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National Conference Report - 2003

More than 100 council tenants from Tenant Feds and TAs across the country met with trade union delegates, councillors and MPs attending the DCH national conference in Friends House, Liverpool on May 31

opening platform at DCH National Conference The day was serious and determined: on the ground the fight is on, with campaign groups springing up in almost all the areas where privatisation is threatened.

Despite the government's bluster, the tide seems to be turning in our favour as Stockport MP Andrew Bennett - chair of the influential ODPM select committee - put it.

Peter Corte-Massey, of Stockport tenants federation, passed on lessons from their recent defeat of stock tranfer. Tenants had no resources, and when they refused to rubber stamp the council's plans, were accused of being 'political'. 'You're only political if you're not on their side', Peter said to loud applause and general recognition.

Tenants from Stroud, fighting a current transfer, summed it up: 'Get the information, wear a badge and get organising meetings on your estate'.

Ros Gladden, Labour opposition lead member for housing on Liverpool City Council was critical of the Labour government's apparent indifference to housing. She catalogued problems of disrepair and empty homes on transferred estates now owned by RSLs in Liverpool. Areas facing Arms Length Management discussed in detail how to get a tenants' ballot and a no vote. 'We should make sure every tenant has the right to vote on ALMO - that's called democracy,' said Bolton MP Brian Iddon.

John Prescott is desperately trying to bury the commitment made by former Cabinet minister Stephen Byers that tenants should have an alternative - direct investment in council housing - in any choice of options.

Ministers are now insisting that there are now 'only three options': transfer, PFI or ALMO. This is infuriating tenants and unions, and the 236 [check no.] councils not moving toward any form of privatisation. If tenants refuse to be bullied into privatisation, government will have to invest directly in council housing if they want to meet their decent homes target.

Byers last week called for greater investment for councils wanting to retain management of their stock. He's one of a growing number of senior backbenchers and former ministers: Kaufman, Clive Betts, Andrew Bennett, weighing in to this debate

If we unite around defending decent, affordable, secure and accountable council housing - we can win.

Jenni Marrow of Scottish Tenants Organisation, reported that Aberdeen council was now under growing pressure to find money for investment, after tenants overwhelmingly rejected transfer.

Austin Mitchell MP quoting the recent National Audit Office report, pointed out the cost of transfer campaigns and of debt write off to subsidise transfer is around £12 billion - which would have paid for the complete modernisation of over half of all council housing at a stroke.

'By starving council housing of investment, effectively we are punishing council tenants so we can hold out a golden vision of what privatisation offers. It's a crime.'

He and other MPs are to launch a parliamentary 'Defend Council Housing' group to keep up pressure.

We agreed the next stage of our dual-track campaign: actively campaigning locally to oppose privatisation and reject blackmail forcing us to transfer, PFI or ALMO, and stepping up the national campaign to win direct investment in council housing with no strings attached.

Workshops covered 'Stock Transfer' (Mark Weeks, DCH), 'ALMOs' (Dexter Whitfield from the Centre for Public Services) 'History of the Tenants Movement' (John Grayson, Northern College Barnsley), 'Using the Media' (Ron Canter,SHOUT) and the 'Case for Council Housing'.

Read full conference report (pdf), policy resolution and list of DCH National Committee.
(photo left) The plenary session, chaired by Alan Walter heard from Jenni Marrow (Scottish Tenants Organisation), Mick Graham (GMB), Councillor Ros Gladdeen (Labour Housing spokesperson in Liverpool) and Bolton MP Brian Iddon.
Pat Morrin (above) from Birmingham DCH explained how they organised their campaign to win the No vote against stock transfer
The conference provided an important opportunity for new campaign activists to ask for help and for well established campaigns to share their experience and discuss tactics.

There was a good mix of experienced TA and Tenants Federation delegates, Branch Officers and shop stewards from both white and blue collar council union organisations, a number of councillors as well as individual tenants who had come along to find out more about the campaign and the issues involved.

There were no frills provided and none expected. This was not another one of the increasing number of 'seminars' with flip charts that the housing consultation industry likes so much. Delegates grabbed a buffet lunch during a quick break in the workshop session so as to make the most of the time available.

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