No price on democratic rights

May 22, 2017

A letter to the Swindon Advertiser

What exactly does InSwindon think it is? The town centre’s political police? They don’t appear to even know what is on their own website. Under the page ‘for Business’ it refers to charges for leaflet distribution under two pieces of legislation, the 1990 Environmental Protection Act and the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. However, it states quite clearly that “The legislation does not apply to the distribution of free literature

  • By or on behalf of a charity…

  • Where the distribution is for political purposes

  • Where the distribution is for the purpose of a religion or belief.”

Material distributed by a campaigning organisation such as Keep Our NHS Public certainly qualifies as “distribution for political purposes”. So why is InSwindon harassing this organisation? Read the rest of this entry »


Homelessness and the Housing Revenue Account

May 11, 2017

Swindon Council’s second raid on the housing account

As Swindon Council faces the decline of central government Revenue Support Grant year on year, it has scrabbled around desperately looking for ways of saving money. Its imposition of parish councils on the town without a democratic mandate was one such means, transferring services and costs to the new parishes1. Casting its eye around for other sources of money to cover the growing financial chasm in the General Fund, it organised a “transfer of assets” between that fund and the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), the separate account for council housing. It transferred garages and some shops owned by the HRA to the General Fund, giving the latter an extra annual income of £1.25 million. After some housing owned by the General Fund was transferred to the HRA as a sweetener, the housing account still loses an income of more than £500,000 a year. The ruling group had said that the outcome of the transfer between the two accounts would be “fair and balanced”. In reply to a question at a cabinet open forum the Cabinet Member cynically replied, “yes, but we never said it would be equal”! “Fair and balanced” meant the General Fund gaining at the expense of the HRA and tenants.

Now faced with a funding gap for homelessness prevention and relief (for reasons explained below) they decided to make another raid on the HRA. The Council Cabinet proposed to use £17 million of HRA money to buy 80-100 properties on the open market so that they could transfer some families currently housed in the private rented sector and thus prevent the General Fund from having to pay for them. Their presentation of this as action to deal with homelessness was pure propaganda. This was simply a means of preventing the General Fund having to cover a funding gap of £400,000. (Read on below or download a PDF here sbcraid ) Read the rest of this entry »


Tackling “rogue landlords”?

April 10, 2017

A number of new or amended regulations in relation to the Private Rented Sector have come into force on April 6th.

1) Rent Repayment Orders

Rent Repayment Orders (RROs) were introduced by the 2004 Housing Act in response to situations where the landlord of a property had failed to obtain a license for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) which were subject to a mandatory license; and offences in relation to conditions of the license. The 2016 Housing and Planning Act has extended RROs to cover a wider range of offences. These are

  • Failure to comply with an Improvement Notice (to rectify a health or safety hazard);
  • Failure to comply with a Prohibition Order (prohibiting use of the premises or part of it);
  • Breach of a banning order (where a landlord is banned from letting housing, engaging in letting agency work, or any property management work);
  • Using violence to gain entry to the property;
  • Illegal eviction or harassment of the occupants.

Read on below or download a PDF here rogue landlords

Read the rest of this entry »


Paying more for worse services

March 20, 2017

This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser

Paying more for worse services

I’ve just received my council tax notice with a 10.9% increase for 2017/18. As Mr Renard finally admitted in his column residents are paying more for less. These very high increases are the result of the flagrantly anti-democratic imposition of parishes on residents who patently did not want them. Even if it is legal for the council to charge us for services which they no longer provide it is politically and morally repugnant, and it certainly ought to be illegal.

This policy chimes well with central government’s gutting of public services. The decision to impose parishes has the impact of moving away from the concept of equalisation of services across the town regardless of the poverty or wealth of individual areas. What Mr Renard is presenting as ‘choice’ is bogus. If services are not provided by taxation at the town level then you can only chose what you can afford. His regime’s action will exacerbate inequalities across the town. Read the rest of this entry »


Park Library campaign success

March 20, 2017

Faced with the prospect of an end to funding for Park Library, Parks & East Walcot Community Forum called a meeting to discuss the situation. The individuals and organisations that attended agreed to campaign for the Council to maintain Park Library as part of its core service. We managed to raise 1,200 signatures and were able to speak to a full council meeting in support of this demand.

The council tried to press us into discussing a community group or some other organisation taking over the running of the Library. We refused to do this since it would have given the signal to the council that we had accepted that they were going to end financial support. We said that we would concentrate on pressing them to include Park Library in the core service. Unless we had stood our ground on this then it’s unlikely that the council would have amended their proposal to include Park Library. Read the rest of this entry »


20 years of defending the safety critical role of the guard

February 25, 2017

The current struggle in defence of the safety critical role of the guard is not a new one. The threat to eradicate this role began in 1997. Although the media has presented the issue as one of who will open the train doors, it is about who controls the train. In the event of a crash, a dead or seriously injured driver cannot take charge. The classic case of the crucial role of the guard was the Ladbroke Grove crash where the drivers of two trains which collided were killed together with 29 others. Writing in support of the RMT in its current dispute a survivor of the 1999 crash wrote:

“Dear Sirs,

As the anniversary of the Paddington train crash passed yesterday – I wanted to write and offer my voice in support of your dispute with Southern.
As a survivor of the crash in which 31 died and countless others were burnt and injured, I am only too aware of the role of the guard/conductor.
Colin, our guard helped many people and in my eyes was a hero, directing many survivors to safety. What did the drivers do you may ask?
Sadly, they were both immediately killed which for me underlines the deep importance of guards in the event of a serious incident.
We must not forget either that the incident was caused by lazy management and lack of communication.
I wish you well in your endeavours
Helen Mitchell” Read the rest of this entry »


A ‘low wage, low welfare’ town

February 6, 2017

It’s all very well David Renard clutching the Cities Report for a photo opportunity, but if you want to make an objective assessment of the state of the town you have to look at all of it, rather than picking out a few tables which can be used to show the brilliance of our municipal leadership and the ‘success’ of the town. He seems to have missed the fact that Swindon was designated by the report as a ‘low wage, low benefit’ location. What does high productivity and low wages tell us? That levels of exploitation are high. Isn’t high productivity supposed to give us high wages?

The last year for which figures are available from the HMRC for personal earnings is 2013-14. However, it gives you an indication of the earnings structure of the population. The average earnings from employment was £26,900. However, the median showed that half of employees earned less than £20,800. Half of those in self-employment earned less than £11,500. Half of those with a pension had an income of less than £12,200. This gives an indication of the levels of inequality in the town.

The Cities Report also put Swindon in the top ten for increasing house prices which are outstripping earnings. Check the government figures for the ratio between house prices and earnings and you find that prices for the lower quartile (cheapest) properties were 6.66 times the lower quartile earnings. This was the figure for 2015 and we know that house prices have continued to rise since then. No wonder that we have a town in which we have seen the emergence of phenomenon such as ‘beds in sheds’ and people living in garages.

Let’s have a rounded picture of the town and not propaganda which is directed at the self-aggrandisement of the anti-democratic clique which runs the town. The picture painted by the occupants of the Euclid Street bunker clashes with the real life experience of much of the population.

Martin Wicks

A letter to the Swindon Advertiser


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