Thursday 1 November 2007

Right to Buy - bit daft really

So, there's the Right to Buy (RTB) which the Scottish Government is changing (not abolishing yet - more's the pity) and restricting.

I'm baffled by the attitude of the Labour party, I have to admit, seeking to defend RTB in the face of all the evidence that it restricts the housing available for social renting.

Let me explain that a little - imagine you are running a housing association and you have to make sure that the books balance and that the public investment in the association's stock is realised in decent housing available for affordable renting or that you run a council housing department and you are responsible for making sure that the rents you receive cover repairs, capital debt repayments, management costs, and so on. How keen are you going to be to invest in newbuild or rehab projects which will carry a high capital cost but which cannot be guaranteed to be an asset in your organisation's books for any length of time and can be purchased from you at a mandatory discount (calculated on the length of a tenancy and so arbitrary in terms of the asset you hold), leaving you holding the capital debt from the asset.

Daft, isn't it? Well, Labour's defending that misuse of public money.

So are the Conservatives, but I can understand that. The RTB policy was a wheeze of Maggie Thatcher's government, created (I think, in my biased manner) to break the link between councils and people's housing and thus reduce the electorate's link with the controlling hand of municipality and create a sense of individual property where once had been a reserve of social capital for the purposes of electoral gain, so there is a sentimental attachment to the policy in the part of the Tories.

What I can't understand is why a Conservative party which places so much emphasis on the need for the individual to be self-reliant and on the state withdrawing from interference in people's lives can possibly justify such a massive subsidy for some people when buying property and not for others. I'm still trying to work out whether it was irony when Mary Scanlon said last night that the historic debt held by councils for the council houses they built was 'a disgrace'. Just in case she really believes that, can I point out to her that her party removed the revenue stream from those debts leaving them unserviceable?

RTB may have brought a large financial benefit to a number of former tenants who are now home owners on the cheap, but it delivered no benefit to society, so the question has to be whether that public money was properly spent - is the job of Government to benefit a few individuals or to improve society?

End the Right to Buy, I say.

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