In 2007, Salford Council had an incredibly controversial ballot amongst social homes tenants in West Salford to transfer all properties to City West Housing Housing Trust.
Accusations were levelled, via the Salford Star (printed issue 5), that the Council virtually rigged the ballot so that people would vote in favour of the transfer…
"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" wrote Neil Hill, who tragically committed suicide over the issue, after losing a court case and having the £3000 bill delivered hours after the verdict (click here for full article by Neil and click here for Salford Star tribute to Neil).
In the same issue Tony Ormonde, a Council tenant in Eccles and a member of Defend Council Housing, wrote that "It was only three or four days after the ballot had actually started that a large leaflet appeared…showing that there is money available…Had this information been given the same prominence before the ballot took place I think the `Yes' vote would have collapsed.."
Six years later, and Salford Council is now pushing to transfer its stock in Central Salford, currently managed by Salix Homes, to a private company, believed by many to be City West again.
Just under a year ago, the Salford Star ran a huge article explaining the complete and utter mess that has led to increased rents, lack of funding for decent homes, the financial drain that the Pendleton PFI is imposing and why there is a new perceived need to privatise virtually all that remains of the city's social homes – click here for full story
There's already been one consultation with tenants on the transfer, which ended in March. And now, in May, Salford City Mayor, Ian Stewart, will decide what option will be developed, after studying recommendations made from the Customer Panel who have been working "with specialists" to help them. If the decision, as expected, is to vote on the privatisation of social homes, it will be put to a final vote sometime in the very near future.
In the meantime, to prepare for the transfer, Salford Council is spending £250,000 on consultants for a "stock condition survey", which is part of a £1million budget "to cover costs associated with the stock options process". Even though Salford Council admits it has a huge shortfall to make its houses decent to live in.
The money is to come out of the Housing Revenue Account and the General Fund - and the Financial Advice in Salford Council's Record of Decision confirming the £1million funding already seems to assume that the transfer is going ahead – before any ballot of tenants…
It states: "The costs charged to the General Fund, assuming that they are incurred in connection with completing and executing the transfer contract, can be defrayed from the capital receipt generated by the transfer of stock."
Meanwhile, on the Salix website, a page entitled `What the options mean for you and your home' makes it quite clear that if homes stayed with Salford City Council… "The council would be unable to improve all homes and maintain them. Improvements that are possible would also take longer… No additional investment available…The backlog of repairs would continue to build up...Response times for less urgent repairs would increase… The council has at least a £26 million shortfall in funding to make sure all homes meet the Decent Homes Standard…etc"
However, a `transfer to a registered provider' would mean… "All homes could be improved and maintained…Additional investment to make extra improvements could be possible depending on government support… All backlog repairs could be dealt with…Response times could be improved …etc"
There is, however, a major difference between 2007 and 2013, in that accountability and democracy is now in the equation in many people's minds due to the Bedroom Tax.
Salford Council has absolutely no say in either reclassifying houses and refusing to evict people who can't pay the Bedroom Tax because it no longer has any power over the running of City West houses.
As the Salford Star reported last week (see here) Salford Council can only ask Salix and City West to reclassify homes or not to evict people – it has no power to compel them to do it. This democracy deficit over social homes, built and run with public money, may be a huge factor in the debate over the upcoming `stock options' vote…