The Labour Leadership contenders, Local Government and Housing
On Thursday 10th of September 2015, Labour party members as well as registered and affiliated supporters will decide who will become the next Leader of the Labour Party and therefore potential future Prime Minister. This is the first Labour leadership election since Ed Miliband’s reforms in the wake of the Falkirk scandal in 2013 which means the new Leader will be determined under the one-member-one-vote system, supposedly free of Union influence. All four candidates have spoken about Local Government and the housing crisis during the campaign, with the need for more devolution being a point consistently espoused by all wings of the party. But who is the best candidate to, potentially, deal with the Housing Crisis?
Andy Burnham has spoken extensively about the need for Local Government to start building affordable housing in order to solve the crisis. To help achieve this he believes Local Government should be given more power stating that the roots of the problem come from over-centralisation by Westminster: “Westminster has had a corrosive distrust of local government for far too long. And the product of this is that local government has been left with a disparate string of unfunded services – spreading the discontent people have with Westminster to local government.”
Burnham seeks to devolve powers to local authorities, including giving council’s the ability to borrow the funds needed to build homes as well as removing the caps on house building. He said: “If we are going to invest in the homes we need – and the transport and infrastructure we need to grow – we need a massive shift of power away from Westminster and towards Councils, cities and communities.” He is putting house building at the centre of his leadership campaign, his vision being the revival of the dream of home ownership for all while also ensuring more homes to rent are built.
Alone among the candidates, Burnham has gone so far as to put forward several concrete steps to solve the housing crisis:
- He says that there is a need to get Britain building again. A future Labour government would commit to the most ambitious house building targets since WW2. He wants to see a significant proportion of these new homes designated as ‘Rent to Own’ homes. These Government-backed schemes help people to get onto the property ladder without a deposit, giving first time buyers a clear route into home ownership and a way out of the ‘rental trap’.
- He would appoint a senior Cabinet-rank Housing Minister to lead the growth of Britain’s home-building.
- He wants a legally binding guarantee that if any council house or housing association property is sold under Right to Buy then at least one new similar property of a similar standard and rent must be built within walking distance.
The downside to this policy is that there may be several councils who do not wish to build more homes and at this point in time he has not come up with a plan to deal with the issue. However, he is by far the candidate with the most thought out plan in regards to dealing with the crisis.
Cooper, much like Kendall and Corbyn, has spoken little on the housing crisis and has instead focused on extending devolution to cities and towns with the focus of her discussion being on education and energy policy: “The Shadow Home Secretary wants to give combined authorities greater powers for driving schools standards, rather than push forward on the current free schools agenda, as well as giving those authorities greater powers over where further education colleges are based. On energy, Cooper will call for a Local Authority Energy Unit within the Department for Energy and Climate Change that brings together guidance for cities and local authorities relating to energy supply, heat delivery, energy efficiency programs, renewable energy deployment and access to finance. This is a move that has been championed by the IPPR think tank.”
She has previously said in relation to the housing crisis: “This housing crisis will only grow and grow if we don’t act. At this rate it will be worse in ten years’ time than it is today. It is one of the most serious challenges for Britain’s future and we can’t keep putting our heads in the sand. Too many people are simply priced out of the housing market. Everyone wants a secure and affordable home to put down roots or support their family. This will hold back our economy, undermine communities and family life if we don’t have a much bolder plan.” She has said that in order for the country to stay competitive, we need to build 300,000 houses a year, every year. However, she has so far declined to say how this would be achieved.
The most inexperienced and Blairite candidate of the 2015 Leadership contest, she has said very little in regards to solving the housing crisis and has instead urged for more devolution to solve the problems affecting the housing market:
“Our great cities should not have to wait for Westminster to address housing shortages or fill skills gaps. They shouldn’t be stuck with national programmes, like the Work Programme, when they can do better themselves. And they shouldn’t have to look to central government for almost all of their funding. So Labour’s replacement for the Work Programme won’t come from Whitehall, it will be designed and led by our towns, cities, and county regions. They know their local labour markets best. And they can build partnerships with local employers, housing associations and other agencies far better than any national programme.” Once again this does doesn’t really address the issue of local council’s unwillingness to build more homes.
By far the most left-wing of the current crop of candidates, Corbyn has spoken on the need to have a “re-think of the country’s constitution”. He has said: “We need to work out how we develop devolution and a regional government. We also need to give back some of the powers that have been removed such as permitted development rights.” He has, however, called for the Right to Buy to be extended to private tenants: “We know that Generation Rent faces an uphill struggle simply to get into long-term housing. We have seen some good ideas from Labour to establish more secure tenancies for renters. Now we need to go further and think of new ways to get more people into secure housing. So why not go with Right to Buy, with the same discounts as offered by way of subsidised mortgage rates, but for private tenants and funded by withdrawing the £14 billion tax allowances currently given to Buy to Let landlords? I believe this idea could open up the possibility of real secure housing for many currently faced with insecurity and high rents.” It is difficult to see how this would not negatively affect landlords who may not be happy with the prospect of selling their properties cheap.
In conclusion, all the candidates have at least something to say about the housing crisis although all but Burnham seem to class the problem as part of the over-centralisation of the state. Local Government and especially the housing crisis was at the heart of the last general election and it is just as important in the present Leadership election. Housing in particular is a very ideological issue within the Party going back to its earlier Socialist roots. The only candidate who has come up with a tangible plan to invigorate the housing market is Andy Burnham. The other candidates seem less willing to deal with the housing crisis than they are to decentralise power to Local Government.