Brand new blue
Hot on the heels of last night’s final leaders’ debate comes the last in our series quizzing the three men hoping to be prime minister. Inside Housing asks David Cameron what the Conservatives would do for social housing employees and their tenants in return for their vote in next week’s election
Inside Housing: Why should social housing workers and their residents vote Conservative?
David Cameron: We’re asking everyone to vote Conservative at this election so together we can change our country for the better. Young, old, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight - this election is about showing everyone that anything is still possible in this country. We can do things differently. We can have a future of change, optimism and hope. And a key part of that change is in social housing. In this modern, progressive, compassionate Conservative Party we believe in the importance of social housing and the security it provides.
We won’t settle for the way Labour has left a record 1.8 million families on housing waiting lists. We won’t settle for the way that the rate of new social housebuilding has been halved under this government. At this election we’re saying to everyone who lives and works in social housing: we will protect you, we will respect you, and we will be on your side.
So we will reward social housing tenants for being good neighbours by giving them an equity stake in their social-rented property. We will help if they want to move to a new social property by giving them the right to move to other social housing elsewhere. And we will give them the chance to earn new professional pride in their own homes by ending the unfair restrictions which stop people who live in social housing from running a business from the property.
IH What have you done personally during the election campaign to make housing a key election issue?
DC Housing is already high up on our agenda and Grant Shapps, our shadow housing minister, is already very busy campaigning on this issue. What’s more, some of our most important election pledges are based on housing issues - from a permanent cut in stamp duty for first time buyers, to giving new incentives for councils to build more affordable homes, to creating new local housing trusts to build more homes for local people in our villages and towns.
IH You rarely talk publicly about housing. Why not?
DC No, I don’t accept that. I’m really proud of the way the Conservative Party has taken a lead on homelessness issues, for example, since I’ve been leader. Those of you reading this on the internet can still watch the speech I made when I launched the Conservative Homelessness Foundation online. What’s more, last year I took the lead in announcing our empty property rescue scheme which will stop the scandal of so much social housing lying empty and put more empty property back into good use.
IH Inside Housing is campaigning for greater recognition of the importance of good quality housing in our House Proud campaign. Will you lend your support?
DC Yes - Conservatives have already signed up to the House Proud campaign, and have included housing pledges in our election manifesto. You can’t stress enough how much good quality housing matters and it’s great that Inside Housing is campaigning to raise the profile of these issues.
IH Your election manifesto does not commit to current plans to reform council housing finance. Does this mean you would drop them?
DC The government has recently launched a consultation paper on reforms to housing finance. We await the responses from local councils to the proposals and we will listen to their representations.
IH Your manifesto also says a Conservative government would ‘end the bureaucratic inspection regime that stops councils focusing on residents’ main concerns’. Would you scrap Audit Commission housing inspections?
DC We will curtail the local government inspection regime, including abolishing comprehensive area assessment. Local government inspection should be proportionate to risk.
IH If you win the election, can you guarantee that you will preserve life-tenancies for all social tenants, new and old, for the duration of that government?
DC Let’s get this clear. What Labour has been doing is running a scare campaign, making allegations about Conservative housing policies which are simply untrue. It’s not the first time it’s happened during this election campaign and I imagine it won’t be the last. But the truth is that in the last few years, it’s been Labour ministers who have thrown social tenants’ right of tenure into question, and it’s been this Labour government which forced up social rents for councils so that they’re in line with housing association rents. The Conservative position on the other hand is very clear: we support social housing, we will protect it, and we respect social tenants’ rights.
IH What assurances can you give the housing sector about the settlement it will receive if the Conservatives win the election?
DC Whoever wins this election is going to face some of the worst public finances ever seen and the biggest budget deficit in our peacetime history. So the truth is we’ve got to deal with this and sort out Labour’s debt crisis to get our economy moving.
IH What part would you expect social landlords to play in achieving your vision of ‘mending broken Britain’?
DC Right across the country, social landlords are already playing a key role in providing a roof over the head of the vulnerable and needy and tackling the anti-social behaviour and crime that blights communities. With our plans to reward responsible neighbours in social properties, to give neighbourhood grants to our poorest communities, and to build a new army of neighbourhood community organisers to help tackle our big social problems, we will help social landlords in the good work they do.
IH Are you still committed to your pledge to kick-start £20 billion of investment in making homes more energy efficient ‘from day one’, should you win the election?
DC Absolutely. And why are we doing it? It’s partly about making our homes warmer during the winter. At the moment, one family in five is living in fuel poverty; with pensioners, it’s almost one in three. So we’ve got to help these people and one way of doing that is to make our homes less draughty and more energy efficient.
IH Your colleague Stewart Jackson has admitted a Conservative government would scrap the housing regulator, the Tenant Services Authority. What about its sister quango, the Homes and Communities Agency?
DC We do need to reduce the number, size, scope and influence of quangos in this country - not least because quangos now spend billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money without enough accountability, and more people are now working in quangos than are serving in our army. But we need to go about this in a fair and responsible way, looking closely at each organisation and at the merits of each case. It is important that social tenants have an ombudsman and strong rights of redress to protect their interests. But we are not convinced of the merits of the TSA, which has spent £42 million of taxpayers’ money to little effect. That’s why, if we win this election, we will look very carefully to see whether it is providing a good service.
IH Your planning green paper indicates that by scrapping Labour’s house building targets and basing delivery on councils’ ‘option one’ figures, house building would drop by 24 per cent. Are you happy with this?
DC When you consider that house building is now at its lowest peacetime level since 1924, then it’s clear that Labour’s building targets have failed. Even Gordon Brown’s own target of 3 million homes by 2020 has now been downgraded to an ‘ambition’. We want to move to a system where local communities welcome new development, and are rewarded and encouraged for doing so.
IH What support would your government offer our readers in tackling anti-social behaviour?
DC I know that people are desperate to see an end to the violence and incivility that blights our communities. With your help, we really can turn things around.
We’ll begin by making sure the state is sending out the right signals when it comes to anti-social behaviour and crime. So as well as cutting police paperwork and putting our police back on the beat, we will give local people direct control over the way they are policed with directly elected local police commissioners.