Cornwall Council is playing the blame game on housing, says MP Derek Thomas

Cornwall Council are incorrectly blaming the government for their own failures to provide sufficient social housing in Cornwall, according to West Cornwall MP Derek Thomas.

New government figures show a total of 2,590 new-build flats and houses have been completed in the county between 2015 and 2018 that meet their definition of affordability.

But only 95 of those were available for social rent - fixed low-cost rent, offered mainly by councils and not-for-profit organisations to those most in need.

Cornwall Council has claimed that the Government cap on the amount that authorities are able to borrow was the reason why more social rent homes have not been built.

A spokesman said: "Cornwall Council has always maintained a programme to build or buy homes for social rent, which are the lowest cost homes, but we have been limited in what we can provide due to a government imposed cap that was put on councils that restricted the ‘borrowing’ available to provide these homes.

"The Government recently announced that the borrowing cap would be scrapped, which means that from this month, local authorities have financial freedom to fund programmes of new social rented housing for the first time in decades.”

However Mr Thomas said that figures show that the cap has not prevented other authorities from providing much more social rent housing than Cornwall.

“While Cornwall has built just 95 homes for social rent between 2015-16 and 2017-18, according to figures produced by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Devon, as a whole, has built 437 homes for social rent, Somerset 836 and Gloucestershire 1,030 which indicates that, for them at least, the cap is not an insurmountable obstacle,” he said.

“Unfortunately, Cornwall Council seems to think the Government is a convenient scapegoat for its own failings and this is not the first time that Cornwall Council has found it easier to play the blame game rather than look at its own failings.

“A few weeks ago, I wrote to Kate Kennally, the CEO of Cornwall Council to challenge statements she made on the effect that Right to Buy has had on the provision of social housing in Cornwall.

“In a letter to staff she claimed that the Right to Buy scheme was a key reason why more affordable homes were not being built – she said: ‘The loss of social housing as a result of the Right to Buy scheme means that we are spending more on housing benefit to supplement expensive rents instead of investing in genuinely affordable homes’.

“However Cornwall Council’s own figures indicate that only 347 Right To Buy properties have been sold over the last 10 years – roughly one house per year per town in Cornwall.

“I believe that the Right to Buy scheme has given millions of households a tangible asset, secured their families' finances and—by releasing cash to repay local authority debt—helped to improve the public finances.

“I would argue that these 347 homes, representing just 0.15 per cent of Cornwall’s total housing stock of 230,000, do not add up to a figure which is likely to impact significantly on the social housing stock.

“I very much welcome the extra effort Cornwall Council is now making to increase the housing stock – including social rent – but it doesn’t help them make the right decisions if all they do is blame the government of the day.”