I was on BBC radio earlier in the week (after the announcement of the Swindon Housing ballot*) along with Rob Buckland, the Swindon South MP. He spoke about trying to get the ‘self-financing’ debt for Swindon reduced and the borrowing level raised. It’s a bit late in the day, only about 3 weeks before the final ‘determination’ of the debt level by the government. He wasn’t in the studio so I didn’t get the chance to talk to him directly. Nevertheless, since he was making positive noises about trying to get some concession from the government, I rang up Rob’s office, and asked to speak to him.
He rang me back in good time and I suggested that, given the timescale, he might get onto the Minister asap. Rob agreed to try. I mentioned the fact that Birmingham had won a big cut in their debt. Their Council leader said that they argued that their debt should be reduced because they had nearly reached 100% Decent Homes Standard. We we might apply the same argument for Swindon, I said, because we had achieved the DHS in 2008. Rob agreed, and he said he would get back to me on any progress.
We’ve been calling for the Council to press the government to do this for ages. Back on September 22nd at a Council meeting I asked a question, in Public Question Time, as to whether the Council would be pressing the government to cut the proposed debt for Swindon. Russell Holland answered that the government “will not change the valuation of individual authorities”. I didn’t believe this, and subsequent events showed this wasn’t true. It’s only a pity that the Council and it’s ruling group haven’t previously made a serious effort to press the government. As far as I can see that’s because they were determined to sell our houses and the possibility that tenants would vote against ‘transfer’ was not even considered by them. Why didn’t the ruling group ask their MP’s to intervene on our behalf earlier? After all they would have easier access to the Minister in question.
In the Swindon Advertiser Russell Holland “called the comparison a red herring, as tenants had been given the opportunity to avoid the debt altogether by voting for the transfer.”
So it’s our fault for voting No?
Mr Holland said there was no comparison because Birmingham would be demolishing a lot of houses. In fact, I have never said there was a comparison. All I said was that if a Tory/Liberal coalition in Birmingham could press the coalition government to reduce their debt then why not Swindon. Surely it was worth a try?
Mr Holland told the Adver that the Council would write to the government “to see if there was any further room for manoeuvre and change things”. Yet a mere letter this late in the day is hardly likely to move them. The ruling group in Swindon are members of the same Party which leads the government. They should have been onto this months ago.
That notwithstanding it was worth asking our MP to press the Minister, even at this late stage. Hopefully he will be able to secure some further movement from the government. I will let people know what Rob Buckland reports back to us.
* Swindon Council tenants voted to reject transfer to a housing association by 6,073 to 2,329 on a turn-out of 65.6%.
Indeed. The Council took it for granted that tenants would be duped into voting “yes” by vague promises of new kitchens, bathrooms etc. It never entered their collective heads that tenants knew there were far more important things than that – a change from secure to assured tenancies for one thing.
I have lived in my house for 12 years. The only things the Council have done to it in that time are to put in a new kitchen (new meaning using the old carcases and doing a botched up job) and extra loft insulation. I now get black mould in my bathroom that I didn’t get before because the house can’t breathe. Oh, and a new front and back door as the old ones were neither wind, watertight or secure. Both the doors and the frames were completely rotten. I wonder what happens to the rent people pay. Where does it go? Why is it not being put back into bringing the houses up to a good standard? For the Council to now turn round and blame the tenants for voting “no” is wrong on so many counts.
Even in the letter they have sent to everyone, second paragraph from the bottom, page one states “…this will limit the amount of money the Council has to spend on improving homes and services over the next ten years”. Since they’ve been slow with maintenance and upkeep as long as I’ve been here, no change there then but it is almost as if they are acting like spoilt children and throwing a hissyfit. They need to be made more accountable to where the rent money has gone in the past and where it will go in the future. Let us not forget that come April the rents will be increased again. Increased, but there will be no improvements as usual.
They knew for a long time the government’s proposals yet sat and did nothing about it. Now, of course, they have egg on their face with the “no to transfer” vote, they are blaming everyone bar themselves. They thought it was a given that the tenants would return a “yes” vote. They didn’t and now the Council have left themselves in a mess with no time left to sort it out.
Maybe one day we’ll get Councillors on the Council with commonsense but I won’t hold my breath waiting!
The relationship of SBC with Swindon Services would benefit from some investigation. How much are they paid from the, ring fenced, housing budget? What happens to any profits they make in maintaining social housing? Maybe if the council was a little more ‘open’ we would all know the answers to these and many other questions
I found out the other day Marcus that SCS pays over a ‘dividend’ to the Council as the single ‘share-holder’ I believe. Not sure how much but this is money that should go on work on our houses rather than being filched to be used on other things. I will check this out.
Information should be available with Freedom of Information I would think. Certainly, many repairs or “improvements” are botched up jobs with the cheapest materials available and often substandard workmanship. The old saying of “you buy cheap, you buy dear” is very true here. I personally think that the Council, regardless of who runs it, should be made far more accountable than it is and I for one welcome the prospect of a new Tenants Assocation that will do this.
Fiona, Would you like some information on Swindon Housings Tenant Scrutiny Watchdog which is an independant body that makes the housing section accountable to tenants in for example value for money,housing repairs and anti-social behaviour and much more. This local body of tenants can make the real changes needed within housing and are totally independant from other groups like STV, Housing Repairs and Housing Forum.
If you want to be effective and make real change please email me @ email@example.com
Maybe by overpaying SCS, from the ring fenced budget and creating a surplus to be repaid as a dividend into SBC general funds is a way of freeing up Rent Revenue for use on WiFi schemes, fountains etc.
But then maybe not, it would be a form of money laundering and I am sure SBC would not entertain that. However the more secretive they are the more suspicious we become.
Marcus. Some years ago there was a hoo-ha about taxis using the bus lanes, if memory serves me correctly, I believe SBC were asked to declare any vested interest in Thamesdown Transport, something they were very reluctant to do when we all knew they had. Of course, now, everyone knows who owns Thamesdown Transport – SBC (story in tonight’s Adver confirms this). The FIA has helped to stop this kind of “hidden” vested interest and it will be very interesting to see what else crawls out of the woodwork – the WiFi scheme being just one of them, the PFIs being more. I think the transfer to an association debacle has opened a big can of worms for the council and they’re going to find it very difficult to put the worms back in the can! It’s high time they were made accountable for the way they’ve been using (wasting) our money from rent payments, council tax and the sell-off of land to private investors. Just who has been scratching whose back!!!