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Saturday, 11 October 2014

Liberal Democrats & Right to Buy — from Zacchaeus 2000 website

Liberal Democrats & the Right to Buy

Amidst a disappointing party conference season for housing aficionados, one policy announcement stood out head and shoulders above the others.  Lib Dem Business Secretary, Vince Cable’s damning verdict on his own Government’s policy of massively increasing discounts for tenants exercising their Right to Buy as one that “has done enormous damage” and one “we have to stop” raised plenty of eyebrows.

Of course, the motion was only really a restatement of existing Lib Dem policy to let individual local councils decide.  But that is a policy they have singularly failed to implement in Government as former Tory Housing Minister, Grant Shapps increased the maximum discount in London from £16,000 to £100,000.  If any of the succession of Lib Dem junior ministers in the Department for Communities & Local Government objected at the time, they certainly didn’t manage to persuade their Deputy Prime Minister to block it.

The announcement of this increased discount led to a flood of applications. And while property valuations ultimately put many off purchasing, the number of council homes sold last year was more than treble what is was when the Coalition took office. Those numbers are still nowhere near what they were in the Right to Buy’s 1980s and 1990s heyday. But they are a continuing drain on the supply of genuinely affordable social housing where it is needed most. And they certainly are not being replaced one-for-one as ministers promised.

Equally worrying are the property companies that loan tenants the money to exercise their Right to Buy and then let them out privately have made a return to London’s council estates. The reduced discount was John Prescott’s response to this exploitation of the policy back in 2003 after back bench Labour MPs and Council Leaders demanded action to stem the fire sale of council housing.  London Assembly Member, Tom Copley, wrote an excellent report revealing the number of ex-council homes now being let privately. But few of today’s generation of Labour MPs seem to be raising the issue.

Mr Cable has a habit of flashing his ankle to the party faithful at conference and failing to follow it up in the House of Commons – Help to Buy being exhibit A!  But he was strongly supported by Party President, Tim Farron, who represents a rural Lake District constituency, where the Right to Buy has had a devastating impact in pricing families out of their areas.  Farron is widely seen as the favourite to be next Party Leader when Nick Clegg goes and so it was no surprise that the motion was overwhelmingly carried.

In a thoughtful piece today, Guardian Housing Editor, Hannah Fearn describes the Right to Buy as “a policy for a bygone era” and praises the Lib Dems’ “attempt to consign it to the dustbins of Whitehall”.  There is no doubt Cable, Farron and conference delegates deserve real credit for setting their face against a policy which is not just totemic, but popular amongst the public – especially when Labour’s front bench is being so weak on it....

Continue reading on Z2K website....

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