You may recall that in 2009 Swindon Borough Council decided to ballot their tenants on the proposal to transfer Council housing stock to a new Housing Association. The ballot was halted because the government then in office was consulting on a new Housing Revenue system. They proposed to introduce a ‘self-financing’ system. Under the old system Swindon was handing over £9 million a year to the government from its income from rents. Under the new system Councils would be able to keep all their income from rents. However, the price of the new system was that the national housing ‘debt’ (estimated at £20 billion) would be redistributed to each Council, in a ‘one off debt settlement’.

Each Council has to respond to the amount of debt which the government is proposing to give them. Many Councils have said they accept this. Their attitude depends upon how much rent they had to hand over to the government every year. For instance Crawley Council, which has no housing debt, has been told it will have to take on £260 million debt (to be paid off over 30 years). However, since it was having to pay £16 million a year back to the government from its rent income under the old system, it will be much better off under the new system.

In the case of Swindon the government has said we will have a debt of £176 million, though we will be able to keep the £9 million a year that we have had to hand over the government every year. There will, of course, be a cost of ‘servicing’ the debt.

Ssindon Borough Council has said that under the new system they will be worse off (we have yet to see their calculations). They are therefore, asking the government to give them permission to ballot their tenants to transfer our Council housing over to a new Housing Association. The Council reckon that under a Housing Association the debt they have would be somewhere in the region of £50 million. The debt would be based on the valuation of the stock and some other factors.

SBC is therefore currently putting together a case to the government for allowing the Council to ballot its tenants. The government will then decide whether or not to grant them permission to proceed with a ballot.

In the light of this threat I recently organised an informal meeting of people involved in campaigning against transfer in 2002 and 2009. We agreed to relaunch a campaign against transfer should the go-ahead for a ballot to take place.

On Saturday last I attended a national Defend Council Housing campaign ( http://defendcouncilhousing.org.uk ) to report on our situation. It would appear that there are three other Councils asking permission to ballot. There have been two ballots recently, one in Wycombe (where tenants voted in favour of transfer) and the Vale of Glamorgan (where they voted against it). The national campaign will help us if we face a ballot.

I am currently looking at the offer documents (the proposal put to the tenants) from Wycombe and Vale of Glamorgan, and have contacts in each area who will hopefully provide us with some lessons from their experience which will be useful to us in our campaigning activity.

In the meantime I will update this web site regularly.

Martin Wicks

07786 394593

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