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ppp Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 07:11 GMT 08:11 UK
Acid test for council housing
The status quo is unacceptable
By BBC News Online Scotland's Thomas McGuigan and Murray Cox

The sale of council houses was the largest single privatisation under the Tories. But Labour has even greater ambitions - to transfer the majority of council housing to housing associations in order to raise private finance to deal with a 19bn backlog of repairs.

This is the fourth case study in the News Online series on private provision of public services. On Friday the series will look at the privatisation of the prison service and plans to extend it to other parts of the criminal justice system. From Monday, BBC News Online will also be providing extensive coverage of the TUC and party conferences, where these issue are likely to spark fierce debate.

The future of social housing in Glasgow is likely to be a key test of government plans to increase the role of the private sector in the provision of public services.

A privatisation too far

Campaign Against Housing Stock Transfer
The Scottish city, with a population larger than Edinburgh, the capital, has the largest stock of council housing in Europe with more than 80,000 homes under local authority control.

But many of those homes are in a poor condition - damp, cold and in estates blighted by crime, drugs and "third world" poverty - and Glasgow City Council is unable to finance repairs because of its debt burden.

Campaign Against Housing Stock Transfer flag
The campaign has been vociferous

About 84% of the people living in Glasgow's council houses are in receipt of some form of housing benefit and the problem of rent arrears has contributed to a debt which is approaching 1bn.

Glasgow City Council wants to transfer its entire housing stock into the hands of not-for-profit organisations, which would then be able to go to the private sector to secure the finance needed for urgent repairs and upgrading of thousands of homes.

Have your say The Scottish Executive has pledged that if the transfer goes ahead - tenants are due to have the final say in a referendum - it would write-off the debt, allowing the new managers of the housing stock a fresh start.

Regeneration programme

The proposed transfer, which would be one of the biggest exercises of its kind ever seen, has seen a bitter campaign of opposition mounted by the tenants who fear rent rises.

In the Scottish Parliament the executive has support for the transfer from the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party who see little alternative.

Social Justice Minister Jackie Baillie, whose brief includes housing, said the housing associations involved in the transfer would be able to attract private investment of up to 4bn over the next 30 years.

She said: "That represents the biggest urban regeneration programme in the whole of Europe."

Sean Clerkin
Sean Clerkin: "Privatisation too far"

But the tenant-led Campaign Against Housing Stock Transfer (CAHST) has found support from the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Socialist Party. They believe there should be public backing for a programme of regeneration.

Sean Clerkin, of CAHST, said: "What we need is new investment, the money is there, it is just a matter of political will."

He added: "It's not community driven, nor does it encourage community participation. It has everything to do money, profit and higher costs for tenants."

Mr Clerkin, who is adamant the plan will be rejected in the referendum, said it was "a privatisation too far".

But the wider principle of public private partnerships, private finance initiatives and private sector involvement has already been well established in Scotland.

Margaret McDonald
Margaret McDonald: Community has debt gripe

Schools, roads, hospitals, buses and even ferries have all seen a private sector involvement.

Cosla, the body which centrally represents most Scottish councils, has given its backing to such initiatives.

Public sector union Unison opposes PFI/PPP and has launched a campaign against them in Scotland for which it claims to have public backing.

The union's Scottish secretary, Matt Smith, said PPP/PFI is "expensive, inefficient and unnecessary".

Rhona Harper, a PPP/PFI lawyer with Scots firm Shepherd & Wedderburn, believes the private sector's role in public areas will grow in future.

But she said she understands suspicion about it, saying that some of the early experiments, under the Conservatives, "were not public sector friendly and some of the schemes which were chosen were not necessarily appropriate".

However, that cuts little ice with Margaret McDonald who has lived in a council house in Glasgow's Drumchapel area for most of her adult life.

She said: "I wish that the government at Westminster would write-off the debt. They've written off debts for several private companies, I mean look at the railways."

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The BBC's Iain Watson
"More private money for less council control"

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06 Sep 01 | ppp
06 Sep 01 | ppp
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