Southwark Council have recently announced that a new 'Resident Involvement Panel' will be set up. The terms of reference for the panel can be seen here.
The news of this panel was met with surprise, anger and upset from the boroughs existing groups, including Tenant Council, Homeowners Council, Area Housing Forums, TRA's and Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations (SGTO). None of these active, hardworking groups of volunteers were consulted about this panel. Instead, Southwark Council once again, chose to opt for their default top-down decision making, and 'we know best' attitude.
Even more disturbing, is the badly-disguised wording over what the council's new panel actually seeks to do, including:
Review the coverage and operation of tenants and residents associations
Review the role and operation of Area Housing Forums, Tenants Council, Homeowners Council
Review the management and use of the Tenants and Homeowner Funds
Reviewing the management of TRA halls
The panel itself will include:
1 representative from Tenants Council
1 representative from Homeowners Council
1 representative from TRAs (not involved in Tenants or Homeowners councils)
1 representative from the MySouthwark Homeowners Board
1 (tenant) representative from the Youth Council
5 x residents with little or no previous experience of formally participating in the involvement structure
1 x Officer from the Communities Division
1 x Officer from Resident Services
1 x Officer from Organisational Transformation
The panel will be chaired by a paid representative.
Southwark Tenants Council, Tenant's & Resident's Associations and the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations have unanimously agreed to boycott the panel as they believe that the outcome is already pre-determined.
Ledbury Action Group fully support the boycott action and condemn Southwark Council for their despicable attitude towards these hard working groups of volunteers, in what appears to be an attempt to further minimise powers amongst existing resident groups and enforce 'Organisational Transformation'.
Other London boroughs have seen similar 'panels' set up, which has resulted in several cases, in the loss of tenants halls, tighter controls on decision-making, and a small hand-picked panel making decisions on behalf of entire boroughs whilst receiving paid expenses and in some cases, ipads in exchange.
Southwark's tenants and residents will not stand for the same attack on their rights and autonomy, and we are calling publicly on Southwark Council to cancel this fixed 'Resident Involvement Panel' immediately and actually consult with the existing groups.
How SGTO and existing tenants groups have have helped us
When the problems first emerged on the Ledbury Estate, residents were given little information and guidance from Southwark Council. It was impossible to get through to anybody in the council for any real answers or reassurance and residents felt absolutely helpless, not knowing what would happen next. We turned to our tenants groups for help.
Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations (SGTO) and other local Tenants & Residents Associations immediately stepped in to assist us. Not only were these groups there for us physically day after day, literally offering a shoulder to cry on as distraught residents sought help through their distress, they also provided us with practical help.
The community rallied around to support one another. Tenants groups and local TRA's offered Ledbury residents help with washing clothes and cooking meals when we were without facilities. Tenants halls were offered to us to hold fun events to boost the spirit and morale of the Ledbury community through those tough times.
SGTO helped Ledbury's 224 households to get advice from Citizen Advice Bureau and Southwark Law Centre, offering a space for residents to come and meet to discuss their situation with legal professionals and find out more about their rights as tenants and leaseholders.
SGTO also taught us about how the Council's system worked, how to apply to make a formal deputation to the council, how to find out about upcoming meetings such as Overview and Scrutiny and Cabinet meetings. They taught us about our rights to attend and have our say at these meetings through the formal procedures and helped us to familiarise ourselves with the council's bureaucratic processes and navigate our way through the council's tangled red tape. They came along with us to those meetings for moral support and to help boost our confidence in addressing the council, in what can be quite a daunting and intimidating process.
Absolutely no such support or information was forthcoming from the Council themselves. In fact, Southwark seem to make things as difficult as humanly possible for ordinary residents like us to really get involved and have a say or make a difference. Our experience is that Southwark like to control things as tightly as possible. We would respectfully suggest that Southwark in fact audit themselves and set up a panel to establish and action the vast improvements that they need to make, within their own systems, to allow ordinary residents of the borough to truly get involved.
We have become empowered by all that SGTO and other TRA's and community groups have taught us. We have become engaged and active residents of the borough with their support, able to network and grow and in turn, support many other residents and groups. None of that would have been possible without their help and guidance. The systems the community themselves have put in place, do work. We can, and are, helping each other to grow and to reach out and to involve more residents and young people as well.
Given all of the above, we find it incredibly hard to believe that Southwark are really arguing that they don't have enough active residents, and they want to give decision-making powers away. We would all welcome that (if we believed it were true.)
We additionally find it hard to believe that the council are really seeking to invite more residents to get involved and to scrutinise council decisions and hold them to account. Are the council really saying that they want to see more Ledbury Action Groups?
Is the council's 'Resident Involvement Panel' really designed to empower more people like us? Or is it just a badly disguised ruse, intended to ensure groups like ours can never prosper? Is the panel in fact designed to further disempower ordinary residents, because the tools, assistance and knowledge may no longer be available to us?
To answer many of the above questions that we were pondering, our very own democratically elected Cabinet Member for Housing Cllr. Stephanie Cryan confirmed our fears by tearing into the SGTO during a bizarre 3am Twitter rant, ironically accusing them of opposing 'grassroots democracy'.
With our own Councillors spewing such vicious bitterness towards the tenants movement, knowing full well just how much hard work and dedication they put into support this borough's residents, it leaves little doubt in our minds as to the direction and shape their 'panel' will take, and it's patently clear to us that the council do not really want to see the tenants movement growing at all.
From being totally inexperienced novices this time last year, to becoming heavily involved in the 'grassroots democracy' that Cllr. Cryan speaks of, we have seen first-hand how this whole system works, and there is genuinely no-one more dedicated to resident involvement than the resident groups themselves.
The proof for us lays entirely in our experiences. We have the position of being able to form such unbiased judgements because Ledbury Action Group are not a formally recognised body or a TRA. We are just a group of active residents in the Southwark community. Our loyalties lay nowhere because we do not receive any funding, and so we have the benefit of being impartial. On the sole basis of our experiences over the past year, we have found Southwark Council to be a completely disorganised, failing structure, complicit in lying to residents of the borough, wanton social cleansing, covering-up and defensively making excuses for their appalling behaviour, mistakes and actions, time and time again.
Transversely, we have found TRA's, the Tenant's Council, SGTO and other tenants groups to be invaluable and the greatest allies of the borough's residents. Friendly, honest and kind people working tirelessly for the benefit of the community and bravely standing up for the underdogs, against the council's vast, often cruel and destructive machine. It's true to say that resources of residents groups are limited, and there is so much more that they would be able to do if Southwark actively supported them and gave them the tools to grow and evolve, but unlike Southwark's own Councillors and officers, who are paid a small fortune and fail miserably, time and time again, Southwark's unpaid volunteers dedicate their time, energies and efforts and achieve a great deal. They offer hope, friendship, community and real support for the residents of this borough.
Southwark Group of Tenant's Organisations is the last remaining tenants movement federation in London. It's clear to us that the council are seeking to punish them and others for supporting groups like ours and threatening to smash these vital groups to pieces in twisted revenge, we simply aren't going to sit by and allow that to happen
Add your name to the open letter to Southwark Council here calling for the protection of residents voices.
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