Hackney Council Set To Sue ITNet?

A report in this week’s Hackney Gazette suggests that Hackney Council may be lining up a damages claim of up to £30 million against incompetent “outsourcing” specialists ITNet. Regular visitors to the Hackney Independent website will know of our long-standing campaign against the “benefits bunglers” (copyright Hackney Gazette) and support for those affected by the firm’s catastrophic performance in the borough and elsewhere.

The Gazette reports that Hackney Council have already had to take out a High Court injunction for “essential data after ITNet wanted an additional payment of £439,000 to deliver the information”. Hackney Council also claim that they have had to spend over half a million pounds since the firm was sacked, just to keep the service running.

ITNet are obviously feeling slightly sheepish about their failures in Hackney as they make several veiled references to the situation in their annual report (“a challenging year” etc.) but turnover is growing at over £158 million (profits dropped apparently). And despite the fact Bridget Blow (director) took home £50 thousand less this year than last (our hearts bleed for her), she still managed a tidy £235 thousand (and don’t forget those two and a quarter million shares ).

If Hackney Council is serious about taking ITNet to court then good luck to them, but what about the thousands of working class Hackney residents who have been victims of this scandal – will we get compensation too? Unlikely.

Crooked Councillors Sent Down

Two Hackney councillors convicted of electoral fraud – according to some reports the biggest fraud in British electoral history – have been sent to jail. Isaac Leibowitz (Conservative) and Zev Lieberman (Lib Dem) were convicted of forgery and conspiracy to defraud and given sentences of 6 and 4 months respectively.

In the murky world of Hackney politics, it hardly comes as a surprise that the big parties are up to no good behind the scenes and might serve as a reminder to local campaigners in the area that we shouldn’t expect the middle class parties to play fair when their political futures are at stake. Of course, the biggest electoral fraud of all is that the major parties can claim to represent Hackney’s working class majority.

Labour Halves Social Housing

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.

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.

Hoxton Primary School Wins Last Minute Reprieve

Burbage Primary School in Hoxton has won a reprieve after facing closure. In early April, Hackney Council u-turned on their plan to close the school which has been on “special measures” for two years and is reportedly two thirds full.

Campaigners greeted the news with delight, but there could still be trouble ahead. Councillor Phillip Pearson of the Lib Dems warned that the decision to keep the school open was “politically motivated” and “the school will be kept open until after the election and then hit with closure”. Is this the same party who have the closure of the Angel school lined up in Islington ? Another example of Lib Dems saying one thing here in Hackney where they are in opposition, and another in Islington where they have control of the council.

The closure of local facilities and the sell-off of public assets is just part of a bigger picture of social cleansing in East London and especially Shoreditch. While campaigners for the school should be congratulated on their success in winning a stay of execution, we await the council’s long-term plans with interest.