Hackney For Sale

ITNet Payouts – Not Likely!

letter printed in Hackney Gazette 17th May

Your report last week that Hackney Council plan to take ITNet to court for £30 million damages might have cheered a few of your readers up, but think about this; ITNet have in fact increased their turnover again this year, despite their obvious failures in Hackney, and look set to win more contracts for their “outsourcing” work, meanwhile the agony goes on for those left waiting for payments and threatened with eviction.

Thousands of Hackney residents have been affected by this fiasco – most of them on low incomes and already feeling the pinch – but who will pay for it all? Who decided to sign a contract with ITNet and why did it take so long for the council to respond? Will the real victims of this scandal get any compensation? Don’t hold your breath.

Dan Carter
Hackney IWCA

The "New Eastenders" – What About the "Old Eastenders"?

A series on “The New Eastenders” starts a run this week on BBC2. The programme promises to look at the artistic community that has “radically changed parts of The East End of London”. The Observer in its preview of the series makes some interesting points, perhaps unwittingly.

Their influence has been a property developers’ dream. As the pull of a “happening scene” continues to send prices rocketing, artisans, yuppies, entrepreneurs and now even large establishment organisations…have all been magnetically drawn towards the soi-disant creative heart of the capital.
So what ? As we’ve pointed out over the last two years, the “colonisation” (as The Observer puts it) of “beautiful people” (as they no doubt put it themselves) has been part of a wider programme of gentrification in the area. The working class of Shoreditch have been the main victims of this up till now, with families forced out because of spiralling rents and the New Deal and Council looking to capitalise on the value of the land by selling off estates and bringing in market rents in target blocks. But now even the artists are struggling to make ends meet, so obviously it’s worthy of widespread media concern after all.

Gentrification is not inevitable though. Hackney Independent believes that working class tenants can put our own interests first and kick the whole process into touch. Shoreditch New Deal Trust’s glossy magazine is finally starting to reflect what’s been happening on the ground: that the majority of local people want to stay with the council for their housing provision (they don’t reveal that survey results put the majority at 93% !) and that they don’t want their flats demolished.

Hackney Indpenendent has backed tenants in campaigning against sell-offs and been actively involved in presenting an alternative to the gentrification blueprint. It’s interesting to see that it’s not only tenants who’ve noticed our campaigning work in the local community, but the New Deal Board themselves who have noticed and had to change their language and approach because of the way Hackney Independent and Hackney’s working class majority have forced the agenda. Now it seems that even the national media is acknowledging some of the arguments we’ve been putting forward: that gentrification is not the answer to Shoreditch’s problems.

We Need To Stand Up To Cuts


As a tenant representative and deputy chair of the borough wide tenants’ convention, I would like to inform the council employees that we fully support their industrial action against cuts. It is a sad day when the workers are left with no alternative but to strike and say “No More Cuts”. Hackney is steeped in history but, sadly, most recently we have achieved notoriety by becoming the borough with the highest level of serious crime, the lowest level of services and paying the highest price for the lowest level pf services.

It’s up to us now to tell these councillors that we elected them to represent our interests, in which they have failed miserably, and that if they have any decency left in them they should resign now. The government has told Hackney Council to put its house in order under the direction of the managing director, Max Caller. I can see it now – Max called the councillors together and told them “Unless you do as I say, you will be surcharged” – which could mean them losing their property and any other assets they might have.

We’ve all seen the Laurel and Hardy of Hackney, namely Jules Pipes and Eric Ollenshaw, singing from the same hymn book on TV, reiterating the words Max Caller has programmed them to try and justify leading us further into the mire.

That is why all theses councillors from all the parties are so willing to agree to any of Max’s proposals to make cuts to staff and their salaries. This will obviously result in cuts to services while Max proposes to increase the cost of these services, to be paid for by the residents of Hackney. The residents and service providers are yet again expected to bear the cost, rather than the perpetrators of this mess, the councillors who should be surcharged, and some senior officers, who seriously ill advised members at committee level when decisions were being made which are affecting us all now. These officers should be sacked.

Let us not forget the latest mess these councillors are leading us into, the awarding of the refuse collection contract to ServiceTeam, which was contested at the time by a company named Cleanaway, who were at the time unsuccessful in their bid. However, less than two months into the contract ServiceTeam have been taken over by Cleanaway. Is it an example of “best value” being practised by hackney Council when the private contractor is being paid £2 million more than the in-house team was ?

Until this council is brought down, we will be expected to keep bailing them out and bearing the cost.

Dave Mackey

Look out for an interview with Dave Mackey in the next Hackney Independent, out in March.

Why Should We Pay?

note: Patrick McCrudden has been in touch and we urge others who are interested in standing independent working class candidates to contact us.

Why Should We Pay ? – letter in Hackney Gazette 23rd January 2001

The following letter appeared in this week’s edition of the Gazette. It wasn’t sent by an IWCA member but echoes many of the things we’ve been saying about standing independent candidates against the middle class councillors we have now. If the writer of the letter is serious in his points here, we would urge him to get in touch.

Hackney Council, its present concillors, and managers etc. want to increase tenants’ rent by up to £8 a week, plus increase our council tax by £84. What services are we residents in Hackney really getting and why are we the people/ residents/ workers in Hackney having to foot the bill for the council’s mismanagement ? Why should the people of Hackney suffer and pay, especially those on low incomes ?

Max Caller’s on a nice little earner, but I bet he’s not taking a pay cut. No, but these people who provide services will take pay cuts. This is why I am in full support of strike action…This is what all tenants, residents and council workers should do to those bosses and councillors in Hackney Town Hall – direct action, residents’ action groups, non-payment of council tax. Enough of this softly, softly approach. It’s time the people of Hackney got off their backsides and take the councillors and bosses by the neck and tell them “you’re not making us pay for your mistakes and incompetence”.

What we really need is to elect independent candidates who will stand in the next local elections on anti-cuts/anti-corruption. This is why I and othyer sactive in Hackney have decided to stand against the Liberal/Labour/Conservative coalition. Residents of Hackney – it’s time to stand up and come to the call to arms. The councillors voted in the cuts to jobs and services, so dump your rubbish on the councillors’ doorsteps.

Patrick McCrudden, Stamford Hill

Power to the People
letter in Hackney Gazette 8.2.2001

As the letters page of your paper shows, more and more people in Hackney are fed up with how our lives are being made a misery by the incompetence and political careerism of councillors who “run” the borough. Some of your correspondents have called for marches, demonstrations and produced the odd snappy slogan, but where have these things got us in the past ? I was more interested to see Patrick McCrudden’s letter in last week’s Gazette which called for independent candidates to be stood in council elections.

The IWCA has long argued for this, but it is only part of a bigger picture of community politics and can’t work just on its own; a recent event might highlight this. Two weeks ago, around 100 tenants from all over Shoreditch attended a meeting of the New Deal where proposals to demolish entire estates were being put forward. At short notice, and with impressive self-organisation, these people forced the New Deal to back down: a display of the power that working class people can have when we work together (a fuller report is available on the news page).

If we are serious about changing Hackney for the better for its working class majority, then we have to be serious about how we approach it. Standing candidates is one part of that, but those standing should be prepared to get involved in the issues that working class communities themselves feel are important, not just appear overnight and hope to pick up a few votes the next day. We would be genuinely interested to hear what Patrick McCrudden is proposing.

Dan Carter (Hackney IWCA)

Private Eye on ITnet

IN THE SHITNET- reprinted from Private Eye 26th Jan 2001

The neighbouring London boroughs of Hackney and Islington have finally decided what to do about their useless housing benefit (HB) contractor SHITNet – aka ITNet.

ITNet’s inefficiency has caused huge suffering and anxiety for the very poorest people it is supposed to help, while allowing fraudsters to carry on virtually unchecked. Hackney reiterated its decision, reached last autumn, to sack the company; but Islington has extended its £32 million, seven year contract.

Is Islington mad ? Lib Dem council leader Steve Hitchins portarys the decision as the tough renegotiation of an unrealistic original contract made with the former Labour regime. If the service doesn’t improve radically, he says, ITNet simply won’t be paid. Getting tough was the best, most cost-effective course.

Another way of putting it is that ITNet has the council over a barrel. Sacking ITNet would cost Islington £13 million and bringing HB back in house would cost millions more. What about finding another contractor ? Companies like Crapita in Lambeth and CSL in Croydon are every bit as bad as SHITNet. And in any case, after the financial and PR disasters of the past few years, such companies are no longer exactly queuing up to administer HB on councils’ behalf – which could yet prove a problem for Hackney.

One solution might have been to let Islington’s other neighbour Camden take over the running of the service. Camden, which resisted the 1990s fashion for “outsourcing” HB, runs the most efficient service of the inner London boroughs, and the cheapest, at £127 per claim. A deal was almost struck, but then Camden admitted it could be two years before a decent service was guaranteed, and that things would probably get worse before they got better. Islington chickened out and SHITNet stays.

And what about future HB strategy in Hackney, Britain’s worst council ? It can be summarised in four words: haven’t got a clue.

NIT-NET – reprinted from Private Eye 12th Jan 2001

While this article focuses on Islington’s experience of ITNet, we thought it might ring true for Hackney residents too…

Incompetent housing benefit contractor ITNet, due to lose its contract with Hackney this year, is now on shaky ground in neighbouring Islington.

A report by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) into the administration of Islington’s annual £120 million HB service concludes that ITNet provides a “totally inadequate service” and that the council’s in-house anti-fraud team is so useless that fraudsters claim HB in Islington safe in the knowledge that even if they are caught they won’t have to pay a penny back.

The BFI says ITNet “is not learning from its own mistakes” and that genuine claimants “face hardship as they are unable to meet recent commitments as a direct result of claims not being processed”. The report observes that “contracting out has not been a success” and lays much of the blame for this with the council, which is accused of a “failure to manage or enforce the contact”.

Investigators found that 88 of the 131 staff employed by ITNet are temps; that staff have ample opportunity to commit fraud due to lack of effective management; and that the data ITNet gives the council regarding its performance is wholly unreliable…

So, when the Lib Dems in Hackney try to make political capital out of the Labour-Tory coalition’s failures with ITNet , just remember one word. Islington.

letter in Hackney Gazette 16th November 2000

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.

Newspapers Cover Hackney Meltdown

Click on the links below for national and local coverage of the Hackney Council crisis:

Evening Standard – Thursday 9th November

The Observer – Sunday 12th November

The Guardian – Saturday 11th November

Evening Standard – Wednesday 8th November

2 letters from the "New Deal For Shoreditch" magazine, October edition

Hackney Council consult on rent increases (for extra services) but they do not consult the tenants on the extra rent they collect. For instance rents go up to put in central heating and tenants agree to a rent increase of £1. The Council then put on an extra rent of £2.60. So the rent (increase) would then be £3.60 not the agreed £1. This means hardship for tenants on low wages, pensioners and those who are disabled that are not on housing benefit as these people have to pay full rent and council tax. The Shoreditch New Deal Trust Board made a policy to help council tenants to become leaseholders, why don’t they make a policy to help council tenants with the Council and government MP’s heartless rent policies.

John Skeet, member of Shoreditch Tenants’ Association.

Shoreditch TA ask a good question. We think the answer is that the New Deal Board, with a few honourable exceptions, are more interested in selling-off council tenancies than helping council tenants. Only five of the 12 “community” representatives are staying as council tenants – despite three quarters of the homes in the New Deal being council tenants.

I have to criticise the newsletter/New Deal Trust. (They) seem to give too much space to those people who find fault with everything new. I find that too much time is spent moaning about the growth in restaurants and bars etc…. These bring in money some of which is spent in local shops and pubs. It’s not surprising that new people to the area prefer to go to the newer bars etc some in the new deal area are so unfriendly to anything new, verging on the hostile.

Chris Nelson, local resident and businessman.
We wonder why…

Hackney IWCA article in New Cross New Deal magazine

This is the full text of the article printed in the New Cross New Deal magazine. The published version has been edited and the magazine can be contacted on 0800 096 7046.

At the same time as the New Deal was planned for Shoreditch, a group of tenant and community activists set up the Hackney Independent Working Class Association. We aim to involve and represent the interests of the working class majority in Shoreditch and South Hackney, as we felt the political parties were no longer able to do this, and that the developers were being given a free hand to gentrify our area.

I thought I would send some news of what the New Deal for Communities has meant for us here in Hackney. We’re about two years ahead of you, and have been through the hype and hope that the first stages of the New Deal brings.

A big contrast with Shoreditch is your magazine. Ours is controlled by the New Deal, and only allows minor differences to be expressed – it is there to give “good news” about the New Deal. This is backed up by Hackney Today, the Council’s magazine, and the Shoreditch Star which is produced by Pinnacle, the private company brought in to run council homes in the area. All three glossy magazines, produced by professionals, put out the message that the New Deal is the best thing ever. Against them we have produced the Hackney Independent. We have produced two editions so far, and have had to raise the money and deliver them ourselves to 10,000 homes in the area. It gives a voice to our group, and carries interviews with and articles by community leaders who are opposed to what the New Deal is doing.

We are not against the New Deal – who is going to be against extra money coming into the area? – but we are against the way the New Deal is run. We have made the tenant and community reps on the Board make a choice. Are they on the side of the tenants and opening up the New Deal, or are they on the side of the professionals, the gentrifiers and those who make decisions behind closed doors? So far they are split down the middle.

We keep being told that the community is in control of the New Deal. Let’s have a look at this then. We have 21 Board members, and of them seven of them are tenants. How can this be right in an area where 80% of us are council tenants? We are not even allowed to know how much the New Deal’s Director is paid. An over-worked Board is hit by decision after decision and deadline after deadline – all set by the professionals. No-one in the area supports the sell-off of Council homes, but the Board were told that they had to put this forward as an option or they would not get any funding. And the only other “option” is to bring in a PFI and sell-off some land and homes. We do not get the option of having our homes improved and keeping our Council tenancies.

Tenant leaders in neighbouring Clerkenwell, having heard about what is happening here in Shoreditch, have decided that they want nothing to do with the New Deal in their area. And because of this they have been subject to two front-page attacks in the local paper by their local Lib Dem councillor. And they told us that the community was meant to be in charge!

The NX Project states that it is trying “to build a consensus about what should happen next.” My view is that there cannot be a consensus. The interests of New Cross’s working class majority are not the same as those who can buy houses like the Guardian’s property of the week (9 December 1999), a house in Pepys Road which “is yours for a mere £310,000. No need to worry about nasty council blocks and Costcutters; you’ll be in the heart of the beautiful Telegraph Hill conservation area.” These people will want less council housing in the area, will want to turn the pubs into café-bars and your shops into organic juice bars. They will want less council housing, they won’t use local schools and they will want to sit on the New Deal Board.

The reality is that you can make gains out of the New Deal, and should make up your own minds about getting involved. If our New Deal gave up on privatising Council housing and worked for things like getting an East-West bus route through Shoreditch then we would stop criticising them.

My advice is to bear in mind that there are some people who in Jess Steele’s words (1st edition) “are thinking big about New Cross.” They are thinking about how much big money can be made from the valuable land that your homes are sitting on. They will propose schemes to replace your estates with “mixed developments” involving housing associations and private homes where tenants used to live. But they will never propose mixed developments where houses in private streets are taken over for Council housing. What they will propose is nothing short of “social cleansing” as they seek to force and price the local population out, and bring in a new population who can afford the new rents and house prices.

And don’t trust anyone who says that this cannot happen without a ballot. You don’t get a ballot if they use the Private Finance Initiative. And you don’t get a ballot if they decide to rent out every flat that becomes empty at market rents to ensure that local people cannot afford it.

To counter this I would urge you to get the following sentence inserted into New Deal plans; “there will not be one less council home in the New Deal area at the end of the New Deal project, except where tenants have taken up their Right to Buy.” If they will not agree to this, then why not? And who is in charge?

I would also encourage you to:

  • Insist on New Deal funding for NXNews, with no interference on what you can print.
  • Make sure that your Board reflects the community. If the majority of residents are Council tenants then the majority of the Board should be. And only tenants should be able to vote on any proposals that only effect the estates. 

Anyone who can get onto the internet can look up our website at www.hackneyiwca.fsnet.co.uk You can see the New Deal’s site at www.shoreditchnewdeal.co.uk

If you would like a copy of our latest newsletter, send a stamped, addressed envelope to Box 48, 136 Kingsland High Street, London, E8 2NS.
If you want someone to come to a meeting to discuss our view on the New Deal, write to the same address. Good luck New Cross!