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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 18:18 GMT
Housing policy collapse?
Christine Macleod
Producer, The Politics Show Scotland

View over Glasgow

Housing stock transfer is a flagship Scottish Executive policy, but with more and more people rejecting it at the ballot box, is it in danger of falling apart?

Residents in Edinburgh, Stirling and Renfrewshire have all said "no" to having ownership of their council homes transferred to a new not-for-profit landlord.

Labour politicians fear that Glasgow's stalled second stage transfer has put voters off in recent ballots, and could damage the chances of tenants voting "yes" in forthcoming ballots in the Highlands and Inverclyde.

This week, a report commissioned by the Glasgow Housing Association (GHA), suggests that the landlord needs another 500m before ownership can be transferred to community groups.

The Glasgow Effect

In Inverclyde, what is becoming known to some as the "Glasgow effect" and to others as the "Glasgow factor", has already triggered the creation of the Inverclyde "Vote No Campaign".

Tenants there will get the opportunity to vote on the issue from 18 November and expect a result in the first week of December.

For them, the proposal on the table is whether the ownership of about 8,000 homes should be shifted to River Clyde Homes in one sweep.

There would not be two phases or "second stage transfer" here. That is a process unique in the UK to Glasgow's transfer, because of its sheer size - 80,000 homes.

Building works... or does it?

Sighthill flats
Sighthill flats

Stage one of Glasgow's transfer involved the demolition of some homes, with a view to replacing them with new, repairs to others, and the complete refurbishment of still others.

Stage two, will result in the dismantling of the temporary interim landlord, the GHA, when it finally hands over ownership to community groups.

They could consist of as many as 63 local housing organisations, made up of housing associations and tenants who are supposed to control them.

For the first time, tenants would be able to set their own rents and dictate the conditions of their homes by running their own budgets.

The best laid plans...

The latest Glasgow wrangle centres on a report commissioned by GHA suggesting that the landlord needs an extra 500m in order to deliver on this final stage of ownership.

Letters, leaked to the press, show that the former housing minister and Labour MSP Margaret Curran does not buy it.

She believes that the landlord's bank balance and powers to draw from PFI sources puts it in a healthy position to proceed with some transfers of ownership now.

But for those in Inverclyde who oppose transfer, it is not the stalled Second Stage Transfer in Glasgow which is making all the headlines that bothers them.

After all, they will not have a second stage transfer.

What worries them is what they perceive to be "broken promises" on the GHA's part with stage one.

Grievances

Roof tops in Castlemilk
Castlemilk skyline

The Inverclyde "Vote No Campaign" claims to have a long list of grievances held by Glasgow tenants who have opted for the housing stock transfer.

Member, Chris Osbourne, says they have been "short-changed" in a way - he does not want to see Inverclyde's tenants suffering.

"The landlord, GHA, has been ticking boxes which suggest entire kitchen refurbishments have taken place, when in fact they have only made minor refurbishments, like replacing a cupboard," he says.

Add to that mix stories of "good" housing being demolished and not being replaced as planned.

When Inverclyde's transfer has up to 2,000 homes planned for demolition, it becomes clear why Chris fears transfer.

He and his fellow campaigners are also not convinced they would possess tenant control, amid rumours that, where other transfers have taken place in other parts of the UK, tenants have been squeezed out from having a majority-say on boards.

Pay up...

The Inverclyde "Vote No Campaign" is resentful of what they regard to be the narrow option which the Scottish Executive has presented them.

They will only wipe out council debts if tenants agree to move to a new landlord.

But anti-transfer campaigners believe that if the government has the money to put up, it should pay off their council's debts, while allowing them to stick with their councils as landlords.

Those in favour of transfer in Inverclyde say that "sticking with the devil you know is not an option."

Tenant, Roy Steel, who is on the board of River Clyde Homes, dismisses the negative rumours being peddled by vote no campaigners, saying they are in danger of missing a lifetime's opportunity if it is not seized.

Inverclyde has some of the worst housing in Scotland, yet officially pays the highest rents in the country.

The only way such an imbalance can be remedied is by transfer, he says.

"Who else offers you guaranteed rent levels, repairs and refurbishment, plus a thousand new homes? It's unprecedented, and it's all there in the business plan," he says.

All too late?

Govan cranes
The Govan yards are synonymous with Glasgow

But has the "Glasgow effect" - the perceived broken promises attached to its transfer - damaged the chances of transfers taking place in Inverclyde and the Highlands?

And if so, is it too late for the Scottish Executive's key housing policy to be saved?

Barry Docherty is a housing consultant who held a senior position in the Sunderland equivalent of the GHA.

While he has some sympathy for the landlord, saying it is clear they inherited a flawed business plan which did not cover them financially for the huge ownership transfer they now have to execute, he does not think that this should stall some transfers taking place.

In his view, the whole stock transfer policy can be saved, if the Glasgow model sets the right example now.

The way to do that, he says, is for them to respond to the community's calls to begin some transfers now, by drawing from the excess of a 1bn it was given when the Scottish Executive cleared Glasgow's local authority debt.

Then, they should press the Executive for more money later, if the process is successful.

Join Glenn Campbell on the Politics Show on Sunday 29 October 2006, on BBC One at 12:00GMT

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