Are you a Lambeth Living tenant? Do you agree that the ALMO customer service centre is “dire?” You’re not alone – this is the description used by @LambethLabour Councillor Kristy McHugh at the Lambeth Housing hustings on Saturday afternoon in Brixton.
Worse was to come. The Deputy Cabinet Member for Housing and Neighbourhoods then had to listen to an employee of Lambeth Living state:
“So many broken promises have been made by Lambeth Living, I don’t know where to begin. We started off with 500 staff, and we’re now down to 400. Eighty more cuts are going to be made after the election. Our Senior Management Team consisted of consultants, all earning £1,000 per day.”
McHugh was asked to apologise by a resident for promising money to refurbish Lambeth properties that still hasn’t been seen in the borough, despite election friendly chest beating from the @LambethLabour cabinet. Just like the much needed repairs, the apology was absent.
There was much anger on the floor at St Matthew’s Hall, with Lambeth Living residents feeling betrayed by the ALMO experiment.
“The Lambeth Labour manifesto four years ago had no mention of your plans to transfer our homes to an ALMO,” commented one resident. “Can you confirm that this isn’t the first step to the privatisation of Lambeth council stock?”
McHugh *was* able to answer this question, stating that if re-elected, @LambethLabour will let Lambeth Living run for another year under the management of retiring Streatham Labour MP Keith Hill, before then making an internal cabinet decision about the future of the ALMO.
“We pledge to give tenants a ballot this summer, to see if they want the ALMO to remain in Lambeth. We will listen to the tenants, and make sure that the ballot is a fair one this time. If the residents tell us that they don’t want Lambeth Living, we will take the housing stock back into the management of the local authority.”
Councillor Lumsden spoke of the £6m that @lambeth_council is currently losing out on, due to lost rent from empty homes:
“There are currently 1,500 empty homes in Lambeth. These could house 15,000 people. The council actually has a contract worth £300,000 per year with a company whose sole job is to board up empty homes. The LibDems have a zero tolerance policy on empty homes.”
“Decent, affordable housing is a right. The free market is unable to deliver. We will bring back empty properties into the hands of council management using special orders.”
Recognising the uncomfortable afternoon that lay ahead, @LambethLabour’s Kirsty McHugh was keen to move the debate on:
“Let’s not dwell on the problems. When we have a David Cameron government [the LABOUR Councillor actually said that…] where will we get the money from to fix Lambeth Living?”
Councillor Lumsden kept with the national agenda, reminding the Labour Councillor of how Gordon Brown spoke of “housing being a matter for the private sector,” less than twenty-four hours earlier in the Paxo interview. To be fair to Councillor McHugh, most Lambeth Living residents feel that they are halfway to privatisation anyway, under the Labour led ALMO.
What can out friends the Lambeth Conservatives bring to housing agenda? Slightly late to the party (“ward matters“) the rather charming (seriously) Councillor Whelan (male variety) arrived fashionably late to the housing hustings.
“It is brave of you to come here, Councillor McHugh. Lambeth Labour has had four years to improve housing, and you have gone into reverse. The ALMO has to be dissolved using a proper ballot this time.”
The relative wetness of the lovely Lambeth Tories (once again: seriously…) came into question with the knockout punch from Councillor Whelan:
“Keith Hill is a retiring MP. He should do what retiring MP’s do – look after his garden, rather than take up his new Lambeth Living job.”
The route of the ultra Blairite retiring Streatham MP, from Westminster to @LambethLabour’s cosy Lambeth Living set up, was also questioned from the floor:
“@cllrstevereed told us two years ago that Lambeth Living should be chaired by a tenant. Keith Hill doesn’t live in a council house, so what they hell is he doing taking on the highly paid Lambeth Living job?”
Councillor McHugh then decided to declare a point of order to the hustings:
“I am a member of the Lambeth Living board… Let’s move the debate on.”
But the Lambeth Living ALMO experiment by @LambethLabour wouldn’t move on, with many residents feeling that their questions still hadn’t been answered:
“How many consultants are currently paid by Lambeth Living?”
“My union has told me to vote Labour to ‘save jobs.’ Now you are telling me that Lambeth Labour wants to lose jobs from Lambeth Living. Who should I vote for?”
McHugh offered a hard-line response, stating:
“Lambeth Living shouldn’t be wasting money making staff redundant. If they are not carrying out a good service then we should sack them.”
This argument should equally apply to local politicians.
Conservative Councillor Whelan was more sympathetic to the staff at Lambeth Living:
“There is some good people working for the ALMO would love to give a better service if they could. Lambeth Living is restricting them.”
It is at this stage of the afternoon that the events ended being a political hustings, and became a crisis management meeting instead.
The meeting was out of time and with little resolved – a bit like Lambeth Living. A chap wearing a hooded anorak (hood up) and carrying endless plastic bags, came over to me to hand me a UKIP newspaper.
Only in the Rotten Borough…
I escaped into the relative safety of the kitchen at St Matthew’s Hall, cornered @LambethLibDems leader Councillor Lumsden, and asked him to clarify the opposition solution to the failure of Lambeth Living.
The choice is clear:
@LambethLabour will make an internal decision on the future of the ALMO, twelve months after the election.
@LambethLibDems will ask the tenants if they want the ALMO to remain this summer.
The election in Lambeth is too close to call to risk putting your mortgage on it.