Skip to content or view screen version

Waverley to force through housing sell off

Keith Parkins | 19.10.2004 15:43 | Analysis | Repression | Social Struggles

Waverley is trying to force through privatisation of its housing stock.

'We're a business, and all our divisions are expected to make a surplus.' -- John Belcher, chief executive of Anchor Trust

'If debt can be written off for a stock transfer why can't it be written off for the in-house option? ... If government money is available for housing associations when they take on negative value estates, why can't it be available for popular, well-performing councils.' -- Daniel Zeichner, chairman of the Labour party in the east of England

'Council tenants' opposition to the privatisation of their housing has finally got to the top of the political agenda. Tenants should now be telling local authorities to stop looking at options for new management of their housing, because it's clear that the government will now have to concede the fourth option of direct investment.' -- Alan Walter, Defend Council Housing

'If the tenants of a well-run, high-performing council following full consultation with the tenants on all options - want direct investment from government, why not?' -- Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union

'Tenants have the right to affordable, secure housing that is provided by the council - not private companies.' -- Alan Walter, Defend Council Housing

'The government makes commendable statements about improving tenants' influence over the management over their homes. However, under the pretext of Decent Homes, local authority tenants are, in reality being blackmailed into stock transfers, or almos, through the current funding arrangements. The government must put its money where its mouth is and leave it up to tenants to decide who should own and manage their homes.' -- Andrew Bennett, Chairman of ODPM Select Committee

'It's outrageous that councils keep balloting until they get the result they want. The electorate would not put up with that in a general election why should council tenants?' -- Alan Walter, Defend Council Housing

Waverley, south west of London, including the towns of Farnham and Godalming, is trying to force through privatisation of its council housing stock. Tenants are being fed a pack of lies and being conned into agreeing to the sale of their homes.

By a unanimous vote, Waverly councillors have agreed to force through privatisation of their housing stock. In doing so, Waverley is not only selling off its housing stock through forced privatisation, it is selling out its own tenants.

Neighbouring Guildford is able to bring all its housing stock up to standard, without resorting to privatisation, so why not Waverley? If there is a financial shortfall, that is the fault of the housing portfolio holder and head of housing, that is where the maladministration lies. The tenants should not be punished for the failings of others.

Waverley council lies in an extremely wealthy area, why are the poorest people in one of the wealthiest parts of the country having to pay the price for maladministration by others?

Promises are being made, but what guarantees are there that any of these promises will be kept. The answer is none, as it is not possible to guarantee anything once the housing stock is privatised.

Housing associations are accountable to no one, least of all the tenants. That is why tenants across the country are voting no to privatisation.

In Camden, once the tenants saw through the lies and propaganda, they voted an overwhelmingly 77% no to privatisation.

If Waverley tenants wish to see how bad privatisation can be they only have to look north across the county border to Aldershot and Farnborough to the ex-Rushmoor housing stock, sold off to Pavilion a decade ago. If the tenants then, knew what they know now, there would have been an overwhelming no to privatisation. Repairs are not carried out, homes are deteriorating, yobs are terrorising the estates.

Visit the run down Pavilion estates, talk to the tenants, read the damning Audit Commission report on Pavilion or the soon to be published equally damning report by the industry regulator, the Housing Corporation.

These tenants too, were promised the world, just vote yes, only the promises never materialised. Former-Rushmoor tenants have lived to rue the day that they ever agreed to stock transfer.

Pavilion are now pushing, against the wishes of their own tenants, a merger with Eastleigh-based Atlantic. The merged group would be more remote, less accountable than ever. And a warning to Waverley tenants, like any property empire, it would be looking to gobble up any tasty new morsels like the newly-privatised Waverly housing stock.

Contrary to the false claim by the Waverley head of housing, privatisation is nothing but a gravy train for senior housing officers. That is why they push it. Check out the executive salaries at Pavilion, check out what has happened across the country.

An ALMO simply parcels the housing up ready for future sell off, with no requirement for further consultation. Why otherwise is the government so keen to promote ALMOs, why is it pumping money into ALMOs?

What happens if an ALMO runs out of money? It cannot call on the council as it is now ring-fenced. The answer is that the housing is sold of piece meal. As has already happened with other ALMOs.

Westminster has been forced to sell off housing estates as its ALMO has run short of money.

Both the National Audit Office (March 2003) and Public Accounts Committee (July 2003) inquiries into stock transfer show that the cost to public funds are greater if housing investment is channelled via a transfer RSL.

Council housing generates surpluses. Government has taken a total of £13 billion from council housing (through negative subsidy) since 1990. And each year the Treasury continues to take more than £1.5 billion from the total rental income.

Thus council housing does not cost local authorities money, it is a revenue stream. That is why the private sector is is keen to get its hands on it.

If council housing were to remain in the hands of the council, and they were to get all the funding that is available on transfer, the repairs and backlog of maintenance would be self-financing.

All transfer does is to transfer the debt to the government (ie to the taxpayer) at a cost of less accountability, and loss of tenant rights.

There is no proven benefit of stock transfer, democracy and accountability suffer. Tenants are being blackmailed into transfer by withholding of repairs, fed propaganda and outright lies, and being told 'there is no alternative'.

If there is an even bigger scandal than that of stock transfer to the private sector, it is that it is being financed out of the public purse.

Tenants may be offered a seat or two on the board. A sop, nothing more. They will be in a minority, denied access to 'sensitive' information. And more importantly, they are legally obliged to act for the company, not the tenants.

That is why across the country, tenants are saying no to seats on the board where they are impotent, and forming instead action groups.

In a study of housing association boards by Liz Cairncross, her most important conclusion was about the marginalisation of tenant board members:

'Non tenant board members of housing associations have increasingly become ‘elite volunteers’, that is predominantly male, graduate professionals and managers … '

She quotes research showing: 'boards were subject to processes of manipulation, screening and institutionalised pre-emption … hapless and manipulated by chief executives and other executive directors.'

Pavilion has tenant representatives on the board. Summoned to give an accountant of his piss-poor performance to a Rushmoor committee, Pavilion chief executive Mervyn Jones blamed everyone bar himself. He then passed it over to a tenant board member to defend Pavilion! She claimed the tenants were happy, repairs were carried out!

An Atlantic tenant board member, asked about the proposed merger with Pavilion, thought it a good idea. This was not the view of tenants interviewed on the street, who immediately saw the downside.

Pavilion has three Rushmoor councillors sitting on the board. What they have been doing or who they represent is anyone's guess, but it has certainly not been the tenants. Maybe they were sleepwalking. Questions to Rushmoor chief executive on their role remain unanswered.

If you sit on the board of a housing association you are governed by the Company Acts, legislation covering RSLs, and if a Charity, the Charity Acts. As former Housing Minister Sally Keeble said: 'Members of the boards of RSLs have the same fiduciary duty to the RSL as any company director.' [Hansard 4 February 2002]

Challenged at a private briefing to local councillors (August 2004), Pavilion chief executive Mervyn Jones was forced to admit that councillors and tenants on the Pavilion board have a fiduciary duty to the organisation.

Liz Cairncross has also confirmed tenants can not represent other tenants on the board:

'While tenant board members may perceive themselves and be perceived as representatives, formally their accountability is to shareholders, funders and the regulator as individual and corporate members of the board, primarily an upward accountability.'

When tenants are allowed onto the boards of RSLs they are only there in a symbolic role. A pretense of some form of democratic accountability, when in reality there is none.

Board members have been kicked off the board if they don't toe the corporate line. Places for People, and other RSLs, have kicked people off the board for refusing to toe the corporate line.

RSLs set up bogus tenants organisations. Pavilion set up the TCG (tenants consultative group). Pavilion were dictating to individual tenants groups, who their representatives could be. When tenants have spoken out against Pavilion, they have been summoned to appear before a disciplinary hearing held by the TCG. The chairman of the TCG sits on the board of Pavilion and speaks on behalf of Pavilion. When the chief executive of Pavilion was summoned to appear before a committee of Rushmoor council to explain his piss-poor performance, he brought along the chair of the TCG to defend the actions of Pavilion.

Even the Audit Commission was compelled to criticise Pavilion for its bogus tenant representation.

The chief executive of Testway Housing in Andover, Hampshire (formed in 1998 from the housing stock of Test Valley council), is trying to force councillors and tenants off the board, prompting the industry regulator, the Housing Corporation, to express concern about the governance of Testway.

Testway, like many RSLs, wants to change its constitution to force tenant representatives and councillors off the board. This leads to less transparency, less accountability. Try obtaining the the minutes or attending a board meeting of an RSL. These are social landlords when it suits them, ie obtaining public funds, but not public bodies when it suits them.

Whatever assurances are given at the time of privatisation are worthless.

Peerless Housing in Surrey Heath has recently invited three tenant representatives onto the board. They were selected from over one hundred applicants by the chief executive and chairman!

The housing minister Keith Hill promised to ensure a fair debate about housing choice and that tenants would be given all the information about the options for their housing. Unfortunately this is not happening. Leaving to one side that one side has huge resources at their disposal (at taxpayers expense), there are the dirty tricks.

Camden instructed council staff to remove any anti-privatisation material they saw. Post-ballot, being sore losers, they prosecuted an anti-privatisation campaigner for sticking up flyers. Such was the bad publicity, Camden were forced to drop the case.

Like Camden, Tower Hamlets abused anti-social behaviour legislation to remove anti-privatisation legislation from its estates. Their own posters were left in situ. More recently, they have pulled an advertisement for a housing conference from the council newspaper East End Life.

Nottingham changed the ballot to wrong foot objectors.

In Waverley, one set of consultants to the tenants have been fired. Were they delivering the wrong result? Tenants have been expelled from meetings for expressing criticism of privatisation. Meetings are held in Godalming. This at a stroke disenfranchises tenants in Cranleigh and Farnham.

Privatisation is nothing more than a gravy train train for consultants, bankers, lawyers, accountants. Money that should be ploughed into local housing.

Waverley has an estimated £44 million backlog of repairs, add in the cost of bringing the housing stock up to the Decent Homes standard and the bill rises to an estimated £78 million. If the housing stock is transfered to a housing association, it will have to find a further £40 million to buy the rundown properties off Waverley. Where is this money to come from?

It costs more for the private sector to borrow money than it does the public sector. These costs are passed on to the tenants, be it in higher rents or poorer service, usually both.

Transfer RSLs, have management costs 39% higher than local authorities.

Senior housing officials are keen to push privatisation, as are the so-called independent consultants engaged to provide advice to the tenants, ie tell them to vote for privatisation. The senior staff see massive pay rises, at the lower levels staff are laid off, and the work contracted out.

Post-privatisation of Rushmoor housing stock, Pavilion fired the in-house workforce. To add insult to injury, they are now trying to 'sell' the merger with Atlantic on the grounds that they will get the Atlantic in-house workforce. Something that has not gone down too well with Atlantic tenants down in Eastleigh.

Instead of selling out on their tenants, blindly following discredited neo-Labour housing policy, Waverley councillors should be doing as other councils are doing across the country and working hard with their tenants to fight these crass policies. They should be fighting for returns from property sales to be ploughed back into local housing, for rent receipts to be retained 100%, for council housing to have the same entitlement as ALMOs and housing associations to grant aid, the same rights to borrow for capital investment.

Neo-Labour is under mounting pressure to change its neo-liberal policy on housing privatisation.

At the recent Labour party conference, the discredited neo-Labour policy of forcing councils to privatise their housing stock was thrown into disarray following a humiliating defeat Delegates voted by an overwhelming eight to one for a resolution stating that tenants should not be financially penalised if they opted to keep their homes under council control. This overwhelming defeat of key Bliar housing policy was despite a personal intervention by John Prescott. But even Prescott was forced to concede that 'public funding of housing does not treat local authorities fairly'.

The resolution passed by the party conference stated:

'Labour will ensure that where tenants choose to remain under the management of their local authority they will not be financially disadvantaged. Funds available for stock transfer will be equally available for councils, ensuring a level playing field.'

The resolution adopted by the Labour Party conference will make it nigh impossible for neo-Labour to maintain their discredited housing policy. Which makes it all the odder that David January, Waverley head of housing, is so keen to force through privatisation. The only conclusion to be drawn is that he is eager to see his salary doubled or trebled once the housing is privatised, whereas with his piss-poor record of managing the Waverley housing stock, he should be fired.

Tenants of Pavilion are calling upon Mervyn Jones, Pavilion chief executive, to resign for his piss-poor performance. Waverley tenants should be following their good example and calling for the resignation of David January, Waverley head of housing.

Waverley should be joining in the campaign to change the discredited neo-Labour housing policy, not selling out on their tenants. But whatever happens, the head of housing should go.

Following the conference resolution, Prescott announced a review of neo-Labour housing policy.

'Public financing of housing doesn't treat local authorities on a level playing field and I want to see that changed and I promised to do that and look at an enquiry into it.'

Whilst that review is taking place, MPs have called for a moratorium on any further stock transfers.

Austin Mitchell MP, chair House of Commons Council Housing group:

'The House of Commons Council Housing group is asking for an urgent meeting with John Prescott to urge the ODPM to advise local authorities to put stock options appraisals on hold until after the government's review of the options has been completed.'

'It is clearly not acceptable for tenants to be asked to make a decision without the full range of choice and until all the relevant information is made available to them.'

'There should be a moratorium on authorities completing stock transfers or embarking on the costly business of setting up ALMOs until the new funding options are in place. Tenants deserve a real choice.'

May 2004, the influential ODPM Select Committee published its report on 'decent homes' and came out clearly in support of an 'investment allowance' to provide finance to councils to bring their housing stock up to the Decent Homes standard.

And back in June John Prescott told Parliament: 'we have had to say that we will try to provide adequate funding for those who want to stay with local authorities.'

Why therefore is Waverley so keen to push privatisation through, when if they wait, they may well get all the grant aid that would be available on stock transfer? Around 200 councils around the country are standing firm and defending their housing stock and calling for changes to ensure a level playing field. Why are Waverley councillors proving to be so spineless?

Council housing is not perfect, but how can it be any better once privatised when it is the same incompetents running the show, albeit on vastly inflated salaries?

Investment in council housing stock, is not just about an investment in housing, and it could be justified on that alone, it is an investment in people's lives, in their future, in the cohesion of society.

Waverley tenants, instead of voting yes, with bribes attached, should be voting no, then doing as they did in Camden, demanding off the government the money that was on offer if they voted yes.

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.

Given the honest facts, tenants vote no to privatisation.

Kingston and Wrexham are added to the growing list of councils where their tenants have voted no to privatisation.

Farnham-based Waverly tenant Donald Simpson has called the sell out of Waverley tenants a scandal.

Peter Sandy, an Aldershot-based community activity, now also an Aldershot LibDem councillor, an activist who stills bears the battle scars of constant run ins with Pavilion, is urging Waverly tenants to fight tooth and nail to control their own housing, to form action groups, to vote no to privatisation.

Peter Sandy has been warned off for trying to help Waverley tenants. For his excellent advice, and offering to help Waverley tenants fight these pernicious proposals, Peter Sandy has had Victor Scrivens, Waverley housing portfolio holder, level the accusation that he is bringing the LibDems into disrepute, and issue dire warnings that he will report his 'activities' to the Rushmoor LibDem group leader.

The threat was somewhat hollow, as although Peter Sandy sits on Rushmoor council (Aldershot and Farnborough) as an Aldershot LibDem, he is no longer a member of the Rushmoor LibDem group as he could not for a moment longer stomach their childish behaviour. It is all a bit rich coming from Victor Scrivens, where the dysfunctional Waverley LibDems, when not knifing their tenants, are busing stabbing each other in the back and currently subject to an investigation launched by Charles Kennedy (he would do well to launch one into the Farnborough LibDems too) and Scrivens himself subject to several investigations by the Standards Board for England, to whom he was reported by members of his own party.

And in any case, since when has acting on behalf of the local community, been to bring the party, any party, into disrepute? If anyone is doing that, surely is it not Victor Scrivens, for selling out his own tenants, for toadying up to neo-Labour policies?

The fact that Scrivens is trying behind the scenes to silence critics and prevent any help and advice for Waverley tenants only goes to show how weak and untenable must the case be for privatisation of Waverley housing stock. It also raises questions as to the validity of any ballot if Victor Scrivens has behind the scenes been trying to silence critics.

Waverley tenants meeting, 7pm Tuesday 19 November 2004 (ie tonight) at Church House, Union Road, Farnham (a church hall in the centre of Farnham).

There will be a tenants meeting with consultants on 4 November 2004 at Godalming Baptist Church in Godalming at 7pm (opposite end of Godalming town centre to the railway station). Contact Dome Consultants for details.

Defend Council Housing are holding a National Conference 10-30am to 4.30pm Friday 29 October 2004 at the TUC, Congress House, London.


Peter Sandy (tenant activist Aldershot) 01252 329919
Defend Council Housing 0207 987 9989
Waverley Housing Dept 0800 0325253
Dome Consultants 0800 919994



Kai Andersen, Council Tenants - Heads we lose, Tail we don't win, Indymedia UK, 31 January 2004

James Bowman, Former mayor broke council's conduct code, Farnham Herald, 17 September 2004

James Bowman, Dilemma over £44m council repairs, Farnham Herald, 24 September 2004

James Bowman, New row sees widening of Lib Dem rift, Farnham Herald, 1 October 2004

Liz Cairncross, Changing Boards, Emerging Tensions, Oxford Brookes University, Spring 2004 {presented to the Housing Studies Association Conference, Spring 2004}

The Case for the 'Fourth Option', the House of Commons Council Housing group, June 2004

Steve Flux, Housing groups in merger talks, The Southern Daily Echo, 11 October 2004

Inspection report: Pavilion Housing Association, Audit Commission, July 2004^1628&ProdID=4109FA2E-0E86-4771-974F-1DFC98221507

Roy Hattersley, Give council tenants a real choice, The Guardian, 5 July 2004

Keith Parkins, Social landlords are deviating from their intended purpose, Indymedia UK, 20 January 2004

Keith Parkins, Social housing landlords the new corporations, Corporate Watch newsletter No 17, January-February 2004

Keith Parkins, Camden council house transfer - Camden Town Hall meeting, Indymedia UK, 11 February 2004

Keith Parkins, Guildford say NO to council house transfer, Indymedia UK, 13 February 2004

Keith Parkins, Privatisation of council houses in Waverley, Indymedia UK, 17 February 2004

Keith Parkins, Audit Commission savage Pavilion Housing Association, Indymedia UK, 27 July 2004

Keith Parkins, Camden lashes out at opponents of council house sell off, Indymedia UK, 27 July 2004

Keith Parkins, Camden forced to back down, Indymedia UK, 30 July 2004

Keith Parkins, Social housing under attack, Indymedia UK, 5 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Social housing crisis, Indymedia UK, 12 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Privatisation of council housing, Indymedia UK, 16 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Crisis meeting at Pavilion Housing Association, Indymedia UK, 24 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Pavilion Housing Association in Crisis, Indymedia UK, 25 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Pavilion v Atlantic, Indymedia UK, 6 September 2004

Keith Parkins, Pavilion and Atlantic Housing Groups to Merge?, Indymedia UK, 13 September 2004

Keith Parkins, Community activist Peter Sandy quits Rushmoor LibDems, Indymedia UK, 28 September 2004

Keith Parkins, Housing Corporation savage Pavilion Housing Association, Indymedia UK, 18 October 2004

Rushmoor councillor's advice to Waverley tenants, Farnham Herald, 15 October 2004

Janet Sillett, A level paying field, The Guardian, 28 September 2004

David Singleton, Authority to embark on pioneering ALMO transfer, Inside Housing, 4 December 2003

David Singleton, ALMO ownership by 2006, Inside Housing, 3 September 2004

Donald Simpson, 'Scandal' of housing transfer, letters, Farnham Herald, 15 October 2004

Alan Walter, Let us decide, The Guardian, 29 June 2004

Waverley councillors cut the options for future of council homes, Farnham Herald, 1 October 2004

Matt Weaver, MPs attack 'dogmatic' housing policy, The Guardian, 7 May 2004

Matt Weaver, Tenants reject homes transfer for second time, The Guardian, 19 May 2004

Matt Weaver, Prescott defeated on council housing vote, The Guardian, 27 September 2004

Matt Weaver, Council accused of dirty tricks campaign, The Guardian, 8 October 2004

Matt Weaver, Landlord hit by boardroom dispute, The Guardian, 15 October 2004

Keith Parkins