“A radical programme of action”

October 10, 2017

This is an article published in the Morning Star on October 10th 2017

Jeremy Corbyn’s conference announcement that Labour would be carrying out a review “of social housing policy – its building, planning, regulation and management” is very welcome. So is his comment that “Labour would speak to social housing tenants all over the country” and bring forward “a radical programme of action” in time for next year’s Labour conference. However, one critical issue needs adding – funding.

The review gives tenants and supporters of council housing the opportunity to tell Labour what we think would constitute “a radical programme of action”. It suggests that Corbyn recognises the need to go beyond the Manifesto which was still rooted in New Labour’s housing policy. For instance, Labour’s “first priority” was not a council house building programme but helping first time buyers onto the proverbial housing ladder.

Whilst Jeremy had spoken of 100,000 council homes a year this was watered down to 100,000 ““affordable homes” for “rent and sale” by the end of the Parliament, with no indication of the proportion of each. Read on below or download a PDF here radicalpoa Read the rest of this entry »

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May: limping towards the finishing line?

June 5, 2017

Writing this on the Monday before the election only a mug would predict the outcome. The polls are all over the place. However, given the fact that May called the election to give herself ‘a stronger mandate’, if she does not secure an increased majority she will have suffered a big defeat. She went into the election with a working majority of 17, with predictions of a landslide, some suggesting she would outdo Thatcher’s 1983 majority of 144 seats. The landslide looks increasingly unlikely and her campaign has been so bad that the usually Tory supporting media are deriding her performance.

Far from being strong and stable, Mrs May has looked curiously brittle” said the Financial Times in its not very enthusiastic call for a Tory vote. Perhaps the only reason they adopt such a position is that “the alternative to Mrs May is worse.” The FT bemoans the “sad indictment on the state of Britain that neither of the main party leaders is particularly impressive.”

Still, even though Mrs May is “the safer bet” this “does not amount to a blank cheque (for Brexit)”. Her ability to deliver “the best deal for Britain in terms of the closest possible relationship with the EU is worryingly unclear”. The FT thinks that she “limps towards the election finishing line”. It’s verdict is that

The Prime Ministers campaign has diminished her standing and unleashed recriminations within the Conservative ranks.” Read on below or download a PDF here limpingmay Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


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