Media coverage of Theresa May’s disastrous conference speech focussed on all too avoidable mishaps: the fake P45, the lost voice and the falling letters.
While this was probably inevitable, it was a shame because it meant that what Theresa May actually said didn’t get the scrutiny it deserved.
The Tories are making it harder for Ipswich Borough Council to build new council houses like this in Ipswich
Her speech was billed as a major change in policy: the Government was going to engage in a massive programme of new council house building.
If the Prime Minister had announced that, it would indeed have been a major reversal of previous Conservative housing policy. It would have been right and it would have been very welcome.
But what was actually announced was very small beer indeed.
An extra £2 billion will be spread over 5 years. It will only build an extra 5,000 homes a year across the whole country.
Compare this to the £10 billion extra being put into “Help to Buy” – a scheme which disproportionately benefits people who are already well off and serves mainly to inflate house prices even further out of reach.
Nor is the full £2 billion available to build council houses. Housing Associations will also be bidding for the same pot of money.
It has also become clear that most of the new houses built under this scheme will have to charge significantly higher rents than existing council houses.
Only “high rental areas” will be able to charge the lower social rents for new council houses.
Many people in Ipswich struggle to afford the rents private landlords charge but they are still far cheaper than rents in London. It seems clear that Ipswich won’t be allowed to build homes for social rent.
Up to now the Government has gone out of its way to stop us building council houses in Ipswich: increasing right-to-buy discounts, cutting rental income, stopping development on Ravenswood because there were “too many” council houses.
The Government has now finally conceded that council houses are an essential part of the housing mix.
But they are still a long way from putting in place the conditions required to allow councils to get building.