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I’ve just been sent, via the Defend Council Housing campaign, a copy of Salford Council’s “Formal Application for Stock Transfer”; its appeal to the coalition government for permission to ‘transfer’ its Council housing stock. It’s a long and detailed document so these are just some first observations.

A Labour Council proposing to ‘transfer’ its stock to a Housing Association is nothing new. Under the New Labour government there was a policy of transferring 200,000 homes a year. There were financial inducements (including the writing off of housing debt) which were used to pressure the tenants into voting for ‘transfer’. What’s different about this proposal is that a Labour Council is appealing to a Tory-Liberal coalition government for permission to ‘transfer’, and asking for it to write off the housing debt in order to facilitate it. As we all of the ballots tenants are being told stay with the Council and get nothing, vote for ‘transfer’ and you’ll get new windows and bathrooms. 

Salford Council is proposing to ‘transfer’ 85% of the Council housing stock to Salix Homes, the ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation) which manages their stock. Salix would be transformed into a Private Registered Provider. The rest of the stock is covered by a Private Finance Initiative instituted under the New Labour government.

There is no question that there are financial constraints on Salford Council as a result of the new ‘self-financing’ system introduced in 2012, and the borrowing cap which was associated with the ‘debt settlement’. However, Salford’s Labour Council is executing what can only be described as an utter capitulation to the government. It appears to support the coalition government’s housing programme. For instance the document refers to “the development of a new tenancy policy which will support local and central government agendas”. Hence the new organisation will (in part):

➢     Address under-occupation;”

➢      Address circumstances where customers’ income has improved and there is no longer a need for social housing;”

➢      Work to change the view that social housing is a home for life towards being a resource for a particular time.” 

In other words Salford Labour Council is supporting the coalition government’s policy of ending of ‘Secure tenancies’ for new tenants by the introduction of ‘flexible’ or fixed term ones. This involves an ‘earnings threshold’. If a tenant’s household earnings rise above this ‘threshold’, they would be forced to leave their homes at the end of the tenancy period. Where flexible tenancies have been introduced elswhere this includes the operation of the ‘size criteria’, on which the ‘bedroom tax’ is based. So anybody on these tenancies can be forced to move into a smaller property at the end of the fixed term if their household composition has changed and they have a ‘spare’ bedroom. Even tenants affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ aren’t forced to move, whereas tenants on fixed term tenancies can be. The Council also appears to support the rationale of the ‘bedroom tax’ insofar as it accepts that Salix will “address under-occupation”. 

Salix Homes will “seek to acquire and build new developments across a wide range of tenures”, including the following: 

➢      Housing for “affordable rent” (i.e. charging up to 80% of market rent)

➢      Flexible tenure

➢      Low cost home ownership

➢      Housing for outright sale

➢      Market rent accommodation

➢      Joint Ventures 

So Salford Labour Council supports the strategy of the new ‘social housing’ provider to introduce “affordable rent”, build housing for sale and for market rents as well! Once affordable rents are introduced there is nothing to stop them being extended to more properties as they become ‘void’ (when existing tenants leave or die).

One of the supposed selling points of the proposals is that 186 new homes will be built. However, 106 of them will be “affordable rent” and 80 for sale on the market. They will replace 120 Council and 27 privately owned homes which will be demolished. So this means the loss of 14 Council homes at the cost of charging “affordable rent” in 106 properties. Exactly why is a Labour Council supporting “affordable rent”, a coalition policy which seeks to drive Council rents up to market levels? Why does it support the idea of a Housing Association building homes for market rents?

Salix Homes – a “keen supporter” of the government’s “reform agenda 

The document could hardly be clearer when it says that

“Salix Homes, in conjunction with partners will continue to be a keen supporter and contributor to the Public Sector Reform agenda.”

Salix Homes, apparently, supports the coalition government’s war against the poor and its persecution of tenants on Housing Benefit should they have ‘spare’ bedrooms. How can a Labour Council support the ‘transfer’ of its homes to an organisation which is “a keen supporter” of the coalition’s “Public Sector Reform agenda”? Here we are less than a year away from a General Election, yet the Labour Council can’t even wait to see the outcome of it. You have to wonder if they have even bothered to discuss with Labour at the national level the issue of increased funding should they win the General Election. 

Whilst any local authority has to deal with the government of the day, Salford’s application for ‘transfer’ marks a complete capitulation to the coalition government. On its website it boasts that this government has confidence in its proposal. Thankfully the transfer application document which kowtows to the coalition has caused dissension within the ranks of the Labour group itself. There’s a campaign against ‘transfer’, which includes some Labour Councillors who are tenants themselves.

As ever the message is that the Council “has no choice”. But some of these Labour politicians might ask themselves the question why exactly does the coalition government have confidence in them? Isn’t it the case that the only reason that the government has agreed to write off £65 million in debt is because Salford Council has agreed to accept that Salix Homes will support the government’s disastrous housing polices and its ‘reform agenda’? 

Martin Wicks

Secretary, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group

June 26th 2014 

PS. Here’s an article from 2013 where the Assistant Mayor told local government union UNISON to mind it’s own business as regards the proposal to ‘transfer’. She was worried about UNISON ‘influencing’ tenants. She was concerned that the tenants would be able top ‘make up their own mind’, that is to ensure that the Council maintained its monopoly of information to tenants, in order to push the idea that there is ‘no other choice’ but ‘transfer’.