At the Council meeting at which it was decided to proceed with a ballot of tenants on whether or not to transfer our housing to a Housing Association, an appendix was produced which showed the results of the Council’s ‘consultation’ exercise. Curiously they did not give the Advertiser journalist present a copy of this appendix. Moreover they have failed to inform tenants of the results of this feedback.

The Director of Housing has famously said that they want the process to be “open and transparent”. So why have they not given this information to tenants? All that appeared in the media was that, apparently, 5,000 plus tenants had “said yes to a ballot”. If that were the case it seems curious that only 1,442 responded to the consultation.

When you look at the detail of the responses perhaps we can see why the Council was not so keep to let tenants know the results. ‘Transparency’ was just for the pretty speeches.

Tenants had 4 possible responses on the tear off card in the ‘offer document’. Stay with the Council, go over to a Housing Association, not sure/want more information, don’t want to tell you. These were the figures which the Council gave in its appendix.

Stay with the Council            646

Go to a Housing Association 661

Don’t know                             107

Don’t wish to tell you               28

The first thing to say is that this was not a glorious result for the Council after throwing over £500,000 at the process. Yes, we know they have said that they are just presenting ‘neutral facts’ but the experience of tenants is that some staff at least have been trying to persuade tenants to vote Yes. And even when they haven’t they have been misleading tenants about the supposed ‘facts’. In reality the whole apparatus of the Council has been mobilised to win a Yes vote, including door knocking and phone calls. Given the massive propaganda campaign which the Council has carried out they must have been very worried to have only convinced 661 tenants to tick a box in favour of ‘transfer’.

Anybody in favour of transfer would hardly be worried about telling the Council that they agreed with them. Tenants opposed to transfer, however, have been circumspect about the Council knowing which way they are going to vote. This raises a question as to the conduct of the Council’s campaign. Why were they asking tenants which way they were going to vote? They could have got responses anonymously by way of the tear off card as many of us did.

Some tenants did not send back the card because they didn’t get to page 50 if they read the document at all. Some thought it was none of the business of the Council to know how they would vote, some were fearful of the Council knowing. Some did not return the card because it included address details and some tenants thought they would have to fill in these details, so they simply binned it.

But whatever the results of the feedback, if the process was “open and transparent”, then tenants should have been told the results. The fact that they did not raises suspicions that they did not want tenants to see that the ballot might be very close.

In all manner of subtle and not so subtle ways the Council has tried to give the impression that the transfer was “a done deal”, or “done and dusted”. That was the impression they tried to give by releasing to the media only the 5,000 (unverified) figure.

Some tenants have been told by staff that the transfer will go ahead as if it was not the decision of tenants. “You might as well take that (NO) poster down, it won’t make any difference”, one was told. “You can vote No if you want, but it won’t make any difference”, another. These are just examples of the way that some staff, at least, have behaved on their visits to tenants.

Feedback from around the town indicates that many tenants are angry at the way the Council has behaved. They not only feel that the Council has been selling the transfer rather than presenting ‘neutral facts’ but they feel harassed and bullied as well. This is not hearsay, some tenants have made these complaints on the Councils own Housing Facebook page. A tenant in West Swindon says that:

In my neck of the woods the SBC bullying and insulting campaign seems to have made tenants very angry and has been counter productive.”

Even a prominent supporter of ‘transfer’ from Swindon Tenants Voice described visits to homes after the consultation had finished as like “carpet bombing tenants”. He added that whatever the outcome of the ballot there would have to be some hard questions asked as to why the Council was asking tenants which way they were going to vote.

The failure to inform tenants of the results of the Consultation is another indication of the real position of the Council, namely that they have been working for a Yes vote. If tenants had been informed of these results then they would certainly have been alerted to the fact that transfer was not “a done deal” and that the ballot might go either way. Perhaps this was why the Council has failed to release the detail to tenants, for fear that it might serve to mobilise tenants to vote No in realisation that they could stop the transfer going ahead.

Martin Wicks