Tenants ballot not yet decided

This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser in response to their report of last Thursday’s Council meeting.

The Adver report of last week’s Council meeting was deficient in one important respect. It gave the impression that a ballot of tenants on transfer of our housing to a Housing Association will take place in the autumn of 2010. Unfortunately the report did not explain the content of the resolution which voted through by the ruling Conservative group.

Tenants should be aware that the decision to ballot was “subect to” the government department confirming the writing off of Swindon’s existing housing debt and the “current arrangements” for transfer still being available. The Council will seek clarification as to whether or not this is the case.

If the government response is negative then the resolution says that the whole question would have to be brought back for further consideration by the Council.

We know that the government has decided to end incentives for tenants to vote for transfer. For instance they will no longer give a debt write-off if tenants “vote the right way”. The Housing Minister has said that the money available to Councils for their housing will be the same whether for transfer or keeping ownership of their stock. The only exception to this is where tenants have already voted in favour of transfer. Obviously this does not include Swindon where no ballot has taken place.

What the Council is doing is testing out whether the Minister really means this. If he were to be consistent then his response would be negative; that Swindon could not have the same terms of transfer that were previously available.

Whether he will be consistent remains to be seen, but the response will most likely determine whether or not a ballot goes ahead. If the level of debt which Swindon will have were to be the same for either transfer or continued Council ownership then the Council would not be able to say that a Housing Association would be able to provide “a better service”. (We don’t think this is true but it is an argument for another occasion.) So it seems unlikely that they would risk losing a ballot without holding out the prospect of a “better service”. If tenants voted ‘no’ then Council tax payers would have to pay the estimated £1 million bill.

So watch this space.

For a detailed briefing on the situation readers can go to the Swindon TUC website (swindontuc.wordpress.com). Anybody interested in campaigning against transfer should a ballot proceed can email us at swindondch@btinternet.com or ring  07786 394593 .

Martin Wicks

Secretary Swindon TUC, and tenant

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