Letter in Hackney Gazette – 13th February 2003
Hackney North Labour Party used the Gazette letters page to announce that they are taking their banner on a march against the war on Iraq.
The obvious question is why are they protesting against the policies carried out by their own party in government, but do nothing to protest locally about the policies of our Labour Council?
If the American and British governments were closing schools, privatising and cutting services and running down estates in Baghdad I suppose the Hackney Labour Party would be against it.
Hackney’s Labour Council is pursuing a privatisation agenda in favour of the middle class, ignoring the protests of the majority working class community.
I hope that they have a good day out on the march. But while you are there have a think about the problems that our Labour council is causing at home.
Independent Working Class Association
Photo of the green on Acton estate. This is the only open space on the estate.
Hackney Council had plans to sell it to developers to build houses on it.
Before the election Labour Councillor David Young won a lot of support by getting the site taken off the Council’s disposal list.
Now that the election is safely out of the way, and there is not another one due for four years? The land is back on the disposal list.
“In the leaflet – the Haggerston Rose – Labour are claiming to have solved problems that they themselves caused,” said IWCA (Hackney Independent) activist and candidate Carl Taylor. “And they have claimed that things are getting better when all the evidence is that they are getting much, much worse.”
The leaflet claims that the £30 million secured by the council from central government has ended the threat to libraries and nurseries, that Labour were responsible for terminating the costly ITNet revenues and benefits contract and that they have brought improvements to schools, street cleaning and social services.
“The news that the threat to libraries and nurseries has been ended must be news to workers and users,” said Carl Taylor. “Each week in the Gazette we read about the ongoing libraries dispute and renewed threats to existing nursery provision. The ITNet contract was brought in by Labour in the first place and they were forced to sack them only in the face of the anger and misery of Hackney tenants. Thanks to Labour, ITNet nearly bankrupted this borough. Rather than claim credit for sacking them they should be apologising to all of us for their own incompetency. The massively overspent Service Team street cleaning contract and the Initial school meals fiasco shows that they haven’t learnt anything from ITNet. As for social services, how can anyone claim that reducing home care for the elderly and cutting Freedom Passes to the disabled are ‘real improvements’!?”
The IWCA (Hackney Independent) have also condemned labour councillors claims to have ‘worked hard to keep open the Apples & Pears Adventure Playground’. The IWCA’s Peter Sutton – another election candidate in Haggerston Ward – said “the only reason this valuable site is under threat in the first place is because Labour councillors are determined to sell off our facilities. Apples & Pears was only saved from the hammer at auction because volunteer workers and parents got a court injunction which has delayed the sale. Are Labour now saying they have no plans to sell the site, or do they intend to push the sale again after the election when it will be less electorally damaging? Whatever their plans are they should come out and say so. No wonder people are increasingly fed up with this kind of dishonest ‘politics’.”
The IWCA (Hackney Independent) believes that Labour’s claim that they will ‘continue to stick up for local people and vital community facilities’ is nothing more than a joke, and not a particularly funny one. “Labour’s record on community facilities is abysmal,” said Peter Sutton. “They have broken their promise in their last newsletter, put out over a year ago, to reopen Haggerston Pool. Why should people believe what they read in this one? We share people’s frustration at this kind of ‘economy with the truth’ and are committed to campaigning with local people to prevent more cuts and sell-offs. We will continue to do so whatever happens at the elections. Fortunately people now have a choice in Haggerston.”
He says he needs time to sort out Hackney’s problems, but many residents are unimpressed by what they have seen so far and Mr Pipe’s majority of five may evaporate in this May’s elections.
His popularity took a sharp dive when he personally intervened to halt a sit-in by parents at two popular nursery schools threatened with closure in a round of spending cuts. One parent said: “He gave us to understand that the schools would not be closed and we called off the occupation.” Soon after, both nurseries were shut and offered for sale.
Mr Pipe has given stalwart support to Hackney’s managing director Max Caller, known widely throughout the borough as “Mad Max”. Mr Caller was the former chief executive at Barnet and applied for the Hackney job after reading an advertisement which warned applicants that Hackney had “an absence of coherent political leadership, a disconnection between strategy and operation, poor financial management and a lack of focus on basic services”.
Mr Caller, who earns £150,000 a year, says he is doing his utmost to tackle these problems, although many feel his best is not good enough. When he turned 50 last summer, a group of Hackney residents arrived at the town hall with a birthday card that suggested he take early retirement.
According to town hall lore, he is preoccupied by concerns over his personal security after a number of threats. He has a secure car parking space and an elaborate alarm system at his home that is said to have cost the council £40,000.
From Housing Today, 12/4/01:
Labour has halved social housing construction and doubled the rate of transfers since ousting the Conservatives in 1997. This finding emerged in a pre-election analysis of the three main parties’ housing plans for the Housing Quality Network. Consultant Tim Dwelly noted in his report that in 1997 Labour gave no pledge on investment in new homes and no housebuilding targets. “That is just as well, as the government has built half as many scial housing units as the last Conservative administration,” he wrote. Dwelly notes that stock transfer has more than doubled under New Labour.
“Labour did not pledge in 1997 to ‘halve housebuilding and double privatisation’ but that it what it has done,” he told network members. All three parties gave little space to housing in their last general election manifestos. Dwelly argues that it is only a slight exaggeration to say that the view of parties’ strategists is, “we are all home owners now, except you lot that don’t really vote. “He said it is “hard to identify any major battlegrounds on housing between Labour and the Tories.”
Note: the Housing Quality Network is entirely made up of professional housing managers – there are no tenants or community activists involved. This, for once, is an honest view from the inside of the housing world.
New Labour errand boy, Luke Akehurst, claims that the Gazette got it wrong in reporting the views of Hackney Labour Party. The issue is whether or not central government is going to be asked for more money during the current crisis. Anyone who can get on the internet can read what Labour is telling its own members on this subject. The IWCA was recently leaked an internal newsletter and you can read it in full here.
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 ?