UNISON General Secretary candidates declare support for debt cancellation and for building 100,000 council homes a year

Media Release, October 28th 2020

All four candidates for General Secretary of UNISON (Paul Holmes, Christine McAnea, Roger McKenzie and Hugo Pierre) have expressed their support for

  • the demand for cancellation of local authority debt held by the Public Works Loans Board as an emergency measure to help stabilise council finances
  • and the building of 100,000 council homes a year.

They have agreed to sign a letter to the Labour leadership calling for a national campaign to win the funding necessary to prevent a new phase of austerity in local government. It centres on four policies to address the financial crisis of local government which is spiralling out of control. It calls on Labour to press the government to:

  1. Honour its commitment to fund councils fully for the extra costs of dealing with the pandemic, and the losses of revenue resulting from lock-down.
  2. Cancel local authority debt held by the Public Works Loans Board as an emergency measure which would provide councils with an extra £4.5-£5.5 billion spending power a year, and help to stabilise their finances. The government itself set a precedent when it cancelled NHS debt.
  3. Begin urgent discussions on a funding system based on an annual assessment of social needs in each locality.
  4. Provide £10 billion annual grant to fund building 100,000 council homes a year, which is necessary not only to address the acute housing crisis, but will provide economic stimulus as we come out of the pandemic, putting people back to work.

When debt cancellation was first raised, it was supported by 17 council leaders and more than 100 Labour councillors (see statement ). Claudia Webbe MP gained the support of 28 cross party MPs for a letter to the government calling for debt cancellation.

As predicted by the CEO of CIPFA, councils have been overtaken by “a tsunami of reduced income and increased costs”. The new restrictions of the various tiers has exacerbated the crisis even further. Councils are already running out of money and make cuts to this year’s budgets. A new phase of austerity would have disastrous social consequences.

The candidates for UNISON General Secretary have said:

Paul Holmes

“Huge cuts in local government and the use of fire/re-hire tactics in the public sector are on the agenda of this government unless we act quickly and positively. The government are keen to place the cost of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the underlying economic crisis, on the backs of ordinary working people.

Between 1951 and 1964, with a Tory government, never less than 100,000 Council houses per year were built. And these were often houses with space and of quality.

The government is only interested in private profit for their mates through trace and testing, outsourcing etc. They have no interest in the provision of quality public services. However the government is weak, as has been shown by the public response to their vicious attack on hungry children via their voting on free school meals in the school holidays.

What is needed is a high-profile public campaign led by the higher echelons of the labour and trade union movement to mobilise opposition and inspire people.

I fully support your campaign’s four demands. Please add my name to correspondence in support of those demands. Low-cost, affordable housing is a bed-rock for a decent society.”

Christina McAnea

“I’m very happy to support this campaign and to put my name to the letter to Keir and Angie. The 4 points in your campaign are ones I wholeheartedly support. I have already pledged to ensure that the campaign for decent funding for local government will be a major priority for UNISON. We already know that this Tory government will expect local councils and local authority workers to pay the price for the pandemic and must work together to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

Roger McKenzie

“Happy to add my name in support of the four key points. Despite this difficult situation we have seen many Councils pick up the shattered pieces of the Governments failed track and trace system and, at the same time, still attempt to provide basic and much needed public service to the communities they serve. Services provided by many thousands of Unison members. This must be supported by additional funding for Councils.

We need to see the clock on debt being reset and the funding settlement for Councils reorganised so that Councils can, amongst other things, maintain their existing housing stock and a mass building of council housing can take place. By this I mean council run housing and not housing associations properties. Councils should be empowered to regulate rents in the private sector and as well be in a position to take firm action over poor standards of accommodation provided by private landlords.

The aim should still be to bring the provision of housing much closer to the people with easier access to services including faster repairs. Much can still be learned by the efforts to decentralise housing provision that was pioneered during the 1980’s and started in Walsall. Our aim should not just be to hold the line but to look of ways of bringing back democracy and accessibility to Council Housing provision.”

Hugo Pierre

“I agree with the statement on both Council debt’s and the housing revenue account I am happy to add my name to it. I would go further. I believe that if the branch democratically agreed, they should be able to support candidates that oppose and will not vote for council budget cuts, whether they are Labour or not.

I also believe that UNISON should bring branches together to take national action against council cuts. A mass campaign would inflict a bigger defeat on the Tories that could have a bigger impact than even Marcus’s campaign.”

Martin Wicks, Secretary of the Labour Campaign for Council Housing said:

“We welcome the support of all the candidates for UNISON General Secretary. In order to prevent a new phase of austerity in local government we need a campaign which brings together the Labour Party, trades unions and service users, to pressure the government on these four points. Debt cancellation will help to stabilise local authority finances, though ultimately funding based on social needs is required to address the deep seated social problems that have resulted from ten years of austerity. A national campaign around these demands can force yet another U-turn on what is a weak and shambolic government.

The pandemic has shown the health consequences of poor and overcrowded housing. A large scale council house building programme, along the lines of Labour’s 2019 policy (£10 billion grant a year to fund 100,000 council homes a year, and ending the disastrous right to buy) will be a key means of tackling the economic crisis which the pandemic has created on the back of a decade of austerity. We should be demanding that this government provide the grant necessary to support a large scale council building programme. Even the Tories in the Local Government Association say this is necessary to address the housing crisis.”

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