A leaked Labour newsletter has come into our possession, showing what the party really thinks about the current crisis in Hackney Council. We reprint it below:
Scare stories, downright lies …. and other news
‘Shut down Hackney’, say a group calling themselves Hackney Fightback. Jules Pipe, leader of the Labour Group on the Council, made his feelings fairly clear when he walked into GC crumpling one of their posters.
It is, of course, all because of the Section 114 notice, served by the Borough Treasurer when it became clear that the Council was set to overspend. It gives Councillors 21 days to come up with a balanced budget. Meanwhile it freezes all but essential spending.
Hence the front page story of sit-ins by parents and children furious at the sudden closure of Fernbank and Atherden Road nursery schools. Hence also an emergency resolution tabled at GC which began with concern about some of the effects of the notice, urged the seeking of government cash and ended by calling on the Labour Group to urgently reconsider its alliance with the Conservative Group and not to support any further privatisations, job losses or cuts in services.
Before that debate even began, Diane Abbott had spoken with some vigour about the way the nursery closures had been handled. You simply cannot, she said, hand a working mother a letter at five o’clock on Friday, telling her that on Monday she’ll have to take her child to another nursery half an hour’s bus ride away. Diane had been to the sit-ins. The parents were not left-wing agitators, they deserved better treatment. They had even offered to pay for the sacked staff. Why did not Councillors go and talk to them ?
In fact, Cllr Jessica Crowe had been to talk to them. Also, as the staff in question did not have continuing contracts the S 114 automatically made it illegal to employ them, wherever the money came from.
By this time there was heat in the debate. Jules Pipe stepped back from the highly-charged detail and gave the broad picture. There was nothing new about this year’s overspend. Transforming Hackney, voted in against Labour opposition, had created a financial obscurity in which officers, without intending to do so, annually overspent by some £15 million. The difference this year was that a team of seconded officers under the new managing director had identified the problem, which by law forced them to serve the 3.114
But speaker after speaker argued that the scale of cuts envisaged was simply untenable in a borough like Hackney. The emergency motion urged the Group to explain this fact to government ministers and seek an extra injection of funding.
Jules Pipe, and others, thought it naive to suppose the government would bail the borough out without the Council taking steps to put its house in order first. As to the impact of the 3.114, Jules Pipe said the media had carried scare stories or downright lies. There was NO truth in stories that schools could not buy toilet paper or use fax machines, that social workers could not use interpreters, that the mobile library had been forbidden to buy petrol, that parents of disabled children had been asked to pay for school transport, or that pensioners had been left without heating.
Diane Abbott came in for criticism from Cllr John Hudson, who felt that in media appearances she might have been supportive of the Labour position. Many people still believed Labour controlled the Council, and Diane, John Hudson argued, should have pointed the finger of blame where it lay – at the Transforming Hackney programme and those who backed it.
An unrepentant Diane retorted that if she had to choose between support for an embattled Council and working mothers who were getting a raw deal, she would back the mothers every time – that was what she went into politics for. By this time GC had before it an amendment to the original resolution, which managed in a few brush strokes to turn it through something like 170 degrees, and it was this form of the resolution that it eventually adopted, taking a position which was broadly supportive of the Group’s efforts, rather than pressurizing it…
…This(Hackney Wick) is the fifth successive by-election that Labour has won in Hackney, and Jules Pipe sees it as a tribute to the election campaigning of the Labour Group and dedicated party members, as well as a vindication of the responsible actions of Labour in the Council.
The victory gives Labour 30 seats out of 60, and brings that much closer the prospect of restoring political leadership to a Council that has been hung since 1996.
So, while residents of Hackney suffer from the freeze on new spending and wait to hear which vital services will be cut, the Labour Party – and especially Jules Pipe – see the whole situation as a chance to win political advantage. Diane Abbott is the only person to come out of this leaked newsletter with any credit , but then it’s her Labour government that has failed to properly fund local government in the first place. Maybe her time would be better spent putting pressure on the government to increase funding to what is one of the country’s poorest boroughs.
Cllr Jules Pipe seems prepared to put his own political career before the interests of the working class in Hackney. He won’t even ask for more government money until Hackney has put itself in order – which presumably means closing down all the most vital services. But that’s alright, because we all know who’s to blame…don’t we ?