The present York Council had its final meeting last week. Predictably there were some desperate attempts to remedy the omissions of the last 4 years.
Labour proposed that Council house sales in the City should be halted. They lurched back to a position which cost them the control of the York Council as long ago as 1973.
Since then both Conservative (Thatcher) and Labour (Blair/Brown) governments have supported Council house sales. The present coalition government – largely at the insistence of the Tories – extended the maximum discount available to tenants to £70,000.
However, they also dealt with some long running issues which restricted a Councils ability to reinvest the money made from sales into new Council homes.
The York Council has made little use of the flexibility. It has accumulated a £15 million surplus on its housing account…and this despite the continued decline in investment in York’s Council estates.
The coalition government also now allows Councils to retain all the money that it takes in rents. The previous Labour government had creamed off any “surplus” and transferred it to subsidise tenants in other parts of the country.
Estate maintenance stadards falling in York
The York Council now has much more flexibility than it used to have, although housing rent income may still only be used for “housing purposes”. The income cannot, for example, be used to reduce Council Tax levels or raise public service standards like road repairs.
The supporters of the change to the housing sales rules say that it would address the widening gap between private sector rents and earnings in the City.
In fact until very recently, house prices – which influence rent levels – had been stable since 2008.
Given the relatively low level of sales (122 sold since 2011, out of a stock of over 8000) we doubt a sales freeze would make much difference anyway.
One the face of it, the level of discounts given to purchasers could be determined locally. After all, each local authority area has different characteristics.
But there are too many Councils, including York, which are in the hands of hard line politicians who care little about the views of ordinary people. In 2011 we ended up with an uncompromising Labour administration who had gained the support of only 40% of the electorate.
In a separate debate the present Council refused to sanction a return to a committee system for making decisions. This traditional British system allowed all viewpoints to be aired before decisions were taken.
Until change of this sort is agreed, then it would be difficult for any democrat to argue that more decisions, of the type which affect people’s everyday lives, should be delegated if they are to be determined, behind closed doors, by dogmatic party puppets.
There is little chance that any government will suspend Council House sales. The York Council’s move was window-dressing.
But its failure to build only 37 new Council houses during the last 4 years, most definitely will be a factor that influences many residents voting intentions on 7th May