Friday, 25 May 2007

SLP: Letter of the week

The letter below won the "Letter of the week" award in today's South London Press. Yet another example of the shocking intimidatory tactics council officers will sink to in order to deny tenants their right to have a say in the future of their council housing.

I have been a council tenant all my life.

I am opposed to the arm’s length management organisation (Almo) taking over our homes.

I went to a recent meeting about the Almo, organised by the Clapham and Stockwell area forum.

I was handing out Defend Council Housing leaflets which explain why we are opposed to the Almo.

I was shocked when one of the Lambeth council officials at the meeting asked me whether I was a tenant and which estate I was from.

It is appalling that when tenants question council policy we are quizzed about who we are and where we live.

I work in retail and my wages are nowhere near enough to buy my own flat on the private market.

The housing boom is only benefiting estate agents and property developers.

Council housing is like a dirty word to the Government, but where do they expect working-class people to go?

Council tenants are here to stay and I say we have got to make our voices heard by voting against the Almo.

Karen L, Lambeth council tenant, Clapham

Friday, 18 May 2007

SLP: Residents speak out against the ALMO and Kazantzis talks rubbish

Today’s South London Press contains four stories about Lambeth Council’s plans for an ALMO. Their “Word on the street” column features interviews with six Lambeth residents from four estates.

Four of those residents are strongly against the proposed ALMO, saying that the council is democratically accountable whereas an ALMO would not be, and because council housing has a proven track record. Even one resident who said he would vote for the ALMO criticised the council for not providing residents with full information to make an informed choice. We say that there should be a fair and balanced debate, with equal funding to both sides of the argument.

The other tenant who said he would vote for the ALMO said he would do so because it can’t be any worse than the council. We say that although the council’s housing service is bad, it will be even worse under an ALMO! Just look at Lewisham, who formed an ALMO last year – their housing service is now facing massive cuts because the government hasn’t given them the extra funding they expected. There is an alternative to ALMO, which will deliver the extra funding our homes need: it is Direct Investment in council housing.

Elsewhere in this edition, Councillor John Kazantzis has the cheek to suggest that a “tiny minority of people, many of whom are not even Lambeth residents” who oppose the ALMO. If he actually came to a Defend Council Housing meeting, or talked to the thousands of residents across the borough who have declared their support for our cause, many of them committing to deliver our leaflets and hold meetings on their estates, he would see that it is not a “tiny minority” of residents who oppose the ALMO, but the vast majority.

What’s more, he claims that we are “hell-bent on wrecking the democratic process and denying tenants and leaseholders their chance of massive investment in their homes”. This is the same man who has used whatever underhand means he has at his disposal to silence the anti-ALMO voice and who for so long tried to deny residents the right to even have a ballot on whether they wanted an ALMO or not! It is only because of intense pressure from residents and staff that the council have caved in and agreed to hold a ballot on the ALMO. Now residents have a chance to show the council exactly what they think about two-stage privatisation.

We too want massive investment in council homes – but not at the price of risking the future existence of council housing for us and for future generations. Residents must unite in fighting for the Fourth Option. There is intense pressure on Gordon Brown to find a solution to Britain’s housing crisis and a real possibility that a change in government policy will allow councils to directly invest in their housing stock.

The aggressive, demeaning tone's of Kazantzis' "contribution" to the ALMO debate is a fine demonstration of how low our own elected councillors will stoop in order to try to undermine those who want a far and balanced debate on the real issues. Don't they realise how pathetic they look?


Following intense pressure from residents and staff, the Labour Group on Lambeth Council have finally conceded that a ballot will be held to determine the future of Lambeth’s council housing.

Previously they were saying that there would only be a “test of opinion”. The Council’s about-turn is testimony to the effect of the campaigning work of Lambeth Defend Council Housing, who have been calling for a ballot since the ALMO proposal was first launched last July.

We don’t yet know when the ballot will take place or what the question – or questions – on the ballot paper will be. We must put pressure on councillors to ensure that the questions are phrased in a fair and honest manner.

Now is the real crunch time for the campaign. Over the coming weeks we will be going round estates and town centres, talking to as many residents as possible, letting them know they have a chance to safeguard the future of council housing in Lambeth if they VOTE NO TO ALMO.

If you can help us, whether for an hour, a day or every day, get in touch! Our contact details are at the bottom of the page.

Why not download our new leaflet and distribute it on your estate?

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Lambeth staff offered overtime to “sell” the ALMO

Lambeth Council is offering all its staff the chance to earn a phenomenal £18 an hour on top of their regular salary to go round to residents homes and convince them how great the ALMO is!

This is an outrageous use of council tenants’ rents – money that should be spent repairing our homes, not bribing staff to promote a privatisation scheme which would spell the end of council housing as we know it.

If the ALMO is as great as Lambeth Council would have us believe, surely staff would be going out of their way to sing its glories to residents without having to be paid such a huge amount? In fact, even with this massive bribe, there has been little interest and the Council has had to extend the invitation to staff outside the Housing department, including agency workers.

Maybe the Council will now get the message: tenants don’t want the ALMO, leaseholders don’t want the ALMO – and staff don’t want the ALMO!

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Lambeth staff ordered to remove anti-ALMO material from TRA noticeboards

Not content with telling its staff to remove posters from around estates (see earlier story), Lambeth Council has told staff at a special meeting of all caretakers across the borough that they are to remove any anti-ALMO publicity from TRA noticeboards!

These noticeboards are reserved especially for use by Tenants’ and Residents’ Associations as they see fit. By encroaching on them the Council are sending a very clear message that they don’t care what residents – or their elected representatives – think. Their actions smack of desperation and dictatorship. They want to censor us because they know that once residents know the truth about their ALMO they will reject the idea outright.

Never mind the fact that many TRA noticeboards are locked and the council doesn’t have a key… Staff at one Area Office immediately called a meeting with their manager expressing their distaste for the instruction they received from management and refusing outright to impinge on the rights of residents – a reminder that staff and residents are united in this fight to prevent the privatisation of council housing.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Councils to be allowed to build new homes

The Daily Mirror reports today that local authorities may be given permission to build new council housing when Gordon Brown becomes prime minister. Click here for the full story.

We have been telling Lambeth Council all along that this is not the time to be pushing an ALMO. Housing is a big political issue and it is certain that there will be changes in government policy in the coming months.

Pressure is growing for the government to give money directly to councils to invest in their housing stock, without requiring one or other form of privatisation.

It is not too late for the Council to admit that they were wrong to propose an ALMO and to shelve their plans. In fact residents would respect them more for having the guts to admit that they were wrong. If councillors stubbornly insist on pursuing an ALMO which is bound to fail, they could face political disaster.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Shadow Board "elections" votes counted

The votes for the elections to the ALMO shadow board were counted yesterday in the Town Hall. Lambeth DCH had been saying that it was ridiculous to hold elections when it was not even sure if Lambeth would get permission from the government to form an ALMO, and that the elections were meaningless since those on the shadow board would be bound by company law to act in the interests of the ALMO private company and not to represent residents views. We called on tenants not to vote in these sham elections, or to write "NO TO ALMO" across their ballot papers. Our campaigning clearly had a significant effect, since despite the long election period and the large number of candidates standing, turnout was less than 10%, with 10% of ballot papers spoiled.

During and after the count, Lambeth DCH activists were protesting on the steps of the Town Hall (click here for a photo) and talking to passers-by about our demand for a ballot, and the campaign to win the "Fourth Option" of direct investment in council housing.

Following the protest there was a well-attended public meeting of Lambeth DCH in the nearby Vida Walsh Centre. The meeting heard from Carol Swords, a DCH campaigner from the Ocean Estate in Tower Hamlets. The battle to stop privatisation on her estate has gone to Judicial Review and may go further still down the legal route. Her message to us was never to give up, to keep fighting, and to think of the campaign all the time, talking to everyone we know about it.

A UNISON member from Lewisham Council reported on how an ALMO had been pushed through there and how it had been a disaster. Since the council had not achieved the 2* status necessary to draw down extra government funding - a situation that is a very real possibility for Lambeth's ALMO - there have been £10 million of cuts. The capital programme budget had been slashed from £10 million to £3 million, reorganisations had meant more redundancies and staff had been given ridiculously high targets and even downgraded. In an ALMO, he said, the factor that drives everything is money, not service to residents.

We left the meeting energised and more convinced than ever of the need to stop the ALMO being formed, and determined to do everything we can to prevent that nightmare scenario from becoming reality.