THE FIGHT for the future of council housing is hotting up, and March looks like being a crunch month. Glasgow council is to begin balloting all its tenants on 4 March on a plan to hand their homes to housing associations.
The privatisation, backed by the Scottish Executive, is the biggest in Britain and will involve over 90,000 tenants. The same month will see England's biggest council landlord, Birmingham, start balloting more than 80,000 tenants on handing their homes to a private housing company.
Ballots in Liverpool and Bradford are also due in March. Other councils, such as London's Tower Hamlets, are also balloting all their tenants on possible transfer plans in the coming weeks. These key votes will have an impact on the whole direction of the fight for council housing.
The government has already announced that another 24 councils are to be allowed to press ahead with privatisation plans. They include council-wide transfer plans in Sheffield, Middlesbrough, Stockport, Amber Valley, Solihull, Teignbridge and Carlisle. They also include transfers of thousands more council homes to housing associations in Hackney, Islington, Southwark, Liverpool, South Norfolk, Bromsgrove and Worcester.
New Labour is not getting things all its own way and has been forced by campaigns to offer some significant concessions. These include promising councils a new right to borrow for housing investment. Successful campaigning has also meant one in three English councils is reconsidering housing transfer plans, according to a survey by Inside Housing magazine.
In Scotland half of the councils are rejecting transfer as an option. The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee heard recently that 45 percent of associations 'are under observation' because of financial worries. It has also been revealed that just three banks control the funding in over 75 percent of all the council house transfers that have taken place so far.
They are the Nationwide, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Halifax. These bankers effectively call the shots on what happens to transferred homes. The Defend Council Housing campaign has been at the centre of the fight to stop the privateers. It has worked closely with trade unions such as Unison, the GMB and Ucatt as well as tenants' groups around the country, MPs and councillors who oppose the government's plans.
It is organising a major national conference in Birmingham on Saturday 9 February to debate the threat to council housing. The conference is striking a chord with both tenants and trade unionists who work in public housing.
In Manchester activists in the council workers' Unison union approached the city's tenants' federation last week. Within days the federation had agreed to mail all its 120 affiliated tenants groups to build the conference.