We Must Keep Our Council Housing

Birmingham’s Council tenants are being inundated with "information" to get them to vote to transfer their homes to a consortium of housing companies. This propaganda and the hiring of persuaders to visit and phone tenants are being paid for out of their rent. Despite Government guidelines that state that local authorities should not seek to persuade tenants to vote one way or the other, even the Housing Minister Lord Falconer is being used to urge tenants to vote "yes" by telling them that if the stock stays in council hands, the borrowing that would have been available will not be. This flatly contradicts information given by his boss, Steven Byers, who told a Commons select committee that the Government's commitment to bring all homes up to a decent standard by 2010 will be met irrespective of any decisions which are taken by tenants.

The Council’s propaganda is aimed at giving the impression that vast amounts of money are to become available if tenants vote for stock transfer. Even fellow MPs are being taken in by this with one being quoted in the local paper as saying the change will bring in literally £billions. In fact, according to a reply I received to a parliamentary question, stock transfer will meet only a funding "shortfall" of £351 million over 30 years.

Taxpayers will be forgiven for wondering how this can represent a good return for the £600 million the Government will pay out in one fell swoop to clear the Council’s housing debt so that the new organisations can take on more debt at higher interest rates than the council would have to pay. What’s more, Birmingham’s council tax payers are not being told the implications for them. They will have to stump up an additional £17.14 million over the next 3 years or face consequential cuts in services because the tenants’ tax applicable to council tenants will not be available after transfer.

Because of years of neglect, the extra £341 million will be woefully inadequate. The backlog of repairs and renovations has risen from an estimated £750 million in 1985 to £1.3 billion in 1993 and £3.75 billion in 2000. The council knows this and so is planning to demolish up to 25,000 homes. The first 10,000 will be demolished over the next five years and already tenants of these properties have received a letter informing them of these plans. Though they are being told that they will be provided with a suitable option for re housing before they have to move, it is not clear how this will be possible given that there will be fewer social homes built for the whole of the West Midlands than are to be demolished each year in Birmingham. Not only are whole estates being unnecessarily blighted pending possible demolition but homelessness is set to soar. From my own casework I can see that the council is taking very harsh decisions in declaring desperate families intentionally homeless to get out of their obligations to house. For the first time since the introduction of homelessness legislation in 1977, the council is placing homeless families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Though tenants of properties to be retained are being bribed with offers of double glazing and new kitchens and bathrooms, the "business plans" provide insufficient resources to properly maintain the fabric of the dwellings.

The people of Birmingham are being badly let down by the incompetence of those in charge of housing policy, both locally and nationally. Council housing is very badly managed by the very people promoting stock transfer. They will run the new housing companies that will be created. We should not be getting rid of council housing but the people responsible for letting it get into its current parlous state.


Lynne Jones MP

Campaign Group News, March 2002


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