Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fury over homes snub

From the Wiltshire Times
David Vallis

DEMANDS for heads to roll were made this week after council bosses suffered a humiliating defeat in their £600,000 bid to persuade tenants to transfer their homes to a housing association.

The South Wiltshire Defend Council Housing group has called for the resignations of community and housing portfolio holder John Cole-Morgan, and council leader Richard Britton, in the wake of last Thursday's ballot result.

That showed a massive 71 per cent of Salisbury district council's 5,400 tenants voted against the proposed transfer.

The group also called for the dissolution of the council's tenants panel, which had recommended backing for the housing stock switch.

But council chiefs remained defiant, claiming the stock transfer was actually thrust upon them by government, and they were right to hold the ballot.

Intense pressure was put on the city and district's council tenants to opt for a switch and 4,810 (74.2 per cent) of them voted in the ballot, conducted by the Independent Electoral Reform Society.

Of those 3,424 voted in favour of staying with the council and only 1,377 (28.65 per cent) for the transfer A similar defeat was suffered by the council when it balloted tenants on a proposed transfer in 1989, and now the current Tory administration has been accused of "not listening" and wasting taxpayers money.

Labour leader, Steve Fear, who warned the council a year ago it was "bound to lose," said this week: "All the indications from the start of this process were that council house tenants did not want their homes transferred to a housing association. Despite this, the council spent £600,000 in a pointless effort to change tenants' minds. That cost now has to be borne by local taxpayers.

"It is now time for the council cabinet to think long and hard about how to provide an improved and cost effective housing service."

Chairman of South Wiltshire Defend Council Housing, Colin Burden, said: "We are delighted with the result of the ballot and the emphatic rejection by the tenants of the housing stock transfer.

"We hope the council will respect the democratic decision for the second time and join with other councils, who have retained housing, and actively press the government alongside tenants and unions for the fourth option (creating a level financial playing field between councils and housing association).

Mr Burden added an enormous amount of taxpayers' money had been wasted by the council, and called for the resignations of Cllrs Cole-Morgan and Britton and the dissolution of the tenants' panel in its present form.

Of his group's campaign, he insisted: "This is a magnificent victory and a victory of substance over glossy style. It completely illustrates this proposal never represented the tenants' viewpoint, and was never likely to."

Councillor Cole-Morgan said: "I am, obviously, deeply disappointed by the overwhelmingly negative ballot, and very concerned by the adverse effect the decision against transfer will have on those living in social housing in Salisbury.

"Clearly, we either did not manage to communicate the benefits that transfer would bring well enough, or those who received the message things could not go on just as before did not believe us. In my view, we could not have done more to put the message over."

On the issue of whether it was right or wrong to go to ballot, Cllr Cole-Morgan added: "The stock option process was thrust on us by government, and has been monitored by them throughout.

"Half-way through the process, our tenants gave us sufficient grounds to believe a positive outcome was possible. In the light of that, it would have been unfair, indeed improper, not to give them a chance to vote for a transfer which most council members believe would have been greatly to their advantage."


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