Keith Parkins | 13.02.2004 18:25 | Social Struggles
Tory run Guildford (stockbroker belt market town in Surrey south of London) has said NO to council house transfer. It did not even get as far as a ballot, their initial consultation exercise indicated there was no enthusiasm from their council tenants for transfer to the private sector.
The Guildford result also exposed the lie that privatisation is the answer to bringing council houses up to a decent standard, and this coming from a Conservative council. Furthermore, Guildford expect to meet the council's own target of a further 500 affordable homes by 2007, and have the funding available to do it.
Andrew French (Guildford Tory councillor with executive responsibility for housing):
'We expect there to be enough money available to bring all Guildford's council properties up to the Government's Decent Homes Standard by 2010 And money is also available to improve the majority of the houses to a higher standard by 2014. As a consequence there was no demand from [council] tenants for change.'
French puts the result down to sound finances and high quality housing stock, their strenuous efforts to maintain high standards, and their commitment to ensure the high standards continue. It may also be due to their experience of dealing with Pavilion Housing Association who maintain (maintain may not be the operative word) a property portfolio in Guildford.
Tory councillors in Guildford have done more on behalf of their housing association tenants (including advising them to form action groups) than Labour councillors in neighbouring Aldershot.
As ex-cabinet member Frank Dobson MP said at a recent Town Hall meeting in Camden to discuss the Camden NO vote, the government's housing policy (if it ever had a coherent housing policy) is in tatters.
But we cannot afford to sit back and congratulate ourselves on these defeats of New Labour, we have won a few skirmishes, but not the war. To quote Defend Our Council Housing:
'We have to build on these successes. It is not enough to fight a defensive campaign. We need to make ministers recognise that privatisation of council housing, in any form or by any method, is not an option. We have to secure a level playing field that brings the extra investment needed to clear the backlog of repairs and improvements to our homes - without any strings attached.'
It is our money, our taxes, that is being spent on ‘selling’ privatisation to tenants. It is New Labour, on behalf of its private sector cronies and backers, that is blackmailing council tenants - a NO vote means NO repairs, NO improvements. Very often, there has been no proper debate, no funding for anti-privatisation campaigns and implicit threats to withdraw funding to Tenants Federations which ‘bite the hand that feeds them’.
Birmingham spent £36 million to secure a yes vote, Camden nearly £500,000. This is taxpayers money that is being squandered, money that could, and should, be spent on social housing.