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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?

Act locally

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.

Contact

hackneyNOT4sale@yahoo.com, 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.