COUNCIL TENANTS and trade unionists face major battles in the coming months as the government presses ahead with its plans to privatise council homes. Some 125,000 council homes are targeted in the coming year in 17 major councils for straightforward transfer to housing associations, dubbed Large Scale Voluntary Transfers, from Manchester and Hartlepool to Lambeth and Islington.
Many more face being handed to what the government calls Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs). Under these the running of housing is hived off from council control to specially created companies.
The reality is that these ALMOs would then be ripe for full-scale privatisation - just as with municipal bus companies under the Tories in the 1980s. Key battles over ALMOs are set in major councils such as Newcastle, Sheffield, Nottingham, and Camden in London.
The government is desperate to head off tenants' calls for direct investment in council housing, with no strings attached. It has been rattled by tenants' opposition. And 115 MPs signed a Commons motion - nearly as many as rebelled over 'foundation' hospitals.
A report by the official District Auditor has found that Somer Housing Group, who took over Bath and North East Somerset Council's housing, had acted unlawfully because their pro-transfer publicity was 'unbalanced, one-sided and misleading'.
Somer's chief executive replied in the Inside Housing magazine this week saying, 'Given what I have seen in other councils up and down the country the same would most certainly have to be said of them.'
That is certainly the case in Camden, in London, where the Labour council is pushing ahead with a plan to set up an ALMO to take over its housing. The council has bypassed full consultation with tenants by setting up a small selected 'reference group'. But it is not getting everything its own way. Last week a meeting of the District Management Committee, a body of tenants' reps from across the borough, voted not to support the plan and to demand the right of reply to the council's propaganda.
The council is committed to holding a ballot on its plans in December - though in some areas councils may move to set up ALMOs without a ballot. Defend Council Housing in Camden is not waiting until the ballot is upon us. Instead we are going out onto the estates as quickly as possible, putting the arguments and producing leaflets and a broadsheet carrying the arguments. We are saying to tenants that if the money is there for ALMOs, why not for direct investment - unless the government has a privatisation agenda?
Everywhere tenants face the threat of stock transfer, ALMOs or various Private Finance Initiative schemes tenants and trade unionists should be doing the same in what will be a crucial few months in the battle to defend council housing.
Alan Walter, Camden Defend Council Housing
Defend Council Housing national conference,
Saturday 31 May, Friends House, Paradise Street, Liverpool city centre, registration 10.30am, start 11am. Tenants £5, trade unionists £12.50 - but no one will be turned away if they can't afford this.
More details from Mark, phone 07951 156 881 or e-mail [email protected]