Labour has vowed to put housing at the top of the political agenda but has admitted that when in government it failed to devolve powers to councils and communities to enable more homes to be built.
Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, shadow communities secretary Caroline Flint said Labour would “fight to keep housing at the top of the agenda”. The proposals announced by shadow chancellor Ed Balls earlier this week - to repeat the bank bonus tax to fund 25,00 new homes and the VAT cut on home improvements - would be part of this commitment.
But she admitted that when in government the party was “too slow to trust local councils and communities” and “too reluctant to relinquish the levers of the state” that would enable councils to build more homes.
“Too often, we looked like the party of Whitehall. Not the town hall. But Ed Miliband and I both know: The only way you create stronger, safer, fairer communities is by trusting people to make their own decisions,” she said.
She said that a future Labour government would ensure better regulation fo the private rented sector, “so every family that rents has security and choice” and would crack down on the “more than a million” private rented properties that did not meet the decent homes standard.
“It cannot be right that housing benefit continues to go into the pockets of landlords who have tenants in sub-standard properties,” she said.
Ms Flint also slammed the government’s planning reforms, which she said had caused “confusion and alarm” and accused minister of “hypocrisy” for opposing development in their own constituencies while “standing in Parliament wringing their hands about the need for more homes”.
“The truth is the economy isn’t stalling because of the planning system. It’s stalling because of the Tories. Cuts that go too far, too fast. And no plan for growth,” she said.
Ms Flint praised the work of Labour-led councils around the country for defending services in the face of “huge, front-loaded cuts” and criticised ministers for talking “the language of localism” but failing to deliver.
“It’s a strange localism that imposes cuts that fall deeper and faster on local councils and communities, than on almost any central government department.
“It’s a strange localism that dismantles local services and puts blind faith in volunteers taking up the reins - because, as Ed Miliband has said, you can’t volunteer in your local Sure Start centre or library when it’s already been closed.
“It’s a strange localism that sees Eric Pickles take to the TV studios to smear local councillors with cynical, politically motivated attacks. … And barely a day goes by without another missive from Mr Pickles to local councils.
“Frankly, it would take more than a weekly bin collection to get rid of his rubbish”.