Below is part of the text – you can download the full document here An offer we can refuse (part 1)

Tenants need to understand why the local authority is proposing to transfer their housing, but should not feel that the main purpose of the consultation document is to sell the transfer; rather, it should give neutral information. A balanced and informative approach is needed, which provides brief information on all the options that have been considered. ”

Statutory guidance – consultation before disposal to private landlord

The consultation document on the proposed transfer of Swindon’s Council Housing has finally arrived on our doormats. Despite the fact that the government’s statutory guidance says that the Council is supposed to provide ‘neutral information’ the document is a shameless effort to sell the transfer to tenants. It is entirely one-sided. It does not discuss the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of the two options. It is propaganda designed to try and persuade tenants to vote Yes. The same is true of the DVD that has been sent out with the documents.

The document needs to be read with care. The language is carefully chosen by Council officers. Seemingly working on the assumption that many tenants won’t read all of the document the Council has presented some things in the early pages in a way which is meant to mislead tenants. For instance, on page 7 it promises:

  • “modern kitchens to all homes in the next five years”. So we will all get a new kitchen in five years? NO. Nearly half of us already have a modern kitchen so we won’t get another one inside five years.
  • “Upgrading all sheltered housing in the next ten years”. NOT TRUE.As Lead Member Russell Holland has admitted in reply to a question at a Council meeting, “Works will commence on the sheltered housing stock to ensure the top priority schemes are fit for purpose over the next ten years”. In other words only “priority schemes” will be upgraded in the first ten years – perhaps a quarter of them. The rest will be completed “during the business plan period”, that is over 30 years. So any tenant in a sheltered scheme voting Yes on the basis that all schemes will be “upgraded” in the next ten years would be making a big mistake. Later on in the document we read promises of what work will be done which are conditional on “where needed”, “where required” but of course it does not specify what that means.
  • “Without proper investment in non-traditional homes, these properties will deteriorate and could become uninhabitable”. This is nothing other than scaremongering.The document does have to admit later on that the difference between what the Council could do and what the Housing Association could do, even if you believe the Council’s figures, is only a difference of less than 200 homes in ten years.

At the very least the promises for sheltered accommodation fail to abide by the statutory guidance which says that

“The consultation document should enable each tenant to identify the works that will be carried out to his / her home if the transfer goes ahead. ”

Formulations such as “where needed” or “where required” fail to enable each tenant to be clear on what is being promised for them.

The “Capital receipt”

The new Housing Association would have to borrow £66 million to buy the homes from the Council. After various deductions, including paying some of it to the government, the Council would have approximately £40 million. There has been some discussion about what they would do with the money, including at a Council meeting. We have been told that the money would be spent in Council housing areas. However, the offer document which constitutes the ‘guarantees’ to tenants says only that:

“The Council would be able to allocate the remaining approximately £40 million from the sale of its homes to benefit the wider community.”

What this means is that they will not spend the money on housing. As Council tenants we know that all the money we hand over in rent has to be spent on housing. This is what they mean when they say the Housing Revenue Account is “ring-fenced”.

One of the attractions to the Tory Council of selling our homes is that they can get round this ring-fencing. They would in effect be robbing us of our rent to spend it on things which should be paid for by Council tax payers and not just tenants. Say they spent some of it on roads. Council tenants would in effect be paying twice for the work – once from the Council tax we pay, and also from the rent which the Council would have taken from the sale of our homes to a Housing Association.

In addition the Council has failed to follow the “statutory guidance” (see Part 2) which says that information should be provided on “how the local authority proposes to use any proceeds from the sale”. Allocating the money “to benefit the wider community” hardly clarifies what they are going to do with it.