This is part of the text – to read the full text you can download a PDF An offer we can refuse (part2)

The campaign goes on the knocker

Swindon Council is spending at least £600,000 (probably more) of tenant’s money on its campaign for a sell off. It has produced issues of Housing Matters and the offer document. Not content with all this material the Council has been mobilising its staff from the Housing Department and beyond (we have had reports of people who work for the Parks department visiting tenants, as well as Wardens). Many of these staff, even ones from the Housing Department, know very little about Housing Finance. They themselves have been mislead by the Council. The two people who visited my house told us things which simply weren’t true. For instance, that the Council is “turning into” a Housing Association! No it’s not, it’s proposing to sell our homes to a Housing Association. They told us that the Council “has been told it has to do it”. No it hasn’t it has chosen to propose the ‘transfer’ itself.

All manner of inaccurate information has been given to tenants. We know this not only through people involved in our campaign but we have received many phone calls from tenants who we do not know, telling us what they have been told by Council staff. For instance:

  •   “We don’t have enough money for repairs”
  •   “It doesn’t matter how you vote, it’s going to happen anyway”
  •   “Your tenancy will not change”
  •   A very senior housing officer (they are supposed to be ‘neutral’) told a tenant that they     would be better off going over to a Housing Association.

Some of the staff are misinforming tenants because they have been misinformed themselves. Some are obviously looking forward to getting away from the Council and behaving in an unacceptable fashion, trying to convince tenants that the ‘transfer’ is cut and dried. On Parks a woman with a poster in her window was told “you might as well take that down it won’t make any difference”.

In sheltered accommodation the hard sell has taken the form of meetings in which a very one-sided presentation has been given. In one scheme at least sheltered tenants were told not to contact their Councillors but to speak to the Housing department. These are staff who are supposed to be providing a service to tenants, but clearly they cannot do their usual work if they are spending time visiting tenants on the “Swindon Housing vote”.

Trying to stop tenants from hearing the case against transfer

Swindon Council, the ruling group and the senior officers, have done everything they can to stop tenants hearing the case against selling our homes. They have refused to carry out a commitment to give our campaign a list of tenant addresses. That commitment was given by Bernie Brannan Director of Housing) and Brian Mattack (Lead member for Housing). They told us that they had consulted their legal team and they were “pleased” to inform us that they could give us a list of addresses (see https://keepourcouncilhomes.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/swindon-council-is-trying-to-stop-tenants-from-hearing-the-case-against-transfer/ ). Subsequently Mr Brannan gave us an assurance that we would be given the list “in good time”.

But when Brian Mattack stepped down as Lead Member to go onto the Shadow Board and Russell Holland took over he decided that he did not want to give us a list, so he sent it to the legal team, the very one which had told Bernie Brannan and Brian Mattack that they could give us a list. Needless to say they came up with the opposite ‘advice’ to that which they had given to Brannan and Mattack.

In fact when Mr Holland was asked at a Council meeting whether the Council would abide by this commitment he said that he was not aware of any such commitment. When the question was received prior to the meeting you might have imagined that before answering the question he would have spoken to the people who we said had made the commitment, to check whether it was true. Yet Mr Holland told me that he had not asked them whether it was true, which is hardly believable.

It would be hard to surpass the cynicism of this legal ‘opinion’. The line of reasoning of Mr Taylor was as follows.

“In this instance the Council is publishing information concerning the Housing Ballot which has been reviewed by the independent tenants advisor and is considered as being balanced and neutral. As your group is a self-declared campaigning group, the possibility could arise that tenants may receive information  which may not be seen as balanced and neutral. This could harm tenants ability to make a reasoned decision and therefore the Council considers it would not be in the public interest to facilitate it’s circulation.”

The Council, it would seem, is protecting the tenants from receiving information which is not as ‘balanced and neutral’ as that of the Council! When I replied to Mr Taylor that this position would seem to contradict the advice he had previously given to Brannan and Mattack this was his rather disingenuous response. He said:

“I do not know who they spoke to but I will check. Sufficient to say that the correct position is as below.”

The idea that they would not have spoken to him as the head of the department on such an issue is patent nonsense.

STCG had also asked for the right to attend the meetings in the sheltered accommodation schemes. Needless to say the Council wanted carte blanche to give their one-sided presentations.

STCG had also asked for the right to present the case against transfer in Housing Matters, the publication produced by the housing department. I was told by the Editor that I could have 250 words. Despite the fact that I complained that this was hardly sufficient to explain our case, I did send in 250 words. Even so they have thus far failed to publish it.

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