Transfer no vote stuns Southwark

Tenants on Southwark’s Aylesbury estate have voted against transfer – blocking plans for a massive regeneration of the area. Almost three-quarters of the76 per cent of tenants who turned out to vote rejected proposals to transfer to Faraday Community Housing Association.

Transfer was needed to allow a £375 million pound regeneration project to go ahead. But the fundability of the scheme had been questioned in a report by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (Inside Housing, 30 November 2001).

A spokesperson for Southwark Council said they were ‘stunned’ by the result: ‘The leader’s view is that tenants have had their say. Where we go from now is to look at the options available.’

Leader of Southwark council Stephanie Elsy is seeking a meeting with housing minister Lord Falconer to discuss what alternatives now exist for the estate.
Meanwhile residents in Hackney’s 952 sheltered homes have voted to transfer to Hanover Housing Association. The plans promise £41 million of improvements to homes. Mark Weeks of Defend Council Housing said the parties against transfer worked together in Southwark unlike those in Hackney.

Hackney Not For Sale News

Press and Community Notice from Hackney Not For Sale

Hackney NOT For Sale have decided to stay away from tomorrow’s Nelson Bakewell auction at Claridge’s and instead join a community protest against the sale of Marcon Estate Community Hall later that day, 6pm at Hackney Town Hall. The reason for this decision was that after viewing the Nelson Bakewell catalogue for the auction, there seems to be a distinct lack of ‘community buildings’ included in tomorrow’s sale!

This raises a couple of interesting questions:
· Was this a decision made by Nelson Bakewell or Hackney Council in light of previous successful protests by Hackney NOT for Sale and other Hackney residents at the last auction back in October at the Langham Hotel? That auction, and the Hotel itself, suffered severe disruption when everyone joined together to protest both inside and outside the sale. Nelson Bakewell offices had also been occupied and shut down by people from Hackney NOT for Sale just days before the sale itself. The protests also led to good media coverage of the plight of community sell offs in Hackney and that was sure to have been an embarrassment to both Hackney Council and Nelson Bakewell.

· Although the whole ‘disposals’ programme is extremely secretive, it is a fact that Hackney Council is still going ahead with plans to sell many more community properties such as playgrounds, community halls, nurseries and even a school, [contact HN4S for the full lists of potential sell offs]. So, if they are not going to sell the more controversial properties at public auctions, how exactly are they going to go about selling them? If it is indeed possible, it looks as though they will be even less accountable in future and possibly sell them through private sales?

What will ‘Hackney NOT 4 Sale’ be doing to prevent future sell offs?

· As secrecy continues to surround the sale of community property, we will be demanding from Hackney Council’s Max Caller and Guy Nichollson, a complete list of all properties already sold and all those still in danger of being sold, to be made available to everyone in Hackney.

· Using various tactics, including direct action and information dissemination, we will continue to put pressure on Hackney Council and Nelson Bakewell to pull out of sales of much needed community properties in Hackney.

· We will now begin to put pressure on Stretton’s Estate Agents NOT to take part in future community sell offs. They have been involved in the sale of many Hackney Council properties in the past.

· We will be asking people to contact us when they see any ‘For Sale’ signs on any community buildings around Hackney and publicise that information.

· We will continue to work together with community groups, residents and council workers fighting the devastating cuts and sell offs in Hackney.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Hackney NOT 4 Sale: tel. 07950 539 254 For more background: click here (check out Hackney subsection link on front page)

Housing Association Bosses Get Huge Pay Rises

As the Labour Government pushes more and more for the total abolition of council housing, the bosses of the Housing Associations who are set to benefit, get massive pay awards. The figures below are taken from The Guardian newspaper – we’ve added the local details. Who’s benefiting from this – the tenants or those already earning a ludicrously high wage? Another report in the same paper points the finger at the new levels of bureacracy within many Housing Associations.

Pay rise details for local housing association bosses:

Tony Shoults of Metropolitan Housing Trust – who make up half of Canalside, the developers of Haggerston East and Whitmore gets an 8.1% pay rise taking him to £92855.

Richard McCarthy, who with the Peabody Trust brought us the Glasshouse on Murray Grove (rents now start at £160 per week) and Cremer Street (£200 a week) is on £114022 a week,a 15.2% pay rise.

Michael Morris of the William Sutton Trust gets a 7.8% pay rise taking him to £97,000. Tenants on the Sutton Estate by Old Street will no doubt be interested in seeing if he breaks the £100,000 a year barrier next year.

The average Chief Exec pay in the top 100 housing associations is now £88,000.

Fury over housing bosses’ fat cat salaries

'Clear link' between privatisation and housing benefit delays

Claims cure questioned – article reprinted from Guardian Society.

As Hackney tops the table of complaints for Housing Benefit delays in the whole country, the Guardian newspaper looks at the link between privatised services and standards of service.

Matt Weaver
Wednesday October 31, 2001
The Guardian

Privatising services could be the solution to the “error, waste and fraud” that characterises administration of housing benefit, the audit commission claims today. Yet inquiries by the Guardian suggest a clear link between the worst performing benefit services and privatisation.

A report by the commission says long delays in housing benefit payment are causing hardship, anxiety and even the threat of eviction for claimants. It recommends councils consider “outsourcing” benefit administration as part of a package of measures to improve the service.

The report says some councils, particularly in London, are “open to challenge” because they are taking more than 100 days to process new claims. It adds: “Outsourcing, and partnerships with other councils, or with the private sector, are potential solutions.”

However, there are 14 local authority areas in England where new claims took more than 100 days on average to process in the last financial year. In nine of these, benefit was administered by a private contractor rather than the council.

In the capital, the picture is even starker. All eight of the London boroughs which took more than 100 days to pay a new claim last year had contracted out their benefit administration. Of these, Hackney and Lambeth now provide the service in-house, with Newham and Waltham Forest planning to do the same.

Of the 13 London boroughs which contracted out their services last year, the average time to process a new claim was 117 days. Of the 19 remaining boroughs with in-house administration, the average was 52.

Greg Birdseye, director of the audit commission’s project, says: “Local authorities need to focus on how to get their housing benefit service working. There are a range of things they can do, one of which is outsourcing.”

Liz Phelps, social policy officer of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, was a member of the commission’s advisory group on the report, Housing Benefit Administration. But she queries its conclusions on contracting-out. “Our evidence is that thousands of [our] clients have received a disastrous service from contracted-out housing benefit services,” says Phelps.

News on Hackney from Corporate Watch website

A summary of what’s been happening in Hackney recently from the Corporate Watch organisation.

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.

The council is selling off hundreds of properties in response to government demands to sort out its finances. They range from houses and flats to community centres, playgrounds and green spaces, nurseries and shops. A school was also originally included on the list but was withdrawn after the council discovered they weren’t allowed to sell it. It currently stands empty. The properties for sale are expected to be snapped up by developers keen to cash in on Hackney’s ongoing gentrification while services for the local community suffer.

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! 07950 539 254

Community Activists Set Up Spoof Estate Agents

In an imaginative stunt to draw attention to Hackney Council’s Hitlist and the axing of vital facilities in the borough, community activists in Hackney have set up a spoof estate agents named after the council’s own “advisers” Nelson Bakewell. We reprint the activists’ news release below:

We have just squatted 52 Stoke Newington High Street, Hackney, and turned it into a spoof estate agent. We hope that you will come by and visit us over the next two days (Thursday and Friday).

Over 50 community properties will be on display there all are in danger of being sold, privatised, or are now suffering serious cuts that threaten their very survival. The Estate Agent will be open for 2 days only at this venue. We will be inviting both Hackney councillors and Nelson Bakewell visit us to explain to Hackney residents, the so far secret details, behind the sell offs. We are inviting the media to come down and ask questions too. We were recently shown the ‘exempt’ minutes from a recent council meeting. It lists over 130 Council owned properties to be assessed for sale as part of their ‘disposals programme’. It is very broad based and includes community centres, adventure playgrounds, allotments, nurseries and shops, as well as 100’s of houses (some items contain multiple buildings).By opening the Estate Agent we aim to make public the extent to which Hackney council is systematically selling off and closing down our community services without any accountability to the residents and service providers in the borough. Feel free to come in and tell us what you think of Hackney Council, have a cup of tea and check out the many community properties that are on display.

Hoxton Hall on Council Hitlist

More news is coming out about the Council’s proposed Hitlist for Hackney – the list of facilities due to be sold off or have their funding slashed as part of the Council’s cost-cutting measures. We will print the full list in the next week , but already the Hackney Gazette has run a story on some of the targeted sites and services. Among those at risk are the Apples and Pears play area on Pearson Street, and Hoxton Hall – more details below:

HACKNEY COUNCIL have finally made decisions about the funding of groups like Hoxton Hall and they have proposed a cut of £16,065 to our grant for the current year. In a full year it would amount to £32,130.

They have said they will not provide funding for our Lifelong Learning programme – the classes and courses which 500 people a week attend. The Council has serious financial problems, but centres like Hoxton Hall are valuable resources for the borough, providing creative activities and services for all. The Council’s short-term financial solution will cause long term damage. Once lost, centres like Hoxton Hall cannot be replaced. This decision is to be ratified at a Council Regeneration Committee meeting at 7.30pm on Thursday 13th September.

Taking the Shine off Pinnacle's Glossy Picture

Roger Tayor of JSS Pinnacle paints a glossy picture of how the company could secure more work for its profit-driven ventures (Inside Housing June 15). The reality of its existing operations in the Shoreditch Neighbourhood in Hackney is more prosaic. Despite being in the area for over two years, it has failed to significantly improve the performance of Shoreditch neighbourhood (judging by the published key performance indicators) in relation to the rest of the housing management service.

Readers need no reminding that Hackney Council provides the most expensive service which is substantially below par, so JSS Pinnacle does not realy have to try very hard to do better.

In addition, it allegedly managed to overspend its repairs budget by around £600,000. The council, without consulting other residents, decided to generously allow JSS Pinnacle to pay back that deby over two years. This year, again without specifically consulting residents (the item was hidden in a turgid committee report), the council agreed to wipe the slate clean, as it would take too long to pay back and damage Shoreditch tenants’ interests.

This is an interesting point. When JSS Pinnacle make profits, the company gets to keep its ‘return’ on capital, they are not spread round the borough. When it allegedly overspends, the council spreads the losses over the HRA [the name of the budget for day-to day spending oncouncil housing]. Is it possible to know what JSS Pinnacle really makes on its Hackney operation? My advice to others is don’t touch them with a bargepole.

John Calderon. Chair, Dalston Neighbourhood Panel.
Tenant leader and the Chair of the former Hackney Tenants Federation (FOHTRA) takes the fight into the house journal of the housing professionals, Inside Housing, 6 July

Council to Close and Privatise Nurseries

News from the Hackney Fightback campaign –

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.

As predicted in the last Hackney Independent and backed up this week in the Hackney Gazette, the council are planning a massive round of sell-offs of council property. Part of this plan is to get rid of Atherdon Nursery in Laura Place , which has been occupied by protesters since its closure, but other nurseries and day centres are all under threat too

Thursday 28th June 5.15pm @ St.Johns Nursery

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.