Gordon Brown’s Council House Plan Stirs Migrant Debate

Gordon Brown's council house plan stirs migrant debate

'Local' people to be given priority for social housing
Policy sets out rights from education to policing

Allegra Stratton
Political Correspondent
Sunday 28 June 2009 22.37 BST

Local people are to get greater priority on social housing lists, the government is to announce as it discards its former reliance on centrally controlled targets and ushers in new “entitlements” across all elements of the welfare state.

Ending the target culture established by his predecessor, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown will shift evaluation of public services away from Whitehall to the public, saying that people should have entitlements to personal tuition in schools, minimum GP waiting times and access to police working in neighbourhoods.

Though the prime minister plans to hand to the public the power to evaluate whether they have been adequately cared for, details of what redress people will get will follow in another paper, due to be published in the next few months.

The plan Building Britain's Future is likely to form the basis for Labour's policy platform before the next general election, and elements of it appear to be an attempt to drain support from far-right parties which blame immigrants for housing shortages. In the European elections three weeks ago, the BNP won two seats in the European parliament.

The policy of greater priority for local people in social housing is likely to attract criticism from senior Labour figures that the entire relaunch is an overtly populist package.

When the then minister Margaret Hodge first suggested in May 2007 that council house allocation should be dependent on length of residence and national insurance payment details, the then mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said such a move would be “illegal” and “wrong”. Though Hodge used the same language the government uses now, describing a “legitimate sense of entitlement felt by the indigenous family” Livingstone accused her of “magnifying the propaganda of the British National party”.

The then deputy leadership contender Jon Cruddas was also uncomfortable with “racialising arguments over housing allocation” rather than concentrating on the need for more social housing.

But the government may avert this with another element of the package, likely to include a wave of construction of social and affordable housing.

The document will make the current 18-week NHS waiting list target an obligation; alongside a right to a free health test for anybody between the age of 40 and 74. At the moment primary care trusts are not obliged to offer either service.

Cancer patients will also be given the right to private healthcare if NHS hospitals can not see them within two weeks, with the bill met within existing funds.

New rights to one-on-one tuition will be extended into early secondary education.

The policy reboot has to be pulled off against allegations of a dwindling set of ideas after 12 years in government, and diminished public funding.

The Tory leader, David Cameron, has called on the prime minister to apologise after he said that capital expenditure would rise every year to 2012, when it will actually fall after 2010. In an interview with the Guardian on Saturday, the chief secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne, confirmed that while current or “day-to-day” spending may rise, capital spending would fall after the current burst to kickstart the economy. The environment secretary, Hilary Benn, appeared to suggest on Radio 4's Any Questions that his department would have less to spend after the next election.

Yesterday the children's secretary, Ed Balls, told the BBC's Sunday AM programme the government had to be “defter and smarter”. Balls, who will also publish an education white paper on Tuesday, insisted the government's spending plans could be met, despite tough conditions.

Balls is adamant that as the economic outlook improves, Labour will be able to “release resources” to key areas. But he did appear to have modified his position, saying: “We are increasing investment this year and next year.”

The work and pensions secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the targets had helped to drive improvements in a range of public services, but that the new strategy was about improving accountability.

She told BBC1's Politics Show: “Having made those improvements, the next step we now need is to be able to say, 'okay, those services are now accountable to local people'. Local people should be entitled to things from their health service, from their education service, and that's how we measure improvements in future.”

Cooper was unable to say what will happen if the entitlements were not met and insisted the new rights were not a “lawyers' charter”.

Byrne said that the rules might see patients able to commission a greater number of doctors if waiting lists lengthen, neighbourhood police being ordered to hold local meetings, and councils required to find alternative social care.