When Chelmsford Borough Council announced that it was seeking to dispose of its council houses, Chelmsford TUC gave its support to TAP - a local group composed of tenants and residents who campaigned against the transfer to Chelmer Housing Partnership. Unfortunately, we failed, and the tenants agreed to the transfer.
The results of the ballot showed that 3,109 had voted for the transfer (55.7%) and 2,477 (44.3%) against. The turnout was 78.2%. Throughout the campaign there was considerable criticism that opponents of the Borough Council’s proposal were not given an equal voice, and the only finance and assistance for the TAP campaign came from personal donations, the Trades Council, UNISON and the GMB. In the long run we believe that the tenants will pay a very heavy price for their decision; the information below we hope will be helpful to other tenants when their turn comes to decide their future.
Yes! At present council tenants have secure tenure, lower rents, collective services, the chance to move house and, crucially, democratic control and accountability through locally elected councillors. Council housing is a publicly-owned asset; if it is sold the homes and the valuable land that they are built on can never be replaced.
Councils are being bribed with our money to the tune of £12 billion to write off their capital debts - but only if they agree to transfer their council houses to the private sector.
First of all it is easier to evict a housing association tenant. There are many grounds for eviction, some of which are automatic. Through mergers and takeovers housing associations are becoming big businesses. They depend on private borrowing from the banks which has to be repaid, with the shareholders’ dividends being found from the tenants’ rents. Is it any wonder that the main support for housing associations such as Chelmer Housing Partnership emanates from the City of London and the main financial institutions.
The fact is that neither councils nor government can force tenants to transfer from their homes. That is why Chelmsford Borough Council has spent approximately £500,000 to persuade us that their transfer proposals are a good idea. This has been given to consultants, lawyers, public relations firms, independent advisors and others to push through the sale.
It is certainly true that the failure of successive Governments to allocate sufficient funds has meant that there is a backlog of repairs. However, the problems in Chelmsford are not as serious as in some other parts of the country. In any case we should be telling the Government to ignore their friends in the City, give our Council sufficient money to do the repairs, and make sure that our councillors do so.
Nationally, £1.4 billion has been siphoned off from council tenants’ rents in 1999/2000. This money is taken from the Housing Revenue Account of local authorities and is used to subsidise Treasury spending. We believe that all our rents should be spent on managing and maintaining council houses; nationally, that would pay for £1 billion of extra work immediately. Only government regulations stop councils raising money to improve housing. So why not change the regulations and allow councils to borrow money at cheap rates of interest? What happened to the concept that MPs are supposed to make political decisions, rather than the civil servants?
This Government is proud of the fact that it has repaid £34 billion of the nation’s budget debt - more than the combined total of all Government’s in the past 50 years. It need not have done so but in any case it still has a massive budget surplus. Why not release some of this money, and invest it in council house repairs and retain its valuable property assets for future generations?
Unions such as the GMB, UCATT and UNISON have been in the forefront of the campaign against council house sales. Why? Because it brings the threat of insecurity to both tenants and their members. Privatisation of council housing has proved to have been a gravy train for some managers, but for many employees it has undermined their jobs. Decent pay and conditions, along with training and apprenticeships, disappear as services are reduced. It is true that Government regulations offer protection for wages and conditions of service if their work is privatised, but like the "guarantees" issued to tenants, these are not worth the paper they are printed on if the housing association gets into financial problems.
Certainly! Many MPs and local councillors are concerned at the loss of electoral support from council tenants. With the General Election on the horizon you are in a good position to tell them what you think, and what you will do at the ballot box when their turn comes up at the next election, unless they change their position to one that reflects your interests.
When the Council asks you to vote, remember that council houses were established because private landlords and charities had failed the nation. Once you leave the public sector there will be no going back.
Chelmsford may have said yes but many other council tenants all over the country, including Southend and Cambridge, have voted NO. Castle Point voted against transfer several years ago and still has a housing service.
Chelmsford Trades Union Council supports the following Manifesto for Council Housing which has been agreed by UNISON, GMB, UCATT, DAYLIGHT ROBBERY, TAROC and HANDS OFF OUR HOMES.
Remember you are not alone. See what others are doing and find further information at: