In response to an article in last week’s Hackney Gazette about the site of Bibs and Braces nursery being turned into a private nursery – with the help of lottery funding – an IWCA letter from Asha Kelly hit back. Lead letter in Hackney Gazette 23rd October reprinted here:
Councillor Linda Kelly may be denying any responsibility for shutting the Bibs and Braces nursery (Nursery Back in Business – Hackney Gazette October 16 2003) but it was her party that sold it off last year. Closing down a council-run nursery that served working class parents and reopening it as a private nursery charging £135 a week may strike some as perverse until you realise that this privatisation by stealth seems to be part of Labour’s strategy in Hackney and beyond. If the nursery is now “vital for the area” as Cllr Kelly claims, wasn’t it “vital for the area” when it was council run and a whole lot cheaper?
Isn’t it also a touch ironic that the new nursery can now be built after lottery funding was made available? After all, it’s not usually the middle class who buy the lottery tickets which provide the money for lottery funding, but the working class. A strange case of the poorer part of the community dipping into their pockets to subsidise a private venture for the better off!
While it is claimed there are surplus places in the Hoxton, Haggerston and Queensbridge area, chair of the governors at the school, Graham Myers has made it clear that the school is close to capacity:
“We have more information on the reasons the council proposes to close Laburnum. Basically, the council has worked out that Laburnum has a surplus of school places. However, according to the LEA we have a form and a half entry (one and a half classes per year group). Although we have only been single form entry (one class per year group) for some time, because when teachers left the school 1991-1992 those classes were closed down by the authority. The teachers were not replaced! So it is quite amazing that the same authority now tell us that we should actually have 330 pupils instead of our 220. Currently every class is at full capacity ie 25 or more. In fact, there is a waiting list for certain classes. Also, the fact that we have a brand new computer suite, a brand new science room, just completed, and the school office was moved down stairs into what was formally the year 2 class room. We doubt very much if we could accomodate 330 pupils.” The real reasons may be more complicated than what the council are claiming and one schoolkid hit the nail on the head when he said “Hackney Council wants to close our school and make it into posh flats!”. Laburnum School is on prime development land overlooking Regents Canal and ripe for conversion into flats for Hackney’s yuppie influx. And after all, who needs a local state primary when you could go private?
Hackney Independent is meeting with supporters of the campaign to keep Laburnum School open and will do what we can to prevent another sell-off of a much needed community asset. So soon after New Labour strengthened their hold on the Council it’s nice to see they’ve started out as they mean to go on – closing community facilities in working class areas.
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.
Community activists in Hackney are fighting vested interests and a deafening press silence in an attempt to stop the debt-ridden and notoriously corrupt council from destroying the fabric of the borough.
Cuts are also being made in other areas attacks on council workers’ pay and conditions have been intense, with pay cuts of up to £1500/year and cuts in overtime, shift allowances and flexibility.
In the midst of all this, the council is reported to be pushing plans to pave over the Town Hall Square, at a cost of £1m, £600,000 of which is taken from the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund cut straight from the budget of services such as playgrounds, law centres, youth projects, arts and ethnic minority support groups which are of vital benefit to the people of Hackney. The square currently contains trees and flowerbeds and, while in need of some renovation, is hardly the most pressing priority for a council in Hackney’s dire straits.
The campaign against the cuts and sell-offs is gathering pace. Activists began by squatting an empty shop and setting up a spoof estate agent with information on the properties being sold off. This was followed, on 12th October, by an occupation of the offices of Nelson Bakewell, the real estate agent dealing with the sales, calling for them to withdraw all Hackney Council properties from the auction on the 15th. The auction went ahead, but with paranoid-level security and a lively demo outside leafletting passers-by and potential bidders. Inside, the auction was disrupted by local residents complaining at the selling off of services. The disruption focussed on the sale of Atherden Road Nursery, which was closed earlier this year, then occupied and re-opened by protesting parents (Hackney is currently short of around 1,000 nursery places). To end the occupation, the council lied to the parents and said they would keep the nursery open. The next month the council closed it. It was then occupied by people who reopened it as a much needed community centre. They were evicted after 3 months. The council lied in court and said that it would not be sold. When the bidding finally started, the price was pushed up wildly by two campaigners bidding against each other, who were eventually removed when the auctioneers twigged. However, instead of re-starting the bidding, the auctioneers simply accepted the highest genuine bid (considerably higher than the site had been expected to fetch). [not sure if this is true – thre are reports of lower bid being accepted – anyone know for sure?]
Meanwhile, council gardeners and estate cleaners objected to the cuts in wages and jobs by staging a one-day wildcat strike on October 12th, coinciding with the occupation of Nelson Bakewell estate agents. One worker said, ‘People don’t know how much they’re earning or how long they’re going to have a job,’ hardly surprising that morale’s down the tube, then. The same worker said there was a feeling that Hackney council want to run an experiment in having a council with no in-house services. Earlier attempts to split services up into ‘trading units’ running an ‘internal market’ led to the collapse of several departments and many job losses as a result of fragmentation, increased bureaucracy and loss of econommies of scale since those units that were successful got no encouragement it was suspected then that the ‘internal market’ was merely an excuse to increase contracting-out.
The council’s attitude to transparency is shown by the events around the council meeting on 25th September. A special meeting was called to debate cuts to funding for voluntary community groups, after the Regeneration Committee had been unable to debate the cuts because all of its members declared a conflict of interest [at least they declared it. Ed]. The published agenda for the meeting said it would concern rescinding of standing order 40 no mention of cuts and you’d have to be fairly well up on jargon or in the original failed meeting to know what it meant. The meeting was scheduled for 10pm, but was moved to 8.30. After a number of councillors had withdrawn, declaring interests, the council moved directly to a vote with no debate. The entire Labour contingent voted in favour of the motion (i.e. in favour of the cuts which could force some voluntary organisations to close. Other councillors challenged the proceedings, particularly the absnce of a debate, but got nowhere.
Meanwhile, good news that Hackney’s schools are to be handed over to a non-profit making trust when the current PFI contract with Nord Anglia expires next July. Although the new body will include a school governor and two headteachers, there have been complaints that it will contain no classroom teachers.
Contact: Hackney not for Sale! firstname.lastname@example.org 07950 539 254
3 Hackney Council nurseries (Fernbank, St. Johns & Wetherall) have been recommended for closure and/or privatisation in a recent Best Value draft proposal. Two community nurseries are also to lose their council funding and thus face closure.
MEETING TO DEFEND HACKNEY NURSERIES
Thursday 28th June 5.15pm @ St.Johns Nursery