Strong Arm Tactics over Arms Length ManagementPosted: November 21, 2003
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 www.election.com/islingtonalmo 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’.