Major woos right-to-buy council tenants

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE PRIME Minister is planning to revive the flagging appeal of the Thatcherite right-to-buy policy with a national advertising campaign to sell more council houses and flats to tenants.

Ministers hope the campaign, recently sanctioned by John Major, will help to lift the private housing market by reviving lost confidence in home-owning, and answer the demands by local authorities for higher spending on capital projects. Under rule changes announced in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, local authorities will be able to spend the receipts from new sales.

The campaign will highlight bargains on offer to tenants of more than two years, with discounts of up to 60 per cent for houses and 70 per cent for flats. One minister said: 'Prices are now about 60 per cent down on what they were two years ago. Frankly, with the discounts available, we are surprised that the tenants are not buying in greater numbers.'

Labour would have condemned the use of taxpayers' money for the campaign when the sale of council homes was highly controversial. But, having endorsed the policy, Labour will find it difficult to object to the campaign now.

However, ministers see a party political advantage. They believe Mr Major will be reclaiming one of the great Thatcherite successes of the 1980s, which proved a potent vote-winner for the Tories on previously loyal Labour council estates. A total of 1.4 million flats and houses have been bought by tenants since 1979. Officials estimate the remaining local authority housing stock at about 17 million.

The campaign will also highlight the further boost for tenants wanting to buy their council homes contained in the Housing and Urban Development Bill. The Bill, due to become law by the summer, will allow 'secure tenants' - those paying a full rent for two years or more - to convert rents into mortgages.

Although the recession soured the right-to buy idea, ministers believe that as those who bought leave their homes to their children, the next stage in the 'property owning democracy' - the inheritance of wealth by ordinary people - could have just as profound an effect.