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National Conference Report - 2004

opening platform at DCH National Conference 350 council tenants from across the country met with councillors, MPs and trade union delegates attending the DCH national conference at TUC Congress House in London.

86 areas were represented (see list below right).

Initial extracts from opening platform ...

Frank Dobson MP at DCH National Conference (photo Jess Hurd/ Frank Dobson MP
"I strongly support council housing; and I think its been the way all over the country, and certainly here in the middle of london its been the only way, to provide affordable decent housing for ordinary people …
The great advantage of council tenants is that councils are accountable, and you can sling em out if you don't like what they're doing, and they can make democratic decisions about what gets built, about how things are maintained, about rents to some extent, and about the allocation of houses. So its democratic in a way that no other system is democratic; and as I say there is no evidence anywhere in the country that council tenants are gagging for a new landlord, one that won't be accountable, one that won't be democratic, there's no evidence that they want to go back to the private sector …
Then housing associations… these days they're huge. Some of our local ones are now running vast estates in other parts of London, and Community - CHA - Community Housing, an organisation I sort of had a hand in setting up 30 years ago, they're really democratic these days, they've slung the tenants representatives off the board and they are going to choose the tenants representatives. I have to be fair to them, they are really brass-faced cheeky, cos they've in their consultation document they say anyone who's taken them to the ombudsman need not apply, so no trouble makers through this door, that's obvious.
And then we've got the Almos, the 'third way', well they're not democratic. And I generally speaking agree with what our good comrade from Sheffield is saying about tenants deciding, and I broadly speaking agree with that, but we've always got to remember that there are other people besides the tenants who are actually tenants at the moment, and we can't entirely leave out the interests of people who are overcrowded, people living in run-down property, people who are homeless, and we do need to be very careful to make sure that they continue to be represented, and the best way of doing that is through council housing.
Then when it comes to these Almo ballots, you know if they sent in international observers from the UN to look at these almo ballots they'd be denounced as invalid wouldn't they? I mean its rigging, and bribery, corruption of every sort that you can imagine. Vote for the Almo and you'll get your house done up - don't vote for the Almo and you'll live in a shit-heap for ever more. Now, is that a fair choice? I suggest that it isn't. But that's what's being put to people and its totally unacceptable.
Here in Camden - and Alan and I go back a long way and we don't always agree with one another, cos he can be a bloody nuisance, but he's been a really effective bloody nuisance in a good cause over council housing, and I'd like to congratulate him for that - but my contribution to the campaign was if anybody asked me I said I was against the transfer to an ALMO. I didn't play a prominent part in the campaign cos I didn't want people saying that it was just cos I'd gone storming round telling people what to do - not that they'd have taken a lot of notice of me anyway - but that's one of the charges that would have been levelled against me…
...And then we've got democracy in the labour party. An 8-1 vote at the labour party conference to give people what's called the fourth option - to let council tenants remain council tenants if that's what they want. And that's what we should stick to.
And I just say to people in any other area - if you've got a ballot coming up, fight like hell to persuade people not to vote for the Almo, cos the more people who reject it the better chance we have of turning over this stupid policy.
Council housing has served some of the worst-off people of this country well for most of the last century and we ought to make sure its going to be here in this century to continue looking after them, and their children, and their grandchildren, and that's why I'm delighted to be here today and to congratulate people who've put so much effort into this campaign."
Clive Betts MP (Vice Chair, ODPM Select Committee)
Clive Betts MP at DCH National Conference (photo Jess Hurd/ "As well as being a member of the ODPM select committee I was actually the member of that committee who asked Stephen Byers, a couple of years ago, when he was secretary of state, whether in fact any council tenant would have the right to have a decent home, whether they voted for stock transfer, Almo or voted to remain a council tenant. The answer at that stage was Yes, and its somewhat been changed in the last couple of years by other ministers. I just want to make 6 very simple points.
First of all we are fighting a democratic battle here, in that the last Labour party general election manifesto said very clearly not that council tenants would have the right to become part of a stock transfer or to move into an Almo, but they'd have a right to have a decent home even if they remained council tenants. And that is a fundamental right that we have to fight to retain, that was a manifesto commitment, and that has been clearly reinforced by the party conference decision of a couple of weeks ago. So it is a national democratic campaign and a democratic campaign within the Labour party as well.
The second point I want to make, is that after all the battles we went through in the 1980s and 90s with Thatcher and Ridley and Heseltine and Howard and all those people who we're glad to see the back of, it would be a disgrace now if the Tories having failed to get rid of council housing by the back door, we now allow our Labour government to force it out through the front door.
The next point I want to make, and I might slightly disagree with the tenor of the Defend Council Housing campaign, because I'm not simply going to say I'm in favour of the status quo, I'm actually in favour of tenants having the right to choose. And if tenants want to choose an Almo, because they believe that's best, or choose a stock transfer (and perhaps if I lived in some Tory authorities and I was a council tenant I might actually be glad to see the back of them as landlords) so that choice I think is one that tenants should have the right to have. But equally they must have the right to remain as council tenants and have the resources to get their homes to the decent standard which the government's committed to.
And that leads onto something else. If the government is going to fight the next election campaign on a principle of the right to choose in health and education, how can they fight the same election on the right of no choice for council tenants? The things do not square together. That is something we've got to put very firmly to government - if choice is the agenda, then that agenda has to include council tenants having the right to choose to remain council tenants as well.
The final issues I want to raise are on the issue of borrowing. And as rightly said, the issue of prudential borrowing is something that some of us have fought long and hard for in local government. The nonsense at present is that while every other service can borrow against the prudential guidelines, looking at the future income stream for that service, and borrowing against it, council housing is the only service where under the current rules that can't be done. And that is what the fourth option is fundamentally about: the right to look at the rental stream, and to borrow against it.
And finally one very nasty issue around, which ministers don't quite come out in the open with all the time, on the issue of borrowing. The argument's often put, well of course if you go to stock transfer you bring in all this extra private money which doesn't count against the government borrowing rules. Well, we can have an argument about the nature of government borrowing, and some of us here say on the prudential guidelines can be fundamentally against the rules as they stand. But there is another national issue around, cos at this stage, alright there is a bitter choice for tenants, they can choose the Almo as a second best option - and that's what tenants have chosen to do in Sheffield, in order to get their homes up to a decent standard - but Almos actually can only borrow within the governments borrowing envelope, they're not to go out and free to borrow like stock transfer housing associations are. And ministers have probably not made this explicitly clear, but implicitly they have accepted, that the amount of resources available to Almos under the government borrowing rules are limited as well.
So if too many tenants, seeing council housing not being for them because of the current regime on borrowing, opt for an Almo as second best - then at some stage we're going to find out that those tenants really haven't got the right to have an Almo either, because there isn't sufficient resources under the government borrowing rules, and they're all going to be forced into a stock transfer whether they like it or not. And that is so fundamentally undemocratic that whatever other niceties that may slightly divide us in this campaign that is something we have to absolutely fight for - the fourth option must be put back on the table - we've got to get the goverment to accept it - I support the campaign and I'm very pleased to be here to do that this morning."
Ken Purchase MP
"Thank you very much Alan and might I take the opportunity to say well done in organising this campaign, it's great to see so many people here this morning in London.
But I do have to say, our forces here this morning are outnumbered so massively by the forces that are arranged against us, in local authorities and government up and down the country. Its almost like the cossacks on horsebacks against the people with tanks invading from the south. It's that scale of a battle that we have to fight to ensure that we do keep council housing under democratic control, for the benefit of the present and future generations, as has been put so well earlier this morning.
We have friends, not in very high places I must say, but we do have friends. We have Dennis Skinner. Dennis is a member of the Labour party's National Executive Committee. I know, and you would know as well, he never misses the opportunity to make the point, that its perfectly clear up and down the country, the length and breadth, council tenants want to stay with their council landlords. John Cryer, the MP for Hornchurch, he's a member of our parliamentary committee which represents the views of back-benchers to Tony Blair and John Prescott each week. John is committed, as a socialist, to defend council housing. Our numbers, as a group within Parliament to defend council housing, are growing every week. At least one, two or three, four people, will ask me every week, where's the next meeting, what are we doing now?
Well the truth of the matter is, we do have this mountain to climb. You recall, if I might use this kind of analogy, you recall that after the war or you'll know, that the railways were nationalised, it was brought together as one body, in order to provide a network of transport opportunities throughout the nation. And then you saw the Tories disband it all, atomise it, put it into any number of different companies and hands. And you've seen the mess that we've now got with the railways.
Well, think of it in terms of our council housing stock. At the turn of the century over 90% of all the housing in this country was in the hands of private landlords, mainly, what did you call them Frank …
...well I think you're being kind. But none the less, that was the position. And then we've had two world wars. And at the end of both of them, politicians have declared 'we'll build homes fit for heroes'. And you know, they jolly well have. Post-1919 were the Jameson Act, the Weekly Act, and then Aneurin Bevan, after the second world war, brought us quality council housing, that's made the biggest single contribution to public health benefits in this country, even greater than the wonderful national health service!
This atomisation of our council housing stock, can be Labour's railway privatisation debacle, unless we put an end to it, and put an end to it soon. I mentioned Aneurin Bevan, and the wonderful work he did in the National Health Service, and those who read their history books will know that he used the phrase 'I've had to stuff the doctors' mouths with gold to bring them in to democratic administration.' But he did it. Our John, John Prescott, he's saying, 'ee, I'll stuff the council houses full of new bathrooms, to get em out of democratic administration!' Well what kind of Labour party policy … the Labour party! the Labour party!! telling us we have to take housing out of a democratic administration. It really does make your stomach churn doesn't it? Now I'm a loyalist, I'm one of those they sometimes describe as a serial loyalist, I like to vote Labour! I like to support the government through the lobbies in the commons. I've found myself twice having to go against the habits of a lifetime, because in over thirty years of taking a Labour whip, it's only on two occasions that I've had to vote against my party. One on Iraq, and I was in some pretty good company! And the other time on the atomisation of our hospital services into so-called foundation hospitals. You've heard what Franks' had to say about … we were right! we were right! Yet, as somebody once said, unless we learn the lessons of history, we'll live em again, first as farce, and then as tragedy. Well it's a tragedy I want my Labour party to avoid. I don't want another railway privatisation, I hate standing here, having to talk down the party that I've worked for and loved all of my life! And I say to my colleagues, the message here is strong, it's loud, it's clear. Defend Council Housing. Defend Council Housing.
And let me just move on for a moment to the dirty tricks campaign. Some of you will have already experienced it. Right now, in Wolverhampton, in my borough, they've held a snap election. Not for a seat on the council; but to see whether or not the tenants want to transfer into an ALMO. The publicity, the work that they've done, I understand - although there's nobody to confirm this because somehow or other its not on the public record - but I understand that the cost of that publicity has been around a million pounds. And this is to persuade 27,000 tenants that they would be better off taking a leap in the dark with a landlord they don't know from a direction they don't know from which its coming. We've heard that there's a desperately bad campaign being waged in Wolverhampton, and it's the Defend Council Housing group who are spreading malicious lies and rumours and untruths, and trying to persuade people not to vote for an ALMO. Well how damned undemocratic can you get - trying to persuade people of your point of view? It ought to be stopped. And they've done their best. Because they've even managed to collude with people like the Electoral Reform Society. So I tell you be on your guard. Those of you who may be into the position of trying to fight these changes, remember there's some pretty strong forces ranged against you.
The Electoral Reform Society has an arm called the Services, Electoral Services, and they're supposed to look at the way in which the ballot is run, what's on the ballot form, well! if they have a reputation at all I tell you it's going down the drain pretty quickly in Wolverhampton. They really have not played a role which you could say is in any way honourable. When I rang them the other day saying 'why on earth did you not let people know that this snap election was being called?' 'Oh well, because the council asked us not to make it public. But we did say, if anyone rang us and asked us, we would have trouble not, you know, not to tell them the truth, we wouldn't want to tell them a lie.' Well this is, you know, just disgraceful.
And then we go to, well it's laughable, and then we go to the independent tenants adviser. My God. Running up and down the country, telling councils how best to avoid giving tenants what they want. And this is an independent adviser. Well it's a cracking idea. I was saying to Austin before the meeting, the more I see of this, the more I try just to encompass it, you know, get it between your finger and your thumb, and I think I've got it. Many councils, government, civil servants, independent tenants advisers, stress the independent, independent tenants advisers - I think we've got a classic case of the propertied class legislating for the propertyless. And by Christ they're determined you're not going to join em. By Christ they're determined that they're going to have their way.
The dirty tricks continue I'm afraid right at the heart of government. And the worst dirty trick of all is, and you'll hear more oif it a little later - yes we agree the stock appraisal, yes we know you need 200-300 million pounds, and we're going to make you a two-year allocation. Now Wolverhampton has a claim for £288 milion, and yesterday, right in the middle of the voting period, they announced the first tranche, but it covers two years, and it don't half sound like a lot of money, it's £42 million. That would actually modernise, about, I don't know, each year, less than 2,000 houses. Now, we've 26,000 to deal with! Now in two years time the letter from Keith Hill states quite explicitly, in two years time we'll review it, because of the govt's rolling programme of understanding its own financial position. I don't know what you think, but I wouldn't be taking too many bets that that £288 million ever materilaises into real money for Wolverhampton Council. And I say to all of the others in the round one, two, three and four, you'd better keep your eyes peeled, because I think you can see some of that money just not materialising, maybe even disappearing down the plughole if the Tories get in control because it wouldn't be their wishes to do very much with council housing.
But in the meantime, my message is this: the review period ends next July. At that time, the government, whoever it is, will have to take stock of what the position is in regard to improving council housing. I say to you this: stand firm. Do not give way. Campaign to keep your houses under your control.
Ensure that you have councillors who you select in your labour parties, indeed in your conservative parties and liberal parties, have councillors elected who are committed to defend council housing.
By next July the government has to make a decision. I want that decision to be based on an overwhelming rejection by tenants of these high-falutin', but really low-achieving, schemes they intend to bring to us.
Good luck! Council housing is worth defending - let's go to it. Thank you very much."
Austin Mitchell MP (chair, House of Commons Council Housing group)
Austin Mitchell MP at DCH National Conference (photo Jess Hurd/ "This morning, hot foot, by fax, delivered to me as I departed to come here, a message for me from John Prescott. I thought wonderful, John is now writing me a personal letter to wish our proceedings well, to say 'ride on! I admire you for keeping up this pressure on government', so I read it eagerly and it said, it says, 'the review was explicitly conditional on the mover of the motion at the labour party conference agreeing to withdraw. The mover refused, so I'll be taking no further action in this matter.'
...That's a Labour minister treating a vote, a heavy vote, against him at a Labour Party conference in that appalling fashion. I mean, you know, I'd apply for an anti-social behaviour order against him if…"
... So I think our advice to John Prescott (I'm a friend of John Prescott's, despite the letters he writes me, big admirer, always have been) is: John - give the people the choice they want. That choice has to allow them to stay, if they want to stay, with the council. That's what we're asking, just a simple matter of a government which believes in choice giving people a real choice. We're not against bringing private capital in, but we are against depriving the people, the tenants, a real choice. Let your review embrace the fourth option and how to achieve it. And above all stop the war. Because you are, in pursuing this policy in the wrong-headed, pig-headed fashion its been pursued at the moment, against the oppostion of the labour party conference on an 8-1 majority, against the opposition of tenants, against the opposition of the council housing group in the House, against the opposition of tenants organised through Defend Council Housing, you are effectively fighting your own people, you are dividing the Labour Party and you're fighting an unnecessary war against the council estates in the run-up to a general election which is going to come next May. Stop it! John Prescott, are you working for the people, or are you working for the financial sector that's making so much money out of privatisation?"
Kevin Curran, general secretary GMB
Kevin Curran at DCH National Conference (photo Jess Hurd/ "Good morning colleagues and thank you very much for the invitation to address you this morning.
First of all in his opening remarks Alan said, he apologised for the fact that it wasn't, you know, a professional organisation, it was only run by people like himself who are volunteers, and that it was a bottom-up campaign. I've been extremely impressed by this Defend Council Housing campaign; and I think I'm impressed because it is a bottom-up camapign and I'd like to see more and more of these campaigns in the movement, because we desperately need to inform the Labour party about what people in this country want, and I think this campaign is a prime example of that.
So, I'm very happy to be here, very pleased to be here, and very pleased to be supporting the campaign. In preparing for today, I'm very much aware that, unlike most of you in this room, I'm not an expert in the subject. I'm just supporting you because it's part of what we believe in the GMB, a basic socialist policy that we want this government to pursue, and as Clive said in his opening remarks, we believe it's an essential part of the democratic process as well, that people should have the right to choose, and the fourth option certainly is the right to choose that the GMB supports.
Its quite ironic really, because this year marks the 80th anniversary of the 1924 Labour government, the very short-lived Labour government. And its ironic that the most short-lived Labour government addressed an issue of fundamental concern about public housing, introduced the Wheatley Housing Act in '24, and here we are in what is now an historic long, second term Labour government and we're trying to defend what they achieved in 1924!
The Wheatley Act was designed to reduce, to say goodbye to, Victorian slum dwelling, and to produce quality housing for working class people and that's exactly what it attempted to do - and it was a great example of progressive socialist legislation. What we've got to do now is make sure that that legacy is preserved and improved upon; because what we want to see is expanded council housing, not reduced council housing. Basically what we are saying, and what you're saying, is that we all know what our communities want, and that's affordable, good quality housing. Now we first came under an attack on this with Thatcher, as Clive indicated earlier on, and then we got a reduction of investment in council housing, little money was spent on new housing, and twenty years later now, we've got a problem in refurbishing what we've got. So we are actually in an emergency. This is an emergency. House prices have been rising, they're now panning out, what we've got now is a huge amount of re-possessions looming. Some of you may have seen the press recently, where there's an alarming number of re-possessions occuring again and it looks like we may be entering a situation we entered last in the 80s. We've also got the problem that key workers aren't able to, can't afford to live near their workplace, so the whole ethos of public-sector service is threatened by a lack of affordable housing. So this is not a question about what we would like - what we are saying is, we need council housing. We need it, and we need the fourth option.
The three options that are left at the moment, that are available, stock transfer, and as already mentioned, PFI and ALMOs, they've all been tried and to some degree you can find a success somewhere round the country. But there's been a huge cost to this experiment, and its mostly been a human cost. There's been huge organisational foul-ups. I've been recently alerted to a situation in the Sunderland Housing Group, in the north-east. I spent some years in the north-east and I've got a tremendous affinity for that part of the country. But there was a stock transfer situation which highlights the madness that stems from this particular policy. There's been allegations of nepotism, outrageous salary hikes for the chief executive, union officers have been banned, there's been bullying and harassment, we have seen tenants receiving a fraction of the value of their houses while the estates they used to live on are being re-developed into executive accommodation, for sale rather than socially affordable housing. So here's an example, a prime example, of what can go wrong under this particular, these policies. And its not just economically nonsense, its socially unjust. And those are the kind of things that your campaign is fighting.
And that's as I say, just one example of what happens. But across the country, the members of the GMB have had their terms and conditions reduced post-transfer, some of the GMB members have lost their jobs due to the cost-cutting exercise, GMB members have seen their rents rise as a result of the transfers. And what happens when the tenants turn round and say no, we don't want to be sold off, we don't want to be privatised? When they show their faith in their local authorities, and they want to continue that relationship, don't want to go into the private, or indeed the charitable, sector? And then they've been told, quite wrongly, that there's nowhere else for them to go, that the choice you've got is Hobson's choice, take it or leave it. And it's a deceitful propaganda and it's a nasty business. Many of you have no doubt come up against this face to face.
But what we in the GMB, tenants, and our members, want is quite simple, it's good quality, affordable housing. Simple statement, nothing bizarre, nothing radical about that, but we what we want is it under democratic control of local authorities and that puts us at odds with this Labour government at present. So we were happy to join forces with your campaign. And we were able to prove at Brighton, at the Labour party conference, that there is a fourth option; and we've been working closely with the LGA and other trade unions, to examine other funding methods which would keep the housing stock within local authority control. And what we need is a level playing field for councils to invest and carry out those badly needed repairs. So what we're saying, what we want, is if councils were allowed to borrow to invest, if the government put more funds into the repairs budget, if the money made from the sale of council houses was re-invested rather than taken back by central government, and if the financial opportunities and funding ALMOs get from central government was afforded to councils, we would have the fourth option. So again we're not asking for anything radical, this is all simple stuff, we would see the improvements we needed being carried out by GMB members, and members of other trade unions, working for local authorities.
So all it takes is a willingness on the government's part to move away from their dogmatic position. The opposition in the government is simply that, its dogmatic. It isn't based on economics, its isn't based on social justice, it isn't based on any of the concepts that we share in the labour movement, its pure dogma. And therefore that's one of the reasons why this and other policies have to be challenged so strongly. So we're very happy to be part of this campaign Alan. We've seen and supported the struggle of tenants across the country, from indeed here in Camden right across to Wrexham. We should be proud of what the Labour party's achieved in the past, and what we've got to do now is move forward and deliver council housing in this country that's fit for purpose, fit for tenants, and fit for the standards we expect in the 21st century. I welcome the opportunity to talk to you today, I think this is a wonderful campaign, it demonstrates all that's good about the movement, and certainly the GMB will be supporting you in your quest for the fourth option. Thank you…"
Alan Ritchie, general secretary UCATT
Alan Ritchie at DCH National Conference (photo Jess Hurd/ "Thanks very much Alan, and it is true, this is my first week, and I'm really proud to be here today. It's a priority for my union UCATT in the past, and I can assure you it'll be one of our priorities for the future. And let me just pay credit to the tireless work of DCH, Defend Council Housing, where we are starting to see the results of the many hours DCH have spent campaigning, and the many hours they have spent cajoling the trade unions to unite and fight in this campaign.
Over the last few years I've heard a lot about choice. Choice appears to be the latest buzz-word. Choice of schools for our children; choice of hospitals for the community. When it comes to council tenants, there has been no choice. If tenants want your homes improved, you have to vote for the transfer of their home away from the council, and away from the security that council housing brings. They are compelled to transfer to a housing association, most of which are little better than private landlords. If tenants wish to retain the local council as their landlord, and still have their homes improved, then they do not get the right to make that choice. So it's a fallacy that tenants have a choice, in fact you could say its blackmail. Austin Mitchell and Defend Council Housing have done a magnificent job in highlighting this denial of choice.
I know that my predecessor George Brumwell wrote to Gordon Brown before the Chancellor gave his public spending review. In that correspondence George was urging him to make available funding for investment in council tenants homes, irrespective of who they chose for their landlord. Unfortunately the response was quite frankly disappointing. It is true that there is extra public money to build 10,000 new social homes a year, but this has only been made available to housing associations. It's a fact council housing is cheaper to build, cheaper to manage and cheaper to maintain than the alternatives. Regardless of this, ministers seem to be determined to get rid of council housing altogether if they can. But stock transfers is not the only form of privatisation taking place. UCATT have continually drawn attention to the disgraceful figures under right to buy. 240,000 homes privatised in the last 5 years under the right to buy is unacceptable. Right to buy has created a mental paralysis, with low-cost housing not being constructed in sufficient number. The government should make land available. They and their many agencies have huge land banks, the government is disposing of them in the majority of cases for the use of private housing in a more expensive bracket. This is not the housing needed for working class people of this country. So I would once again like to propose a return to UCATT policy and call for social housing to be council-built and council-led.
Votes against housing stock transfer and Almos have been heavy. But until the recent Labour party policy forum in Warwick and the party conference in October, there was a determination not to shift policy. So we need to congratulate those who attended Warwick in securing the alternative position; and we need to congratulate all those who attended the Labour party conference, who changed that alternative position into what should be firm policy. I want to make it clear here today, it was not a trade union victory, it was a victory for labour councillors, for the council tenants, and for the workers that trade unions represent.
The campaign against privatisation of council housing, and the demand for investment to make council housing a first-class public service, has gained impressive support. We have to ensure that those views of tenants, councillors, workers, and members of parliament, are not ignored. We know that an investment allowance to fund council house borrowing for housing improvements could be paid for out of existing government funds. The government takes £1.5 billion every year out of tenants' rents and makes an annual profit of half a billion from the right-to-buy sales. This money rightfully belongs to council housing, and could fund the fourth option and clear the investment backlog. And we know that stock transfers, PFI and ALMOs are still being subsidised by enormous amounts of public money in debt write-off, like public guarantees and credits, set-up costs, consultancies, legal fees and officer time. And finally do we know that increased rents from stock transfer have cost the exchequer £250 million a year in additional housing benefit support. So the money is there for additional direct investment in council housing.
We are winning the arguments; we are winning the campaigns, and I think we have won a major shift in government thinking. We now have to ensure that the pressure is kept, so that we achieve genuine and substantial direct investment in council housing. Once again I thank you for inviting me here today, and lets keep up the campaign not only for the tenants and workers of today but also for the children and the next generation to come. And finally Mr. Chairman, I bring you the support of the construction trade union UCATT, and we are proud to be associated with tenants, politicians, and fellow trade unionists in defending council housing, and we believe that we will win the fourth option."
Frank Chance, chair Birmingham DCH
Frank Chance at DCH National Conference (photo Jess Hurd/ "Thank you everybody for having me back, again, and I say that very sincerely. It seems a long time ago that we voted in Birmingham to defeat stock transfer. But believe you me, they are at it again. We have now got the new stock appraisal, or maybe the old stock appraisal, the stock transfer ballot, the Almo ballot, the PFI ballot, call it what you will. And they say it's down to the Labour government. Right.
Now in this country we do many things very very well indeed. Some not so well. Revolutions I don't think we do. Not often. But every single person that's involved in the fight to defend council housing is involved in a revolution. And I mean that, it is a real tangible revolution. We have had government ministers change their policy like the weather changes its temperature and changes its guise. We're now at the state where we have a real goal, a real game in our sights and that is the fourth option. Surprise, surprise, its something we have been talking about from day one. Now, the revolution, let's get back to it. We have had up to now quite a quiet revolution, perhaps a British revolution. You need to turn the volume up! We have got dogma from the office of the ODPM. We've got deceit from the consultants that trawl round the country. The carpet-baggers as we call them.
We have got youngsters coming into the housing market that haven't got a cat in hell's chance of having a roof over their heads. We have key workers, nurses, policemen, who can't get onto the housing ladder - and still they want to go down the stock appraisal road. The transfer road. We voted in Birmingham against becoming housing association tenants. Surprise, surprise, they want to ask us again. But it's only going to cost you two million quid this time, instead of twelve million quid last time!
Get out on the streets. Get out to the people who are not convinced. Talk to them, tell them the value in housing for people who cannot afford to buy - in other words, council housing. Tell them that it has stood this country in good stead in times of good and bad. I read this morning on the way up here on the train, an article in - believe it or not - the Daily Express. (I don't buy that paper it was given to me.) But it says there - repossessions are up; bankruptcies are up. What does that tell you? I'll tell you what it tells you, we're living way beyond our means, and yet still they waste billions and billions of pounds of our money on stupid schemes to get to know what we've already told them.
Get out; do it; you're going to win this; stick at it!
Bless you all, thank you very much."
Conference resolution and new National Committee, initial workshop papers and Stock Options Appraisal presentation
(photo left) The plenary session, chaired by Alan Walter heard from MPs Frank Dobson, Clive Betts, Austin Mitchell and Ken Purchase. They joined union General Secretaries Kevin Curran (GMB) and Alan Ritchie (UCATT) alongside Frank Chance (Birmingham DCH).
(All photos Jess Hurd

Delegates queued up to sign an open letter to John Prescott. The letter has been updated for tenants reps, councillors, trade unionists and MPs to sign. Take it around your area.

At the Labour Party Conference on September 26th you said: “Public financing of housing doesn't treat local authorities on a level playing field and I want to see that changed and I promised to do that and look at an enquiry into it”. You told delegates you were “near agreement”. Your housing minister said after the vote: “We recognise yesterday's vote and we will engage as a result of that...We are continuing the review as we promised to do...We are continuing a negotiation, a discussion, with the various interested parties.”
This public commitment to a level playing field for council housing by the Deputy Prime Minister, accompanied by a promise of an inquiry, is a promise council tenants around the country expect to be honoured.
However in your letter to Austin Mitchell MP, delivered in time for the DCH national conference on October 29, attended by more than 350 council tenants, local councillors, trade unionists and MPs from 86 areas, you say “The review mentioned in your letter was explicitly conditional on the mover of the alternative wording... agreeing to withdraw”.
In discussions leading up to the conference we understand significant progress was made on the issue of allowing 'good' performing authorities to access the additional investment currently conditional on ALMOs - without the need for councils to set up a private company. We also understand that the Treasury broadly accepted the clear financial evidence we have presented demonstrating that the 'fourth option' is financially viable. This offers a clear way forward. If your department also agrees to provide commitment and resources for a 'Continuous Improvement Task Force' - to bring together best practice on issues such as voids, repairs and housing strategy - it would help all authorities improve their performance and access these funds.
The current government position is inconsistent and flies in the face of evidence from the National Audit Office, the Commons Public Accounts and ODPM Select Committees, the Local Government Association, House of Commons Council Housing group of MPs, trade unions and others. Privatisation of council housing is deeply unpopular and there is no evidence to support the dogmatic insistence on separating housing management from strategy.
Government Ministers have put considerable emphasis on 'choice in public services'. Denying council tenants the right to choose to remain as council tenants and get improvements to their homes clearly fails this test.
We urge you to stand by the commitment you made - this is not a procedural game. A promise is a promise.

Over 100 delegates heard Janet Sillett from the LGIU explain how the 'fourth option' can be funded whilst others attended workshops covering Stock Transfer, ALMOs, Stock Options appraisals, How to campaign, Post Transfer experience and the History of the tenants movement.
Many councils sponsored delegations so that tenants, councillors and officers could hear the case against transfer, PFI and ALMOs and the clear financial arguments behind the 'Fourth Optoin' for council housing.
86 areas represented
Ashfield, Basildon, Birmingham, Bolsover, Braintree, Bridgnorth, Brighton, Bristol, Bromley, Caerphilly, Cambridge, Caradon , Cardiff , Chesterfield , Coventry, Crewe and Nantwich, Denbighshire, Doncaster, Dover, Dublin, Dundee, East Riding of Yorkshire, Epping Forest, Gloucester, Harlow, Hinckley & Bosworth, Ipswich, Killamarsh, Leeds, Lincoln City , Liverpool, London Borough of Camden, London Borough of Ealing, London Borough of Greenwich, London Borough of Hackney, London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, London Borough of Haringey, London Borough of Islington, London Borough of Lambeth, London Borough of Lewisham, London Borough of Newham, London Borough of Redbridge, London Borough of Southwark, London Borough of Sutton, London Borough of Tower Hamlets, London Borough of Wandsworth, London Borough of Westminster, Maidstone, Manchester, Medway, Merthyr Tydfil, Mid-Suffolk, Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Northampton, North East Derbyshire, North Lincolnshire, North Somerset, North Tyneside, Norwich, Nuneaton & Bedworth, Oxford, Plymouth, Preston, Renfrewshire, Rochford, Runnymede, Rushmoor, Sandwell, Sedgemoor, Sheffield, Southampton, Southend, South Bedfordshire, South Northamptonshire, Stroud, Tandridge, Taunton Deane, Warwick, Warwickshire, Waverley, Wellingborough, Wigan, Winchester, Wolverhampton, Wycombe (High)
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