The future of council housing was put under the spotlight last week with the publication of a new report by a cross-party group of MPs.
The report, Support for the “Fourth Option” for Council Housing, has been produced by the House of Commons Council Housing Group, chaired by Austin Mitchell MP.
It calls on the government to allow councils to invest directly in council housing—the so called “fourth option”—rather than insisting on privatisation or part-privatisation as a precondition for new money.
The report also exposes how council tenants are denied a real choice in ballots over the future of council housing stock.
“There is no evidence that council tenants voluntarily opt to change landlord,” it says. “Yes votes are only obtained after councils put a one-sided argument to tenants, promoting transfer as the only way to get repairs and improvements.”
The MPs denounced this process as “blackmail, not choice” and called on the government to “rectify the current democratic deficit and guarantee tenants a fair and balanced debate.”
Tower Hamlets in east London is one such Labour council promoting stock transfer to its council tenants.
An angry delegation of tenants lobbied the council on Thursday of last week to complain about the way that the stock transfer ballot had been handled.
Tenants said those campaigning against stock transfer had been denied access to tenants’ halls and public buildings. They also claimed the council had been blocking repairs in the run up to the ballot.
Oliur Rahman, the Tower Hamlets Respect councillor, is backing the tenants’ campaign, as is George Galloway, Respect MP for Bethnal Green & Bow, and Austin Mitchell.
Galloway spoke against the council’s “sharp practice, bullying and blackmail” at the launch of the MPs’ report into council housing.
“This is an issue that need not divide us,” he told the mostly Labour group of MPs.
“What you are proposing is the Labour Party’s own policy,” he added referring to last year’s Labour conference’s decision to support the fourth option.
The House of Commons Council Housing Group has tabled an early day motion supporting its case for direct investment in council housing.
The group’s report is supported by several major unions, including Unison, Amicus, GMB and Ucatt.
Derek Simpson, general secretary of Amicus, said, “This sends a clear message that the government needs to rethink its position.
“Local authorities provide a good service to tenants with a well trained workforce that ensures good levels of maintenance. Council tenants should not be penalised for choosing this service.”
The report was also backed by Alan Walter, chair of Defend Council Housing. “Tenants around Britain will welcome this report. It will open the eyes of those who haven’t heard the arguments against privatisation or the case for the fourth option.
“It can sometimes seem hard to challenge senior council officers and consultants promoting privatisation who pretend they are the experts and their word is ‘fact’. But this report will give confidence to supporters of council housing.”
Copies of Support for the “Fourth Option” for Council Housing can be downloaded or ordered online. Go to: www.support4councilhousing.org.uk