Swindon Council has sent out a questionnaire on ‘2017/18 Housing Funds’. It asks for tenants’ opinions on how to deal with a shortfall of £1.34 million next year. It lists the reasons they have less money as the loss of homes due to right to buy, the 1% rent cut imposed by central government, and the need to invest in homes.

What they conveniently neglect to mention is the loss of income as a result of the proposed transfer of garages, some shops and “amenity land” owned by the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), to the council’s General Fund. Their questionnaire is silent on the fact that these transfers will mean the HRA would lose annual income of £1.309 million. Garage rents of £1.074 million and £235,000 income from shops/commercial premises will be handed over to the General Fund. Last year the garages made a surplus of £724,000 after costs are accounted for.

The council is trying to con tenants into supporting the Transfer by providing misleading information and assertions which are unsupported by any evidence. They admit that it “will have an impact in the short run”, yet they refuse to tell tenants how much will be lost by the HRA. They make an assertion for which they offer not one shred of evidence, that “in the longer term…we reduce long term costs on the housing account and consequently your rent.” This is simply not true.

By their own latest estimate, when the transfer of some properties from the General Fund into the HRA is taken into account, the HRA is estimated to lose £512,000 a year as a result of the transfers. Taking money out of the HRA at a time when it is losing income as a result of central government policies will make the funding crisis worse.

The only reason why this transfer is proposed is to use HRA income to bolster the council’s General Fund, which will save £500,000 as a result. The council is desperately scrabbling around to save money because of the General Fund’s financial crisis, caused by government cuts and their six year council tax freeze which has made the crisis worse than it would otherwise have been. The proposed transfer is nothing other than robbery of the HRA in order to fill a hole in the General Fund.

Tenants, as with an increasing number of the town’s population, are cynical about ‘consultations’ carried out by this administration. Nevertheless we should tell them that we are opposed to these transfers, recognising that this is nothing more than a money-grab to help fill the ever greater hole in the General Fund.

Martin Wicks

Secretary Swindon Tenants Campaign Group