Friday, 28 January 2011

Kate Hoey twists the knife into Lambeth Council and Cathy Deplessis steps down as chair of Lambeth Living

Readers affected by the ongoing saga of Lambeth Living (the Arms Length Management Company who manage all of Lambeth Council's tenancies and leaseholds) are probably now aware that Cathy Deplessis, Chief Executive of Lambeth Living stepped down two days ago on the 26th January.  Her resignation appeared to be mired in controversy, since it was denied as late as 4pm on the 26th and only confirmed during the Lambeth Living Board meeting of the same evening.  Ms Deplessis' departure follows hot on the heels of the Christmas Eve resignation of David Thompson, Lambeth Living's Officer in Charge of Major works.  I am guessing that Lambeth Living might have become unmanageable.

I refer interested readers to an excellent piece in the Streatham Guardian which reports that immediately after the resignation of Ms Deplessis' was announced, another board member, Chris Robertson, also tendered his resignation.  According to the Streatham Guardian, Mr Robertson claimed,
"I stood for election with the sole intention of representing the best interests of Lambeth residents. It has become clear in recent months that Lambeth residents are not being represented by the board and decisions are made without any reference or information to the board."
In a House of Commons debate on housing yesterday, Kate Hoey made damning remarks about Lambeth Living, and questionned whether government money might not best have been spent upon poor standard housing, rather than on Lambeth Living itself:
I would not want hon. Members to think that all ALMOs have been wonderful successes. The ALMO in Lambeth, Lambeth Living... has been pretty much of a disaster. The chief executive is leaving this weekend and the deputy left just before Christmas. The tenants in Lambeth are in a ridiculous situation. Their ALMO was going to get them a two-star rating. That did not happen, and the tenants are now left with huge amounts of very bad housing with no one wanting to do anything about it. The ALMO, therefore, was not the answer; the answer would have been to put the money directly into the estates that really needed it. Lambeth has some desperately bad estates. They need the money and I am not sure that spending money just on ALMOs made any difference.
Kate Hoey further spoke of her frustration as an MP at being constantly confronted by constituents at her surgeries, who live in over-crowded accommodation because she knows that so little can be done to resolve their issues.  Then, since the opportunity arose, she did the usual and slated Lambeth Council itself, damning its entire culture, whilst speaking out to protect the workers at the bottom of the pile:
"Lambeth is one of those boroughs in which politics change, council leadership changes and coalitions form-we have had it all during my time as a Member of Parliament -but one thing that does not seem to change is the culture and how it is run, particularly in terms of housing... 
I add my thanks to the people at the bottom of the structure-those who do the cleaning on the estates, particularly those who are in-house. Despite all the changes at the top, in which they never seem to be involved, and despite all the factors against them, they try to deliver good services, where they can. They are at the sharp end where the cuts will come, which will not affect the people on £250,000 a year-the directors and assistant directors of which we seem to have so many, who get huge amounts of money that never seems to be cut."
I'm quoting Hoey's remarks extensively, partly because I think she is right about the Council, but partly to outline how convienient a strategy it is to continually blame a whole succession of leadership in Lambeth.  I'd have thought that since this insightful and telling Hoey Report from Brian Deer in 1993, Hoey might have been able to wield some of her influence to make improvements within the Council.  The Council has been (except for the brief spell under the Lib Dems) under Labour control for years, and Hoey is a member of the Labour party.  It seems somewhat disingeuous for an MP who is known and admired for her work amongst local people, to be forever palming the institutional blame on to others.  Am I being unfair?  Is there anything Hoey could have done?  And if there isn't, then how might politics in Lambeth be fixed?

Anyhow, that's not all.  During her speech, Ms Hoey referred to an estate which is likely to be in SE11 (or possibly the western boundary of SE1) on account of it being  "a 10-minute walk from the House of Commons" in which "the windows are falling out".  Does anybody know which estate she has in mind?  In an attempt to have this blog focus on issues pertinent to all local residents, it seems only fair to record this information.  If your windows are falling out, or you know somebody whose windows are falling out, I'd be happy, with permission, to come around and photograph the damage and continually witter on about it until it is fixed.  Your local councillor should be aware of the issue, but it's worth making continuous noise about it.

Kate Hoey also took aim at local contractors, who are apparently akin to cartels:
"It is usually the same old companies that get the jobs anyway. All those people go around tendering against each other and operating cosy little cartels. It often ends up with someone getting a lot of money, and sometimes the standard of the work is not adequate."
But really, I fear that perhaps Steve Reed and Kate Hoey are actually in agreement with one another, since Hoey's strategies for fixing the mess sound a lot like the co-operative Council's.  (Remember no area will be witheld from the Co-op Coucil strategy, and much of it involves volunteers and people with initiative...)
"It upsets me that we have many empty flats and homes in Lambeth. When a tenant moves out or dies, their home is empty. Suddenly, that home cannot be let, because it is not up to decent homes standards, even though someone was living there two or three weeks ago, which is absolutely ridiculous. We should be able to allow people with a bit of nous who are on the housing waiting list to go in and do their work, like the old Greater London Council used to do. As long as the electrics and the health and safety are right, I do not see why anyone should not be allowed to go in and take the flat."
So far, so good, right.  Doesn't this sound like the return of the much vaunted volunteers, who are all going to spring out of the woodwork to form the Big Society?  Quite frankly, I'm sure we could find a team of local volunteers who'd be interested in helping redecorate empty properties from time to time.  This is certainly something that the charity Kids Company do periodically.  Unfortunately, it appears that the Council is not quite that co-operative yet and 10 properties were sold in 2009 for £1.68 million... The end of 2010 showed another £2.63 million made by Lambeth as they sold off another 13 council homes.  So maybe Hoey and Reed aren't singing from the same hymn sheet, since Hoey strongly states that this is unaccaptable. 
"Instead, we have flats sitting empty for months and even years. Then the council says, "We had better sell them off now because we cannot afford to make them good." It is absolutely scandalous, and I hope that the Minister will say that he will encourage such a route."
The coffee morning being held at St Anselm's tomorrow with Leader of Lambeth, Steve Reed and Kate Hoey both present in the same room should be rather interesting.


Sid Boggle said...

I'd love to be at that coffee morning tomorrow, but it's unlikely I'll be able to make it.

The view I'd like to hear is Lib Peck's, since she holds the poison chalice of Housing portfolio on the Council. Lambeth Labour promised in their manifesto, that they'd scrap the ALMO if it didn't meet some published targets within a year of the last elections. The targets aren't especially onerous, but it's clear there are structural and leadership failings within LL that can't be overcome, and I'd say it's time for Labour to admit it has failed and take steps to bring housing back in-house for accountability's sake. 30,000 families are being messed about by this bit of pointless tinkering (with a fiddled ballot establishing it, too), and it needs to stop.

I suspect if there are estates with windows falling out, that they're north of us near Waterloo, but the list of capital projects Lambeth Living and the Council have been ignoring for years is long and probably growing longer. Kennings is a tiny 20's/30's estate which urgently needs new roofs on its 7 blocks, among other works. Instead, patch repairs are carried out, usually in multiples of years after tenants complain, and how much money has been wasted on scaffold hire while somebody decides whether to let the works is something I'd love to know.

The history of Lambeth Housing will be written as one of false start after false start with endless promises of a Golden Age that turned out to be made of asbestos...

Sid Boggle said...

PS - if I go to the LL website, my browser crashes! A perfect metaphor... ;-)

Anonymous said...

You are all right. Government is incompetent and wastes huge sums of our taxes accomplishing nothing.

And yes, you are right that the solution MUST be BIGGER Government and HIGHER taxes.

Er, uh, right.

Lambeth should drastically reduce its holdings, provide housing as a safety net only for the very poor and vunerable and get out of the landlord business.

chandra said...

I am soaking with some best stuff!
Teacher Resignation Letter

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