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Liberal U-turn stops tenants' ballot victory
"YOU CAN'T trust the Liberals", an angry council tenant said on leaving the 26 July meeting of Lewisham council. Socialist Party councillors Ian Page and Chris Flood had moved a resolution calling for tenants to be balloted before their homes are handed over to an 'Arms-Length Management Organisation' (ALMO) company - a step towards privatisation. The resolution had just been defeated.
But before the meeting the Liberal Democrat group had said that, along with the Greens and Tories, they'd support the motion.
With Lewisham a 'hung council' since May's elections, there should have been no reason why tenants would be denied the basic democratic right of having a vote on the ALMO plans - until the Liberals' (and Tories') u-turn!
Lewisham council is pursuing what they call a 'mixed transfer' approach to getting rid of its council homes. 10,000 homes will be sold off to housing associations - in those areas, tenants have a legal right to a ballot. Under an ALMO, however, although council homes will be managed by the ALMO company board, they are still council-owned, and a ballot is not a legal requirement.
But why shouldn't the 15,000 tenants and leaseholders in the proposed ALMO area be able to decide who manages their homes? Lewisham's 'shadow ALMO board' includes business representatives from the construction industry and property management organisations. Who elected them?
Even the tenant and leaseholder reps - a minority on the board - are appointees, with a limited democratic mandate. Ian and Chris also presented to the council meeting a 1,000-strong 'Hands Off Our Homes' petition opposing the homes transfer plans. This included one council block where an ALMO board member lives, in which a majority had signed the petition!
'Hands Off Our Homes' campaign
Undoubtedly the 'Hands Off Our Homes' campaign shook New Labour who also feared a repeat of the first full council meeting after the May elections.
Then, pushed by the Socialist councillors to keep to their manifesto pledges, the opposition parties combined to call on the Labour mayor to stop the demolition of Ladywell Leisure Centre and build a new school in north Lewisham. (see the socialist 22 June)
This time New Labour were prepared. Two years ago they ridiculed Ian's and Chris' warnings that ALMOs meant 'privatisation in stages' - that after they'd completed basic 'decent standards' home improvement works ALMOs could become completely independent of councils.
Now the Labour mayor moved an amendment opposing a vote before Lewisham's ALMO is fully set-up, but pledging to hold a ballot in the future when it wanted to increase its powers. This was enough for the Liberals and Tories. Only the Green councillors - and one Liberal rebel - voted with the Socialist Party.
The recently published Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) review of ALMOs makes clear their intention that ALMOs are here to stay and will get new rights. The DCLG also propose that, when acquiring new powers, any consultation need only be "as comprehensive as that undertaken before the setting up of the ALMO". In Lewisham that means without a ballot.
A promise of a vote in 2010 or 2011 - when a new council has been elected - is like postponing buying fire insurance until there's been a fire.
Despite this vote, the campaign against New Labour's housing privatisation policy goes on. Ian and Chris will keep using the opportunities that having a hung council provides. But, as we warned before, the main establishment parties are fundamentally the same, and only the pressure of tenants and leaseholders can guarantee victory!
In The Socialist 24 August 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party workplace news