Something quite terrible has happened in Basildon. The Labour government has reneged on its promise to fund major improvements to our Council housing as part of the Decent Homes scheme. Now, you have to either know a bit about housing finance or be a Council tenant to really understand just how awful this is, but I will try to explain. Basildon, like many local authorities, has problems in maintaining its Council housing to the standard that most ordinary people in a developed country would find acceptable. Years ago, Labour came up with 'Decent Homes', a scheme whereby if a local authority aligns itself to supposed best practice in housing management very considerable sums would be made available to bring up the standard of public housing. In Basildon we have had to jump through bureaucratic hoops over a number of years and then set up what is called an Arms-Length Management Organisation, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Council with a mission to deliver the housing service. This has all cost millions, but at the end of it we have a good ALMO, St. George's Community Housing, and the promise of £142 million from government if St. George's achieves a good rating in an inspection that is currently in progress. I know that this sounds like a lot of money but what it translates into is decent kitchens, bathrooms, windows and other improvements that most people would consider normal for a house in Britain in the 21st century.
Then, on Friday, we got a letter saying that there won't be any money until 2011 at the earliest and telling us that the government's new idea is to build council houses instead. We were not the only ones. First, there is the betrayal of trust. We thought that we were in partnership with the government in order to deliver better houses, and better lives, to thousands of our people. Instead that has all been swept away. Years of work, millions spent and they just go and change their mind. Second, the new policy is a contemptible smokescreen that should fool no-one. It takes years and costs a great deal to create any substantial project to build new homes, and if a Council goes down that road there is no guarantee they would get any money. We invited to 'bid' for it, though there are no details at all, which makes me think that this policy has hit the streets well before it has been thought through or even before there are any Civil Servants even working on it. So, money for our tenants which we could have got as early as next month has been replace by some money for something else in the far future that we might not get at all. Let us not forget that there is the little matter of an election next year as well, so new policy created now has a very high probability of not happening at all anyway.
The thing I cannot get is that in kicking our Council tenants in the face, the Labour party is victimising a group who they have historically always tried to look after. Their party is meant to have a focus on those who need the most help, and many of our Council tenants fall into that category. So, you would have thought that they would be reluctant to get Councils to waste large amounts of money that that could otherwise be used to improve housing on the promise of providing funding to improve Council houses and then rat on their part of the deal, but apparently not. Our Council tenants join the the long list of people who have been shafted by this Labour government. That Council tenants are Labour's core vote in Basildon makes this crazy in political terms as well as being despicable.
Brown's Labour is incoherent in both political and policy terms. The trouble is that it is when a government starts acting as if it doesn't care if people vote for it or not then it is at its most dangerous. To all of us.