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Waverley propaganda on housing privatisation

Keith Parkins | 22.10.2004 15:03 | Analysis | Repression | Social Struggles

Waverley is leading its tenants into privatisation through a one-sided discussion. Alternative views are not tolerated. Tenants are not being told the truth, critics are being silenced and vilified, and meetings are being manipulated by council officials.

'I am not willing to engage in a debate or discussion.' -- David January, Waverley head of housing

'No change is not an option.' -- Victor Scrivens, Waverley housing portfolio holder

Waverley is situated north west of London, a sprawling semi-rural local authority comprising Farnham, Godalming, Haslemere and Cranleigh.

A few years ago, Waverley tenants were asked did they wish to see their homes privatised. They said no. Now they are being asked again. They said no the last time, they wish to say no this time, and so to ensure a vote for privatisation, the ballot has been rigged. They are to be asked:

- do you wish to go to an ALMO?
- do you wish to go to a housing association?

Missing from the ballot, and noticeable by its absence, is the obvious question:

- do you wish your housing to remain under council control?

To ensure the tenants remain focused on these two issues, they are being fed a diet of propaganda and half truths, and where necessary, officials are being very economical with the truth. At least that was situation at a meeting held in Farnham on Tuesday night.

What I saw was appalling. The tenants were being fed half truths and misleading information. Those present were being deliberately manipulated by council officials. When challenged, which they did not like, it was we are only advising, not trying in anyway to persuade. Any criticism was rubbished, those criticising accused of being disruptive, antagonistic, having a political agenda.

The meeting made it very clear, they preferred the status quo, albeit with it run better, but this was not an option.

Those present were told how good it would be, once privatised, new bathrooms, new kitchens, double glazing etc. Pie in the sky.

After about an hour, I spoke. I drew attention to the fact that nothing was guaranteed, that members of the board, whether or not tenant or council board members, had to act for the RSL, examples were given, raised what would happen if the ALMO ran out of money, examples were given where property was being sold off to bail out the ALMO because it is now ring fenced and cannot be bailed out by the council, pointed out that an ALMO neatly parceled up the housing for privatisation, that contrary to what they were being told, RSLs were not social landlords, and many were moving into property development and I gave examples.

There was much more I could have raised, but when it became apparent that I was not a tenant as I was too well informed, I was interrupted and asked who I was, that I was not a Waverley tenant and I had no right to be there. Waverley tenants, it seems, are not allowed to hear an independent voice. I wonder why?

On the verge of being evicted, I said the tenants were entitled to hear both sides of the argument, and it should be put to the tenants whether or not I should remain.

Put to the ballot, it was 10 to 8/7 that I should remain. 8/7 as it was not too clear whether or not one woman was voting.

This was immediately chalked up by the council officials as 10 to 10, which does not give any confidence in the integrity of any privatisation ballot if they so blatantly try to rig a simple show of hands.

I thus remained on sufferance.

The head of housing David January then had a childish tantrum that he was not going to remain if I remained.

I pointed out that he was being extremely childish, and a sore loser. Seeing what a fool he would look, if he left, he at that point with great reluctance said he would remain. He added he was not prepared to get into a debate or discussion.

That about sums it up, no one is allowed to challenge what is being said, no discussion or debate, only one-sided pro-privatisation propaganda is permitted. This is then termed informing the tenants of the options.

The scene I was seeing being played out before my eyes, drab officials on the door, reinforcing what was being said, harassing any dissenting voice, could have been East Germany before the Berlin Wall fell, North Korea today.

At times the meeting was heated, not helped by council officials accusing tenants of calling them corrupt. No such accusation was made. They were at times called incompetent, but from their piss-poor performance that seemed more than justified. It would also have been justified, from the manner in which they were manipulating and misleading the meeting, to say they were lacking in integrity.

David January was forced to agree that councillors and tenants on the board had to act for the organisation, they were under a fiduciary duty to do so. This was news to everyone present. And probably the first time it had ever been explicitly spelled out. He then went on to say they would of course do their best. Had I been able to reply, I would have said however well meaning they may wish to be, if they did try to do their best on behalf of the tenants they would soon find themselves turfed off the board. As has already happened elsewhere with other RSLs.

The Audit Commission has heavily criticised councils for 'mis-selling' the role of tenants on the boards of RSLs when promoting the case for privatisation. According to the Audit Commission there is no evidence that having tenants on the board of an RSL either empowers tenants or leads to any improvement in services. The Audit Commission also emphasise the point that tenants on the board representing tenants as a whole is incompatible with their statutory role as board members to act for the organisation.

Council housing is unique. Through democratically elected councillors, tenants have direct control over their landlord. They lose that right once the housing is privatised. Neutered tenant representatives on a RSL board are no substitute for the loss of accountability, loss of transparency.

David January told the meeting how good housing associations are, how well run. He can speak with authority on the running of several housing housing associations, as he sits on the boards! This begs more questions than it answers and raises doubts as to his impartiality.

What could David January offer the board of a housing association? It could not be advice on how a well run housing association should be managed, unless it is do as I say, not as I do. It would be difficult to imagine a housing association worse than Pavilion, but according to Pavilion, Waverley is worse. David January is employed by Waverley taxpayers to run Waverley housing. Why is he moonlighting? Maybe if he concentrated his efforts on Waverley and gave it his full time attention, it would not be so badly run.

We were told, Pavilion Housing Association is the exception, the rotten apple that gives housing associations a bad name.

David January said Pavilion were an example of very bad landlords, with which no one would disagree, and that any RSL set up by Waverley would not be this bad. He questioned what were Rushmoor councillors doing who sit on the board to let this happen. A question many of us would like to see answered. But this smacked of the pot calling the kettle. Waverley have had an equally damning report by the Audit Commission as Pavilion, both got a single star.

Atlantic tenants down in Eastleigh, with who Pavilion are trying to merge, may wish to hear the views of David January on Pavilion.

David January made it very clear he would not wish to see Waverley housing acquired by Pavilion.

It was put to David January that Waverley compared very badly with Guildford, and that was down to his incompetence and a poorly run housing department. No he said, it was down to councillors failing to heed his good advice, and he could only carry out their orders!

Note: Guildford has more than sufficient funds to carry out repairs, bring homes up the Decent Homes Standard, and to build new homes. Guildford, based on a straw poll, has decided not to push privatisation as its tenants are happy to remain with the council.

What confidence could we therefore have in any RSL when he has assured the meeting that it would be the same useless councillors sitting on the board. He then denied that he had called them useless.

David January assured the meeting that he was not in the running for any top job within the privatised housing. Although his statement was somewhat ambiguous, as what he actually told the meeting was that the job was not automatically his, and it would have to be applied for. He did not rule himself out, nor did he say he would not be sending in his CV for consideration. The abysmal state of Waverley housing should though automatically disqualify him.

Tenants were not told Prescott intends to go for full privatisation of ALMOs by 2006, or that ALMOs across the country are pushing for this.

Once pushed into an ALMO, there is no accountability to councillors, that is the whole point of an ALMO!

A lot of nonsense was talked about executive salaries at Pavilion. David January seemed to be singularly ill informed. But it cleverly avoided discussion of the high executive salaries paid by RSLs. Nor was there any mention of the much higher running costs at RSLs, the higher costs of borrowing money etc.

David Bennett, managing director of Sanctuary Housing, one of Britain's biggest housing associations, received a total pay package of £213,000 last year!

It costs £1300 more per home for renovation after transfer than it would have cost if ownership had remained with the council.

It is being played down that grants to ALMOs are not guaranteed. Grants have to be bid for. The ALMO has to reach at least a 2-star rating. Waverley, with only one star, would not even be in the running.

Where David January was correct, was that it is not a level playing field, that it is grossly unfair that privatised tenants get the funding not available to council tenants, which reinforced the point I had made, earlier that tenants are being blackmailed into privatisation.

What David January is not telling the tenants, nor is he even briefing Waverley councillors, is that Prescott is reviewing the options, and the same funding may be available to council stock, that Prescott is under enormous pressure to level the playing field. Which raises questions as to what is his real agenda. He is going to look a bloody fool, if after pushing through privatisation, funding becomes available At the very least, David January should be recommending the exercise is put on hold pending the Prescott review.

Council housing, if it is allowed to retain all its revenue streams, is actually highly profitable, which is why big business wants to get its hands on it. It is often worth it just for the value of the land.

Tenants are secure, we were assured by David January. Try telling that to tenants at Firgrove Court in Farnborough town centre or tenants in Liverpool.

Mike Lane has written extensively on tenants in Liverpool being kicked out of their homes to enable the waterside areas to be demolished to make way for yuppie apartments for sale.

In Farnborough town centre, 28 maisonettes are being demolished to make way for a car park for a superstore, part of an unwanted town centre redevelopment.

What is happening in Farnborough illustrates the lack of transparency and accountability. There has been so-called 'consultation' with the tenants, they said no, we do not wish to move, to be then told they do not have a veto. They will be kicked out of their homes whether they like it or not. If not, their homes will be left in disrepair, to collapse around their ears. Collusion between developer, RSL and council. The councillors who sat on the board even sat on the planning committee and helped push it all through. So much much for assurances that councillors will act to protect the the interests of the tenants. Pavilion refuse to answers questions. They have literally told people that it is none of their business, even to inquiries from councillors. So much for transparency. So much for accountability.

Eviction rates for RSLs are higher than for council housing. Eviction rates by RSLs have risen by 36%.

Assurances by David January on tenant security, were almost worthless, unless he was saying Waverley tenants, once there homes are privatised, will have terms and conditions and be treated differently to privatised tenants across the country. Council tenants 'secured tenancies' are replaced by much weaker 'assured tenancies' making eviction far easier. RSLs are using powers of eviction that are not available to councils.

David January looked to the future, to a review by the Law Commission, but what effects tenants' rights, is the here and now. He also looked back to the 1950s, and the layers of legislation that have built up, conveniently ignoring common law rights that preceded this legislation.

Tenants of one RSL can suddenly and without warning find themselves transferred to another RSL due to mergers and takeovers. Whatever minimal influence the local authority had is then lost forever.

Pavilion is pushing through a merger with Eastleigh-based Atlantic. This is opposed by both sets of tenants. The first tenants knew of this was when details were leaked to the local press. By this time both RSLs had gone so far as to sign a 'memorandum of understanding', all that remains is ratification by both boards.

David January, whilst assuring tenants they will have the same tenancy rights on transfer (and most certainly not true), cleverly avoided mention of the rights of new tenants.

David January went out of his way to tell the meeting how well housing associations were run, and gave several examples, although he hastened to add, that the one housing association with which the tenants were likely to have any familiarity with, Pavilion, was an example of a bad housing association, a bad landlord. Which again brings into question, what is his agenda.

Pavilion has invested millions in student accommodation at Surrey University. David January agreed this was wrong, as it was not investment in social housing, and that this was another example of Pavilion being a bad landlord. But Pavilion are not unique in this respect, investing in non-social housing.

I would fully agree with David January that Pavilion is an example of a bad landlord, a badly run housing association. The problem for Waverley tenants is that there is no guarantee that once privatised Waverley housing will not go the same way as Pavilion, or worst still, Pavilion could mount a takeover.

About the only useful suggestion that came forth from the tenants was that they divided into pro- and anti-privatisation factions and they explore the issues further. When asked would the council fund such meetings, the answer was an emphatic no. Another example of open debate, tenants thinking for themselves, empowerment, being actively discouraged.

The impression given by David January, was that either he was not up to the job, which explains the abysmal performance of Waverley housing department, or that he was deliberately misleading his tenants. Neither of which is good news.

The officials present stood out like a sore thumb. For some reason, low level bureaucrats always seem to have the same shabby appearance. Faced with informed criticism, David January could not cope. Too used to bamboozling councillors who are too dimwitted and lazy to question anything that is put before them.

The tenants all seemed on soma. I have been at meetings with Pavilion tenants in Aldershot, Camden tenants in the town hall, the meetings were lively, the tenants well informed, wanting to know more and angry at what was going on and the way in which they were being treated. In Farnham it was weird, half asked at times relevant questions but were sadly very ill-informed, the other half did not seem to want to know.

Thinking about it afterwards, I was reminded of Brave New World, when told the truth and pointed towards freedom, the people riot and try to kill the savage. I felt like that, I tried talking to some tenants afterwards, and it was like talking to walking zombies, they just did not want to know and got angry if you tried to talk to them and wake them from their catatonic state.

On reflection, later that evening, I was disgusted by what I had seen. At the time, I said I had heard it all before and asked did they all read from the same government script.

In a few years time, these tenants will wake from their slumber and reality will kick in, they will realise it has all been a big mistake, that they have been conned. By then it will be too late.

If Pavilion tenants could turn the clock back and become Rushmoor tenants again, they would gladly do so, but it is now ten years too late, and as David January said, they have to suffer living under a bad landlord.

As far as I was aware, no councillors were present. I would have expected at least one or two to have troubled to turn up to hear the views of their tenants, at the very least the housing portfolio holder Victor Scrivens who is driving this through, should have been there, which only goes to show the indifference they have to the plight of their tenants which in some ways goes to explaining why their housing stock is so badly run.

When Pavilion tenants in Aldershot hold a meeting, councillors attend. They know they cannot afford not to. They never perform any useful function, but at the very least they have to be seen to be doing something.

Keith Hill, housing minster, is on record as saying, tenants have to hear both sides of the argument. Clearly that message has yet to percolate down to Waverley.

Waverly is putting out expensive glossy literature, at great expense to local taxpayers, with claims such as:

- the council is committed to maximising tenant participation
- you told us, we listened

The truth of these statements was exposed Tuesday evening.

From what I saw Tuesday evening, if typical, and I am told it is, Waverley tenants would seem to have more than sufficient grounds to seek a judicial review of the manner in which this privatisation is being handled.

As the Camden result showed, where 77% of tenants voted NO to privatisation, if tenants are told the truth, they vote NO to privatisation. In Waverley, if the Farnham meeting was typical, they are not being told the truth. In many ways even worse, crude attempts are being made to silence anyone who tries to tell the truth. Fortunately free speech still exists in this country, just, and some of us are not so easily silenced.

There will be two more brainwashing sessions for Waverly tenants by the housing department:

- 7pm 22 October 2004 at Haslewey Community Centre, Haslemere
- 7pm 27 October 2004 at Baptist Hall, Godalming

There will be a tenants meeting with consultants on 4 November 2004 at Godalming Baptist Church in Godalming at 7pm (opposite end of Godalming town centre to the railway station). Contact Dome Consultants for details.

Defend Council Housing are holding a National Conference 10-30am to 4.30pm Friday 29 October 2004 at the TUC, Congress House, London.


Peter Sandy (tenant activist Aldershot) 01252 329919
Defend Council Housing 0207 987 9989
Waverley Housing Dept 0800 0325253
Dome Consultants 0800 919994



Kai Andersen, Council Tenants - Heads we lose, Tail we don't win, Indymedia UK, 31 January 2004

Liz Cairncross, Changing Boards, Emerging Tensions, Oxford Brookes University, Spring 2004 {presented to the Housing Studies Association Conference, Spring 2004}

The Case for the 'Fourth Option', the House of Commons Council Housing group, June 2004

Inspection report: Pavilion Housing Association, Audit Commission, July 2004^1628&ProdID=4109FA2E-0E86-4771-974F-1DFC98221507

Roy Hattersley, Give council tenants a real choice, The Guardian, 5 July 2004

Housing: Improving services through resident involvement, Audit Commission, June 2004

John Martin, Council housing transfer plans 'betray' tenants, The Guardian, 3 September 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, 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, Social housing under attack, Indymedia UK, 5 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Social housing crisis, Indymedia UK, 12 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Privatisation of council housing, Indymedia UK, 16 August 2004

Keith Parkins, The Scandal of Firgrove Court, Indymedia UK, 31 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Pavilion v Atlantic, Indymedia UK, 6 September 2004

Keith Parkins, Pavilion and Atlantic Housing Groups to Merge?, Indymedia UK, 13 September 2004

Keith Parkins, Housing Corporation savage Pavilion Housing Association, Indymedia UK, 18 October 2004

Keith Parkins, Waverley to force through housing sell off, Indymedia UK, 19 October 2004

Keith Parkins, Pavilion Housing Association lurches from bad to worse, Indymedia UK, 22 October 2004

Keith Parkins, A sell out, not a sell off, letters, Farnham Herald, 22 October 2004

Rushmoor councillor's advice to Waverley tenants, Farnham Herald, 15 October 2004

Janet Sillett, A level playing field, The Guardian, 28 September 2004

David Singleton, Authority to embark on pioneering ALMO transfer, Inside Housing, 4 December 2003

David Singleton, ALMO ownership by 2006, Inside Housing, 3 September 2004

Donald Simpson, 'Scandal' of housing transfer, letters, Farnham Herald, 15 October 2004

Tenants' meeting reveals firm divide on Waverley housing issue, Farnham Herald, 22 October 2004

Alan Walter, Let us decide, The Guardian, 29 June 2004

Waverley councillors cut the options for future of council homes, Farnham Herald, 1 October 2004

Matt Weaver, MPs attack 'dogmatic' housing policy, The Guardian, 7 May 2004

Matt Weaver, Prescott defeated on council housing vote, The Guardian, 27 September 2004

Matt Weaver, Landlord hit by boardroom dispute, The Guardian, 15 October 2004

Keith Parkins

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