Posted: November 30, 2002
Filed under: Hackney Council, Haggerston, Privatisation / Sell Offs, Schools
Today is the end of the “consultation” period. Laburnum kids and parents are handing in hundreds of signatures on petitions and postcards to the Learning Trust who will make specific proposals and consult on them throughout November. Below Carl Taylor puts forward our perspective on the “consultation” in a letter to the Learning Trust ; meanwhile the Save Laburnum Campaign goes on.
It is the view of Hackney Independent that Hackney Council/the Learning Trust intend to close Laburnum School regardless of this “consultation” exercise. You are going through this exercise only because you have to legally. However we do not accept that closing Laburnum School is inevitable. Hackney Independent is campaigning as an organisation in the south of the Borough and as part of the Save Laburnum School Campaign against closure of Laburnum School. We want to impress upon Labour councillors in Haggerston Ward in particular that this decision will cost them too much in political terms. They nearly lost Haggerston Ward to IWCA (Hackney Independent) candidates this year, and they will have no chance of retaining Haggerston in 2006 if they allow this school to close.
On the subject of the election, the decision to close Laburnum School makes a mockery of local democracy. Just five months ago five rival political groups were out campaigning in Haggerston Ward in the Council elections. Four of the political groups did not know about the proposal to close Laburnum School. The Labour Party candidates did, but chose to hide it. In voting, or in choosing not to vote, none of the Haggerston electors knew that the Council was considering closing Laburnum School. For this reason we call for a referendum across Haggerston Ward on this issue before a final decision is made on closing Laburnum School.
We accuse the Council of running down Laburnum School for years. The Council tolerated an unpopular Head, who did much damage to the school. The Council took no action then, leading to the school going into Special Measures. Now under a popular Head, who working with governors and staff has turned the school around, the Council say the school must close. And you have the cheek to say part of the reason is that the School is on Special Measures. But it is only on Special Measures because of the lack of Council support in the first place, and of course is only ne of many Hackney schools that have been on special measures.
By closing Laburnum School you also close a full-time nursery. We know that this means that the Council saves more money by closing Laburnum than other schools with no nursery or only a part-time nursery. We believe that this is part of a wider agenda to run down public nursery places in the Borough and replace them with private nurseries. If this is not the case, what proposals have you got to provide the same number of nursery hours in other local schools if Laburnum closes?
Property developers are already showing an interest in the Laburnum School site. (See the page 21 of Homehunter in this week’s Gazette). It is as obvious to them as it is to the local community and us what the real agenda is here. You have got a building that would convert so easily into yuppie flats as well as the playground which faces onto the canal, where more flats could be built. Taken alongside the private flats built on both sides of the school, Shoreditch New Deal plans for 30 private flats in Haggerston Pool and proposals to redevelop Haggerston West and Kingsland estates, the obvious intent is to transform the area. The Council is pursuing a policy of social cleansing – of driving out the working class majority and moving in a new middle class population who don’t use facilities, libraries, social services or welfare benefits, while paying a high level of Council Tax. They won’t use local schools as they will either send their kids out of the Borough or move before they are school age to be replaced by more rich young childless couples. We will fight not just the closure of Laburnum School, but any attempt to use the site for anything other than education.
Over the last few years Haggerston has lost so much. We have lost more than one library, youth clubs, nurseries and the swimming pool. Both the Apples and Pears Adventure Playground and the Haggerston One O’clock Club are under threat. Top Learning Trust Managers might not be interested in wider issues, but the Council is meant to be. Haggerston should not have to pay so heavy a price for the financial mismanagement of this Council.
Laburnum School – Messages of Support
22nd September 2002
The Save Laburnum School Campaign has launched a postcard campaign in August. Hundreds of local people have signed them, objecting to the Council’s plans to close the school. While many people have posted their own postcards direct to the Council, the Campaign has collected postcards at stalls held around the area and set up a postbox in Haggerston Community Centre. These postcards will be handed in to the Council at the end of the “consultation” period on 30th Deptember.
Below we print some of the messages written by people on the postcards, giving just their initials and postcode. (All these postcodes are within Hackney).
BC, E9 Stop closing schools and hospitals
GC, N1 I think this is out of order
TO, N1 My children go to Laburnum and are very happy in their school. Please don’t close it
GC, E9 Not good. Should not happen
WW, E9 Education leads to a better life
JC, E8 Prime development site by canal?
GG, N1 Some schools in Hackney are already over-crowded. This does not promote a good education
SK, E9 Too few schools in Hackney already!
AS, E9 Children need their school to learn, and also we need more teachers
ID, E5 Disgraceful
DK, E8 This school has children and teachers. What happens to them?
PJ, E8 Please don’t close my school, I love it
DM, E8 Laburnum School offers an after school project and a breakfast club
NM, E8 Laburnum is a very good school and still getting better
AM, E2 I think it is not fair for the children. We must save the school
KT, E5 How do you expect children to get a good start in life if you keep closing schools?
JT, E2 I can’t believe you are taking another school away from Hackney. How many more children have to suffer? Education is very important in a child’s life
MT, E2 Please don’t close the school because all the children get good education and they are happy at the school
CR, E2 It is a great shame. My niece and nephew went on to a good secondary school
DK, E8 My children have attended this school since moving to London. All 3 children love their school
DR, E2 I object to this much needed school closure. All because the Council got itself in a financial mess in the past
NS, E8 Why didn’t our councillors tell us before the election? Shame!
GB, N1 Enough enoughs
JW, E2 It is a shame to close this school. I myself went to this school when I lived opposite the school. My children and now my grandchildren go there. It’s a great school
KR, N1 Hackney should be working towards building futures for children instead of taking away what they have
II, N1 Don’t close it down. It is my old primary school
JH, N1 Why? It’s needed now more than ever
TK, E8 Shame on you Hackney bigwigs, and it is all wigs isn’t it?
SO, E8 What are the reasons for the closure? There is another solution if we really think about it
PD, E8 Haggerston needs Laburnum. It is an up and coming school
SS, E8 Please consider all the students how they will take the situation
IM, E8 My children and grandchildren went there. It is our local school and a good one and serves a much better purpose to our community that the provision of yuppie flats. I would wish for my great grandsons and daughters to have knowledge of this school
DK, E8 I love this school. It has a special needs programme and they also have a reading together group
DB, E2 Obviously you are determined to displace a whole school in pursuit of financial gain. You have not considered the long-term effects for the children and their families by your plan. Shame on you all
SA, E2 I think that it is irresponsible to sell out on any educational facility in Hackney. The facilities and standards here are already poor enough as they are
PP, E8 This is a great school. Please think again
AO, E8 Don’t sell the future of our children for a peanut today
SD, E2 Because Hackney Council is in debt, do not mean they have to sell everything in Hackney. Leave our schools alone
NS, E2 Leave the school alone because the children love the school. We love our school
UO, E8 If every school is a good school, then don’t close Laburnum. Make it better school for our community and our children
VJ, N1 Money should be invested in schools. The youth are our future!!
DC, N1 What about our children’s education? Please do not close the school
TS, E8 I believe the school should stay for the good it does our community – local schools for local people
AM, E2 I’m disgusted at the Council’s attitude. Do you want kids to grow up stupid?
TP, E8 Please see sense
SE, E2 Please do not close any more of our schools
RL, E8 Spend more on schools, less on war!
PW Do not use schools to bail you out of financial crisis!!
MH, E2 Keep communities like they want, not like the system wants
MG, E5 We have to do all we can to stop this closure
RS,N16 Keep the school open!!
Emmanuel Amevor, Centerprise Director. What next – destroying the next generation. Stop this nonsense and save Laburnum Primary School
Posted: November 12, 2002
Filed under: Hackney Council, Haggerston, Tenants & Residents Associations
Hackney Council leaves estates to rot! One week after the bin strike and Haggerston estates are left full of rubbish
Hackney Independent members toured every estate in Haggerston this weekend and found that many were still suffering the effects of the bin strike that finished over a week earlier. An inspection of surrounding street properties found no major problems.
“It was no surprise to us that the Council had left the estates till last as usual, while putting the needs of those in big houses around London Fields first. After all that’s where the Labour vote is these days” commented Hackney IWCA’s (Hackney Independent as of summer 2004) spokesman Carl Taylor.
“Our policy is that the estates should be cleared first. This is not just because we always put the needs of the working class first. It also makes sense to us that if 40 flats share one communal bin area you clear that before someone who has their own front and back garden and has a chance of managing their own rubbish.”
Kingsland Estate Tenant & Resident Association Chair Anna Maria Mari echoed the Hackney IWCA position. Standing with Hackney Independent members and Kingsland Estate residents by a pile of rubbish that had piled up over the previous two weeks, she stated “We’ve had enough. We’re fed up with being at the end of the line. The Council isn’t managing our estate properly. We’re considering managing it ourselves.”
Margaret McTernan, pictured with her children Shannon and Sean McCarton said she thought that it was “disgusting” that the rubbish had been left for so long.
Hackney IWCA’s Peter Sutton said it was “ a disgrace and a health risk” that the Council had left the huge pile of rubbish at Hebden Court, Kingsland Estate. He criticised the local Labour councillors, “We may have narrowly lost the election in Haggerston to Labour, but where are our Labour councillors now? We’re the ones going around the Ward, taking up local issues and campaigning alongside the community. What are Haggerston’s Labour councillors doing about the Council’s failure to clear the rubbish from our estates?”
Posted: November 4, 2002
Filed under: Privatisation / Sell Offs
Hackney IWCA response to Council press release “Exciting improvements to Hackney Leisure Centres”
Hackney IWCA (Hackney Independent as of summer 2004) has a track record of campaigning for improved community facilities in the South of the Borough. We are currently involved in campaigns to save Laburnum School and to re-open Haggerston Pool and are actively supporting campaigns to save the Haggerston 1 O’clock Club, the Shoreditch Centre and the Apples and Pears Adventure Playground.
“We welcome the long overdue improvements now to be made to the swimming facilities at Britannia and Kings Hall. However we are concerned about how they are going to be paid for,” said Hackney Independent spokesman Peter Sutton. “Labour has only got one solution to any problem – privatise it. They are a one-trick pony.”
”Large parts of Britannia and Kings Hall are going to be turned into private gyms. Are these always going to be affordable to all sections of our community? In particular if young people are priced out of these facilities are they not more likely to get drawn into crime and anti-social behaviour?”
Hackney IWCA’s (Hackney Independent as of summer 2004) Carl Taylor, who came just 90 votes short of winning a council seat in Haggerston in the May elections slammed the Council statement for not mentioning the continued closure of Haggerston Pool. “It is a scandal that this community facility is lying empty while our Labour Council does nothing about it.”
“Councillor Nicholson claims that there has been ‘extensive consultation with residents’, but who asked you about bringing in private gyms and who asked you about keeping Haggerston Pool closed?”
Posted: November 4, 2002
Filed under: Hackney Council, Media, Privatisation / Sell Offs
Here we reprint an article from Red Pepper, the left wing monthly magazine, on the background to the recent round of sell-offs.
by Andy Robertson – from this month’s Red Pepper magazine
Trouble and strife have never been far from Hackney Council. But now massive debt is pushing the borough into private hands. Andy Robertson investigates how strategies imposed by central government are leading to community asset stripping on a massive scale.
When Hackney Council announced they were in financial meltdown three years ago, residents raised weary eyes to the heavens. Another year, another crisis.
England’s fourth poorest borough has a past littered with accounts of fraud, corruption and mal-administration. However, despite the welfare needs of its residents, the council’s crippling debt is now being used as an excuse to strip the borough of voluntary sector premises and prepare public services for the private sector. The result is a cascade of property disposals leading to the closure of scores of community resources from nurseries to ethnic community centres, legal advice centres to libraries.
Despite several requests, Hackney Council wouldn’t provide Red Pepper with the exact amount of its debt.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, local authorities borrowed money from central government to finance housing projects. Around thirty such blocks were built in Hackney but investment in their upkeep was not maintained. Many subsequently became uninhabitable, and have been knocked down or are in line for demolition. This left Hackney in debt, with fewer rent streams to service the debt. In a scenario familiar to third world governments, the interest on the debt grew larger than the money available for repayment.
A December 2000 policy and finance committee report, says: “In total, the council pays around £68 million in interest on capital debt. The majority of this interest is related to housing debt.”
Based on this figure and multiplied by the average interest rate in 2001/02 of 8.6 per cent, the amount owed by the Council weighs in at a hefty £584.8 million.
This has led groups within the borough such as UNITE and HackneyNot4Sale to campaign for the government to “Dump the Debt”; a localised equivalent to the global “Drop the Debt” lobby. However, like the World Bank and IMF, the government has no intention of dropping the debt, preferring instead to provide assistance only if the recipient follows a strict privatisation agenda.
As one community activist put it: “Hackney can’t turn down money from government and this puts control back at the centre. The council succumbs to whatever government policy is.”
When Tony Elliston became chief executive of Hackney Council in 1995 the Labour group had divided into two camps and the following elections delivered a hung council. Elliston presided over £30 million worth of cuts in public services, which saw the closure of the school bus service, several nurseries and half the borough’s fourteen libraries.
He then resigned his position in 1999 just prior to a damning OFSTED report and claims that central government were politically interfering with council affairs.
“They had a number of education authorities they could have gone for, all equally bad,” Elliston told Red Pepper. “They could have done Islington or Tower Hamlets. That’s not to say Hackney’s education system was not bad. But it was not worse than the others. It was singled out because of political reasons. The official Labour group had been ousted and a breakaway group had taken over. Political knee-capping, that’s what it was.”
One departmental head after another followed Elliston. “Every single one had left within a year,” he recalls. “The [government] inspectors started coming in, it was like a kind of dying animal and everyone was keen to get in and sink their teeth into it.”
Various inspections took place, initially by a government body called the Improvement and Development Agency, which reported a “most grave and serious situation”. This led the central government to impose section 114 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, which prevents “any potentially unlawful expenditure … likely to exceed resources available.” This draconian measure again left the council in paralysis. Dustcarts sat idle in the depot awaiting repair, maintenance on people’s homes were put on hold and all staff on temporary contracts were laid off.
Next came the Audit Commission, who conducted three inspections within nine months, concluding the council would need “significant support”, and recommending that government should intervene. “We have decided that it is now appropriate that the secretary of state consider exercising his function under Section 15 of the Local Government Act 1999 to give a direction to the Council”. It was the first time Section 15 had been invoked.
Under government directions the local authority began recruiting senior staff, starting with Max Caller as managing director in June 2000. Despite gross financial problems at the council, Caller’s starting salary was £150,000.
Furthermore central government paid over £3.5 million in consultancy fees associated with Hackney’s restructuring. A sizeable portion of this sum went to consultants Deloitte & Touche, who recruited seven temporary financial managers into each directorate. According to invoices obtained by Red Pepper Investigations, some of these consultants were taking home at least £2,420 a week. Their job, according to a government press release, was to “provide solid financial expertise and help tackle the borough’s financial crisis.”
The financial controllers took up their positions just prior to demands from government for the council to produce a three-year budget strategy. In its first year alone projected savings of £13 million have meant another round of cuts and closures of vital services. As Red Pepper goes to press more nurseries are closing, the surviving libraries are again under threat, Home Help support has been reduced to visits of half an hour, grant money cut by 38 per cent, clothing awards for children reduced, play group funding slashed and the criteria for cheap bus passes tightened.
Workers who maintain services have also been targeted. In October 2001, the council imposed a 90-day rule on all sections of the workforce except those in education. This gave workers 90 days to sign a new contract stipulating poorer pay and conditions, or face dismissal.
Members of Unison initially refused to sign and some were sacked before being offered their same jobs back with reduced workplace conditions. At this point most signed up to the new regime but sent in letters along with their contracts stating they were signing under duress. Three hundred and fifty employment tribunals for unfair dismissal are due to be heard in February.
Residents and workers alike were hoping for support from central government to prevent a continuing decimation of services. When local government minister, Nick Raynsford, announced a £25 million support package in January, it seemed the government had answered their prayers. A spokesperson for the former Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, which has now been broken up, said the money was to “protect local government services for the people of Hackney”. However this financing came attached with nine conditions, one of which stated that it could not be used to “offset failure to achieve savings”. Crucially this stipulation meant the money could not be used to prevent cuts in services.
A further condition attached to the financial carrot required the council to “establish the new body for education services in the borough”. Subsequent to OFSTED’s condemnatory report on Hackney’s education service, central government ordered the council to privatise two key areas of the service. Schools minister, Estelle Morris, announced the decision: “The secretary of state will now direct Hackney to sign a contract. This is the first time we have been able to take decisive action, thanks to the new powers we took in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.”
Nord Anglia Education plc were awarded contracts to run the School Improvement and Ethnic Minority Achievement services. However, in a further OFSTED report written over one year after Nord Anglia took over, it listed school improvement as “functions, which are still unsatisfactory”. Furthermore Labour councillor, Ian Peacock, told a Select Committee on Employment and Education, that Nord Anglia “has not made any difference in terms of day to day accountability.”
As privatisation was unable to bring the desired results, the OFSTED report recommended “radical change”. A joint team put together by the department of education and skills decided that a non-profit organisation should run education services in the borough, so the Hackney Education Trust was formed in August this year.
Parallel to this period of decision-making was an appraisal of how the financial services in the new trust should be run. For this analysis, the government selected PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) who concluded that long-term financial ownership, along with pensions, insurance and treasury management, should be carried out by Public Private Partnership (PPP). A spokesperson for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister denied that by hiring PwC, government were forcing privatisation on the council: “Decisions on outsourcing are rightly the responsibility of local authorities.”
However, backdoor expansion of private involvement in the new education trust could prove risky, as was noted by the joint team in their report:” The Audit Commission has signalled weaknesses in the capacity of the council to manage adequately contracts for outsourced services.”
Certainly, the failure of past privatisation has left its mark. Much of the present crisis could have been avoided had the outsourcing of social security benefits to a company called ITNET been managed properly or not taken place at all. The contract began in 1997 and by the time it was brought back in house four years later, it had cost the people of Hackney £36 million. Elderly people were left paying their rent out of their winter fuel money in fear of eviction, as benefit claims remained unprocessed. The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate stated in a report on ITNET that an estimated 64,112 outstanding items relating to 33,347 claims were left undone.
Distraught residents desperately turned to the Hackney Law Centre and Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) for help. According to the director of Hackney CAB, Sola Ayobade, both organisations felt the impact of ITNET’s failure: “You can’t even think about how it was. It was the evictions. Then the landlords would come in and say look we’re about to lose our properties because we can’t get our rent on the tenants we’ve got in. So we had all parties coming in, it was quite horrendous.” In the cruellest irony, funding for both Hackney Law Centre and the CAB has been cut because of the debt created by ITNET’s failure.
The CAB, who have already had to close one of its two Bureaus in the borough to new clients, now face further financial pressure after being threatened with a further 30 per cent cut in its grant. Meanwhile ITNET survived the ordeal, recently announcing pre-tax profits of £12.6 million for the last financial year. Further unfortunate irony came after the collapse of Railtrack. Hackney Council had invested part of its pension fund in 60,000 Railtrack shares and lost £100,000 when the rail company collapsed.
Hackney Council’s “Property Disposal Programme” was set a target of £70 million for the last financial year but only managed £50 million. Once again central government stepped in to provide an “Unsupported Credit Approval” loan to bridge the gap of £20 million. This effectively put the council into yet more debt.
When selling assets local councils are supposed to achieve “Best Value” on all properties sold. However, minutes of meetings not in the public domain but seen by Red Pepper Investigations, show that Hackney Council sold a package of nine buildings in Broadway Market, south Hackney, to a property development company called Stirling & Investments Ltd for a total of just £250,000.
At the time of purchase, the main shareholder in this newly formed company was Donald Beskine, an accountant working for the British government on a scheme to marketise eastern Europe. He was also principal advisor to the Bulgarian Economic Development Ministry and the Russian Federal Commission on the Securities Market. As managing director of the International Centre for Accounting Practices Beskine was employed by the European Union, USAID, World Bank and OECD to attract foreign investment into Russian enterprises. Sterling’s bid was preferred over that of the Notting Hill Housing Trust, a London based housing association.
Despite a necessity for affordable social housing in the area, these one bedroom studios are currently being sold at £150,000 each. Stirling & Investments Ltd. also received regeneration money to renovate the buildings although Hackney Council claim to have no records of exactly how much.
Residents and social groups across the borough have argued vehemently that the Council is targeting asset sales on properties which are vital community resources. Atherden Nursery in Clapton was one such property. Whilst up for sale, the premises were squatted by parents of children attending the nursery in an effort to prevent closure. When the rest of the local community proved overtly supportive of the squatters stance, the council backed down and promised to reopen the nursery once vacant possession was secured. The parents moved out only for the council to renege on its promise and close it. Later in the year the property was sold for £420,000.
And there are plenty more closures to come. The three year budget strategy agreed with central government involves £13 million of cuts this year, £18.2 million in 2003 and £22 million in 2004. As the Council desperately attempts to address its internal problems within the strict parameters set by central government, the future of public services and voluntary sector community projects in Hackney looks increasingly bleak. Certainly, promises that public services will improve look much like Atherden Nursery does today. Empty.