“Homes Not Hotels” Motion / Speech for Full Council (Weds 11th October)

For the sake of accuracy, please note that the speech was never given, due to the guillotine being applied at 11pm. The motion failed by 15 FOR vs. 40 AGAINST. It will not be the end of my attempts to force this council to invest in social housing in Peterborough.

Fellow Councillors,

The Friday before last, the Peterborough & Cambridgeshire YMCA held a rough-sleeping event at our Cathedral to raise money for homeless services for young people in our city. Councillor Richard Ferris and I took part and I am pleased to say the YMCA raised £7000 for additional facilities in our area.

The event was sobering, yet it was also a safe, secure and clean simulation of homelessness — nothing like the real thing.

I wanted to get a real understanding of homelessness, happening right now, around us, in Peterborough.

And so I spoke to Dean, a 32 year old ex-serviceman, living on the streets and forced to beg at Peterborough train station. His story is upsetting but probably not uncommon.

His mother and father have passed away and his brother is prison, when he was medically discharged by the army he returned to no support network. He presented as homeless to the council at Bayard place.

He is now staying in and out of hostels and was one of the many housed in the Travelodge by this council for £1m.

Dean’s circumstances are complicated further because, as he has no fixed address, he can’t get a job and he can’t claim benefits. So he is forced to beg. That a man who has served our country to protect our freedom, is forced to humiliate himself in this way, is an utter disgrace for which we should all be ashamed.

Homelessness is a moral stain on our city. It is also a technical problem that we can resolve with money.

We are always told that there is never enough money, that the purse strings are too tight. And yet, and yet, this administration can find £15m to play Monopoly and build a flashy hotel on Fletton Quays, backstopped by the taxpayer.

Where is the usual narrative of “magic money trees” when it comes to these pet projects I wonder?

As we know, this £15m is a commercial loan to the hotel owners, borrowed by the council through so-called Prudential Borrowing. The idea is to profit from the loan via interest. In this way, the council is acting like bank.

Yet there are always risks involved with commercial loans. The taxpayer is the creditor and if this project fails, we foot the bill. It is a danger that has been raised by finance professionals in a recent FT article entitle “UK public finance: councils build a credit bubble”.

Why, I ask, are we are not using such financial instruments to invest in the essential services, affordable homes and social housing that we desperately need in this city?

These low risk investments deliver a return through increasing value over time of homes, and reductions to the cost of frontline services dealing with externalities associated with homelessness, such as temporary housing. And of course, beyond the financial return, there is of course the return to public good — doing right by our fellow human.

I ask all members to join in supporting my motion to ensure that going forward, rather than borrow to make commercial gambles, we borrow to make the public investments that are desperately needed in social housing and services in Peterborough.

For the sake of people such as Dean, we need to build more houses, provide more services and enable these vulnerable to engage fully in civic life and fulfil their potential.

Let’s borrow to invest in the people of Peterborough.