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HACKNEY NOT 4 SALE
Hackney NOT 4 Sale is a local action group that was set up to
resist the crippling budget cuts that are being imposed by Hackney
Council. Hackney NOT 4 sale is fighting for proper public funding
of services to be run in the interests of the community.
The group first met spontaneously early in 2001 when a nursery
was squatted and used as a community centre after closure by the
Council (Atherden Community Centre - see SchNEWS/Squall Yearbook
2001). The next action, a spoof estate agent, got such a great response
that Hackney NOT 4 Sale decided to form to support new and existing
campaigns. The group feels a massive concern about what is happening
in the provision of public services as well as in the processes
of local democracy and accountability. There are cutbacks in leisure
and education. Community halls and playgrounds on estates are being
sold. Library services and parks are under threat. Council workers
have had huge cuts to their pay and conditions. Social services
have lost millions of pounds of funding and the Council are mis-using
resources by prioritising their own schemes rather than properly
supporting services and essential voluntary groups.
Why is Hackney up for sale?
Why is Hackney in this crisis? The current situation is not new
- its history is long and complicated - but the solutions being
proposed are part of the problem and will not benefit local people.
The recent cuts are being imposed after an unprecedented directive
from central government was given to the Council in 2001 to balance
the books. The New Labour Council obliged by slashing budgets and
their uptake of privatisation has been similarly eager. The government
has given top accountancy firms £3.5 million to balance the budget
and restructure management - in preparation, it seems, for greater
privatisation. But the use of private companies only adds to Hackney's
problems as the private companies perform even worse than the Council
and residents are left to foot the bill. In one disastrous episode,
the Council lost £38 million to the company ITNet who were contracted
to collect Council Tax and pay housing benefit (which they failed
to do). Individuals have been made homeless, Housing Associations
have faced bankruptcy and the Council itself lost out on government
grants for failing to collect enough Council Tax.
The ways in which services are being taken out of public hands
are numerous. The government is handing over control of the education
of Hackney's kids to a trust, and Labour councillors recently told
campaigners that they should expect all council nurseries to be
closed or privatised within five years. PFI (Private Finance Initiative)
schemes to build and run local leisure and community services are
the norm. One PFI leisure centre scheme was way overdue and over
budget when it finally opened, draining funds from facilities elsewhere
in the borough (some have closed as a result). Libraries and voluntary
groups are having to apply for special funds for parts of their
core requirements. Even the deer reserve in a local park is threatened
with closure unless private sponsorship can be found.
Fraud, corruption and plain bad management have long been part
of the culture of Hackney's local government. During the last couple
of years alone, two councillors have been sent to jail for election
fraud and the Chief Executive resigned hurriedly, receiving a hefty
pay-out of £100,000. Increasingly executive-style decision-making
structures are being introduced while basic democratic processes
are withdrawn. The availability of government money targeted at
'regeneration' has seen the establishment of unelected quangos and
partnerships and the kind of gentrification that the Council wants
is often in conflict with the improvements the local community needs.
Deprivation and debt.
a familiar story
Hackney is the fourth poorest borough in the UK and yet, instead
of being given extra funds, its history of borrowing and losses
has left it with a massive debt. Capital from the sale of community
properties is going straight into debt repayments. Hackney NOT 4
Sale says 'Drop the Debt!' and stop making the people of Hackney
pay for the mess that local and central governments have created.
It's not much of a leap to see how Hackney and a country in crisis
such as Argentina are experiencing the same forces- the power of
international capital, politics that focus on the individual rather
than community (and yet is quite happy to sacrifice both), and a
lack of the kind of democracy that listens to and gives control
to ordinary people. The man with four kids working in a meat canning
factory in Buenos Aries has found his meagre income diminish to
nothing during devaluations enforced by 'structural re-adjustments'.
And the single mother in Hackney Wick has to work but has two children
in need of Council nurseries which no longer exist. The Council
is even selling off the playground on the estate where she lives.
The playground will then be turned into new housing priced way out
of her reach. What are the prospects for her children?
Hackney NOT 4 Sale wants to bring the issues of globalisation right
into the local arena and make links with similar struggles in other
boroughs around the country. In many ways, Hackney is a test bed
for the forces that will soon be evident everywhere. From the government's
unprecedented removal of education from local authority control
to the borough's being the first to experience an untested postal
ballot system, Hackney becomes the pilot study for more universal
application. The threats of cuts and privatisation are long term
but so are our goals.
It is difficult to get information from the Council about what
they are up to, so pooling our knowledge is vital. Our regular newsletter
helps people find out about what is happening locally and spreads
the word on various campaigns. None of us has much faith in the
system; some of us believe voting will not change anything, but
we all believe that alternatives are possible. We start from the
idea that while diverse struggles are being waged and sometimes
won, working together can achieve much more.
Hackney is a diverse, culturally rich community with many opportunities
for social change. It is an exciting and exhilarating place in which
to live and work. We believe in organising and taking action for
ourselves, empowering others to do the same and supporting others
who are attempting to improve things for themselves and their communities.
People are coming together to build co-operative, creative, informed,
empowered and non-commercial alternatives for the future.
There are many campaigns in Hackney, some of which are aided and
abetted by Hackney NOT 4 Sale such as a weekly picket by Hackney
library workers engaged in a long running pay dispute with the Council
who refuse to implement nationally agreed pay rates. They are setting
up a library users group to successfully stop the closure of a library
and fight for long-term improvement in the service. Other campaigns
include ones against cuts and closures in nursery, education and
youth services; and a coalition to stop huge cuts to the Freedom
Pass for those who have difficulty getting around.
07950 539 254, Box 7, 136-8 Kingsland High Street, London E8 2NS
* In 2001 Hackney NOT 4 Sale squatted a shop on the high street
and installed a spoof estate agent. On display were details of all
the community buildings and other properties owned by Hackney Council
that have been put up for auction or otherwise threatened. School
buildings, nurseries, buildings used by voluntary groups, green
spaces, garages, public toilets, houses and shops have all been
under the hammer. The West End hotels which hold the auctions have
been picketed and the bidding has been disrupted by members of the
group and many others from the community. People were forcibly removed
after vocally challenging the sales or singing protest songs while
others were involved in fake bidding and even 'purchasing' buildings
before quietly leaving.
The publicisation of the Council's programme of property sales
and questioning the legality of some of the Council's actions has
led to a number of properties being withdrawn and, for the meantime
at least, saved. Other buildings have been removed from the auctions
at the last minute and sold in backroom deals.