Salford Labour council – public cuts, private profits

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Salford’s Labour council presides over a city of ever increasing disparity. While it touts projects such as Media City UK as glittering jewels, a combination of a lack of social housing provision and cuts to public services have left 25% of children living in poverty, and 70% of the population living in areas that are classified as ‘highly deprived’.

Rather than tackle these issues, the council has continued at full pace with the demolition of affordable housing to make way for private developments. A publicly-subsidised development in Pendleton has demolished 800 social homes to make way for a 1,500-home construction of which only 500 are categorised as ‘affordable’; this will place an additional 300 households on Salford’s waiting list, which stood at 14,000 households at the start of 2017. Meanwhile £22.5m from the Greater Manchester Housing Fund - government funds intended to ease the housing crisis – have been used in the Black Friar construction which is now being touted to private property developers.

Such subsidising of private developments has caused land prices to double over the past five years, while developers have had an estimated £42m of fees waived by the council since 2015 due to ‘viability clawback’ schemes. These schemes allow developers to circumvent planning fees and ‘affordable housing’ commitments by claiming that a development will not generate enough profit.

Cuts to public services continue apace. The decision to close The Grange – Salford’s only care home for disabled children – was passed, saving £300,000, while the council’s 2017/18 budget lists an uncontested £10m per annum payment to a private developer as ‘advisory fees’. The estimated cuts that Salford Council will have to implement in the next year amount to £8-10m. Rather than challenge the notion of for-profit housing, the council is paying private developers to advise it on which land assets the private market would like to buy.

The growing monopoly on private housing has become intertwined with the council so much so that it is setting itself up as a private landlord. The Labour council has established Derive (Salford) Ltd to allow it to construct housing in the city for private sale or rent. Salford City’s Labour Mayor Paul Dennett argues that the profits from this venture will allow for the construction of council housing in the future. In reality, the council’s actions will simply increase land prices.

Salford Council has ignored the needs of its working class community for decades with false promises to provide the housing and services the area so desperately needs. The Grange sat on land which could be sold off. No councillor stood with the families fighting to save the home. During the council vote on The Grange’s closure on 22 August, Labour councillor Lisa Stone, lead member for Children’s Services, supported the motion, claiming that there was ‘no demand in the foreseeable future for full-time care’ of children in the city. Ironically, Lisa Stone and Mayor Dennett have recently been fundraising to support a £2m campaign to ‘keep babies born in Salford’ – a project to build a birth centre in Salford following the closure of the city’s only midwife-led unit. But its decision to close The Grange makes it clear that the Labour council has no long-term commitment to supporting the services that the most vulnerable people of Salford require.

Andy Fairbairn

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 260 October/November 2017