POLITICS

George Osborne's Land Sale Plan Like 'Selling Off Family Silver', Critics Warn

08/01/2014 15:28 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 15:53 GMT
Rui Vieira/PA Wire
Chancellor George Osborne gives a speech on the economy during his visit to manufacturing company Sertec, Coleshill in Birmingham.

George Osborne has been accused of planning to "sell off the family silver" over new plans to pay down the budget deficit by potentially selling any of the government's property at a "fair price".

The new "right to contest" scheme will allow businesses and members of the public to submit a proposal for any of the government's £330 billion worth of land and property, even if they are currently in use.

In a statement, chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander suggested government sites that could be better used would be sold "back to the community and local businesses at a fair price".

He said: “We certainly should not act as some kind of compulsive hoarder of land and property that could be better used for things like housing and local economic growth."

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude made clear that the government will not be selling "national treasures" like Downing Street or the British Museum. "Hard-working taxpayers expect us to save money like this and that’s just what we are determined to do,” he said.

However, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett told the Huffington Post UK that the move shows George Osborne's "attachment to a smaller state is a matter of ideology, not sense".

Echoing former Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's famous criticism of Margaret Thatcher's privatisation agenda, Bennett described the idea as a "plan to sell off the family silver".

She added: "These are resources built up over centuries, to be used for the common good, but here he wants to offer one more part of our joint resources for private profit.

"After the debacle of the sale of Royal Mail for far less than what is now its market value, we can have no confidence that the government will be able to even get a ‘fair’ value for these assets.

“But they should not anyway be sold off. Public assets should continue to be used for the common good, whether it be sporting fields, libraries or community meeting rooms. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. We’ll have little chance of getting them back and we’ll all be poorer.”

Any application will be considered by a committee including Treasury ministers, the Cabinet Office and the land-holding department, the Treasury confirmed in a statement.

In response to the news, Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, told HuffPostUK: "This government is obsessed with handing public assets to profit-making companies when instead it should be investing for the future, directing councils to build homes and capping rents to prevent landlords ripping people off."

"We desperately need to tackle the double crisis of a shortage of housing and soaring private sector rents, but this is not the way to do it."

The house building industry welcomed the news, with a spokesman for the Home Builder's Federation urging the government to act quickly.

The spokesman said: "The public sector is the largest land owner in the country and a lack of land has been one of the biggest constraints on new buildings for a number of years. If they can bring land forward quickly this would be a very welcome move."