brown Governments. Nationally more than 40% of the social housing that existed in the UK, most of which was Council accommodation, has been lost through RTB.

To make matters worse the Blair Government believed that councils could not manage their own housing stock and councils were forced to seek stock transfers if they had housing stock which needed improvement. That was certainly the case in Liverpool where more than £1 billion was needed to put the stock right. Councils were neither allowed to borrow nor receive government grants for the major improvements that were needed in places like Liverpool and Birmingham.

In the period after their election in 1997 the Blair’s Labour Government enforced the transfer of all 42,000 council houses and flats in Liverpool to housing associations as they refused to supply the Council with the necessary money to make repairs.

That approach wasn’t too bad if the housing associations had continued to be social landlords. Most of them seemed keen to shrug off this status and become private companies which, although accepting elements of regulation, wanted to be in the private sector and provide housing from which they could make a profit rather than provide homes for people in need.

When the Councils tried to enforce planning obligations for the provision of social housing on all sites of more than 16 units they either didn’t try hard enough or totally failed. In Liverpool Joe Anderson negotiated an infamous deal with Redrow in which large estates were built with no social housing and derisory payments through planning gain calculations which put little cash into social housing with the money from the land that we sold going into general and not housing funds. No wonder his nickname was Redrow Joe.

Basically, Labour politicians from Blair to Anderson bought into the Tory view that home ownership is better than social housing. In my view neither is better or worse than the other. A good community needs both private and social housing, it needs home for big families, new families and those who want to down size. We need to build self-sustaining and self-supporting communities by creating the right mix of housing in which we create neighbourhoods and not estates.

There is so much that the Council could do for three reasons:

  1. It is the strategic housing authority and regularly has to produce a report on land availability for housing for the government which is available for all to see.
  2. It is the planning authority which it means that it can, to some extent, be more assertive than it has been both for land allocation and in determining the mix of housing on sites and within communities.
  3. It is a major landowner. Regrettably, when I asked it how much land that have which is available and suitable for housing, they couldn’t tell me but invited me in to chat with officers!

There are some things that the Liverpool Council could definitely do in spite of the financial and other constraints including;

  • Developing our own houses at social rent either through the council or by resuscitating the now defunct Foundations Company which Joe Anderson set up with more press releases than properties delivered;
  • Create or buy Homes in Multiple Occupation where a minority of bad landlords provide bad accommodation and devastated communities,
  • Buying older homes such as terraces and renovating them for social housing purposes
  • Provide our own accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers and provide good and managed accommodation rather than some of the dreadful conditions we can see around parts of L8 and L7.
  • Recreate the Social Housing Partnership with the so-called social housing providers to develop a combined plan to map out both need and opportunity.

Yet this Council continues with its Blairite preoccupation with home ownership rather than dealing with the human need for decent housing at a decent price which is so clear in the City.

Ricky Tomlinson might have a suitable phrase for this, “Socialist and caring? My a**e”

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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