Labour believes everyone deserves to be able to live in an affordable, secure home, in an area where their local authority can deliver good public services and to travel using affordable and reliable public transport. But under this Government communities are being left behind.
Putting power back in the hands of local people is key for the Labour Party. For many people politics is too distant from them, too many of the decisions that have an impact on their lives are made in Whitehall and do not reflect their needs and priorities. Our challenge is to rebuild public services, to expand democratic participation and to give people a real say in their local communities.
Getting to grips with the escalating housing crisis, in part caused by Conservative cuts to local government, is a Labour priority. Millions of people now struggle week-to-week because of this country’s housing crisis. Labour has a clear plan of how to tackle this crisis. We are committing to building at least one million new homes, half of which will be council homes. We will end insecurity for private renters by introducing rent controls, secure tenancies and a charter of private tenants’ rights, and increase access to affordable home ownership.
Unlike the Tories, Labour understands that local transport services are vital for our communities, for local economies and for the environment. When local transport fails it has a huge impact on people’s work and family life. Labour will ensure that communities have a real say in decisions about local transport and make providers accountable to the public they serve.
Labour recognises the infrastructure challenges our country faces. Across the UK the Conservative Government’s under-investment in our transport sector is leaving its mark. Our task is not just to address the transport challenges of today but those our country will face in years to come.
Labour is committed to meeting these challenges and finding solutions that are shaped around community needs, environmental impact and supporting the local economy.
Last year the National Policy Forum (NPF) considered the priority issue areas of affordable housing and local transport. This year the NPF identified further work on devolution; council, social and affordable housing building; reforming the private rented sector; and improving transport services as priorities.
The Tories’ cuts to local government are having a huge effect on housing and local transport. Government cuts are also having a severe impact on services and service users. Local youth centres, adult social care programmes, local museums and library services are all closing because of cutbacks. Labour will act to bring back in house our public and local council services and increase access to leisure, arts and sports across the country.
Responsibility for service delivery has been devolved to local authorities but the funding from central government to deliver the kind of projects communities require has been sorely lacking. Cuts are hitting the most deprived areas hardest. All ten of the most deprived councils in England are set to see higher cuts to their finances than the national average. Cuts to local councils are also having a drastic effect on local government pay which is the lowest across the public sector. Significant numbers earn below the Living Wage and local government workers have suffered real pay cuts of 20 per cent since 2010.
English devolution can play a pivotal role in re-balancing the loss of trust in politics. We should be clear, however, that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to devolution. Different communities require tailored approaches. Simply building a new tier of elected representatives will not work for all areas. Devolution should be grassroots up, designed and delivered by local people for local people, not implemented top-down from central government. This latter approach risks recreating centralised power at a local level.
The challenge for Labour now is to bring forward solid proposals which support the debate about where power will sit in the future and how key services will be run and funded in a post-Brexit economy.
The need for affordable social and council housing has become acute. A significant proportion of the accommodation in the private rented sector is either cripplingly expensive for people on average incomes, offers little or no security or is of substandard quality. In too many cases all of these conditions apply, and families are unable to save for a deposit on a home of their own. Increasingly, for households with children, and vulnerable single adults, the security and affordability of a social or council tenancy is the best option.
After seven years of Tory failure on housing, there are now 143,000 fewer council homes with only one in six of those sold replaced, despite Tory promises of ‘one for one’ replacement. The number of new affordable homes (i.e. homes built for sale below market price, to rent and to buy) fell last year to the lowest level in 24 years, with the number of properties built at a genuinely affordable social rent at the lowest on record.
One cause of our housing crisis is the current severe skills shortage in the construction sector. In a recent survey 53 per cent of construction companies reported a difficulty sourcing labour. This is compounded by the 19 per cent of the construction workforce that are set to retire in the next five to ten years. This all leads to serious concerns about the Government’s lack of response to this skills shortage and an abject failure to improve the workers’ rights of those employed in the construction sector.
Building on work conducted by last year’s Communities Policy Commission, Labour is committing to building over a million new homes in five years, at least half being council homes, through our public investment strategy. We also, unlike the Tories, understand that council regeneration programmes should have the consent of residents. But to help achieve our aims we also need to understand how best to increase access to affordable homes to rent and buy and tackle the severe skills shortage in the construction sector.
Labour is committed to reforming standards, driving down costs and increasing security in the private rented sector. The number of people who own their own home has decreased by 200,000 since 2010 with the private rented sector making up the shortfall. There are over 900,000 more households renting from a private landlord than in 2010, including one in four families with dependent children. Deficiencies with the private rented sector mean that since 2010 the amount spent on housing benefit is over £4 billion a year higher.
Labour is concerned by the condition of the rented properties that many people live in. We must make sure that no one has to live in substandard accommodation or accept unfair charges or unscrupulous letting practices. We need to understand the best ways to help improve standards in the private rented sector.
We need a transport system that works for local communities. As well as playing a critical role in our everyday lives, the transport sector plays a critical role in supporting the economy and could play its part in reducing our air pollution emissions. In many parts of the UK the three major barriers to using public transport are affordability, availability and access.
For too many people the rising cost of public transport is adding to the financial pressures they already face. Local authority supported bus routes have been cut and rail fares have risen more than three times faster than wages.
The Tories insist that privatisation delivers cheaper tickets and lower subsidies, yet under this Government we have some of the most expensive fares in Europe. Building on the work of last year’s Transport Policy Commission, Labour has a different plan, taking the railways back into public ownership and putting passengers not profit first.
Buses are the most frequently used form of public transport. Building on the work of last year’s Commission, we will give local authorities increased franchising powers to run and manage their local bus routes.
Labour understands that beyond current considerations we must also look to the transport infrastructure challenges our country will face in the decades to come.