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Privatisation of council houses in Waverley

Keith Parkins | 17.02.2004 18:19 | Social Struggles

As with many councils across the country, Waverley is following the neo-Labour agenda and offering their council house tenants the choice of privatisation of their homes. No other option is available on the neo-Labour agenda.

'You may wonder why we need to do this. After all, it is not very long - only three and a half years, since the Council asked tenants to vote on whether to transfer all its homes to a newly created housing association.' -- councillor Victor Scrivens, Waverley Housing Portfolio Holder

‘We want to ensure that every tenant who needs his or her home improved has a full opportunity to do that. They have the right to avail themselves of the opportunities of the decent homes programme but if they choose not to then regrettably that’s a matter for them and their local authorities and there’s little that government can do about that.’ -- neo-Labour Housing Minister, Keith Hill

‘You can take a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink.' -- neo-Labour Housing Minister, Keith Hill

'The vote in Camden shows we can win when we organise effective broad based campaigns that give tenants the case against privatisation and for direct investment ... If we can do it so can you. It takes some effort - but it's worth it.' -- Camden DCH

Waverley (Farnham and Godalming south of London in the County of Surrey) are doing what many councils across the country are doing and offering their council tenants a choice of PFI, stock transfer to a Housing Association or transfer to an ALMO (Arms length Management Organisation). It appears to be three choices, but in reality it is one choice, privatisation of council houses.

Waverley are one of many councils going through this exercise. Wrexham and North Tyneside, are partway through the exercise, Camden and Guildford have said no, and somewhere around 200 councils are refusing to participate.

Waverley only went through this exercise three and a half years ago, then there was an overwhelming NO vote to transfer to the private sector. Now the tenants are being asked again. It's as a tenant activist from Tower Hamlets (East London) said at a recent meeting in Camden Town Hall to discuss the Camden no vote: they won't accept no, they keep coming back until they get yes, but it is up to us to keep saying no.

Waverley has set up a Special Interest Group to oversee the appraisal. This group is made up of three councillors, three members of the Waverley Tenants Panel and three senior members of staff. As we can see, the tenants are already in a minority, and that assumes the official tenants organisations are acting in the best interests of the tenants, which has not been true elsewhere.

Waverley Tenants Panel has selected a firm of consultants called TACT (Tenants Advice & Consultancy Team) at Dome to act as the independent tenants adviser. Dome 'will provide you with a range of opportunities to find out about the different options and to say what is important to you for your home and your community'. How 'independent' they are and whether their advice is in the best interests of the tenants they are acting for remains to be seen. The experience elsewhere has been that so-called 'independent tenant advisers' are anything but and push the privatisation agenda against the best interests of the tenants.

A 'consultation' exercise will take place during the summer, with the council expected to reach a decision sometime December 2004.

A Housing Association is being formed by Waverley to acquire the transferred stock which would seem to indicate minds have already been made up, and LibDem controlled Waverley is prepared to do Neo-Labour's dirty work for them.

Dome will be arranging a series of roadshows, local meetings and other events around the Waverley area in the next month or so, where no doubt the tenants will be promised new kitchens, bathrooms and the sun will always shine. It is therefore important that activists attend these meetings to ensure truth is told.

If Waverley tenants want to know how bad privatised council housing is, they only have to look north across the county border to Aldershot in Rushmoor, or Ash on the outskirts of Guildford. Rushmoor council tenants voted a decade ago for transfer to Pavilion Housing Association, and have regretted it ever since. If they knew then, what they know now, it would have been a resounding no - repairs are not carried out, yobs are terrorising the estates, tenants who speak out are threatened and intimidated, rents and evictions are rising.

The government has recently introduced guidance to Waverley and other councils across the country detailing the minimum standard that they expect council housing to meet by 2010. Many of Waverley's homes were built between 1930 and 1970, which means that the roofs, walls, foundations etc may now need attention. We also know that kitchens and bathrooms need replacing and that many tenants would like replacement double-glazing.

Waverley claims it will not meet the Decent Homes Standard by 2010, because it will cost £16 million more than Waverley has in its coffers or has budgeted for. Therein lies the rub and the blackmail neo-Labour is applying to council tenants. Vote NO, and we will deny you the money to bring your homes up to a decent standard. As defined by the government: A decent home is one that is wind and weather tight, warm and has modern facilities.

Camden council tenants turned down a £283 million bribe when 77% voted NO to privatisation. They are now demanding that money, which was on offer if they voted yes, to be made available to Camden to bring their homes up to a decent standard.

As ex-cabinet member Frank Dobson MP said at the recent Camden Town Hall meeting (10 February 2004), it makes not a jot of difference to PSBR whether the government gives the money to the council or a private company. The only difference is neo-Labour/Thatcher dogma which is intent on destroying our public services and removing democratic accountability.

Whatever assurances may be given prior to privatisation, there is no democratic accountability once the stock is transferred to the private sector. Tenants may sit on the board, but they will not be privy to key decisions or information, cannot convey such information to their fellow tenants, and are legally obliged to act for the company, not the tenants they are elected to represent.

Camden threw nearly £500,000 into a propaganda campaign to force a yes vote, taxpayers money that could have been spent on social housing, and still their council tenants voted by more than 3:1 NO to privatisation. Camden are now demanding the £283 million promised by the government.

Defend Council Housing are demanding a fourth option on the ballot, remain with the council with government financial backing.

But as the three options are in reality one, there is not a fourth option. What we should be demanding is three genuine options: remain with the council, privatisation, or direct tenants control. This gives tenants a real choice, not three varieties of privatisation coupled with threats and blackmail if you refuse to vote for privatisation.

The good news is that councils across the country are voting NO to privatisation, 200 councils are refusing to participate, Defend Council Housing produce masses of good campaign material, Unison has political fund available to fight privatisation of council housing.

Something like 200 councils across the country are sticking two fingers up to Blair, and refusing to choose a privatisation option. At least 130 MPs have signed an EDM (Council Housing Early Day Motion 116) supporting tenants’ demands for direct investment without strings attached. Has your MP signed? A new EDM has been tabled in Parliament - EDM 430 Investment and choice for council tenants. Has your MP signed?

It is a essential that Waverley tenants form their own branch of Defend Council Housing, ask their local Unison branch to obtain funding to finance the campaign, demand equal access for opposing views to be put to council tenants, look to Camden to see how they achieved the 77% NO vote which has left the government's housing policy in disarray, lobby for government funding to be invested directly in council housing with genuine local democratic control and accountability.

Three and a half years ago Waverley overwhelmingly said no to privatisation. If, the initial consultation indicates this is still the view of the overwhelming majority, Waverley should follow the example of Guildford, and say no without the added expense of an unnecessary and expensive ballot.

No matter how bad housing is under the council, and it usually is bad, it gets a whole lot worse once transferred to the private sector - rents go up, rate of repairs go down, tenancies are less secure, evictions go up.

Camden tenants put across eight key points. They formed liaisons with tenants, trade unionists and activists, manned stalls, stuck up posters everywhere, leafleted every tenant, held meetings, targeted every 'consultation' meeting and council meetings, brought in campaigners from outside the area, staged publicity stunts to get massive media coverage etc. And it worked, 77% voted NO to privatisation.

And if Waverley tenants have any remaining doubts, they should look north to Aldershot and see how privatised tenants fare.

If Waverley form their own Housing Association, how long before it is devoured by Pavilion, who are currently devouring smaller Housing Associations across southern England?


Peter Sandy (tenant activist Aldershot) 01252 329919
Waverley Housing Dept 0800 0325253
Dome Consultants 0800 919994



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Keith Parkins