Housing minister says investment will not collapse and accuses opposition of plotting
Healey: the Tories are two-faced
John Healey has unveiled Labour’s housing strategy for the election campaign by insisting dramatic budget cuts are not inevitable and accusing the Tories of plans to triple social rents.
The housing minister told the Labour Party conference in Brighton there were ‘two faces’ of the Conservative party. ‘The spin, the smiles, the soft words of the leader, frontman for a fresh Conservative brand,’ and the ‘harsh ideas and harsh ideology of those behind him’.
He quoted from the notes of a discussion hosted by think tank Localis and Conservative councillor Stephen Greenhalgh about the possibilities for radical deregulation of social housing.
He said the notes, which list the Conservative shadow housing minister Grant Shapps among the meeting’s attendees, were evidence of ‘secret plans that would double or triple rents for 8 million people in council or housing association homes’.
‘If I am wrong, David Cameron can say so,’ he added, claiming he had received no response to two letters to Mr Cameron, calling for the Conservative leader to disown Mr Greenhalgh’s views.
Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps retorted: ‘These are unfounded and baseless scare tactics by an increasingly desperate Labour Party trying to frighten social tenants in an attempt to get them to vote Labour.’
Mr Greenhalgh said: ‘There is no secret plan, everything I have thought about social housing is in the public domain. Whether the [Conservative] party wishes to adopt my ideas or not is clearly not a decision for me.
‘We know what the party’s policies are - they were published in Grant Shapps’ green paper.’
Mr Healey also sought to dispel the view that the UK’s soaring budget deficit meant whichever party formed the next government would have to make ‘savage cuts’ to housing spending.
He told a fringe meeting it was ‘simply not right’ that public investment was going to collapse. He said that after 2011 housing would have to argue harder for its share of resources, and there would be a ‘slower rate of growth’ in public spending. ‘But it isn’t falling off a cliff,’ he insisted. ‘It isn’t falling off a cliff with a Labour government, in any case.’
The housing minister also used the conference to launch the £180 million second bidding round for the new council house building programme, and to unveil new rules which will require mortgage lenders to alert councils of repossession proceedings against their constituents.