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Mark Prisk: Our new grassroots-led campaign to boost Right to Buy

Mark Prisk is Minister for Housing and MP for Hertford and Stortford. Follow Mark on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-09-09 at 18.36.54If you look back over the last 30 years, of all the ways in which Conservatives have helped people who want to get on in life, the Right to Buy stands out. Over two million families have benefitted since Margaret Thatcher launched the policy early in the 1980s.

However, under Labour the policy was strangled to death by John Prescott and by Labour councils who despised the idea that someone might want to move on and up. Without ever having the political courage to just scrap it, Labour put every possible obstacle in the way until, by the end of their 13 years in power, quarterly sales had dwindled to just a few hundred.

But, three years on, Right to Buy is staging a comeback. And its revival is being driven, in part, by a new grassroots-led campaign.

When I took on this job a year ago, quarterly sales were just starting to improve, but were still just over 400 per quarter. Grant Shapps had already raised the maximum discount to £75,000, and we quickly raised that to £100,000 in London, to reflect modern property prices. And, later this year, the Deregulation Bill will extend the right to those living in their council home for three years, just as back in the 1980s.

However, whilst those changes are vital, we needed to do something else. In a poll undertaken by IPSOS/MORI in May 2012,  three-quarters of social housing tenants had no idea that Right to Buy meant they could buy their home at a discount. So, alongside policy changes, it was clear to me that we needed to reach out to tenants and help them understand and exercise their rights.

I therefore overhauled our communications campaign, to ensure that people had clear, comprehensive and impartial information about the Right to Buy, and how it could work for them. And that has meant going over the heads of many leftwing councils and direct to tenants themselves.

Over the last twelve months, we have reached over one million households in print.  The online campaign has gone further. Having revamped the website, we have actively encouraged social media campaigns, involving at the last count 1.8 million households. Our facebook page is also very active, with 32,000 likes.

Bu,t alongside the internet, one of the most interesting aspects has been the success of locally run roadshows. I went to an excellent one run by Basildon Council, at which were not onlylegal and financial experts, but also local people who had already bought. Buying a home is one of the biggest steps for any of us. So having people - neighbours - who had already done it gave prospective buyers real confidence.

Now those  local campaigns are spreading. MPs such as Robert Halfon in Harlow and Stephen McPartland in Stevenage are setting up their own local Right to Buy campaigns. Able to focus on their communities, the MPs can show people what Right to Buy means for them, and help them get started. Indeed, Rob tells me that some 70 people in Harlow are now buying their home, having been in touch with his campaign. That's 70 families directly helped by their MP.

And the result of all this activity is that quarterly sales have now quadrupled, in just twelve months.

The Government is determined to reach out to many more people. However, there is also a great opportunity here for Conservative councillors, MPs and indeed candidates. Right to Buy is a Conservative policy, still bitterly opposed by many Labour MPs, councils and their trade union paymasters. We can as elected representatives not only show people why it's a good thing, but actually help them.


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