New communities secretary Greg Clark has the least enviable job in the cabinet: justifying the policy of extending the right-to-buy to housing association tenants. The policy, hastily put together in the early stages of the election campaign, was roundly condemned from across the political spectrum. Dominic Lawson, not a noted socialist, for example pointed out that unlike council homes the state does not own housing association properties and therefore has no right to sell them. It will, in effect, require compulsory purchase – and for the purpose of private gain.
After 24 hours in the sunshine, the right-to-buy policy was hardly mentioned by the Conservatives for the rest of the election campaign. Nevertheless, the government has now decided to go ahead, and will introduce a law in the Queen’s speech.
It does not bode well that Greg Clark began with a Pinocchio moment on the Today programme. Challenged by Jim Naughtie over LSE figures revealing that since the coalition reinvigorated the right-to-buy in 2012, only one in 19 council homes sold had been replaced by another affordable property, he asserted that ‘the objective of that policy was not to replace one for one of all homes sold’. He repeated the claim twice, saying last of all that the 2012 measures ‘did not require every property to be replaced’.
Sorry, Greg, but this is what was stated in the press release by then housing minister Grant Shapps on 3 April 2012:
‘For the first time, the additional homes sold under the revamped scheme will be replaced by new properties for affordable rent, ensuring there is no reduction in the number of affordable homes.’
That seems a pretty clear promise to me that all council homes sold under the revamped right-to-buy would be replaced on a one-for-one basis. They haven’t been, not even nearly. I fear the extension of right-to-buy to housing association tenants is an even bigger fiasco in the making.