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WE THINK THEY TRIED TO SWING THE BALLOT
 

From Swinton to Eccles, to Little Hulton to Irlam, council house tenants have been voting on the transfer of their homes to City West Housing Trust.  But was it a fair vote ? 

Here, council tenant Neil Hill gives his view on Salford City Council's conduct in the run up to the privatisation poll…
 


Over the past couple of months I have been writing to Salford City Council and the Audit Commission to try and have the ballot on the transfer of council houses stopped until we had either an independent public enquiry or absolutely impartial legal advice to help the council tenants of Salford come to the correct decision as to what happens to their homes.

I believe that there has been unlawful conduct by Salford City Council and the unlawful use of public money to achieve their objective of transferring the council stock to City West Housing Trust.  The whole publicity leading up to the ballot was one sided, biased and failed to put forward at any stage any benefits of tenants remaining with the Council as their landlord.

People have been persuaded that an abundance of cash will be spent on their homes if they vote in favour of the transfer, while it was made blatantly obvious to tenants that these funds will not be available to them if they did not vote in favour.  This type of behaviour by Salford City Council is, in effect, intimidating and frightening people into signing over their homes.

In my opinion, it is a breach of the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity.  Paragraph 19 says that "legitimate concern is, however, caused by the use of public resources for some forms of campaigns which are designed to have a persuasive effect."  I believe that Salford City Council has used public funds to promote and persuade vulnerable people to sign over their homes in the near future to City West Housing Trust.

I was horrified by the contents of the new tenancy agreement that people are being asked to sign without the benefit of absolutely independent legal advice.  Once tenants have signed this document it becomes legally binding.  They are signing away their rights for the future. 

I went to one public meeting a couple of years ago at Irlam Youth Club where our `independent advisors', TPAS, admitted that Salford Council was paying their wages, that TPAS ultimately reported back to the Council and that they were directed by Council guidelines. They were hardly independent.  I do not accept their advice which gives such a positive view of the situation.

Salford City Council will have had guidance and legal advice that has been funded by the taxpayer and would have been biased in favour of its aims.  Why have we, as tenants, not been afforded an `Equality of Arms' and been allowed legal advice on the merits or pitfalls of the proposed transfer of `our' housing stock ?  I'm only a medically retired tanker driver but if I can highlight these worrying points what would a legally trained barrister find ?

I am of the opinion that this is such a major change in terms and conditions to our tenancy agreement that I would be an idiot to sign such a document without obtaining legal advice. The proposed tenancy agreement is vastly different to the one I signed with Salford Council many years ago and I am very fearful of the changes, especially the references to possible `charges for future services that are at the moment free'.

The project leader for West Salford did write back to me responding to my complaints, arguing that the Council is "confident that all our materials and consultation adhere to this Code".

So why, following my complaints, and after months of one sided publicity, did they suddenly rush out a leaflet setting out the truth on what would happen if tenants voted No ?  It needs looking into…

Neil Hill

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