Headlines: June 8th, 2006

The Government is predicting that 8 million tenants will be living in better homes by the end of the decade. The forecast came from Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, as she opened the final round of bidding for funding from the Decent Homes Programme.Councils and Arms Length Management Organisations planning to make bids have until the end of July to do so. Ms Kelly said the programme would have improved more than three-and-a-half million homes by investing 40 billion pounds.

Ms Kelly stressed her view that local authorities have a key role to play in housing as she announced the publication of a discussion document calling for innovative new approaches to housing. In future, she said, the Government wanted decisions on investment in improving social housing to be considered alongside other investments needed to deliver sustainable mixed communities. Local Area Agreements, she said, could be a way of doing this.

“I’m not backing a ‘fourth option’. I’m absolutely clear councils must have an important role in delivering housing for communities. The Department will work with a number of ‘excellent’ local authorities and local authorities with three star ALMOs to examine the costs and benefits of operating their finances outside the national housing subsidy system,” she said. The approach could mean better long-term sustainability and provide evidence for decisions in the Government’s 2007 spending review, she added.

Radical solutions were needed, she said, to transform the most deprived neighbourhoods and that would mean councils and housing associations, harnessing the energy and direction of the Decent Homes Programme and their assets. “This takes time to get right. It also needs flexibility to allow local authorities to decide what their local community really needs. That is why I am content to see us move forward, getting as much as possible of the basic decent homes work done by 2010 but recognising that some will take – and must be allowed to take – a little longer,” she said.