CARETAKER Neil Anderson is one of a small group of people who have spent all their spare time over the past eight weeks taking on the might of Salisbury district council.

Their aim is to persuade tenants to vote no' in the ballot the council is holding on its proposal to transfer its housing stock, totalling more than 5,000 homes, to a specially set-up housing association.

And, while the council is pouring some £600,000 of taxpayers' money into the proposed transfer of its houses to South Wiltshire Homes, the South Wiltshire Defend Council Housing campaign is operating on a shoestring of voluntary donations.

The council has also paid its staff overtime to canvass tenants and has produced costly glossy brochures, while the Defend Council Housing volunteers have relied on simple, but punchy, leaflets and their own tireless efforts.

Mr Anderson, who is secretary and treasurer of the group, said: "Our case is simple. Council housing has provided homes at affordable rents for generations of people and should not be sold off to a private company, which a housing association is.

"Councils are very good landlords, can't go bust and, if we, as tenants, have problems we can't sort out with officers, we have elected members we can turn to. We know where we stand with the council. It won't be the same with a housing association.

Mr Anderson, who lives in council accommodation in Guilder Lane, Salisbury, has visited every council estate in the city and many more across the district, from Mere in the west to Amesbury in the north, delivering leaflets.

"Unlike the council, we haven't knocked on doors and put pressure on tenants," he said.

"We've respected their privacy. We've settled for leafleting and have also done a mail shot, which resulted in our chairman Colin Burden receiving 30 calls a day, supporting our cause. It has all been very exhausting but, when I received my ballot form the other day, I was very emotional and close to tears, wondering whether I've done enough."

"We are reasonably confident that older tenants will vote no' because they know what council housing is for. But we're not so sure about the younger ones and worried that they may be unsure and apathetic.

"My message to them would be - if you don't know what to do, vote no'. You will, after all, still have a home. Once council housing is sold off, it will never come back again and the council will have no incentive to build new homes.

"It is a very, very sad day for tenants in Salisbury to be put in this position."