I gave evidence in London today to Lord Whitty's inquiry on the affordable housing crisis.
My starting point was that to resolve this crisis local authorities need to play a key role again in providing a quality affordable housing option for all not just a safety net for some.
It's important to place where we have got too in a context, therefore I referred to the fact that the challenge for the new government of the day in 1997 was clearly about tackling the £22b backlog of repairs in council houses and bringing them up to the decent homes standard. However, the process which brought this about resulted in stock transfers, continuation of right to buy and demolitions.
Having met with three very different local government chief executives recently I was struck by the commonality of understanding of the challenges that council’s face in the coming years. Fiona Lees from East Ayrshire, Manjeet Gill from West Lindsey and Carolyn Downs of the LGA all shared a vision that the answers to the tough times ahead would be found in working closely with and within local communities.
With demographic change towards people living longer we know that a smaller percentage will be working in the future and that there will be greater demands for care services amongst an increasing elderly population. With increasing social problems created by alcohol and drugs, the number of children being looked after is also rising.
With a huge amount of market volatility at present, is now really the right time for local government to be looking to the private sector for solutions?
The names Southern Cross, Connaught, ROK and Fountain have probably done more damage to the outsourcing agenda in local government than the collective writings of opponents of this approach since the dawning of Compulsory Competitive Tendering 30 years ago. Throw in recent headlines around A4e and you can see that for an industry that works so hard on its image, the last couple of years have not been a great time.