The former Labour MP Keith Hill has been appointed by Hammersmith and Fulham Council as the “Residents Housing Commissioner”. His brief is to win round tenants and leaseholders to the councils proposal to privatise the entire council housing stock.
It must have been a tough interview.
The Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr Lisa Homan used to work for Mr Hill. She continued working for him for 13 years.
Labour MP Austin Mitchell has attacked Mr Hill for a “dogmatic insistence on privatisation” regarding council housing.
Mr Hill was Housing Minister from 2003-05. Even the Labour member of the London Assembly Tom Copley has said that Labour should apologise for its housing record in Government – where fewer new council homes were built in 13 years than in a single year under Margaret Thatcher.We have yet to hear any such apology from Mr Hill.
In 2009 Mr Hill became Chairman of Lambeth Living, the disastrous council housing almo – which tenants have just voted to scrap. The year after Mr Hill’s appointment it emerged that consultants were paid £4,500 a week to work there.
The following year the Labour MP Kate Hoey said Lambeth Living was “pretty much of a disaster”. Adding “the tenants are now left with huge amounts of very bad housing with no one wanting to do anything about it. ”
So is Mr Hill to do for Hammersmith and Fulham what he has done for Lambeth?
We are getting used to gimmicks about “independent” task forces, reviews and commissions. But even by Labour’s cynical standards this latest appointment is less than subtle.
Clearly these plans are of great concern to existing council tenants. But they should also concern all residents who live in areas of mixed private and public houses, which is the case across large parts of the borough. When the council house next door has been scaffolded for nearly a year, with little progress on renovation works, and an ongoing security risk, local councillors are at least able to get answers and take action. Or even if you feel that the tax monies being spent were not achieving a good enough result. Lovell were fired as contractors in my neighbourhood because their performance wasn’t up to standard. And in extremis you can always vote out the council who are running the whole show.
This is not the case for housing associations. The decision-making processes around which of their properties are sold to private investors, which are redecorated and when, which have costly retrofitting done to accomodate the needs of their clients – all this is opaque, inconsistent, not always rational and largely unaccountable.
Public housing is a resource that we all own, and it affects us all, whether we live in it or next door to it. I would like the maximum amount of transparency and accountability.
Labour set up the ALMO in Hammersmith, Conservatives scrapped it and made Councillors responsible and accountable for what they did with Council homes. Now Labour are back it seems they want shut of that responsibility as soon as possible.
They would never have got the deal they got on the Earls Court scheme if housing had been handed over to Housing Associations.