Socialist Worker

Privatising councils are scared of tenants

Issue No. 1981

Tenants in Waverley in Surrey have voted against the Conservative council’s plans to transfer housing stock in the area, with 52 percent voting against the transfer, with a turnout of 68 percent.

Waverley Tenants Watch member Gerry Hyman spoke to Socialist Worker about the campaign. He said, “The council made it very easy for us to win the campaign—by lying throughout so blatantly.

“We found that we had a pretty similar situation to Sefton—the council had enough money to pay for the improvements made to reach the decent homes standard set by the government. So they made up their own standard that they couldn’t afford to reach.

“Five years ago the council set out in a report what would need to be done to reach tenants ‘aspirational’ targets, and the council said it would need to spend £38 million in order to reach this. But now they are saying that it will cost £44 million just to reach the bare minimum standards. How is this possible?

“We also looked into the council’s accounts. It’s clear that they have been holding money back over the past couple of years—while at the same time telling tenants that they couldn’t afford repairs.

“A few local tenants got together to fight the ballot. Around 6,000 properties were balloted—but we weren’t able to leaflet everyone.

“There was absolutely no need for this transfer to go ahead. As far as I’m concerned if the council couldn’t sell the idea honestly they shouldn’t have tried to sell it at all.”

Tower Hamlets ballot postponed

Tower Hamlets council in east London has cooked up a novel way of avoiding almost certain defeat in a ballot over privatising the Ocean council estate in Stepney—it has postponed the ballot for six months.

Tenants on Ocean estate, Defend Council Housing (DCH) activists and Respect councillor Oliur Rahman had been campaigning for a no vote in the stock transfer ballot. They are demanding the council holds the ballot “now or never”.

The council for its part justified its decision to postpone the ballot on the grounds that there was “a great deal of conflicting information being circulated”—as if this was an unusual occurence in a contested ballot.

But local Respect MP George Galloway dismissed this excuse. “The decision to call off the vote is for one reason and one reason only—they knew they were going to lose the vote and lose it massively,” he said.

He added that the council’s climbdown was “a great victory for all of us who have been campaigning to save council housing” and urged people to vote for Respect in next year’s council elections to end privatisation in the borough.

DCH national lobby of parliament

An important date for all tenants, trade unionists and councillors is the Defend Council Housing national lobby of parliament. It takes place on Wednesday 8 February and includes speakers and workshops.

Sefton council re-runs housing ballot, with new procedure

Sefton council on Merseyside demanded and received changes in the way that its housing transfer ballot was conducted second time around, Socialist Worker can exclusively reveal.

Tenants rejected council plans to transfer its housing to an association in August.

The council responded by smearing Defend Council Housing (DCH) activists, threatening legal action against them—and calling the ballot again.

This second ballot was due to close on Tuesday of this week. But it is being conducted in a highly unusual manner, with tenants either phoning in votes or dropping them in ballot boxes overseen by council housing department workers.

Sian Roberts is deputy chief executive of Electoral Reform Services (ERS) and responsible for overseeing the transfer ballot. “It was a specific request from the council—Sefton wanted to run the ballot in a different way,” she told Socialist Worker.

“We agreed to collect the ballot papers in polling stations looked after by Sefton council. The normal way is to do everything by post, through the phone or over the internet.

“We wouldn’t usually suggest using ballot boxes—they’re difficult to staff and you get a lower turnout than with postal voting.”

The council is using its housing department staff to press for a yes vote, says Michael O’Brien, chair of Sefton DCH.

“They’ve situated all the ballot boxes in what they think are their hot spots,” he says. “And they have people going round offering to phone votes in for people, saying they can borrow their mobile.”

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Article information

Sat 17 Dec 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1981
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