GMB condemns Sedgefield council house privatisation

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THE GMB Annual Congress has condemned the decision of the Labour government to privatise the council house stock in Prime Minister Blair’s own constituency, Sedgefield.

The union pledged to campaign with local groups to stop the privatisation of the council housing stock.

The union commented that ‘Similar housing plans sell-offs by other councils have been thrown out by residents all over the country’.

Council house tenants are opposed to privatisation since it means the end of their secure tenancies, bringing with it the threat of eviction, as well as major rent rises.

The Prime Minister, their MP, Blair, is an ardent enthusiast for privatising everything, including their homes.

Tom Brennan, GMB Northern Regional Secretary said: ‘There is no need to surrender this valuable asset when the financial resources generated within the Council is being spirited away to central government instead of being used to maintain quality council housing for the people of Sedgefield.’

That there is no need, is of course well known. However, the Prime Minister and his government are not concerned about the needs of council house tenants, even in his own constituency. Their concern is restoring the profitability of the big private landlords.

The GMB union is strongly pressing that the rental income and right to buy receipts raised locally, that are being transferred to central government for redistribution, should remain in Sedgefield and be available for investment.

The union has stated that if this were to happen the Council would be able to meet tenants’ aspirations without the need to consider other housing options.

However the government is not only not listening, it has planned to use the revenues that it is confiscating for the benefit of the private developers.

The UNISON trade union has revealed just what is to happen to the council house receipts that are being passed onto the central government.

UNISON stated: ‘The Housing Corporation has confirmed that the whole of its £3.3bn programme for new housing – money that has to date been earmarked for non-profit-making housing associations – is to be open to competition from private developers.’

UNISON has criticised the move as heralding ‘an end to social housing as we know it’. The cash is to be used not to assist the small privateers in the local housing associations, and their ‘social housing’ projects, it is to be handed over to the big private developers.

Announcing the new system, the Housing Corporation’s chief executive, Jon Rouse, said: ‘For the first time, this bid round is open to private sector developers and local authorities as well as housing associations, creating new routes for the delivery of high-quality social housing.’

UNISON’s head of local government, Heather Wakefield, commented that the change meant an end not just to council housing but ‘an end to social housing as we know it.’

‘Already, councils are forced down the route of stock transfer, ALMOs or PFI, in order to be able to provide tenants with decent homes through improvement of existing stock.

‘Now we learn that funding available for new-build social housing via housing associations is to be made available to private builders – which will take the “social” right out of housing for those not able to buy in the private market.’ The trade unions must not stand by and just watch the government’s transfer of funds from council housing into the pockets of the big property developers.

The GMB, UNISON and the other trade unions must tell Blair that enough is enough. They must take action to save council housing by bringing down his government, to go forward to a workers’ government, that will build millions of new council homes and put an end to the regeneration of the private landlords.