The ALMO and Decent Homes Debate 2004-2005Posted: September 1, 2005
From the letters page of the Hackney Gazette
letter to the Hackney Gazette 27th September 2004
Your article on Hackney’s Decent Homes Survey claimed that council canvassers are explaining a ‘range’ of ‘alternative options’ to assist the council to meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard by 2010.
These boil down to full privatisation, part-privatisation or the privatisation of so-called ‘spare’ land. To call this a ‘range’ of ‘options’ is laughable. One option tenants and leaseholders might suggest is that the council pay for improvements out of rent and service charges. Some estates have been left to rot for over thirty years. Since rent receipts have clearly not been spent on maintenance over that time there should be plenty of money, and if there isn’t we should be given a further option of asking why the hell not.
Each of the council’s alternatives involve tenants paying even more – in one way or another – for maintenance that they have already paid for, sometimes over and over again.
You just know that when New Labour offers you a choice it has already made up its mind to privatise something… Decent Homes, yes, but not when the range of choices, alternatives and options all serve the government’s stated aim of killing off council housing.
Hackney Independent Working Class Association
Letters in Hackney Gazette, November 18th 2004
Debate Real ‘Fourth Way’
As representatives of Hackney tenants, we are concerned that the council is rushing towards some form of housing privatisation without due thought for the future, and without proper consultation.
It has mounted an expensive campaign to instruct tenants in three options for the future – stock transfer, PFI and Arms Length Managment Organisations. It says this is the only way to finance the improvements needed to bring our homes up to a decent standard.
It offers a “fourth option” – selling garages and play space to private developers – but admits that this wouldn’t bring in enough money. None of its material mentions the real ‘fourth way’ – the council keeps the homes and the government allows it a fair chance to invest in improving them.
Numerous studies have shown that the private options cost more money and perform no better overall than local councils. In fact, if there was a “level playing field” and the government gave councils back the remainder of the right-to-buy receipts, councils would be able to build better , more affordable and secure housing for all those who so desperately need it and held reduce housing prices for everyone.
It is only the government’s policy to date of transferring assets and operations to the private sector that has led to this option being ignored, but the tide has turned. More than 200 MPs and many local councils now support the Fourth Way.
The House of Commons council housing group of MPs and the Defend Council Housing campaign have demonstrated that the money is there and John Prescott has stated that tenants should not be penalised if they do not vote for transfer, or another private finance option, and he and Keith Hill have promised to give a “level playing field” to the Fourth Way.
This means that the consultation exercise on financing Decent Homes is not just unfair, but has also been overtaken by events. For this reason we call on Hackney council to allow time and resources for the real Fourth Way to be debated alongside the other options.
We ask tenants and TRA and trade union representatives in Hackney to support us.
Signed by 14 members of Hackney TRAs.
Wren’s Park has made its views clear
A packed meeting of more than 70 residents made their opposition to any form of partial or total privatisation very clear at Wren’s Park estate tenants’ hall on November 3.
The council had comissioned two representatives of Pathmeads Housing Association to gather residents’ opinions and they confirmed that they would take back a clear report that the residents were overwhelmingly opposed to any of the options for ALMO, stock transfer, PFI, or more land sell offs.
Residents deplored the lackof any council members or officers at the meeting and expressed their concern that “consultation” was being conducted by company with a vested interest in privatisation.
Residents do want repairs and improvements carried out, but they are anxious to retain their existing rights as tenants and leaseholders and do not want their homes to pass from control by accountable, elected councillors into the hands of unaccountable private companies.
As for land sell-offs, this estate has already had two developments on former garage sites which resulted in paltry sums offered to the estate as compensation and which have not, in fact, been paid.
Several residents commented on the eight-to-one vote at the Labour Party conference in favour of letting tenants remain council tenants, if they want to. Reference was also made to the statement by John Prescott that he wanted councils to have access to funds for housing investment equivalent to the grants and borrowing facility available to housing associations.
The arguments for direct funding were discussed and residents demanded that Hackney Council should withdraw its current consultation until the government carries out the review of funding rules that Mr Prescott promised.
The point was made that there is money that rightly belongs to council housing that could be used and that, generally, council tenants pay far more in rent than is spent on housing services. There is also the profit government takes from right-to-buy sales.
The money spent by the council on publicity newsletters, DVDs, consultation fees etc. would be better spent on housing repairs. Hopefully there will be many more such meetings across the borough and the council will be persuaded not to rush ahead with its plans for ALMOs etc. and allow an open debate, which includes the option for retention of existing council management and ownership.
In Birmingham, Camden and numerous other areas, residents have rejected both ALMOs and privatisation. They are demanding that the government allows councils to use existing funds to borrow money, where necessary, without selling off our homes to private landlords, and to provide decent housing for everyone.
Paul Robertson, committee member, Wren’s Park TRA
George Haynes, Treasurer
George Hargreaves, ex-Chairman
Make Sure Your Voice is Heard
By the time you read this, there will be 13 days left for Hackney tenants and leaseholders to vote on the best route to get the repairs and refurbishments desperately needed for Hackney’s homes.
This is the most important decision that we will make about the future of our homes and I urge all tenants and leaseholders to use their vote. The “Test of Opinion” runs from November 16 to 30 and you can vote by post or by secure freephone.
By 2010, all homes must reach the Decent Homes standard, which means dry, warm, weather-tight homes with reasonably modern kitchens and bathrooms.
To reach this, Hackney Council wants residents to be able to tap into hundreds of millions of pounds available to fund the necessary improvements to bring all homes up to the quality standard.
Hackney has just started the job – you may have seen the scaffolding going up across the borough – but our survey has revealed that there is a shortfall of around £20 million to bring all properties up to the required level. That’s about £9,000 per home. Unless we find this money, the refurbishment will slow down to a trickle.
After a year of informing and consulting our residents through newsletters, meetings fun days and even a DVD, we want to know which would be your preferred option for your neighbourhood. You can choose from:
ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation)
Stock transfer to a housing association
PFI (Private Finance Initiative)
Stay as you are (with no additional investment to improve your home or estates)
We are committed to consulting residents from every neighbourhood and want to hear your views. Every neighbourhood’s view will be fed into the decisions that the council’s Cabinent will make in December about the best way forward for all Hackney’s homes.
If you are still undecided and need the options explaining again, it’s not too late. Call the Decent Homes team on 020 8356 4409 or your independent tenant’s adviser on 0800 279 8070, to have the options explained.
Every vote counts. Make sure your voice is heard.
Cllr Jamie Carswell,
Cabinet Minister for Housing.
ALMOs are not privatisation
Janine Booth totally misrepresents the ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation) option for Hackney’s council housing in her letter (November 11).
She says it threatens “residents’ involvement in decisions about our homes” when, in fact, an ALMO would involve tenants being directly involved in running housing in Hackney through representatives on an ALMO board.
Quite apart from the massive extra government funds an ALMO would bring to improve housing, this would be a great step forward for empowering tenants. They would have a direct say in running housing in Hackney.
She smears ALMOs as privatisation. They are not. Under an ALMO, Hackney Council would remain the landlord and the council would still be protecting tenants’ interests. For example, an ALMO could not dispose of any land without council agreement.
Cllr Luke Akehurst
Labour, Chatham Ward
letters to the Hackney Gazette 25th November 2004
Cynical – and expensive
Luke Akehurst accuses Janine Booth of totally misrepresenting the ALMO option for Hackney council housing (Letters, November 18). In fact, Cllr Akehurst is so keen to push the ALMO option he deliberately misrepresents two facts:
First, ALMOS’s are a private company. They are registered as companies, they have a board of directors and they pay corporation tax.
Secondly, those tenants who get elected to the ALMO board are not there as tenant representatives. Once elected, their responsibility is to the ALMO board of directors, not to the tenants who voted for them. This is not, as Cllr Akehurst alleges, a ‘great step forward for empowering tenants’, but a surefire means of gagging them.
Hackney council has already made up its mind that it wants to set up ALMO’s. This “Test of Opinion” is, yet again, a cynical exercise to pretend democracy exists where it does not. It is also a very expensive one. If I were to ask Cllr Akehurst how much the council’s pro-ALMO campaign has cost so far, would he be able to answer without misrepresenting the true figure?
ALMO tenants bound to be outnumbered
IN reply to Cllr Akehurst’s claims about ALMOs (November 18), he is not telling the whole story – just like the glossies that have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to promote the council’s preferred option.
Tenants’ reps on ALMO boards, far from being “empowered”, are outnumbered and bound by “corporate responsibility”.
ClIr Akehurst won’t tell you about Westminster ALMO and its massive financial shortfall. Tenants on two large estates were told their homes must be sold off if they want the promised improvements.
ALMO is the New Labour government’s doctrine of privatisation, which is now out of step with the massive majority vote at the last Labour conference for direct investment as a real option. All the major unions back direct investment, as well as the ODPM Select Committee. More than 250 MPs are backing Early Day Motions calling for investment and choice for council tenants.
Does no-one in Hackney Council follow the public housing debates? The ballot option to stay with the council claims no additional investment will be available. At best this is misleading. It hides the Labour Party’s changing policy and calls into question the accountability of local and national elected representatives.
Labour councils around the country are already borrowing to improve their stock. Why can’t councils have the same financial benetits and rights that the government is prepared to offer to private options?
That’s why so many of us are calling on tenants and leaseholders to vote for “stay as you are” and then join the national and local campaigns to defend council housing and demand direct investment without strings. Properly-funded public housing with fair rents and secure tenancies should and can be available – for tenants now and all those who need it, now and in the future.
Council does not want responsibility
AS a tenant I am opposed and my union branch is totally opposed to any attempt to hive off control of council housing.
The council’s proposals to tenants are dictated more by a philosophy of: “We don’t want the responsibility for housing in Hackney”. This is summed up by their favoured option of an ALMO. Any future problems tenants raise with their councillors will be kept at “arm’s length” with the “not me guv” response.
This already happens in education with the Learning Trust. To my knowledge, none of the Labour councillors advocating this policy will suffer the consequences as they are tucked up in their owner-occupied homes.
I returned my postcard some weeks ago indicating the fourth option of council control and the government should release the funds it holds from council house sales.
This would allow refurbishment of all council homes and the building of more council homes for the thousands currently on the waiting list. I received not a reply, but another complete set of the council’s glossy propaganda brochures.
This council should line up with its tenants to provide decent homes in council control. Any of the other proposals will remove control, cost more money and threaten the jobs of council workers.
Vote now for the fourth option in question one and “no” to questions two and three.
Joint Branch Secretary
This is the opportunity of a lifetime
WE welcome the debate about Decent Homes.
It means that the consultation is working and that people are thinking about the options available to raise the £220 million needed to get the repairs and refurbishment for Hackney’s homes.
However, it’s important that people understand that at the moment thete isn’t a “fourth way” and it would be misleading to suggest there was.
Should the government change their minds and tell us they will be giving money direct to local authorities to improve their housing stock, then we will, of course, work with this if it is a viable option.
Above all, it’s crucial that we get the money needed to improve Hackney’s homes. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to improve Hackney’s homes.
We don’t have the luxury of time to debate options that aren’t on the table. The money is needed now to make the much-needed changes that will, for once and for all, improve the quality of life for everyone living in Hackney.
It’s not too late to vote, Make sure your voice is heard. The “Test of Opinion” runs until November 30 and you can vote by post, or by secure freephone.
ClIr Jamie Carswell,
Cabinet member for housing.
All in a bad cause
ALL the expense all the ballyhoo – the army of employees door-knocking around the estates, glossy pamphlets glorifying three, two or one-stage privatisation options and rubbishing keeping council ownership, bouncy castles, face painting and food and drinks – to get a rushed agreement to destroy municipal housing.
Yet, the overwhelming (8-1) demand by the September Labour conference to defend council housing received assurance by John Prescott and housing minister Keith Hill that councils would have a “level playing field” in funding and investment freedom if tenants reject the three options and vote to stay with council ownership and management, and promised a review of funding rules.
Is the leadership of the council unaware of this, or are they determined to pre-empt the promised inquiry?
Hackney tenants, leaseholders and freeholders, who are being asked to vote and will be affected in one way or another, should reject any change from direct, accountable and council-run and owned housing and demand that councils are given the same funding and investment freedom that is being promised to the other leadership-favoured options.
Letters to the Hackney Gazette, December 2nd 2004
One last gasp as the vote deadline nears
Cllr Akehurst states (November 18) that ALMOs “would be a great step forward for empowering tenants… and would have a direct say in running housing in Hackney”.
He neglects to mention that the government’s own Audit Commision think otherwise: “Tenants are often led to believe that they will have an explicit role in representing the interest of their fellow tenants on the board. This is not compatible with the accepted principle that dictates that as a board member they have to work for the interest of the organisation.”
In other words, tenants on the board of an ALMO are duty bound under the law to put the needs of the ALMO–a private company–ahead of the needs of tenants.
If tenants ignore the law, they will at best find themselves outnumbered on the board, and at worst be kicked off the board. By definition, ALMOs cannot possibly give council tenants greater control or more effective accountability over housing.
Cllr Akehurst also rejects the accusation that ALMOs are a form of privatisation, but again official sources contradict him.
Price Waterhouse Coopers reported to Haringey Council that the ALMO strategy “is compatible with achieving full stock transfer in the longer term”.
The deputy director general of the Council of Mortgage Lenders said in April 2002 that “we now need to look at bringing in private finance into ALMOs. ALMOs could also be used as a transition vehicle for disengaging from the local authority control in an interim way”
The Westminster ALMO commenced selling off council stock after two years.
There can be no motive other than privatisation behind the council’s support for ALMOs. If this is not the case, then Cllrs Akehurst and Carswell should have no problem publicly committing that ownership of council housing will never go to any private company, even after the mandate of the ALMO expires.
The truth is that ALMOs are no more than an underhand method of getting round tenant opposition to straightforward privatisation, using the threat of ‘no money for repairs’ as a particularly despicable form of blackmail.
Hackney Council are so desperate to push this measure through that they are willing to put at risk the health of the young, the sick and the elderly.
Its motive should be obvious to anyone who is local to Hackney. Coupled with the increase in cost of private housing, this is part of the wider agenda to drive out working-class people and gentrify the borough. If this is not the case, then Cllrs Akehurst and Carswell should have no problem explaining just why direct investment in council housing from central government is not an acceptable option, but investment via ALMOs, PFI and stock transfer are. What possible agenda can there be other than privatisation?
letters to the Hackney Gazette 30th December 2004
Test of opinion and patience
Has anyone noticed that the Decent Homes Test of Opinion is just that.
Hackney Council will only be taking the voting results INTO CONSIDERATION when they make their decision for us.
Letters to the Hackney Gazette, January 6th 2005
Ballot a travesty of democracy
The recent “Test of Opinion” about the future of Hackney’s council homes was a travesty of democracy. I took part in the consultation, filling out several cards and returning them. In my replies I made it clear that I was not in favour of any of the so-called options the council offered, none of them being in tenants’ interests.
Yet when it came to the vote, I did not receive the opportunity to make my voice heard. My flatmate received a voting form. I didn’t, despite being a joint tenant.
Surely all council tenants should have been given the chance to have their say. That I didn’t tells me all that I need to know about the council’s attitude to democracy.
Letters to the Hackney Gazette, 27th January 2005
Commonsense or stuff and nonsense
Cllr Akehurst describes the council’s support for an ALMO as “commonsense”. To offload our hard-won housing to a board of directors in which a handful of tenants participate, merely as a response to blackmail by a central government hell-bent on carving up social property into bite-sized chunks and feeding it to rich people who can no longer make enough profits within their glorious private sector, is either madness or badness.
The only argument we have heard for the ALMO is that “Tony Blair won’t give us the money unless we agree to it” – I have not heard any councillor defend the concept of this trust/company as a more democratic, secure or even efficient way of running and improving our homes.
This is selling England by the pound, and the fact that 64 per cent (not 80 per cent) out of the 24 per cent of tenants and leaseholders who voted put the ALMO as their first preference will not, unfortunately, change that.
ALMOs are outrageous
Hackney Gazette – Friday August 19, 2005
Your article “£90 million windfall boosts council homes facelift” (Gazette 4th August) tells part of the story about Hackney’s ALMO. Here are a few other points:
* This is not a “windfall.” It is a £90 million loan, which the Council will need to pay back in the future.
* This loan is only available to the Council if they are judged to be a “2 star” or good service. While the Audit Commission bureaucrats may award this, a fairer test would be to look round the estate where you live and think how may “stars” you would award our council.
* Leaseholders will have to pay for all works on estates. There is certainly no “windfall” for them.
* We will not all get the promised “modern kitchens and bathrooms.” Not only will leaseholders not get them, many tenants won’t either. There are no plans to replace any kitchens or bathrooms unless they are over 20-30 years old.
* This council is hopeless at spending money. If they have £90 million think how much of that they will hand over to consultants, architects and as profits to contractors. We will be lucky to see half of it actually spent on repairs to our homes.
* The ALMO will mean big pay rises for council housing bosses and will give an excuse for councillors to pass the buck on repairs and estate cleaning. It will be “don’t ask me, go to the ALMO.”
The Council plan to set up their ALMO in April, just one month before the council elections in May. We won’t get a chance to stop the ALMO by voting for different councillors, just like we did not get the chance for a straight yes or no vote to an ALMO in a ballot of tenants and leaseholders. Yet again Hackney’s Labour council is imposing on us their plans to hand over their responsibilities to a private company.
Of course £90 million is a lot of money, but council tenants and leaseholders pay many times that amount to the council each year. We shouldn’t jump ship to an ALMO just for the possibility of getting a £90 million debt.
Hoxton representative, Hackney Independent
Wenlock Barn Estate
A Response to Jamie Carswell
Hackney Gazette, September 1, 2005
Jamie Carswell has finally admitted that his ALMO project will not bring us any extra government money. In his letter (Gazette Aug 25th) he states that I am wrong to say the £90 million is a loan. Instead he says it is “interest-free borrowing.” When Jamie Carswell sees a sofa advertised as “pay nothing till 2006” does he think it is free? The truth is that Labour do not want us to start thinking about how to pay the debt back. That comes later when, no doubt, they will try to turn their ALMO into a housing association to take our housing out of the council’s hands entirely.
For now Labour have presented us with a perfect Hobson’s Choice. You either accept the way they are running down council housing or you accept their plans to privatise it! Why don’t we have elected councillors who actually want to to improve the way council housing is run and to build more council housing for those who need it?
If Labour get their way, the ALMO will take over council housing in 7 months time. Who really knows what this ALMO is? Try asking neighbours on your estate if they understand what it is, if they support it or even if they have heard of it. If Jamie Carswell is right, his “Test of Opinion” showed that 64% of us support his ALMO. So, if you can’t find two out of every three people that understand and agree with the ALMO then you know Carswell is having us on. Everyone should remember that when the Labour Party turn up next year trying to get re-elected.
Jamie Carswell wants me to start living in the real world. I’ll tell you where I live – Wenlock Barn estate – one of the many parts of Hackney that the Labour Party has neglected over the years. We have paid our rents and charges, Hackney Council have had our money. What we want in return is our dues not privatisation. Hackney Independent will keep campaigning in Shoreditch to make the council responsible for repairing and managing our estates. It is time for a straight yes or no vote on the ALMO and not this shady ‘Test of Opinion.’
Hackney IndependentCropley Court
Wenlock Barn estate
Tell the truth Carswell!
Hackney Gazette, September 1, 2005
I am very concerned about Councillor Jamie Carswell’s comments in your letters pages.
The council has already sent out his pro-ALMO propaganda in half a dozen mailings to all tenants and leaseholders. All of it was pushing the ALMO and there was no balanced position against it. Reading his letter (August 25th Gazette) it seems he doesn’t like someone like Tony Butler putting the other side of the story. He claims Mr Butler is lying or inaccurate when really he just disagrees with his opinion.
There are good and bad points about the ALMO and in my opinion the bad outweigh the good. I don’t trust someone like Jamie Carswell who is trying to say it is 100% positive and there are no drawbacks.
Councillor Carswell states that “the majority of tenants and residents… voted for the ALMO in December.” The truth is that after months of one-sided pro-ALMO propaganda paid for out of rents and service charges, the council only persuaded around 4000 people to support their ALMO project. This is just 14% of tenants and leaseholders, not the 64% Councillor Carswell claims. If he is so far out on this – what else is he misleading us on about the ALMO?