The TUC Conference on Wednesday voted in support of a motion calling for the right to buy for Council tenants to be removed. This goes further than John Prescott who merely slashed the discount to make it beyond the reach of most council tenants. Indeed the Conference resolved that the TUC should "campaign" for the abolition of the right to buy.
For trade union leaders on six figure salaries there is no need for the right to buy scheme to get onto the housing ladder. However, for thousands of their members it is crucial to make a reality of the aspiration for home ownership.
Sales of council properties peaked at 160,000 a year in the 1980s, although after Mr Prescott's intervention they declined to just 4,000 a year. The Government has the modest target of reviving them to 100,000 over the next few years, for the 2.5 million tenants eligible.
There will need to be progress in alerting tenants that a discount of up to £75,000 is available. A MORI survey found that 83% were unaware of this. But among those who have found out about it, there is considerable interest and already applications are sharply up – especially where the local council has publicised the opportunity. At least if the TUC run advertising urging people not to take up their right to buy, it will let them know that it exists.
Yet there is a further perversity in the TUC's hostility. The motion was proposed by UCATT the building workers union. This is a militant union – going back to Ricky Tomlinson's arrest in Shrewsbury. However you would have thought they would regard the building of more homes as welcome. The right to buy will facilitate this with councils obliged to use the proceeds from sale to finance new homes for affordable rent.
In 2007 UCATT had 129,065 members. By 2011 it was down to 79,723. The more right to buy sales, the more replacement homes, and the more construction workers. This would give the union potential to stem their decline. Yet they seem to have a death wish – putting ideology over getting homes built.