CAMPAIGNS: Public Sector - High turnout for Glasgow housing vote

Glasgow City Council (GCC) is Scotland's largest housing authority with around 83,000 houses and flats and 78,000 secure and joint tenants.

The city's housing stock is estimated to need at least £1.3bn of investment to bring it up to modern standards, however, GCC was £900m in debt with repayments costing 40p for every £1 of rent.

For the past two years, GCC and the Scottish Executive have been considering a transfer of all the city's housing stock to a new housing association - The Glasgow Housing Association (GHA).

The proposed transfer would bring in the much-needed investment - both public and private - while the Government would write off the outstanding housing debt.

However, such a transfer could not go ahead without a majority of tenants voting 'yes' in a ballot.

The three-week postal ballot was conducted independently by the Electoral Ballot Reform Services (EBRS).

As the backer of the proposals, GCC was debarred under Scottish Executive guidelines from any campaigning during the ballot period.

The in-house PR team, therefore, could only campaign to increase the turnout during the ballot.

Objectives

Recent research for the GCC and the GHA had indicated that turnout could be below 50 per cent. Glasgow's voting record in recent parliamentary and council elections averaged 48 per cent across the city. The objective was to maximise turnout in the transfer ballot.

Strategy and Plan

A postal ballot during a three-week period requires a specific strategy that maximises returns at the start of the ballot. From experience of other large ballots, voting is not uniform, with at least two-thirds of the final turnout voting in the first few days of receiving the ballot paper.

The PR team focused media interest around the ballot issue date. A press release, together with a copy of the ballot paper and a video news release, featuring mail-out of ballots, was issued. This was followed by a 'Post Your Vote' ad campaign in the press, on radio and in ad-trailers.

In discussion with the EBRS, it was agreed that GCC would release to the public and media the voting figures at the end of weeks one and two. This, together with the mail-out of reminders, gave an added prompt and peg for additional coverage in the press, radio and local TV.

The 'yes' and 'no' campaigns gained a momentum of their own with door knocking and publicity mostly in week one.

Just before the ballot, GCC posted a 13-minute video to all 78,000 tenants, together with a leaflet listing the key points.

The message was: 'The transfer cannot go ahead without your "yes" vote'.

Measurement and Evaluation

The Glasgow media concentrated coverage around the ballot issue date, with major news stories and editorials in the local Daily Record and the Evening Times. Both papers published all or part of the ballot paper, encouraged tenants to vote - and called for a 'yes' vote. The ballot also featured on local TV and radio news programmes, with use of the video news footage.

A media row blew up over the mail-out of a leaflet from the Scottish Trades Union Congress calling for a 'no' vote. The STUC claimed it was 'housing privatisation', with higher rents and jobs at risk. The leaflet brought accusations of 'scare-mongering' from the GHA and the council leaders.

However, by the end of the first ballot week, more than 36,000 tenants had cast their votes by first class pre-paid post. About 4,000 of those votes arrived on the seventh day.

The Glasgow ballot was on target for a turnout of between 60 and 70 per cent.

After week two, 46,000 votes were cast. And just over 50,000 eligible tenants - 64.4 per cent - had voted by the ballot's end.

The final vote was: 'yes'- 29,126 (58 per cent), 'no' 20,836 (42 per cent), with 120 spoilt ballots.

Results

The EBRS declaration of the result on 5 April at the City Chambers was broadcast live on the lunchtime local TV news, both STV and BBC and on Radio Clyde and Real Radio, with follow ups in later bulletins.

The Evening Times redrew its second and final editions, with six pages of reports and a full front-page colour splash.

All the Scottish press - and the English dailies - reported on the 'yes' vote, some with leader comment.

Glasgow's vote ran alongside a month-long Birmingham transfer vote campaign.

Birmingham's turnout of 65.5 per cent was one point higher - but 67 per cent voted 'no'.

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