The Guardian recently reported that nearly 1-in-10 London councillors are financially linked to the same private housing companies that are wreaking havoc on the working class across the capital.
48 of these local councillors work for or own private housing firms. Some are on the boards of consultancies that lobby for planning permissions, and have even sat on planning committees that make decisions on the (abysmal) amount of affordable housing that is created.
Over 100 councillors have accepted ‘gifts’ in the way of dinners, tickets, fine wines, etc. And these are just the ones we know of. Behind this lies a mass of secret backhanders and bungs being handed over to get things through.
Is it any wonder that London is facing such a deep housing crisis? The response of the accused to all this has been to say that there isn’t a conflict of interest because they don’t lobby in their own boroughs!
There you have it: so long as they only socially cleanse or create homelessness on the other side of London, it’s somehow entirely acceptable.
Sir Alistair Graham, a former chair of the parliamentary committee on public life, believes this “undermines trust”. However, trust is already at an all-time low. All this confirms to workers is the established policy of ripping our communities to shreds, started by Thatcher and continued under New Labour.
The best example of this travesty is the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) and the - now former - council leader, Claire Kober.
Kober always had one foot in the door of the private sector. But when her attempts to demolish existing homes and replace them with 6,400 unaffordable luxury flats were defeated, she left the council and planted both feet squarely into property development by becoming the ‘director of housing’ for the Pinnacle Group.
The state and private enterprise are connected by a thousand threads. This is also shown by the case of Robert Davis, former chair of Conservative-controlled Westminster Council planning committee, who was forced to step down over a housing scandal where he accepted gifts and hospitality 893 times in just six years.
But nothing has changed since. The same structures are still in place, open to exploited once again.
More proof of this lies in the fact that - barely months after this scandal was exposed - Davis ran again to get himself on the council, as if getting caught is par for the course. There is clearly a revolving door for careerists and scammers in our council chambers.
No amount of reform and regulation will clear this mess. The housing crisis need not exist. Empty homes should be placed under public ownership and construction companies nationalised.
Labour should commit itself to taking over the resources of the profiteers who currently blight the housing sector. These should be used to carry out a mass programme of housing development, providing affordable homes for all.
We have the means to put a roof over everyone’s heads. Money-grabbing councillors must not be allowed to get in the way of this necessary task.