'Business can play a part in tackling challenge of homelessness in Milton Keynes'

Dr Philip Smith MBE and Councillor Nigel Long
Dr Philip Smith MBE and Councillor Nigel Long

Milton Keynes’ high housing costs, homelessness and the spotlight on street sleepers could be preventing some businesses from recruiting and retaining workers.

But business can play its part in tackling the housing problem, Milton Keynes Council Cabinet Member for Housing Councillor Nigel Long told an MK Business Leaders Partnership breakfast briefing session at StadiumMK.

Councillor Long, who also has Adult Social Care and Regeneration in his brief, gave business people an update on homelessness and the street sleepers that have attracted media attention and remain a major challenge.

On April 13 there were 646 families with 1000 children in temporary accommodation, he said. Most of them are in work and the main reason for their homelessness is the end of a private tenancy after a six or 12 month tenancy and being unable to afford housing locally. The situation has improved on last year and fewer people are being temporarily housed out of area.

The main issue, Cllr Long said, is the limited access to affordable housing.

“But in Milton Keynes what IS affordable housing?” he asked. The national average market rent for a three bedroom home is £700 per month but in Milton Keynes it can be between £1200-1500. The private rented sector had filled the gap left by council housing, he said. “We need good private landlords and they have an important role to play in tackling homelessness.”

Councillor Long said he favoured a council house building programme, but it was limited by central government caps on what councils can borrow. “We cannot borrow against our assets which is what the rest of Europe does,” he said. The lack of affordable housing was impacting on businesses and limiting the labour supply in the city.

“Please speak to your MP about lifting these caps,” he told business leaders

He said there were currently around 130 street sleepers in Milton Keynes, some are in work and use tents until they can move into the private rented sector, some are from Eastern Europe.

Some street sleepers are engaged with support agencies, often for drink and drug addiction as well as housing needs, but others were not. Under the Housing First approach, with the council and private sector working together, they were getting that support, he said.

“In 2017 there were, sadly, three deaths on the streets.”

During a question and answer session Melanie Beck, chief executive of the MK Business Improvement District said it had surveyed employers on recruitment and retention and found the perception of the city and its homeless was putting people off.

Councillor Long responded: “We need to tackle the tents, we cannot carry on with the tents in the city. We don’t want people sleeping on the streets, it is not good for them and it is not good for the city. “

Thanking Cllr Long for his presentation Dr Philip Smith, chair MK Business Leaders Partnership said tackling homelessness has always been a challenge. “We now see the visible evidence of it much more, in underpasses and doorways across the city. Nigel has told us about some of the reasons for it and what could be done.

“But affordable homes cannot be built overnight and the tents can take weeks to remove and street sleepers can get the support they need. All of us, including MK Business Leaders, are concerned that the problem will happen again and again.”