My first reaction to hearing that Theresa May plans to talk about needing to increase council house building in her speech today was a hollow laugh.
Throughout the general election campaign housing and the glaring need for council housing came up in my home of Reading West and in the seat I was lucky to be a candidate in, of Wantage. In hustings I quoted our manifesto:
“We will remove government restrictions that stop councils building homes and begin the biggest council building programme for at least 30 years. We will ditch the Conservatives ban on long-term council tenancies…Labour will scrap the punitive bedroom tax”
My Conservative opponent blustered but had no real answer about what the Conservatives would do to tackle their 7 years of failure. Now it seems that they are going to borrow our rhetoric – yet again Labour is making the political weather.
However the credibility of how they deliver must be in real doubt given the appalling record they have on social housing – council homes have been sold off and not replaced, let alone having a substantial new programme.
Here in Reading, if you talk to Cllr John Ennis – our Lead councillor for Housing – he will tell you that the governments restrictions on building for councils have crippled our plans for a 1000 new council homes to fewer than 100. Something I pointed out to a Conservative minister last week when she talked about the importance of councils building homes for older people.
How can we believe a single thing from this government about council housing when Alok Sharma won’t even scrap the bedroom tax (although our campaign continues)?
We will need to scrutinise this rhetoric every step of the way and hold Alok Sharma to account. My reading of this is that Mr Sharma may be housing minister in name but he has no ideas of his own, no credibility and – I am sure it will become apparent – no plan to deliver what the Conservatives now admit is a vital need for the people of Reading and our country: good quality council homes.