'Just as the private landlords saw 100 years ago how they could rip tenants off, so we’ve seen a whole group of people move into housing with what I can only describe as sticky fingers. See how much money has been going to consultants and others to try and persuade people to vote ‘yes’. Let’s make sure we win this campaign.' -- Andrew Bennett MP
'It is outrageous that people are told “if you go along with what we want there will be lots of money to do up flats and houses, but if you don't the money won't be available.” It's like holding people to ransom. It's totally morally and politically unacceptable.' -- Frank Dobson MP
'The Government should return to the principle of financing social housing for rent through local authorities. This would ensure local accountability, would mean new houses becoming available sooner would create employment and be better value for the public purse.' -- Kelvin Hopkins MP
'Stock transfer is led by a load of senior officers to the council who see it as the means to a crock of gold. It is led by consultants who get rich and move throughout the country like a load of locusts and carpetbaggers.' -- Frank Chance, Chair Birmingham DCH
'It's not getting better – it's diabolical. When Rushmoor Council was the landlord, it was brilliant.' -- Paul Snelling, Pavilion tenant
'I am disgusted with them.' -- Georgina Rickwood, Pavilion tenant
The rot set in under Margaret Thatcher, individual council houses were sold off on the cheap to the sitting tenant under the 'right to buy'. Anything Thatcher could do, Tony Blair could do better, entire housing estates are now being sold off under one privatisation scheme or another – transfer to housing associations (or RSLs, registered social landlords as they are now misleadingly called), PFI/PPP or arms-length management organisations (ALMOs).
But no matter what Tony wants, neo-Labour have never hit their target of selling off 200,000 council homes per year, although they have managed to sell-off far more than the Tories did in 18 years of mis-rule.
Tenants are being asked to choose between remaining with the council and being starved of funds, or privatisation and seeing the situation rapidly worsen.
Camden spent £500,000 trying to convince their tenants to accept privatisation. Opponents of the sell-off had nothing but their own ingenuity. Posters were stuck up everywhere, in stairwells, on refuse bins, on entry doors to flats, but only ever with brown sticky tape or blutac, so no claim of criminal damage could be levied.
Camden tenants said No, 77% said NO. The government though are poor losers. The hundreds of millions of pounds that was on the table for repairs and modernisation was no longer available. Camden too are poor losers. Camden mounted a vicious prosecution against one of their opponents for the heinous crime of “placing posters on a bus shelter by means of sticky brown tape”.
Pouring money into the ballot doesn't work, as Camden showed.
Maybe withholding money will work? On Tyneside, tenants are being persuaded to agree to privatisation by letting a backlog of repairs mount up.
Dirty tricks may work. As happened in Nottingham. Tenants were kept in the dark until the last minute as to when the ballot may be held, then it was brought forward.
How about a bit of straight old fashioned bribery?
In Wrexham, the local tenants associations were offered £30,000, but only if they agreed to vote yes.
If bribery does not work, what about plain old fashioned threats?
In Wrexham the council's workers were warned of massive job losses if housing remained with the council.
Also in Wrexham, the ballot date was brought forward.
58% of Wrexham tenants voted No to privatisation.
The District Auditor has found two councils guilty of unlawfully spending local taxpayers money to get a yes vote. The chief executive of Bath & North East Somerset Council has argued that 'given what I have seen in other councils up and down the country the same would most certainly have to be said of them’.
Unlawful spending of local taxpayers money: grounds for a judicial review, grounds for referring councillors to the Standards Board for England for unethical behaviour, grounds for councillors to be surcharged?
Privatisation simply does not work. According to the House of Commons Select Committee, it costs £1300 more per house to get repairs done in the private sector than it would have done if the housing had remained in the public sector.
It costs more for the private sector to borrow money than it does the public sector. These costs are passed on to the tenants.
Transfer RSLs, have management costs 39% higher than local authorities.
Tenants are less secure in the private sector. Tenants are bullied into signing less secure tenancies. This makes eviction easier. And these powers are used. The rate of eviction goes up once council housing is privatised.
In Scotland, the rate of eviction went up by 64% in just one year (2000-2001). Evictions are running at the rate 3.7 per thousand tenancies, cf 2 per thousand for council housing.
Tenants have less rights once privatised. They may be invited to sit on the board, but once on the board, they are legally obliged to act for the housing association not their fellow tenants.
If you sit on the board of a housing association you are governed by the Company Acts, legislation covering RSLs, and if a Charity, the Charity Acts. As former Housing Minister Sally Keeble said: 'Members of the boards of RSLs have the same fiduciary duty to the RSL as any company director.' [Hansard 4 February 2002]
Board members have been kicked off the board if they don't toe the corporate line. Places for People, and other RSLs, have kicked people off the board for refusing to toe the corporate line.
RSLs set up bogus tenants organisations. Pavilion has set up the TCG (tenants consultative group). When tenants have spoken out against Pavilion, they have been summoned to appear before a disciplinary hearing held by the TCG. The chairman sits on the board of Pavilion and speaks on behalf of Pavilion. When the chief executive of Pavilion was summoned to appear before a committee of Rushmoor council to explain his piss-poor performance, he brought along the chair of the TCG to defend the actions of Pavilion.
Rents go up following privatisation. Rents for RSLs is 17% higher than council housing, and the gap is growing. This should be no surprise as RSLs are private landlords out to make money. As John Belcher chief executive Anchor Trust said: “We're a business, and all our divisions are expected to make a surplus. Our non-executive directors should be paid.”
When Rushmoor council housing was privatised, there was a rent cap for five years. But even under the rent cap, rents were allowed to rise by inflation plus 5%. The rent cap only applied to the first five years. Rushmoor housing was privatised ten years ago. Tenants, now outside the rent cap, are seeing rents rising and services and their properties deteriorate still further. New tenants were outside the rent cap, and could be charged a much higher rent from day one. In Aldershot, for two otherwise identical houses, one Pavilion tenant is paying £72 per week, the other £101 per week.
Privatisation of council housing, like all privatisation, is simply an opportunity for the select few to get their snouts in the trough. It is a non-stop gravy train for lawyers, consultants, accountants and senior management. Everyone else pays the price.
Pavilion have employed consultants to oversee refurbishment, outside contractors are paid to do the work. Tenants have doors and windows that do not fit, gutters and downpipes pouring water down the walls, walls that have only had one coat of paint, not three as required. These problems were drawn to the attention of the chief executive in January. He claimed to be ignorant of what was going on. It is now August, the shoddy workmanship has still not been rectified. The consultants have been paid in excess of £100,000.
Senior housing officials are keen to push privatisation, as are the so-called independent consultants engaged to provide advice to the tenants, ie tell them to vote for privatisation. The senior staff see massive pay rises, at the lower levels staff are laid off, and the work contracted out.
Pavilion contracts out all its repair and maintenance. They go for the cheapest quote, irrespective of quality. This builds delays into the system, quality of work goes down. It is the tenants who pay the price.
Even their own staff don't like housing associations. Summoned to appear before a Rushmoor committee, Mervyn Jones Pavilion chief executive said he was trying to get annual staff turnover down to only 20%! The industry average is that nearly 50% of new staff leave in their first year.
Dome Consultants have been invited in to advise Waverley (Farnham and Godalming, northwest Surrey) council tenants on the merits of privatisation. Each consultant is simultaneously advising three councils. A gravy train that lurches around the country feasting on the corpse of social housing one council after another. Money that could, and should, have been spent on social housing.
Who picks the consultants, the council or the tenants? Dome admit they also advise RSLs. A case of have your cake and eat it.
Promises to tenants are meaningless – modernized homes, repairs, low rents – it is all fairyland.
Anyone who is in any doubt as to the merits or otherwise of privatisation only has to look to Pavilion. Pavilion tenants are former Rushmoor tenants (Aldershot and Farnborough in north east Hampshire). Ten years ago the Rushmoor tenants were conned into voting in favour of privatisation. In those days many people did not know any better, but even then, it was a close run thing. Given a choice today, the overwhelming majority would vote NO. It has been a disaster for the tenants, repairs are not carried out, and when they are, it is a botched job, yobs are running riot on the estates, tenants who dare to speak out are threatened with eviction and intimidated, rents and evictions are rising.
The Audit Commission has recently (July 2004) published a damning indictment of Pavilion. Another report has identified Pavilion estates as some of the most deprived areas in the country.
Following the Audit Commission report, Rushmoor councillors are calling for Mervyn Jones, Pavilion chief executive, to be fired, the entire board to be fired, and the Housing Corporation (the industry regulator) to take on the direct running of Pavilion. In doing so, the councillors are simply echoing what the tenants have been saying for years.
Following the claim by Pavilion that since the damning report by the Audit Commission things have improved, Rushmoor councillor Peter Sandy commented: 'Nothing has changed. It's worse than it was before. The list of repairs goes on and on.' A claim by Pavilion that is disputed by their tenants, who have to suffer from the appalling state of disrepair.
You can say no to privatisation. You should say no to privatisation.
Guildford, based on a survey of its council tenants, said no to privatisation. Up to 200 councils across the country are saying no to privatisation. Is your council saying no. If not, why not? Why are they wasting your money on ballots, on consultants fees? Why are they pushing something that no one in their right mind would want? Why are they selling out on their own tenants? Why are they still in office?
Mario Ambrosi, Almost half of new association staff want to leave jobs in first year, Inside Housing, 30 July 2004
Has Pavilion finally mended its repairs system?, Farnborough News, 13 August 2004
Keith Parkins, Social landlords are deviating from their intended purpose, Indymedia UK, 20 January 2004
Keith Parkins, Social housing landlords the new corporations, Corporate Watch newsletter No 17, January-February 2004
Keith Parkins, Camden council house transfer - Camden Town Hall meeting, Indymedia UK, 11 February 2004
Keith Parkins, Guildford say NO to council house transfer, Indymedia UK, 13 February 2004
Keith Parkins, Tyneside - 'forced' transfer of council housing to the private sector, Indymedia UK, 14 February 2004
Keith Parkins, Wrexham - 'forced' privatisation of council housing, Indymedia UK, 14 February 2004
Keith Parkins, Privatisation of council houses in Waverley, Indymedia UK, 17 February 2004
Keith Parkins, Registered social landlords – the new corporations, Indymedia UK, 18 February 2004
Keith Parkins, Audit Commission savage Pavilion Housing Association, Indymedia UK, 27 July 2004
Keith Parkins, Camden lashes out at opponents of council house sell off, Indymedia UK, 27 July 2004
Keith Parkins, Camden forced to back down, Indymedia UK, 30 July 2004
Keith Parkins, Social housing under attack, Indymedia UK, 5 August 2004
Keith Parkins, Social housing crisis, Indymedia UK, 12 August 2004
David Singleton, Nottingham reveals winning ALMO formula, Inside Housing, 29 July 2004