Labour councils are leading the way on housing. The government must follow

Southampton’s Labour council plans to build its way out of the pandemic crisis. In July, the council approved £144m worth of investment to deliver on our 1,000 council home commitment. With over a quarter already delivered or under construction, we accelerated the rest of the programme as part of our pandemic recovery plans. This programme will help to address the social and economic needs of our city.

We all know that there are too many people within our communities who cannot afford to rent, buy or even heat their homes. There are too many families living in cramped, unfit conditions; too many still becoming homeless; and too many of our elderly loved ones or those with learning disabilities struggling to find a home that meets their needs. While at the same time, in places like Southampton, we are losing up to 150 council homes a year through Right to Buy.

The private market just isn’t providing for local people in relation to price, tenure and suitability. Private developers are building and converting old office accommodation but failing to address local housing need. This is why, as a Labour council, we are stepping up and filling in the gaps by delivering good quality, energy efficient and affordable council homes. We will be offering a range of affordability, from social rented to affordable and shared ownership options, for those wanting to get onto the housing ladder.

Housing for too long has been viewed as a commodity rather than a home under the Conservatives. Labour knows that in reality it is linked to our life outcomes, affecting our education, employment, health and wellbeing. In recent months, lockdown has really highlighted the importance of the ‘home’ – when our homes suddenly became our place of work, a classroom or where most of our leisure activity is spent. As part of our new council home programme, we plan to deliver homes that are fit for purpose because we know a quality home leads to a better quality of life. With a real focus on design, it is also important our homes match our green aspirations as a party, which is why our new homes will be more energy efficient; reducing energy bills by up to £35 a month for our residents, as well as their carbon footprint.

At a time when it is needed most, this home building programme will help stimulate the economy by creating over 1,000 much-needed jobs and apprenticeships and generating an additional £78m into the wider economy. Local contractors will be sourced through our ethical procurement policy. They are expected pay a decent wage, offer meaningful apprenticeships and, through the use of modern methods of construction, diversify the workforce in terms of age, sex and ethnicity.

As a country we have only ever met housing need when local government has led the way and built homes that people need. While the lifting of the borrowing cap was welcome in late 2018, councils need more than the ability to get into deeper debt to provide for their communities. We need a solution to Right to Buy and an acceptance that subsidised housing requires government subsidy. Local councils can fix the housing crisis, but we need a Labour government to break the shackles that the Conservatives have imposed on us. In the meantime, Labour is delivering locally in spite of a Conservative government rather than because of it.

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