This is a Swindon DCH Press Release

Swindon Council on September 24th will decide whether or not to ballot tenants on the proposal to transfer our housing stock to a Housing Association. Despite the fact that the Council’s ruling group decided to halt the process when the government announced that it was producing a consultation document on a new Housing Finance system, they are proposing to press ahead with a ballot before the government consultation finishes (on October 27th ).

The reason they have given is that the government’s ‘self-financing’ system would, they estimate, mean that our housing debt (currently around £30 million) would be increased to between £150 to £207 million.

We agree with the Council that any new system should not include any additional debt. Swindon’s actual debt is around £12 million. The £30 million is a ‘notional’ figure decided by the government as part of the national Housing Finance system. We understand the Council will make a submission to the consultation opposing any increase in the debt. So why not wait to see what the outcome of the consultation is?

What is curious about the ruling Group’s haste to start the ballot process is the fact that their financial predictions over a 30 year period are based on a proposed Housing Revenue system which is likely never to be introduced. Why do we say this? Because the government has said that in order to introduce the new system there will have to be a ‘one-off debt settlement’ which means distributing £19 billion of ‘debt’ to all the Councils that own their housing stock. This can only be introduced without parliamentary legislation if all Councils agree to the formula for determining how much debt they each end up with. There is no chance of this since most of them face increased debt levels. Unless they all agree then ‘primary legislation’ will have to be introduced. Since the government will not finalise its proposals until January of next year at the earliest, there is little or no chance of this being passed before the General Election which has to be no later than May. .

Given the probability of a Tory government being elected the question of what their policy is in relation to Council housing is something that tenants would like to know. All we know at the moment is they are said to be “sympathetic” to the government’s proposals although apparently concerned about the debt settlement. They obviously don’t want local Tory Councils being loaded up with more debt than they currently have.

It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that the ruling Conservative group in Swindon wants to get the ballot process started before the General Election. Perhaps they know something about national Tory policy that we don’t.

Martin Wicks, for Swindon Defend Council Housing campaign said:

Having suspended the ‘options appraisal’ process the Council should wait to see the outcome of the consultation process. They were surprised to discover that we would be able to keep all the rent raised from our tenants. So why not wait to see the final proposals?

We, together with trades unions, tenants organisations and Councils all over the country, will be demanding of the government that there be, at least, no increase in debt (there is a good case for writing it off).

David Renard has said that a Housing Association can provide a better service than the Council can. This assertion, though is based on a 30 year projection, which is inevitably wildly speculative. In any case tenants would lose their ‘secure’ tenancy and would lose the right to vote their landlord out of office (you cannot do so with the Board of a business). A Housing Association is a business which has to operate on a commercial basis and borrow money at higher commercial rates of interest. They are currently pushing up rents by use of ‘service charges’ which are not included in transfer conditions.

In the current housing crisis we need more Council housing not less. Should the Council proceed with a ballot we will campaign for tenants to vote against transfer.”

For further comment ring Martin Wicks on 07786 394593

Tenants can contact the Campaign by emailing or ringing 07786 394593

Martin Wicks

Swindon DCH and tenant