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%.