Friday, 13 January 2012

Another target missed

The need for decent shelter is a requirement for all. That’s why, when the private sector wasn’t providing, local councils started building houses to rent.  As too did philanthropic organisations like housing associations.  All built decent housing for ordinary working people.
At one time, successive housing ministers were judged on the number of council houses they succeeded in getting built during their term in the job. 
Indeed many pundits thought that Harold Macmillan beat Rab Butler to become prime minister after the resignation of Anthony Eden, because of his success as a Housing Minister. 
Churchill gave him the job in 1951 and set him a target of building 300,000 homes a year. 'It is a gamble—it will make or mar your political career,' Churchill said, 'but every humble home will bless your name if you succeed.' Macmillan achieved the target a year ahead of schedule in 1953. The rest is, as they say, history. 
Recent governments have given up on ambitious house building targets. Although to her credit, Jocelyn Davies the ex-Plaid Housing Minister, set a target of building 6500 homes which she succeeded in more than fulfilling. A rare achievement indeed for the Welsh Government.
But the council houses built  by ministers such as Nye Bevan and Harold Macmillan     are now so very dated.  Modern they are not.  
That’s why in 2002 the Welsh Government decided that all social housing needed updating to a basic standard. They spelt out what needed to be achieved in the Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS).  The target was to be met by the end of  this year.
But today the Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas has produced a highly critical report. In it he makes it absolutely clear that the 2012 target will not be met for some considerable time. 
In his report Thomas points to weaknesses of leadership. He accuses the Welsh Government of not acting swiftly enough to support and monitor progress. The report goes on to point the finger at government at not putting "an effective framework in place to demonstrate value for money from the significant investment in work to achieve the WHQS."
Even by March 2017 only 79 per cent of social houses will have reached the target, with the greatest shortfall being in standards of bathrooms and kitchens.
The biggest problem in making things happen is, not surprisingly, a lack of cash by local councils. 

To generate cash to get the job done, councils have to stop being landlords and transfer their housing stock  to newly set up housing associations. 

But the rub is, that this can only happen after and if council tenants agree.  A ballot of tenants has to take place and a positive vote is required agreeing to such a transfer.  
The Auditor General pinpoints the main reason for missing the target  is  tenants voting against transfer or where tenants have yet to be balloted. 
It’s simple. No transfer then no private cash. No cash so no work done. Result, sub standard houses.
Tenants in many areas have not had this spelt out to them. Unless they vote for transfer they ain’t going to get modern decent well equipped homes.
Why hasn’t government made it clear to the tenants? Well, they’ve been mealy mouthed because they don’t want to upset the council house lobby. There is a sentiment towards the council house, that just doesn't reflect the modern world. 
Clearly, if government set targets, they should either will the means to attain these targets. If they don't will the cash then owe it  everyone to be up front with the tenants. 

The simple truth is, nothing is going to happen to council properties and slow decay will continue unless tenants vote to transfer their homes.


  1. You talk about sub-standard kitchens and bathrooms. But it would probably be better to talk about serviceability.

    Many private houses do not have modern, up-to-date facilities. But what facilities they do have are invariably clean and tidy, functional and serviceable. I am sure it is the case for many council houses too.

    Not everyone needs a flat screen television. And not everyone wants to pay an increased rent just for the sake of a more swanky bathroom or kitchen.

    I applaud the council tenants who reject such an unnecessary waste of public money.

  2. To be fair, some councils have pointed this out to their tenants, I remember Swansea did during their ballot. Unfortunately the tenants didn't believe them, having been assured by the anti opt-out campaign that the government would then step in with their magical pot of money to make sure the housing standards were met.

    Obviously, this didn't happen.

  3. What an awful piece of pro-stock transfer propaganda from a former Housing Association leader. Declaring an interest would have been a start Gareth...

    Stock transfer is a backdoor privatisation of our housing stock - there's no going back to council ownership once the decision is made. It is also a totally uneven playing field, whereby housing debt is written off for those who transfer but not for those who don't. Tenants are effectively being bribed to transfer and millions has been spent on "tenant advisers" who tell them there is no option but to transfer.

    The WAO report is damning of the failure of Labour to back up its rhetoric over the WHQS with the resources and guidance to achieve such an ambitious target. The truth is that the standard is being met in social housing while vast swathes of private housing (both rented and owned) fails to meet such a target.

    If councils had the freedom of the housing associations, and had a level playing field, there would be no need to engage in political games and covert privatisation.

  4. Having left housing some 12 years now. I have no interest to pont is if governments set targets and don't provide the resources, they should be more upfront about what needs to happen if they want to improve the houses and the lot of tenants