Strong Arm Tactics over Arms Length Management

With Hackney Council’s Jamie Carswell already a firm believer, ALMO is a distinct possibility for Hackney’s council housing stock. As highlighted by the IWCA in a recent letter to the Hackney Gazette, ALMO is another means of privatisation. But recent developments in neighbouring Islington and nearby Camden, should be an eye-opener for those people who think Hackney council will listen to tenants’ views when the decision is made. Reprinted below is an article from Islington IWCA’s website outlining major concerns over how the council is handling the issue. This is followed by a story from Inside Housing website on Camden’s rush towards ALMO.

Ballot on Almo is agreed – but can it be fair?
(Highbury & Islington Express – Article – 14.11.03)

Angry campaigners say the vote on the future of their homes is being steamrollered by council propaganda.

Until last week Islington Council had steadfastly refused a ballot on proposals to set up an Arms Length Management Association (Almo) to take over running their housing estates.

But the Islington Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) says the last minute decision to ask tenants if they favour an Almo was a deliberate attempt to stifle debate prior to the vote.

Gary O’Shea, of the IWCA, said: “Most tenants received their ballot papers just two days after the announcement was made. The council is obviously trying to push this through quickly.

“I think it had started to panic that plans were beginning to unravel. Early last week a tenant representative on the Almo Shadow Board was frogmarched from the building because he refused to sign a confidentiality agreement preventing him from telling tenants the real facts.

“Councillors have refused to turn up to any meetings organised by tenants who were not hand-picked by them. And the ballot papers have been sent out in the same envelope as pro-Almo propaganda leaflets that have “vote yes” in them 21 times. The council has mounted a propaganda offensive so one-sided it would put any tinpot dictatorship to shame.”

There is also concern about the way the decision to hold a ballot was taken. Labour leader Mary Creagh said: “Councillor Hitchins leaked the news of the ballot on Tuesday when the decision was supposed to have been made openly and democratically at Thursday’s executive meeting.”

But Cllr Hitchins said it had always been his intention to hold a ballot and that it was necessary to get on with it to stop the spread of inaccurate information.
“Once people know there will be a ballot they want to see it quickly,” he said. “Camden had a six month gap between the announcement and the ballot and I couldn’t believe the amount of misleading and untrue facts people were told in that time.

“I told the press the executive was likely to agree a ballot on Thursday because the truth is we’re not going to vote against our colleagues on decisions as big as this.”

Tenants and leaseholders can vote on the proposal by phone on 0800 081 0202, on the internet at or by post. The ballot closes at noon next Friday.

‘Totalitarian’ ALMO campaign under fire – Inside Housing website

The row over Camden Council’s bid to set up an arm’s-length management organisation has escalated with campaigners threatening to lodge a judicial review accusing the council of circulating misleading information and proposing a biased ballot question.

With the ballot due to start next week, lawyers acting on behalf of two tenant campaigners have written to council chief executive Moira Gibb alleging that most of the information circulated is ‘entirely one-sided’.

They also say the proposed ballot question will ‘lead many voters to conclude that a no vote is tantamount to voting against improvements in their dwellings’.

Campaign group Defend Council Housing has said the council could be acting unlawfully and has demanded it changes the ballot question and distributes a leaflet setting out some of the arguments against the ALMO.

But the council has rejected the allegations and roundly refused to change the ballot question. A spokesperson said: ‘The overview and scrutiny commission considered the matter and felt the proposed ballot wording to be neutral, factual and fair.’

Campaigners have also levelled charges of ‘totalitarianism’ at the council after it emerged that that senior managers at the authority ordered the removal of anti-ALMO posters from council properties by lunchtime tomorrow.

Unison assistant branch secretary Anton Moctonian said: ‘We are asking our members not to carry out this task until we have sought advice on this. These tactics have more in common with those practiced in totalitarian regimes as opposed to democratic and free societies.’

DCH national committee member Alan Walter added that his organisation would fight back by replacing any poster taken down by the council with ‘at least 10 additional posters’.

A spokesperson for the council said that posters would only be removed if they were an eyesore.

She said: ‘Patch managers have only been told to remove them from areas where they are not creating a welcoming atmosphere’.

Abbott's Tale

(from IWCA national website)

When Diane Abbott criticised Harriet Harman over her choice of schools for her kids, she was applauded for her principles and good sense. How times change. Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney and Stoke Newington, elected to represent one of the capital’s and the country’s poorest areas, has decided that the local state schools aren’t good enough for her son. So instead, master James Abbott is off to the £10,000 a year City of London School.

Trying to justify ditching her principles, she attempted to deny that she had ever had a go at Harman. Unfortunately Abbott’s criticism that Harman had ‘made the Labour Party look as if we do one thing and say another’, is on record. She also tried to shift responsibility for the dramatic U-turn onto her twelve year old son, although later she relented and at least had the courage to own up to it being her decision.

And what about the good sense she showed in trying to do the job she was elected to do; that is represent the residents of Hackney and Stoke Newington? Well she might be able to claim that she is still representing some of them; the ones who have a spare £10,000 a year to spend on school fees. But its pretty clear she’s walked away from the vast majority of those who live in the area, for whom the prospect of having a spare ten grand is about as remote as that of having their own spot on a BBC TV discussion show.

All of this is hypocritical and patronising ‘do as I say, not as I do’ politics of the worst sort. The hypocrisy of a member of the supposedly redder than red Socialist Campaign Group of MPs sending her son to a public school is there for all too see. She even admitted as much herself when she said: ‘It’s absolutely true that it’s inconsistent, to put it mildly, for someone who believes in a fairer society to send their child to a private school. I’ve always believed that private schools prop up the class structure of society. ‘

But the patronising attitude, which says to all those parents in Hackney who don’t have a spare £10,000 knocking about, ‘well the local secondary schools aren’t good enough for my James but they’ll do for your sons and daughters’, is if anything, even more gut wrenching.

Her lack of interest in the day-to-day lives of her constituents was only compounded when, on Radio 4’s Today programme, she claimed that part of the reason, for what she now admitted was her decision, was down to gun crime in Hackney’s secondary schools. What this apparent admission of government failure tells the people of Hackney and Stoke Newington, and in particular the area’s working class residents who don’t have the option of opting out, is that not only does their MP think the schools aren’t educationally good enough but also that they’re physically dangerous as well.

Former Labour minister Gerald Kaufman, seems to have hit on something with his comments that: ‘Diane Abbott, left-wing socialist and wonderful moraliser, says one thing and does another. I hope the people of Hackney take notice of that.’

Maybe they will when they have the opportunity to vote for one of their peers. In the meantime, if an MP of whatever party publicly removed her child from a school on the grounds of race we all know what it would be called. But publicly endorsing social apartheid, which after all is essentially what private education is intended to secure, is a different matter it seems, And if this is acceptable in the field of education then the same principle must apply in other spheres too—housing, health and crime being three that spring to mind.

A government report to be published shortly will show that Middle England receives better treatment from the NHS than that offered to working class people. And this is happening at a time when crime rates in middle class areas is going down, while violent crime in working class communities continues to escalate. Why is this? Because, whether it’s education, law and order or medical treatment, Middle England insists that when it comes down to it their interests are given priority.

It has taken a long time to get here, but all of the above is now politically acceptable largely because all of the three mainstream parties instinctively and unapologetically identify with what is a privileged minority. This is not too surprising when the influential members are, to a man or woman, all members of this same privileged minority.

So, while not denying Gerald Kaufman may have a point, the core contradiction here is not that Diane Abbot is going to send her own child to private school. No, the essential political inconsistency is how she ever came to represent the working class majority in Hackney in the first place.

Defend Council Housing Meeting in Hackney

The campaigning group Defend Council Housing is holding a meeting in Hackney tomorrow at Marcon Community Hall from 3pm. On the agenda are ALMO – two-tier privatisation? Experience of council house privatisation in Hackney so far. Campaigning for tenants’ choice and direct investment in council housing. Getting ourselves organised.

For full details download the flyer.


Haggerston Tenants Reject Imposition of Private Company

On 1 November 2003, Pinnacle took over the housing management of St Mary’s Estate in Haggertson. Despite calls for a tenant ballot on the issue, the council undertook a limited consultation exercise, the results of which have not been made public. However, at a meeting in early August, 30 out of 35 people asked for a choice to remain with the council.

Ignoring the results of this consultation meeting, the council’s cabinet decided to press ahead with the transfer of estate management to Pinnacle. It should be noted that the choice tenants were given by the council was between privatisation this year, or possible privatisation next year, ie no real choice at all.

Hackney Independent Working Class Association has spoken to nearly half the tenants on St Mary’s, 160 of whom have signed a petition calling for a tenant ballot on the issue and to be given the choice of remaining with the council. The petition has been sent to Cllr Jamie Carswell, head of Housing at Hackney Council.

As a tenant from St Mary’s states, “The majority of tenants and residents were unhappy that there were only two options on the voting paper and most added a third option stating that they wanted things to remain as they were. These feelings were ignored as was a direct question to Jamie Carswell asking for a ballot”.

IWCA spokesperson Carl Taylor said : “This is not about the rights and wrongs of privatisation – although the IWCA is opposed to it – but the fact that tenants have not been given a real choice or the opportunity to vote on the matter. Consultation New Labour-style is clearly no substitute for genuine democracy.”