MP attacks decision to shelve landlord licensing scheme

10:38 Friday 18th September 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Now more on housing, and in particular in Peterborough. The Conservative MP for the city has launched a scathing attack on the city’s Conservative-led council, after it performed a dramatic U-turn this week. The Council had announced plans to introduce a licence that would see landlords charged a fee in areas like Gladstone, Millfield, New England and Eastfield. The idea of the licence was to crack down on anti-social behaviour and unscrupulous landlords. Many thought that was a good idea. Critics though said it’s a bit racist, saying the Council was targeting an area which predominantly is home to Asian landlords. Well at a meeting earlier this week, the Council decided to delay the introduction of the scheme, which has annoyed our next guest. Stewart Jackson MP for Peterborough is with me now. Stewart, good morning.
STEWART JACKSON: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: So there were criticisms that it was targeting perhaps Asian landlords in those areas. And the Council are saying look, we’ve had a look at this. The scheme is two years old. We’re going to have a consultation and perhaps bring out something bigger and better later down the line.
STEWART JACKSON: Well this is about fairness, and the fact is that it’s quite despicable, particular for Labour councillors, to play the race card. The fact is that unscrupulous landlords happen to be to some extent Asian or Pakistani heritage. It’s not aimed at Pakistani heritage people who are also landlords. And there is a distinction there. The fact is it’s a fairness issue. Why should landlords who have a vested financial interest have their own committee, their own working group, be able to turn up to influence and harangue councillors, have their own pet councillors frankly who put their view across, when vulnerable families, decent people in rented accommodation, people who’ve lived in central Peterborough for years, they don’t have a say directly to the decision makers? And I think this decision by Peterborough City Council, it’s either two things. It’s either borderline civic corruption, in other words undue coercion and pressure.
PAUL STAINTON: Because there’s a lot of councillors who own houses in the city.
STEWART JACKSON: Not just that. They want to curry favour with a small group of people who are influential. Or it’s sheer incompetence. And the Council are allegedly saying that the system, the scheme that they put forward, which incidentally is based on legislation which is now eleven years old, they couldn’t put a decent report together, and the report they published ten days ago was in error. If that’s the case then I think heads need to roll, because even that isn’t true, because I checked with the House of Commons Library. This scheme is a two year old scheme, first consulted in September 2013. The new regulations only apply to brand new schemes, so that that’s simply not true. It just stinks, and it’s unfair on people who are suffering anti-social behaviour. They’re suffering from unscrupulous slum landlords. And it’s time this Conservative council, has been in power fourteen years, did something about it.
PAUL STAINTON: You intimated in that as well that unscrupulous landlords were in the majority Asian and Pakistani. Is that true?
STEWART JACKSON: Well they’re self-identifying as people who are going to be affected by these proposals. But my view is that if you’re a decent ethical landlord who looks after your property and the tenants in it, I understand they need to make a profit, there’s nothing wrong with being a private landlord, then you’ve nothing to fear from this. But why is there this race card being played?
PAUL STAINTON: Who’s playing it?
STEWART JACKSON: Well it’s councillor Jamil, the Leader of the Labour Group saying it’s racist. It’s not racist at all. It is far from being racist. It is using legislation brought in incidentally by a Labour government, to try and make sure that we don’t have all the things that we’ve seen over many years.
PAUL STAINTON: You said it was borderline civic corruption possibly. Are there too many vested interests in all of this? Is that what you’re saying?
STEWART JACKSON: Yes there is. And I think frankly I can’t dissemble. My job is always to put my constituents first, last and always. And my view is, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Conservative council, that they’ve had too long to tackle this. They’ve kicked it into the long grass. They’ve been in power for fifteen years. We’re seeing the environmental degradation of parts of Peterborough. We’re seeing anti-social behaviour and crime. I returned from the Mayor-making in May seeing my friend councillor John Peach installed as Mayor. I walked along Broadway to see a man defecating on the street. This isn’t a third world slum. This is Peterborough in England. We’ve had enough. People want those in power like councillor Holdich who lives in Glinton, like councillor Hiller who lives in Maxey, leafy villages going towards Stamford, pull your finger out and get this done, because people are fed up with a lack of action on this crucial and urgent issue.
PAUL STAINTON: Some people might point fingers at your Government for underfunding the councils.
STEWART JACKSON: It’s nothing to do with underfunding a council Paul. It’s to do frankly with having the political will to take action on this. My constituents, and I’m one of them, I live in Park ward in the centre of the city, they are deserving of council services like anyone else. And if the Local Government Association, which today calls for tougher sanctions on rogue landlords and criminal penalties, if they’re leading the way, then I say why can’t Peterborough City Council do the same as well?
PAUL STAINTON: Are they letting the city down, the Council at the moment? Is that your opinion?
STEWART JACKSON: Well they’ve had eighteen months to bring forward these proposals. And I went to a meeting at MANERP the regeneration partnership two weeks ago. And the Leader of the Council was there, extolling the virtues of this scheme, saying that at last we were turning things round. We were going to improve the residential neighbourhood of Peterborough. I don’t blame the officers. Adrian Chapman is one of the best officers on the Council, and he was in charge of this. If there’s been a mistake, then be honest and say we made a mistake. But bring it forward. They’re now trying to kick it into the long grass. They’re saying that they’re going to have a task and finish group to do this work, and that they may bring it forward in February. Well enough is enough. It’s got to happen soon.
PAUL STAINTON: Let me read you the statement from John Holdich, Council Leader of course at Peterborough City Council. We’ve subbed it down because it was very very long. It basically says the consultation was done two years ago. It’s out of date. The Government have announced new powers for local councils. Let’s use those powers to make the scheme bigger and better. And it goes on to say: “I am aware the MP is keen to introduce selective licensing, and I believe the new improved scheme that we will develop will be more effective in tackling criminal landlords, protecting vulnerable tenants and supporting the many good landlords in the city, and will be the best scheme for Peterborough as a whole.” So they’re saying they’ve got something on the drawing board then.
STEWART JACKSON: Well then why did they allow it to be brought to the committee? Councillor Holdich didn’t even tell his own Deputy Leader councillor Wayne Fitzgerald. He found out from Facebook that this had been pulled on the evening. As I understand it the Labour Chairman of the Scrutiny Panel was blindsided by it. We had a situation where councillor Hiller comes along, reads a statement stalling the scheme at the meeting. No consultation with council tax payers, stakeholders, but plenty of lobbying behind the scenes from landlords who have a vested interest. I say again, it may not be criminally corrupt, but it stinks. It’s not the way we should be doing politics in this city. I will always stand up for what’s right and what’s good for my constituents. and it’s not .. The way this is being handled is not good politics, and it’s not good governance.
PAUL STAINTON: Stewart Jackson, MP for Peterborough. Thank you for coming in. this morning. Something smells at Peterborough City Council, and something needs to be looked at is what Stewart Jackson is saying this morning. Action needs to be taken.