Tuesday 2nd August 2011

By David Wiles, Swindon Advertiser

A CAMPAIGN group has been launched to oppose plans to offload Swindon Council’s housing stock – just ahead of the housing minister’s approval of a ballot on the issue.

The council wants to transfer all of its properties to a new not-for-profit housing association in order to dodge a £158m bill from the Government, which it says would prevent it from keeping the 10,500 homes at minimum standards of decency.


Announcing yesterday that housing minister Grant Shapps has given it the nod, a council boss said they will hold a ballot of tenants later in the year. However, some have already banded together and set up Swindon Tenants Campaign Group to convince others to vote ‘no’.

Informal group secretary Martin Wicks, who has lived in a council property in Welcombe Avenue, Park North, for 27 years, said: “The council wants to give the impression that we have to flog off our council housing because we don’t have enough money to maintain the stock.


In reality this is a political decision by a council which has already outsourced services, including the in-house home care service. Now they want to flog off our housing on the cheap: £66m for 10,500 housing units, just over £6,000 each.”


Mr Wicks, who is also a member of the consultation body, Swindon Tenants Voice, added: “The council downplays the differences between council housing and Housing Associations. HAs are businesses that have to be run on commercial lines. We are told we can have ‘tenant representatives’ on the board of a housing association. This is not true. Individual tenants can be on the board.


However, they have a legal duty to the interests of the HA and are barred from representing any tenant organisation. They cannot be mandated to express the collective view of any tenant organisation. They are therefore unaccountable.


At least council tenants can vote their landlord out of office in the local elections if we are unhappy with them. You cannot vote out the board of a business.”


Mr Wicks claimed that housing association rents have been 20 per cent higher than council landlords and HAs are vulnerable to increases in interest rates because they borrow money from private sources.


The campaign group is made up of those involved in the Swindon arm of the national campaign group, Defend Council Housing, who fought to save Swindon’s council housing in 2002 and 2009.


Coun Brian Mattock, Swindon Council’s cabinet member for health, housing and adult social care, said an independent tenant adviser would be appointed for the ballot to give tenants the correct facts surrounding the decision and to debunk scaremongering.


He said: “I’m delighted to say that we have just heard that the minister has given approval for Swindon to go to ballot. As far as terms and conditions for tenants are concerned, these will be covered within the contractual arrangements with the new organisation.


We want to give tenants the choice of either accepting that huge debt and living with the consequences of reduced maintenance, or moving to a housing association which wouldn’t have that huge debt imposed on them and would be able to borrow the £72m to continue improving the housing stock.”


Tenants interested in the campaign can email stcg@btinternet.com or call Mr Wicks on 07786 394593.