Fat Cat Salary Fury

From Hackney Gazette, March 15 2007

Town Hall Chief’s Pay is Revealed

“Fat Cat” salaries pocketed by Hackney Town Hall chiefs have been revealed following an investigation by a campaign group.
The six-figure sums taken home by senior bureaucrats were released under the Freedom of Information Act by the Taxpayer’s Alliance.

It shows the top 10 highest earners in the town hall raked in more than £1 million between them in the last financial year.

The highest-earning Hackney Council officer is the chief executive, Penny Thompson, who was paid £164,839, just £22,000 less than the Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Next up is director of housing Steven Tucker, who earned £126,000, followed by Gillian Steward, the director of customer and corporate services, who took home £123,000.

Timothy Shields, the director of finance, and Kim Wright, the director of community services, both earned £120,000.

The report was released by pressure group, the Taxpayer’s Alliance, who said the figures were “insulting”.

Chairman Andrew Allum said: “It’s a complete insult to tax-payers’ dignity that so much of their money goes down the drain on top salaries for council staff.”

Jane Holgate, secretary of Hackney Trades Union Council, also condemned the salaries.

She said: “I think it is disgraceful, particularly given the fact that many of the council’s employees are on low salaries and living in a London borough where the cost of living is very high.

“We are operating in a tight labour market and these jobs would be filled despite the inflated salaries.”

The campaign group, London Council’s, which represents the capital’s local authorities, said senior officers were worth the money.

London Council’s chairman, Cllr Merrick Cockell, said: “Being a borough chief executive is not a small job. Public demand for excellent service and value for money means that we need to recruit the best possible candidates for these demanding roles.

“This can only be achieved, especially in the capital with its high costs of living, by offering competitive salaries.

“That said, they work incredibly hard for their money – and are paid far less than they would be in an equivalent job in the private sector.

“These people are individuals who want to make a difference to their community and they must be rewarded for that.”

A Hackney Council spokeswoman said: “Hackney’s pay for its chief officers is in line with that offered by comparable authorities in London and across the country.

“Local government in London is a competitve recruitment field and chief officer salaries reflect what we need to pay to attract the best people to improve services for the people of Hackney.”

Say Goodbye to Football on the Marshes

Published in Hackney Gazette, March 15, 2007

Didn’t you just know that relocation of the travellers to a site on Hackney Marshes was a done deal from the very first time the subject was raised?

Once again this pathetic bunch of councillors, who are supposed to represent us, have proved that democracy is non-existent, not only nationwide, but in this case, on our very own doorstep.

Who do they think they are kidding when they state that Hackney’s planners had carried out excessive consultation?

I protested against the plan on behalf of more than 1,500 footballers, who, whenever they learn of the council and the London Development Agency’s misguided input, are astute enough to conclude that much of what is going on is just a matter of hiding their land-grab intentions under the banner of the Olympic ideal.

We have learned the hard way that we can’t believe a word uttered by the LDA. We feel desperately let down and see no real future for grass-roots football in the long term.

If they can ride roughshod over our feelings by acting without taking our football community’s objections seriously, then what hope is there for the future of Hackney Marshes?

It isn’t the fact that the travellers have been given approval to move permanently to a site on the Marshes. That is not the point. It is the very principle that matters.

We are apalled that approval in any shape or form has been given to anyone to take up residence on the Marshes. It is the thin end of the wedge and just goes to prove that this undemocratic body can abuse its powers on a scale beyond belief, where, when and wherever they want.

What is happening to this once great country? We used to be listened to, now it seems we are in the hands of a bunch of chancers who are in the process of getting their grubby little hands on the people’s land in the name of the Olympics.

In the football community’s eyes, they have tarnished its name forever.

We are sick of the very mention of the word Olympics. All it does is conjure up visions of smug politicians giving themselves a mutual pat on the back for all the so-called wonderful things they suppose they are doing for the “plebs”.

Then there is the matter of the escalating costs. It is all very well for these politicians to tell us that in the end it will all be worth the mounting expense. It isn’t their money! They just go on glibly on their merry ways with no seeming accountability.

Users of the Marshes – incidentally, we pay to play football on the Marshes – are even more fearful now than we ever were.

The LDA will rat on their promise to restore the East Marsh to its former splendour of grass pitches after the Games.

With costs spiralling out of control, some aims will have to be nipped in the bud and we are betting that restoring the East Marsh to its former glory will be one of them.

We can envisage them looking at the nice plot of concreted land and thinking this could be an excellent opportunity to claw back a large wad of cash.

Do you think it won’t cross their scheming little minds? We in the football community are prepared for the worst.

I did not go to the meeting regarding the travellers at the town hall. Experience has taught me that they may go through with the formality of stating that they will listen, but they will completely ignore our wishes or our objections.

I feel extremely sorry for Anne Woollett and the Hackney Marshes’ user group. Did they genuinely feel that they had a hope in hell?

I know of the hard work this group carries out in order to preserve the Marshes and, if it was not for their input, “our” Marshes would have appeared before us as a gigantic tarmac terrain long ago, instead of the wonderful green space we have at present, and if a community-serving group like the MHUG can’t prevent the desecration of the Marshes, what hope is there for us all?

Finally, my criticism of this spineless council excuses Cllr Simon Tesler. It would appear that there is a molecule of good sense and decency within politics somewhere.

While I think about it, say goodbye from all footballers to the Arena Fields, soon to be lost forever, leaving fond memories of happier days, but sadly to be replaced by an unsightly multi-story car park and media centre. Someone, somewhere is a good little earner!

Johnnie Walker
Chairman, Hackney and Leyton Sunday Football League

How green is Hackney New Labour?

Hackney Council are trying to boost their green credentials with a “compulsory recycling” scheme. The pages of Hackney Today and the council website are full of recycling initiatives. Why has this suddenly become a priority of our Labour council?

A look at the voting figures from last May’s elections show that apart from the four Tory/Lib Dem wards in the North East of the Borough that Labour have written off, the Green Party is now the opposition to Labour in the majority of wards. The Greens secured hundreds of votes even in wards where they stood paper candidates and did not campaign at all.

Labour has reacted to this pressure with various recycling initiatives. Even though they only won one seat, the Green Party have got a result.

Of course, there was a “pilot” for compulsory recycling last year. Labour knew they were up against it from the Greens in Clissold Ward so they introduced a bogus pilot in the Church Street area. They put out leaflets and council staff knocked on doors in the run up to the local elections saying recycling was now compulsory. And of course nothing happened as a result of this cynical stunt. Where was the follow up when the election was over?

Recycling is a government target for councils to meet. There are hard targets like running good schools, leisure facilities and council estates. And there are relatively easy ones like recycling, where you can easily make an impact on those who don’t necessarily use public services but do buy into the new green consensus.

Yes, Hackney council needs to organise recycling, but it also needs to put improved public services first. Instead of backing plans to fine those who don’t recycle, we should be throwing out of office those who cannot get our swimming pools open, clean and repair our estates (without the threat of flogging off bits of them to pay for improvements) or run the best possible schools for all of our kids.

Labour pursues recycling as the easier option, instead of improving services they should be prioritising, but have since lost interest in running themselves. Key services have been turned over to private companies like the Learning Trust, Greenwich Leisure and, in council housing, the double privatisation of both “Hackney Homes” and the private contractors managing each neighbourhood.

Hackney New Labour has been allowed to recycle the Tory policies of privatisation, land sales and gentrification for too long.

Protest to Save Hackney's NHS!

In Hackney, NHS cuts are beginning to cause real harm to patient care. Cuts at the Homerton Hospital are escalating, with maternity beds axed, midwives facing redundancy, the specialist breast cancer nurse service cut, redundancy of nurses and therapists, cuts to rehabilitation care for patients who have had a stroke… Rationing of food and milk is so severe that women who have just given birth find themselves unable to have a cup of tea because the hospital can’t afford milk!

In Hackney, we’re also seeing NHS cuts having a serious impact on mental health services and community services. In mental health, we, we’ve had one acute and one rehab ward closed already – with more cuts to come. Community services are expected to lose £13.6 million this April, on top of the £17 million taken out of local NHS funding last year. Health workers at the Primary Care Trust now face redundancy. Morale amongst health workers across Hackney is close to rock bottom, as the financial squeeze gets tighter and tighter.
Our local demonstration in Hackney is part of a national Day of Action to defend the NHS. We’re now seeing cuts and privatisation on an unprecedented scale. Nationally, around 26,000 NHS jobs have been axed. Billions of pounds of public money are being squandered on PFI, Independent Sector Treatment Centres and other privatisation schemes. Cuts and closures are now causing incalculable damage.
The demonstration is on Saturday 3rd March, assembling at 12 noon outside Hackney Town Hall, Mare Street. Please do everything you can to attend the demonstration yourself, and to bring friends, neighbours or colleagues with you. Leaflets for the march are attached.
It’s time for a real fight to defend our NHS. Please come to the Hackney demonstration on 3rd March. This has been called by trade unions at the Homerton Hospital, City and Hackney Primary Care Trust and East London Mental Health Trust, and supported by the ‘Keep Hackney NHS Public’ campaign. We need as much support as we can possibly get from people who live or work in Hackney.
Gill George
Chair, Keep Hackney NHS Public


Manor Garden Allotments

The Manor Gardening Society’s Emergency General Meeting will be held on March 4th, this coming Sunday at 11.00 am. This will take place at the Eastway Baths Community Centre at Eastway, Hackney Wick.

The London Developent Authority will be attending to announce their intentions following the failure of their Marsh Lane plan.
As the morale of the plotholders has been continually worn down and many, understandably, feel the situation is hopeless.

The more outside support is demonstrated the better.

Supporters are asked to gather outside with banners from 10.30 am.

Please pass this message on – let’s get as much support as we can for the allotment gardeners to stay where they are at Waterden Road and protect Marsh Lane Fields from encroachment!

Mounting Anger at Estate Land Sell-Off

from Hackney Gazette, 8 February 2007

Tenants, residents and a Hackney Labour Party branch are up in arms about council plans to sell off up to £50 million worth of land on housing estates. The Leabridge branch of the Labour Party voted at a meeting last Thursday to oppose the council’s estates regeneration programme. The meeting passed a motion to debate the issue at Hackney North and Stoke Newington Constituency Labour Party next month.

Three days earlier, more than 70 people met at the Trelawney estate community hall in Morning Lane, Hackney, to discuss launching a campaign to fight the plans.

Janine Booth, of Malpas Road, Hackney, said the council’s idea was to fragment, privatise and over-populate the borough’s estates by allowing registered social landlords (RSLs) to build more homes and demolish a number of existing properties.

“Publicly-owned land is an asset that should not be given over into private hands,” she said. “Transfer to an RSL is a move away from away from public accountability, a form of privatisation.

“The experiences of residents on estates transferred in the past are not good. The council must be defining areas which residents use as ‘under-used’. To the council and developers, ‘under-used’ probably means ‘not making money’.”

The meeting of tenats and residents concluded by resolving to form an action committee; produce a petition; demonstrate outside the town hall and on estates facing demolition; demand a meeting with the council’s executive; and co-ordinate a response with trade unions.

According to a report which went before Hackney Council’s Cabinet last October, the council is seeking to sell patches of land for redevelopment, such as a plot between housing blocks on the Haberdasher estate in Shoreditch, large enough to accommodate 40 new two and three bedroom maisonettes.

Sales of such sites on 26 estates across the borough to RSLs for redevelopment could provide more than 500 new homes and generate up to £50 million for the town hall.

Last month the Gazette reported on concerns among community campaign group, Hackney Independent, that tenants and residents were being kept in the dark about the exact location of sites being earmarked by the council for redevelopment.

In October last year, 30 tenants of the Points on the Gascoyne estate in Homerton dressed as Guy Fawkes and Hallowe’en-style characters and demonstrated outside the town hall against the potential demolition of their homes.

Cllr Jamie Carswell, deputy mayor of Hackney and the Cabinet member for housing, said “I think the residents have got the wrong end of the stick. Nothing’s been decided as yet. There’s going to be a lot of work done by our capacity consultants, work which is still waiting to be done.

“The key thing is that any resources gained get ploughed straight back on to the estates. We would not be doing this unless it was about people’s homes and where people live.”

Put any of our 'spare' space to good use

from the Hackney Gazette, 1 February 2007

Commenting on the disquiet that has met proposals to flog off ‘spare’ space on council estates for development (“In the Dark Over Land Sell-Off Plan”, Gazette, January 11), Cllr Jamie Carswell made a number of remarks that need clarification.

He said: “We will be building much-needed housing (and) we will also be investing in facilities for the community, such as playgrounds, garages and parking spaces”.

Who is this “we” that Cllr Carswell claimed will be building new homes? Certainly not the council. Their report on the matter makes it clear that any land freed up as a result of the demolition of homes and garages will be sold to housing associations. Moreover 30 per cent of the new homes will be for private sale.

How can the council claim that “we” are set to build new homes under these circumstances? It seems that what New Labour in Hackney are really doing is continuing the flogging-off of public assets – something we were told was a thing of the past.

Where exactly will the space be found to provide “playgrounds, garages and parking spaces” when it is just these facilities which the council is proposing to knock down and sell off?

The space already exists for “investment” in these facilities. Why not just “invest” in what’s already there, if that’s what Cllr Carswell really meant?

Hackney’s council estates are already densely built and under-resourced. If there are unused spaces – and that is debateable – why can’t they be used to improve the environment for existing tenants?

Carl Taylor
Hackney Independent

Lammas Land Defence Committee: 1, London Development Agency: 0

The first set back for the Olympic games developments came on Wednesday evening at Waltham Forest Town Hall.

The LDA wanted to temporarily move the Manor Park allotment holders to Marsh Lane playing fields. As previous written about on this site, the allotment users are absolutely against any move.

The land proposed for the temporary allotments is part of the Lammas Land: land bequeathed to the commoners of Leyton by Alfred the Great.
Defence of the land erupted on August 1, 1892 when 2,000 men, women and children gathered to defend the encroachment on the area by a railway line. The tracks were torn up and in the resulting melee two local councillors were arrested by the police – obviously local councillors then were made of sterner stuff than todays pathetic breed!

Lammas Land users and the Manor Park allotment holders have come together on this issue – they do not want their local environment and communities destroyed only to be replaced by the gigantic Disney-style sports theme park that is to be home for the 2012 Olympics.

For further background information please read the following article on the Games Monitor site:

The Lammas Land Defence Committee has released the following communiqué:

‘CELEBRATION 12 noon, Sunday, Marsh Lane

Last night the Borough of Waltham Forest’s planning committee turned down an application by the London Development Agency to fence off about a fifth of Marsh Lane Fields in Leyton to relocate allotment-holders (who don’t want to move!) from a lovely 85 year old site at Bully Point in Newham. The campaign against this was led by the Lammas Lands Defence Committee, with a lot of help from other interested groups in the borough.

We had already planned a rally on the marshes on Sunday before the announcement that last night’s planning committee meeting would be deciding the application, and we therefore propose to hold a PARTY on the fields. So bring party stuff – champers, ribbons, etc. – if there’s any snow we can build a snowman or have a snowball fight! And please bring polo mints, carrots or apples for the horses that graze there – they’ll appreciate it immensely this time of the year when it’s muddy and the grass doesn’t grow very fast.


This is the first real bloody nose the LDA have got over the Olympics, and there are planning applications due to come up soon in Hackney and Newham – a lot of people from those boroughs came to support our defence of the Leyton Lammas Lands last night and we should now work together with them to help where we can with the ongoing evictions and demolition at Clays Lane housing estate and the threats to Hackney South Marsh.

If you don’t feel “political” but would like to come and find out more, please come and join us on Sunday and help celebrate saving the fields.

We’ll be meeting at the junction of Seymour Path and Marsh Lane, just west of the Eton Manor Athletics Club car-park (beside the Dagenham Brook).

Drinks afterwards at the Hare & Hounds (great Sunday lunch grub too!) if you can’t make the actual event.’

Benefit for Spirit, 3rd February

2012 Funding Should Not Be a Lottery

from Hackney Gazette, 25 January 2007

As a Hackney resident and somebody who works for a Lottery-funded project in Islington, I read last week’s Gazette article, “Groups fear Olympics shortfall will rob them of vital funds” with some degree of alarm.

I think Liz Hughes was absolutley right to ask the question about what exactly “…the legacy will be and how it will make up for all the projects which lose out”.

All the government spokesperson could come up wih in reply were soundbites about “benefits” outstripping “losses” and that the Olympics would “transform society” and “improve millions of lives”.

Your readers might like to ask themselves how will this extremely grand ambition be achieved in 2012 and beyond – given that no Olympics before has ever managed to do it.

The only “legacy” I can see from previous Olympics is a few impressive-looking (and under-used) buildings and some luxury housing developments that have taken over the athletes’ village after the Games have finished.

Finally, how is it that small community projects like the one I work for and the ones mentioned in the article (who do extremely valuable work with local communities day in and day out) have to say precisely what we will do and what the outcomes of this will be to get a few thousand pounds of funding from the Lottery when the Olympics is set to get billions of pounds on the basis of some vague aspirations that will never ever materialise?

Bob Taylor
Stamford Hill