Why We Need To Act Now to Solve Leicester’s Housing and Cost-of-Living Crisis!

Leicester’s City Council is managed by the Labour Party, so the people of Leicester at least have the opportunity to demand that our local councillors fight back against the Tories by refusing to carry through their brutal attacks upon ordinary people. But as many people already know, the vast majority of our city’s councillors have failed to stand up for us by refusing to do the Tories (and Sir Peter Soulsby’s) bidding… but that might change if they feel under enough pressure to act.

Times are now becoming increasingly desperate, and with many workers and their trade unions now voting to take the fight directly to the government through strike action, there is a slim chance that we can persuade more of our city’s Labour councillors to fight alongside us. It is not that I have high hopes in such a strategy, but we can at least try; and if our councillors don’t want to support us, then we don’t need to support them!

In the context of the ever ballooning cost-of-living crisis, two of the five primary demands of the recently launched Enough is Enough! campaign draw attention to the type of socialist strategies that our Labour councillors should be adopting if they are serious about helping ordinary people. The Enough is Enough! demand relating to energy prices therefore calls upon politicians to:

“Cancel the October price hike and return to the significantly lower pre-April energy price capBut that’s just the start: to address this long-term, energy companies must be brought into public ownership, with public investment in renewable energy to break the power of the oil giants.”

The second “decent homes for all” demand then makes clear that “Everyone should be guaranteed decent housing” and calls for the capping of rents and the nationwide building of 100,000+ public and council houses a year.

The tiresome leaders of our city council, a prime example being City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, will say that they don’t have the power (locally) to meet either of these two basic demands. But his is not true.

This point was made recently in the Guardian by John Boughton, the author of Municipal Dreams The Rise and Fall of Council Housing, wherein he concluded that the “most important lesson [from history] is simply that we can build social housing at scale when the political will exists.” So, while Peter Soulsby definitely doesn’t have the political will to investigate how his council can cap rents (in social housing settings at least) and massively accelerate our city’s council house building program, many ordinary people, and perhaps some Labour councillors, do have the political will.

Needless to say, although council funds are in short supply owing to years of Tory cuts, it remains the case that Leicester City Council does have funds in the bank that it has been saving up for a rainy day. Some of this money can be spent to cap energy prices and enable the implementation of a rent freeze for council houses, which will allow our council to concretely demonstrate to the people of Leicester that they are willing to join them in their struggle to force the Tories from power. One bank account that can be raided right now is the council’s “managed reserves” savings which, as of March 22 was filled with £83 million (which is £13 million more than was in the rainy-day account the year before). On the political necessity of using such reserves now, Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham wrote last year:

We know that central government is not giving councils the money they need. But it is not enough for councillors to shrug their shoulders and pass the buck. Local authorities can agree balanced, legal budgets that do not make cuts. It is perfectly possible for them to use their reserves and borrowing powers to plug gaps while at the same time campaigning for adequate central government funding to safeguard council services. I would like to see my union at the heart of integrated campaigns inside communities, fighting for better services and giving council workers the proper pay rise they deserve.” (LocalGov, June 24, 2021)

Furthermore, when it comes to massively accelerating our city’s commitment to building council homes our leaders have an easy option to hand that doesn’t even rely upon using existing savings. Our leaders can simply topiup their Housing Revenue Account by borrowing money. This point was well made by a Labour councillor in Wandsworth only last month (see video below) when their Labour group succeeded in getting their council to commit to the type of long-term borrowing that would provide their council with hundreds of millions of pounds that they needed to finance a newly revised council house building program.

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