Cllr Robert Alden is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Birmingham City Council.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, said Charles Dickens.
The last year has seen Birmingham buoyant from the Government-backed Birmingham Commonwealth Games – made brilliant by the thousands of volunteers who stepped forward to ensure Birmingham 2022 was a huge success.
The Government committed over £750 million to help fund the games, secured in no small part due to the efforts of Andy Street, our excellent West Midlands Mayor, who ensured that the support needed was given to the city.
But as much as the Commonwealth games were the best of times, the impact of 11 years of failing Labour rule can be seen across Birmingham in many ways, but none more so than in the Council’s housing.
Birmingham City Council is the country’s largest social landlord. When the Conservative-led Council took control from Labour in 2004, the level of ‘decent homes’ in the city was lower than 30 per cent.
Eight years of hard work from the then Leader and Cabinet Members oversaw the transformation from less than 30 per cent to over 99 per cent reaching the decent homes standard.
What made that work even more impressive was the conditions it was achieved under. During these years, under New Labour’s system of national pooling, £77 million of rent raised in Birmingham was being handed over to the Treasury each year. Money Birmingham tenants had paid in, meant for repairs and improvements in Birmingham, being removed by the Labour Government every year.
By contrast, the self-financing model introduced by the Coalition Government meant £37.9 million additional resources annually (rising to £49.8 million after also taking into account rent increases) to reinvest in the housing stock. This is a net figure, after adjusting for the debt repayments councils had to take on in return for the self-financing model.
Since taking control, in 2012, Birmingham Labour has set about proving where their priorities lie by overseeing a collapse in the level of decent homes – with now only 61 per cent of Birmingham’s homes meeting the decent homes standard. This collapse is made all the more spectacular and depressing, when you look at the halving of the non-decent homes rates nationally. From 15.9 per cent non-decent in 2012 to just 7.8 per cent in 2021.
It is not just in levels of decent homes that Birmingham tenants have been failed. Only 32 per cent of Birmingham Council Homes have an energy efficiency rating of C or above, compared to 56 per cent of social housing stock nationally.
Over 9,000 properties in Birmingham have one or more key components, things like windows, doors, roofs, or central heating systems, that are listed as needing replacing or major repair due to their poor condition.
There have been over 15,000 complaints of damp in just the last five years, with numerous stories of people’s health, including young children’s, being badly affected. The Council’s response to this at times has appeared to be little more than telling them to open a window.
In just the last 12 months there have been at least five findings of severe maladministration against the Council by the Housing Ombudsman, who have named and shamed Birmingham as one of the 32 (out of 1500) worst landlords in the country for the way it handles complaints. They have also recently published a special report into systemic failings due to the number of similar concerns and repeated failings by the Labour-run Council.
The Housing Ombudsman perhaps best summed up the situation in Birmingham saying:
“There are several issues that we are seeing in Birmingham City Council. It concerns me when landlords suggest the mistakes are isolated or one-offs or historic.”
Of course, these are exactly the tired excuses the Labour leadership have offered residents.
To truly understand the scale of Labour neglect in Birmingham, you perhaps just have to compare the number of non-decent homes in 2022 in Birmingham to neighbouring Councils. Councils like Conservative-run Solihull with 17 properties, Conservative-run Walsall, with none, Conservative-run Warwickshire – none. Labour-run Sandwell with its recent chequered past has 174 non-decent homes properties. While here in Birmingham, in 2022, that figure stood at 22,469 non-decent homes properties. That is 22,469 households failed by Birmingham Labour.
So sadly, once again, under Birmingham Labour, the worst of times are what confront many tenants of the city’s housing every day. But here in Birmingham the Conservative Group will continue to stand up for tenants and fight the Council to deliver the improvements and quality housing that residents deserve.