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Camden News - by PAUL KEILTHY
Published: 11 June 2009
John Healey
John Healey
After the PM raises hopes of ending repair bill saga, CNJ asks his new housing boss:

Where’s the homes cash, minister?

IT is not a hard question, but it is a vital one. Will the government put an instant end to the council’s unpopular sale of Camden’s scarce homes by pledging to pay the £213million repair bill for council houses?
Last week, Prime Minister Gordon Brown hinted that it might, telling the New Journal: “What we need to do is to get the council to respond to our invitation for more money for council housing, for social housing.”
But it is hardly a product of post-expenses row cynicism to suggest that, when elections are in the offing, politicians are apt to drop all sorts of hints.
Like ex-London Mayor Ken Livingstone in May last year, the Prime Minister made reference to a pot of cash available for town halls to spend on council housing – but no promises.
So the New Journal has written to the new housing minister, John Healey, to put the questions: “Should the council stop its sale of these valuable properties?” and “Will the government provide the money to repair Camden’s housing stock, money it has provided to other local authorities, where tenants chose to join an Almo [arm’s-length management organisation]?”
Appointed last Friday, the new minister – the fourth in two years to hold the housing brief – has told the New Journal he will respond to our questions in full.
Mr Healey made an assured debut speech in the Commons on Tuesday night which lavished praise on Labour’s record of refurbishing social housing.
“More than a million families now live in decent homes because of the repairs we have dealt with,” he said, before insisting that the government would now place more power in the hands of local authorities to build and run housing.
“If local authorities can convince us we can deliver quickly and cost-effectively we will give them our full backing.”
But Camden has had none of the funding he described, and the minister is likely to find he has a full postbag in his first week in the job.
According to Camden Federation chairman Meric Apak, tenants are considering drafting a letter to Mr Healey calling on him to make good on Mr Brown’s hints.
“We want the council to suspend all sales and market rent proposals [for council homes] until this is properly explored,” Mr Apak said yesterday.
And the council’s Lib Dem leader, Councillor Keith Moffitt, said on Tuesday: “We’re in the process of sorting out a letter to him as we speak. Each time there is a new housing minister we spell out the situation to them. We never say die on it. But unless there is a change of heart we have little practical alternative but to carry on finding the money somewhere.”
Labour group leader Councillor Nash Ali said he would write to Mr Healey, armed with the New Journal’s interview with Gordon Brown. He added: “When a Prime Minister says that to the papers there has got to be something there. I think the council could have done a lot more [negotiating] before starting to sell off flats.”
The issue is causing mounting frustration to the Lib Dems, who hold the housing brief in the coalition with the Conservatives that runs Camden. They see the sell-off strategy as a last-resort response to a complete failure by government to provide cash for Camden’s homes after the rejection of the Almo in 2004.
The sales have been condemned as “morally wrong” by protesters who believe the council has failed to argue its case. A clear answer from Mr Healey could settle the question once and for all.

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