The long list of broken promises

From the Evening Standard:
THE PROMISE: The Labour council said it would step up the collection of income. It had historically failed to collect rent and other arrears and built up a colossal debt. It pledged to go after debtors and, crucially, people given large overpayments of housing benefit.

THE REALITY: In the year to March 2001, bad debt rose from £117.5million to £149.5million, close to the total from three years’ council tax, another area of serious concern. Hackney doesn’t even know who should be paying tax. A snap check of 5,000 properties listed as empty showed more than half occupied. And despite the pledge to go after arrears little has been achieved. When the administration took over, £18million was owed by people overpaid housing benefit. This now stands at £21 million and the best idea of the new in-house Revenues and Benefits team is to write off most.THE PROMISE: Following concerns expressed by district auditor Les Kidner last March, the council said it would deliver savings and rein in budgets that were yet again being massively overspent. It also promised to sort out chaotic accounting procedures and lax financial controls.

THE REALITY: Auditors are at their wits’ end over Hackney’s continuing failure to get a grip on its finances. They considered issuing a disclaimer condemning council accounts as unreliable. This was avoided, but despite council assurances, overspending in the current year will be between £17 million and £33 million. This is an educated guess as budgets are often produced without any supporting documentation. Despite savage cuts in services, the debts continue to mount.

THE PROMISE: The council promised to improve Hackney’s environment with efficient waste collection and good stewardship of amenities.

THE REALITY: Dumped cars litter the borough and many are left to rot. Despite paying an average of more than £1,000 in council tax, residents say streets are dirty. The council is trying to negotiate a new waste management contract. Housing density in Hackney is high, but the borough has areas of open space. In the forthcoming asset sale Hackney is to dispose of five areas of grassland – some wooded – and two playing fields. The council has touted these amenities as perfect sites for developers and indicated there will be no problems with planning permission.

THE PROMISE: Hackney’s council said it would make regeneration a priority.

THE REALITY: The strategy has concentrated on attracting developers and securing grants. But developers are mainly interested in building luxury flats or offices and the grants system is in disarray because Hackney doesn’t get claims in on time. When it does there are problems with more than half of them. It is entitled to £415million a year in grants, but evidence of widescale regeneration is scant. Amenities such as playgrounds and parks are being closed down; voluntary organisations are being squeezed.

THE PROMISE: The council pledged to vigorously pursue a Best Value policy, the monitoring process by which the performance of local authorities is judged.

THE REALITY: Hackney is still one of the worst performing authorities in London. The level of services is low while costs are among the highest. Worst of all, attempts to discover how the council is performing have been undermined by unreliable information it supplied.