Friday, July 31, 2009

Sporting Village gets the goahead

On Thursday Basildon Council voted to sign contracts for the construction of the Sporting Village. For those that don't know, this is an excellent public sporting facility with a 50m pool, AAA standard athletics track, gym, regional gymnastics centre, large sports hall and so on. The project should deliver in time for the Village to support the Olympics and it gives Basildon excellent sports facilities that are as good as any in the region. Now, when we began the project the funding was all in place. With the recession land values have fallen, which has affected the value of the sites we are going to dispose of to help pay for the project. So, we have had to close the gap with some additional sites and borrowing, which does represent a risk, albeit a calculated one. There is a risk of not doing the project though, because we would not get Olympic legacy grants again and our existing facilities need millions of pounds of work. So, we are going ahead.

Not everyone is in favour though, especially the local Labour party. Their main objection appears to be that the Sporting Village will be so successful that it will be overrun by people from all across the region so that local people don't get a look in. Their thesis appears to be that we should have rubbish facilities that no-one would want to travel to. I am not making this up. As I told them on Thursday, the Conservative administration is prepared to deal with the consequences of a Sporting Village so good that demand threatens to exceed supply. Certainly nothing built by Basildon Labour party has ever had that problem.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

All-party condemnation of government over ALMO funding

At full Council last night we had a motion on the government's betrayal of our tenants in withdrawing the offer of funding to St. George's Community Housing, our Arms-Length Management Organisation to run the housing service:
1. This Council condemns the Labour government for breaking its repeated promises to Basildon’s Council tenants by:

i) Withdrawing its offer to fund vital improvements to their homes starting from this year as part of the Decent Homes initiative.
ii) Making the last 5 years of hard work by tenant representatives, officers and Councillors to transform Basildon’s housing service in expectation of government funding pointless.
iii) Making the over £1m spent from tenant’s funds in support of the Decent Homes initiative a waste of money.
iv) Pretending that a press release with no details whereby Councils can bid for money to build new homes at some time years in the future is any substitute for giving tenants decent homes to live in right now.

2. This Council expects the Leader to write to the Housing Minister expressing it’s outrage at his decision and calls upon him to reverse it.
It was passed unanimously. Labour Councillors described the government's decision as 'indefensible' and so they very sensibly did not try to defend it. So, we had Labour Councillors voting to support a Conservative motion condemning the Labour government, something that must have been very painful for them and something that is certainly a first for Basildon Council. If there is one thing that Basildon Labour have been entirely consistent on for decades it has been their support for Council tenants and so the government ratting on their promises to those tenants outraged them as much as it outraged us.

Of course we can make a great play of this politically as yet another illustration of how useless and untrustworthy Gordon Brown is, but frankly I would take a government keeping its promises to our tenants over political advantage any time. I cannot believe that a Labour government led by almost anyone other than Brown would have done this. Think about it; the current Labour government is supporting Bankers' bonuses while at the same time withdrawing funding from Council tenants. You couldn't make it up.

Some very good points were made in the debate, including one by my colleague Cllr. Sullivan. He said that it is all very well talking about how awful the BNP are, but it is decisions like these that attack the traditional working class that have let the fascists get a foothold in our society. You cannot keep kicking people and then expect them to vote for you, and for some traditional Labour supporters the BNP can seem like a viable alternative.

I fear that this appalling lack of integrity from the Labour government may cast a long shadow in Basildon.

John Baron MP presses Secretary of State over ALMO decision

MP says Government decision is ‘kick in the teeth’ to Council tenants across Basildon District

John Baron MP is pressing the Rt. Hon. John Denham MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, over the Government’s decision to pay for new social homes by raiding ALMO’s Decent Homes budgets. This will mean St. Georges Community Housing has now been denied £142m for its Decent Homes Programme, despite having spent £1m in preparing its bid.

John said:
This decision is a real kick in the teeth to the many Council tenants across the District whose housing is in desperate need of renovation. This is a body blow to them and St Georges which spent £1m in bidding for funding which has now been withdrawn.

The Government’s commitment to ALMOs has been questionable. In addition to the stop-start nature of the funding over the years, Parliament learnt earlier this year that during 2006-2008 £29m had been transferred out of the Decent Homes ALMO Programme into the Olympics budget.

Meanwhile, I’m sceptical that the diversion of this money to social housing will achieve the Government’s new build targets given the logjams that are slowing down the construction of new homes for rent. It is a sad fact that the number of social houses built in each of the 18 years of the last Tory Government exceeds that built in any year since 1997.