Low earners won’t thrive in Big Society


2:00 pm - August 31st 2010

by Kate Belgrave    


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Hazel Scully

Hazel Scully

Last week, I went to Skelmersdale to talk about David Cameron’s ‘big society’ concept with council tenants Ted and Hazel Scully, and Sandra Porter. I spent time with them last year as well.

Cameron’s ‘big society’ idea is as hard to grasp as it is to buy into. It’s centered on the notions that people will volunteer to provide public services in place of the state and that residents should drive local council spending and direction. Phrases like ‘community empowerment’ and ‘people power’ guff through big society talk.

These phrases means nothing. Neither ‘community empowerment’ nor ‘people power’ will make it past rhetoric under Cameron’s administration. The realities of Tory rule in local government are vicious service cuts and a chilling detachment from people who need public services. There is no engagement. There is no consultation with poorer communities. Funding is cut and services eliminated without a word of discussion with service users and providers.

Let’s spend some time now in Skelmersdale – a working-class town in the Conservative West Lancashire borough:

Skelmersdale is a small (pop 38,000), Labour-voting new town that was built in the early 1960s to rehouse families from Liverpool estates.

Skem’s sprawling green fields and bright new estates drew the young families crowd in droves: Skem local Theresa Mackin, for example, made the move from Liverpool 44 years ago ‘because it was green, and I got a house [instead of a flat].’

‘We felt like films stars, to have this new house when we just got married,’ says Barry Nolan, a plumber and local councillor who moved from Bootle to Skem in 1966.

Ted and Hazel Scully, and Sandra Porter were also impressed. Ted worked as a builder when he and Hazel moved to the Firbeck and Findon estate in Skem 35 years ago. He and Hazel had young children, and they liked Skem’s green fields and sense of community. There were new schools for the kids and a decent standard of living for a family on a builder’s wage.

They also believed that council tenancy was synonymous with security.

Alas – all that has changed.

For the past three years, Firbeck and Findon tenants have been battling council plans to demolish their homes. Their Tory-led borough council wants to demolish the Firbeck and Findon estate, build plush apartments for private sale in its place and move tenants like the Scullies and Porter to homes on less lucrative land.

The tenants first heard of the plans in 2007, when they got letters from the council alerting them to the forthcoming demolition. Not a single councillor came to tell them about the plans in person. No meetings with residents – some of whom had lived in their homes for nearly 40 years – were scheduled. Hazel Scully describes the news as “a complete shock. We hadn’t heard anything from the council.”

It was up to residents to defend their homes. Scully sniggers when we talk about community empowerment: for her, empowerment has meant spending her retirement acquiring an in-depth knowledge of council operations.

She and Porter have written a stack of letters, taken petitions around town, joined tenants’ groups and learned how to bail up councillors and St Modwen’s senior managers (St Modwen’s is the council’s private housing development partner) at meetings, in the street and/or whenever their paths sync. They’ve learned to read council files, shadow key political players and patrol their estate for anyone who looks like they’re planning to swing a wrecking-ball.

‘The council said – don’t worry, bulldozers aren’t coming over the hill in the morning… but nobody believes the council,’ Scully says.

Indeed. Here’s Hazel Scully on community empowerment (she starts with a few words on tenants’ concerns about George Osborne’s spending review):

Early in August 2010, David Cameron scared a whole strata when he said secure council tenancy was no longer a right.

I thought about this a lot as I walked around Skem. The likes of Hazel Scully and Sandra Porter don’t see council tenancy – or lifelong council tenancy – as a right, exactly. They see council tenancy as a deal.

Their family breadwinners were low paid, but they worked and paid their taxes and received, in exchange, a home of happy standard. ‘We have real pride in our homes,’ says Scully. ‘They are not just houses. They’re homes.’

Several times over the years, Ted and Hazel thought about buying their flat, but they decided the advantages of buying were oversold. As private owners, they would have struggled to pay for maintenance. They would also have been left with a house worth barely enough for a deposit on another home – flats on Firbeck go for about £55,000 when times are good, which they are not.

As for the private rental market in which the Conservatives have such faith – well, the thought of private rental in this neighbourhood turns people cold. I see why when Scully and Porter take me to look at a block of privately-owned flats at the back of Firbeck and Findon. I feel the fear myself when I see them.

The flats are let to Polish and Portuguese immigrants. You don’t have to be a council tenant to take a dim view of the prospect of life at the mercy of this sort of landlord:

Read the rest.

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About the author
Kate Belgrave is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a New Zealander who moved to the UK eight years ago. She was a columnist and journalist at the New Zealand Herald and is now a web editor. She writes on issues like public sector cuts, workplace disputes and related topics. She is also interested in abortion rights, and finding fault with religion. Also at: Hangbitching.com and @hangbitch
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Fight the cuts

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Reader comments


It’s ‘Tory rule’ the result of a democratic vote?
Oh I see, it’s not the result you wanted so it’s ‘chilling detachment’.
Sorry Kate, but I think that you’ll find, in England at least, that we knew exactly what we were voting for.

Of course your council tenants wouldn’t buy a house if they’re comfortable in their council housing. Paid for by all of us, their council house allocation is worth over £200K. There is a thriving council house exchange programme (“Retire to the Country”) and the allocation can even be inherited. It’s a decision most of us would make if we could get on the list.

Stuart @1 Anonymous troll.

>Sorry Kate, but I think that you’ll find, in England at least, that we knew exactly what we >were voting for

Really? I mean *really?* Who did you vote for?

>Of course your council tenants wouldn’t buy a house if they’re comfortable in their council >housing. Paid for by all of us,

Do us a favour. Right To Buy?

Anyway, I’ve fed the troll, I’m bad

Nice response. Straight to abuse…

Really? How is that abuse? You are anonymous, you have no provenance, & I question what you say. Lots of council tenants including my dad have bought their houses & he was *very* comfortable in his house. What do you base your assumptions on?

You sound like a troll…

Low earners won’t thrive period under the Tories.

Fair response. I’m delighted that your Father was pleased that he bought his council house. I’m not sure what I think of the policy in general though… I don’t see the World through a true-blue prism.

Of course, one of the problems with conversations like these is their brevity. We all tend to talk in short-hand and assume that we can interpret tone, etc. I’ll think more carefully before I respond in future.

Finally, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m new to this and I am wary of identifying myself. After all, one rash comment and you’re unemployable. You work with the web, so you’ll know this. I’ve never been called a troll before though. Saying all that, I can’t identify you from your blog either. So we’re both anonymous.

Brilliant article. More please.

Kate

I am the leader of the opposition Labour Group on West Lancashire Borough Council, in which the town of Skelmersdale lies (I know you know this – it’s just for clarity for other readers).

I think this is a very good piece, because it reflects some of the deep-rooted sense of betrayal that people like Hazel and Sandra feel (whom I know), and their sense that the authorities simply have no conception of what their homes mean to them, how both this sense of betrayal-but-belonging are related to their initial hopes for a new life, now two generations old.

As the Tories develop their urban housing plans, which include ideas for moving people on from council housing if they get a job, they would do well to read this kind of testimony and take note of what real people think in real places, and reflect on houses as homes, not as assets.

Now, as you would expect, I’m here not just to praise the testimonial quality of the piece, but to defend my own record and that of the Labour councillors in Skelmersdale that I work with.

First, you say ‘Not a single councillor came to tell them about the plans in person’ when plans for the demolition of their homes first became clear. This is true in respect of the Conservative councillors who run the authority (for now), but it is not true of the Labour councillors who represent Hazel and Sandra’s ward. I know that Hazel and Sandra have spent many hours in the company of Mary, Donna and Bob, and I know that all of them are doing all in their power, in opposition, to support the tenants of Findon and Firbeck. Perhaps it is simply your wording, which implies that local (Labour) councillors have been derelict in their duty, but it is not something I can let go unchallenged.

In fact the local Labour party have gone a great deal further than ‘telling them about the plans in person’. Because we felt that the official council consultation exercise was something of a sham, we organised our own consultation events about the plans, listened to residents and tenants from across Skem about their hopes, fears and ideas, and reflected these in our own formal submissions. The Conservative administration objected to us holding ‘parallel consultation’ on the grounds that it fell within a local election period, even though they chose to hold their own ‘official’ consultation at the same time.

Second, you suggest that it is unclear as to why the Findon and Firbeck area was put back into the capital programme for refurbishment.

While it is always impossible to prove cause-effect in these cases, I would suggest that its reinsertion is at least in part because of Labour’s campaign for it in council, including a budgetary commitment to it in our alternative budget in February 2010. The audit trail for this is at http://www.bickerstafferecord.org.uk/?p=1530 which is a transcript of my budget speech made on 25th February, and includes the following:

‘Put simply, and in keeping with the paper you have before you, our proposals would ensure that the Council can fulfil its prior commitment to tenants – now cast into doubt by the Conservative administration – to invest in all the new kitchens for the next year, Further we will provide an immediate investment in new kitchens in Findon and Firbeck and provide for double glazing for many tenants including Firbeck Court. I know that other colleagues will want to pick up on the importance of such a commitment to a group of tenants who have been excluded from the capital programme on the basis that they and their homes are simply not worth the effort.’

In conclusion, I wouldn’t want readers to go away thinking that Labour councillors have simply left Hazel and Sandra ‘on their own’, as you suggest. Hazel and Sandra are feisty campaigners in their own right, and we always seek to work with rather than for the tenants they so ably represent, and of course we respect the fact that, in the end, it is their homes, not ours, that are at threat.

Hi Stuart,

The point I’m making is that there is considerable disconnect between Cameron’s big society rhetoric and the realities of people’s experiences of Tory policy on the ground.

You’re right to say that the Tories took West Lancs council – of course that is true. The Tories also won Hammersmith and Barnet, about whom I’ve written a great deal.

The thing is – people vote on the basis of party rhetoric. Cameron is publicly promoting a notion of local service provision that sounds considerably more inclusive and consultative (if there is such a word) than it is.

Cameron talks about ‘community empowerment’ and ‘people power,’ as though engagement is at the centre of Tory policy on the local scene. I keep finding people who report the exact opposite, and that’s what you’ve read about above.

The people I talked to for this piece, for example, were not consulted at all about the demolition of their homes. Nobody talked to them. Nobody rang them. Nobody gave them any indication that the demolition of homes in which they’d lived for decades might be part of development plans for Skelmersdale. They got a letter one day out of the blue.

The same thing went for sheltered housing residents in Barnet. They were told that the sheltered housing warden service would be deleted. There was no consultation – even though groups for the elderly have research that indicates sheltered housing tenants need to be involved in proposed changes to service provision if they’re to cope with changes.

Those residents – many of whom were very elderly and very worried – invited councillors to come round to their flats to discuss the service cut. They didn’t get a single response. Their concerns were also dismissed at public meetings. I attended those meetings and found them very chilling indeed. Mike Freer could not have been more dismissive of the concerns of these elderly people. You’ll find reports from those meetings archived on this site. Residents took the council to court on the basis of the council’s failure to consult (and won). ‘Chilling detachment’ would have been a very polite description of Freer’s behaviour at those meetings.

I have another bunch of interviews that I plan to post soon that detail voluntary sector cuts in Hammersmith. Voluntary groups had no idea in 2007 that the Tories were about to cut their funding (and some groups lost 100% of their funding that year). They first heard about the cuts when a Hammersmith law centre lawyer happened – completely by chance – upon the council report about the proposed cuts when he was leafing through an agenda that arrived in the mail.

http://www.hangbitching.com/2010/08/big-society-hammersmith-then-and-tories-now/

Groups only had a few days to organise deputations to council and the cabinet meeting at which people were ‘allowed’ to speak was a shambles – when questioning got tough, the cabinet just packed up and ran.

I say again – this piece is about the disconnect between Tory rhetoric and reality.

And there’s a real crisis of representation for a lot of people who don’t earn much and have no political clout. If you go to the full piece on my site, you’ll see that in the last video, Hazel Scully blasts her local Labour MP Rosie Cooper for failing – as Hazel sees it – to help her constituents. Ted, Hazel and Sandra all voted Labour to keep Rosie in – to make sure that they had representation. They feel she has let them down horribly. You’re right to say that people vote because they want representation. It ain’t just the Tories who upset the locals.

@ 6 Stuart

That is cool. You *can* contact me via the blog though – identity is a different matter. You don’t need to identify yourself, just get a throwaway gmail address or something like that so ppl can come back to you & you remain anonymous in the job world.

Obviously you are not a troll ‘cos of your response. Welcome to the world 😉

Paul,

Thanks for the response.

I am, as you know, independent of the Labour, Tory and Liberal Democray parties, but welcome input from members of all on my work.

Your remarks made me a little angry.

A couple of things – regarding the ‘nobody told us’ – you’re being ridiculously paranoid about my intentions there. Hazel meant that the first they heard of the demolition proposal was via that letter through their doors in 2007. She was of the view that someone – anyone – whether they be cllrs (councillors who were in the know, that is, which many don’t seem to have been) or council officers should have come round to doors to tell people. Very elderly tenants were terrified out of their wits by that letter.

You seem to think that I have omitted to mention the subsequent input of Labour councillors on purpose. I’ve done nothing of the kind. The Labour party barely went through my mind when Hazel and I were talking. It simply never occurred to me to give Labour a paragraph about subsequent work – this story is about people’s first reactions to a Tory council initiative.

The great thing about online journalism is that people can come and put their perspectives, as you have, but remember – you do so from a party perspective. I simply don’t think that way.

I would also like to make – very firmly – the point that the interview above was Hazel’s, not yours. It’s about her perspective, not Labour’s. Which isn’t to say that local Labour councillors haven’t been excellent, because they have, as you rightly observe. Local people speak particularly highly of you personally, as it happens, and did again when I was in Skem last week. It’s just that they didn’t speak primarily of you. They barely spoke about you at all – just a couple of sentences here and there to say you were very committed. They spoke about their situation, and their perceptions. That’s what I went to Skem for. It’s not my job to PR for Labour.

They did get stuck into Rosie, though, so you may want to pursue that. The Rosie interview is the last video on my site. Rosie is of course welcome to respond to Hazel’s remarks here and/or on my site. I think Hazel would welcome a response from Rosie, because she obviously felt Rosie had left tenants to fight their corner themselves. I will say this, though – I have absolutely no intention of cutting Hazel’s video, or editing her remarks in any way. She is entitled to her view and I recorded it, because I believe she is entitled to her view. There it will stay.

I’ve sent Hazel the link to this, so hopefully she’ll turn up to respond. She does comment on my site from time to time.

Cheers,

Kate.

Allowing for the fact that the demolition orders seem to have been handled badly, which is incompetence, I can’t see too much of an issue here.

It is the job of the council to manage its housing stock for the people of the borough. Not just for the tenants, but in order to ensure the borough as a whole benefit. If this is judged to involve removing old stock and receiving funds that can be spent by the council in return, then this is a legitimate decision. If the decision is political or motivated by personal gain, there is grounds for a criminal investigation, but presumably there are no such accusations here.

It is not as if the council tenants were being deprived of tenancies, only properties which they see as home (as I have seen rented accomodation of my own in the past), but which belongs to the borough not to them. There seems to be an underlying idea that having a council-provided home means you own it, rather than the council is providing accomodation (of a certain standard, obviously). But, even if that has been accepted as an ideal at some point (and no-one has ever shown me where it is explicitly stated) I would question whether that is acceptable nowadays.

I appologise that this is a rather crude answer. Finding it hard to finesse my thoughts properly, so this does not really do justice to Kate’s piece.

Kate

Where did I suggest you should edit anything? Where did I suggest you should be more pro-Labour? Where do I suggest more reference should have been made to Labour? Where did I even mention my own role (except in that it happened to be me who made the budget speech for the Labour group, ‘cos the finance portfolio holder was ill).

To be honest I’m a bit confused by your hostile response. I thought my post was one of clarification (as well as praise), just so people don’t get the impression that the Labour councillors in question are in dereliction of their duty. I’m leader of the group – you’d expect me to stand up for the team I’m supposed to lead, wouldn’t you?

Rosie’s quite capable of defending herself, should she want to. All I was doing was clarifying the work of people I work with closely who may not get the opportunity to do.

“The realities of Tory rule in local government are vicious service cuts and a chilling detachment from people who need public services”

I’m with Watchman @12. I don’t see the issue here other than a bungling of demolition orders. I was expecting to read some examples of how people’s services had been viciously cut.

It’s always good to put a face to policy impacts, but I don’t see how the ‘cuts’, as they are coming, will have any effect on the roundabout haven of Skelmersdale.

And what do you think Blair did with his care in the community, I live in a disability estate made by the council by dumping people into a corner of an estate, I was told OK you can help us, you can become a contact point for care in the community, being severely disabled my self I said well OK if they need help with claiming benefits fine, but anything else you have had it.

An elderly lady with dementia walks out of the house her husband phones me 3am tells me he needs help, it takes me an hour to get up get my wheelchair get out, so i phoned the police who told me it was nothing to do with them I get arrested for being a carer and failing in my duty, before it goes to court the police dropped the case saying how the hell could I be expected to help people when the council even refused to pay me for the phone calls or use of my computer or give me training, social service were told they had failed to put in place correct procedures.

last year i was told if I gave people help the council would give me a payment for my phone calls but I refused.

Care in the community was another of the silly idea about the big society

16. Charlieman

I don’t think Kate or Paul have told the full story about Skelmersdale. It is essentially a new town established for workers in companies that no longer exist. There are few employers in town and there is no rail service. If you work, you will probably have to drive to your job. Population is in decline (down 2,500 in two years), approximately 6%.

This article presents another picture about Skelmersdale: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2006/jan/18/communities.guardiansocietysupplement2

Skelmersdale is set in one of the most beautiful parts of England. It would be sad to permit the town to become a commuter home zone for the wealthy. Homes for the rich aren’t going to create jobs for the other people who live there. But new kitchens for council tenants aren’t going to make much difference to the local economy, either.

17. Flowerpower

Last week, I went to Skelmersdale to talk about David Cameron’s ‘big society’ concept with council tenants Ted and Hazel Scully

And I suppose tomorrow you’ll be going to Pratts club to talk about Marx’s theory of surplus value with the Duke of Buccleuch. Strewth Kate, you ought to be on Mission Impossible.

Fact is most people on council estates in Skelmersdale and elsewhere know the Big Society only in terms of the mendacious misrepresentations of it made by lefties such as inhabit this blog.

It is NOT a way of getting the third sector to do the government’s job on the cheap (or for free). It IS about transferring power from arrogant officialdom to ordinary citizens.

In your account of the glories of Skelmersdale you have neglected to mention quite a few things (Ditto councillor Paul). The context of the cancelled Everton stadium move and the associated fallout. The fact that the Tory council have just voted to spend £4.5 million on heating, insulation, painting and repairs for houses on other estates in the area but have (rightly) decided it would be a waste of money spending any money on Findon & Firbeck ‘cos the people who live there just wreck everything.

You might have told us about the parlous state of Coronation Park, which despite all the investment over the years is now unusable by toddlers with everything metal pulled down and hanging off its hinges. Or how the gable end of every block in Findon has been spray painted in multi-coloured scrawl. Or how every inch of grass is contaminated by the glass of smashed bottles.

There are only two ways out for this rat hole: one is for the decent local residents to take ownership of the problem and sort it. But that would be “David Cameron’s Big Society” in action and the likes of Hazel and her friends want none of that.

Or, knock the whole lot down and start over.

Which appears to be what’s going to happen.

Evening all,

A few points in response.

Watchman and Mark – you’re wrong to suggest that these people feel council housing is a right.

They always talk about it as a kind of deal – and indeed, that was how it was sold to them all those years ago.

Skem was built as a postwar newtown specifically to rehouse people from grim and overcrowded Liverpool estates. People were encouraged to move to Skem on a promise of security, decent living standards and community. The understanding was that they worked, paid their taxes, and ‘received’ a decent home in return. I say above that Hazel doesn’t seem to see her tenancy as a right – she sees it as a sort of deal with the council.

I feel that Cameron is trying to plant the notion that council tenants are a bit too cute in their expectations – that they expect a huge house and plenty of rooms and that they have as much right to hang onto such a property as anyone who has bought one. Cameron has admitted already that his ‘council housing shouldn’t be for life’ idea will be a hard sell. Planting the idea that most council housing tenants are layabouts who expect more than they deserve will aid his narrative. The truth is different.

All that said, I don’t think that council tenants by definition are stuck in the past. Hazel Scully is very much in favour of the Skem regeneration project of which the demolition of her estate would be a part – she believes Skem needs a facelift and likes the idea of the jobs that a new retail centre would bring. What she doesn’t like is the (very strong) suggestion that council tenants have no place in such a facelift – that they must be moved away from the town centre (a very convenient place to live) to less pleasant parts of town.

And there is an interesting argument in that – ie, surely, regeneration can mean mixing council, social and private housing? Why is it necessary to separate these groups out? Scully and other residents feel that the council believe council tenants lower the tone of a neighbourhood – that people on lower incomes have no standards and no pride.

As for the lack of information about the demolition being a single bureaucratic bungle that shouldn’t be taken too seriously – I disagree with that very strongly. These people are elderly. They felt safe in their homes. The first they hear – after 35 years or more in the same flat – of the proposed demolition of their homes is a letter through the slot. The council had been working on a major plan for Skem regeneration (of which the proposed demolition would be a part) but had never mentioned it.

That was three long years ago. Scully and other residents have had to wait all that time to find out if their homes are to be flattened or not. They really don’t want to move. Moving when you’re older and have been in one place for 35 years is very difficult. Some of the people waiting to find out if they’re staying or going are 90. They may not even be around when a decision is made.

So, for three years, these people have been chasing councillors, combing council papers and following newspaper commentary to try and work out what will happen to them. They have absolutely no power. Mr Cotterill has observed that Labour councillors have spent three years trying to find out the council’s plans for Firbeck and Findon. The council refuses to engage unless it is pushed very hard

I go back to my original point – Mr Cameron is trying to sell us an idea of a society led by a caring party with an ear to the concerns of those in need. He talks of people power and empowerment. Actually, people in the Scullies’ position have no power. Decisions are made for them, not with them. Their loyalty to the deal they thought they entered as council tenants means nothing. They kept telling me that a council house was not a house – it was a home.

I found the whole story chilling – although not quite as chilling as the some of the narratives that have been coming out of Hammersmith and Fulham council since Greenhalgh got his sticky hands on that. I’ll be getting to them.

Mr Cotterill – I will get to you when I’ve sorted some food and recharged.

Flowers, y’bugger. We find you in poor humour, alas.

Coronation park featured in my last works on Skem – I’m only sad to find you are not a regular Kate Belgrave reader. In that article, Hazel et al spoke very much in favour of the Skem redevelopment project.

The graffiti, etc, on Findon has been removed (see points in the original post about capital works), and the locals seemed to be of the opinion that the cleanup works had gone some way to improving the behaviour of the yobbos to whom you refer.

I’m guessing you’re eager for Dave’s big society to get underway so that you can lead the local junta in a reintroduction of capital punishment and the elimination of Findon’s pesky underclass?

20. Flowerpower

No Kate, my face has always been set like flint against capital punishment – and all other outrageous exercises of state power.
That said, my heart wouldn’t bleed if the people of Findon, in a sudden rush of righteous indignation, were to turn the clock back and reintroduce the stocks for an afternoon or two before wiser counsels prevailed.

21. Flowerpower

By the way….. wasn’t it in Skelmersdale where the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi got the yobbo problem under control by bussing in vast numbers of transcendental meditators to run their Sidhi programme? William Hague does TM, so maybe he’s the answer.

22. Hazel Scully

Hello Kate,and Paul,
During the first interview with Kate we were most vocal in the assistance we have had from the Labour Group,in particular Bob,Mary, Donna and Paul,throughout the three years of opposItion.Kate was interested enough to revisit our estate last month to see the work we had been doing to show the pride still in this neighborhood.We are grateful to the Borough Labour Group for their support and time spent to explain areas of council planning and to listen to our concerns.We know that the Conservative members have listened but not “heard” us but will be opposing demolition of our homes for as long as we have to.
May I reply to a comment made by “Watchman-12) Of course we ,as tenants, do not” think we own the property” we live in.In my own instance I moved into this house in 1974 when the build of the estate was still progressing.I raised my 2 children here.Coming from a small rented property in Liverpool that had no bathroom,indoor toilet or garden we all felt this was the answer to a better life and a higher standard of living.This has been the story with many of the tenants not only in Firbeck and Findon but throughout the town of Skelmersdale.We are people with intelligence and of fair opinions but we have not been treated fairly since the Council.s plans for a new Town centre were made public.Why should and entire town decide the future of an estate most didn.t know existed until June 2007?
We,as an Opposition Group,have had one meeting with Officers.one meeting with Cabinet and various meetings with the Council Housing Manager and the Porfolio for Housing in the Borough.None of these meetings gave us a sense of community empowerment as far as the Tory members wishing to hear our arguments.The Community empowerment we want is to be treated as equals,to sit around the table with Cabinet,Stakeholders , and developers and have a real and frank discussion on the true reasons why we may lose the homes (Council properties) that we have been happy to live in for many years.This is not “old stock” but perfectly well built houses which will stand for many years

23. Hazel Scully

As a further comment I would like to reply to “Flowerpower” who seems to think that people living in Findon are vandals and hooligans-No estate is perfect but I have to take umbrage with Mr/Ms. Flowerpower.The people who occupy the blocks of flats that is Findon do not “wreck everything” .They are living their lives as they choose.The real reason that Firbeck and Findon were removed from the Capital Programme for the installation of new kitchens,bathrooms etc was given to us by the Leader of the Council/Cabinet;”We will not invest in properties which may be demolished”.It may interest “Flowerpower ” know that after living in this property for 36 years we still have the same bathroom furniture and the same toilet that were in the house when it was built–AND they are clean and well looked after–not our property but treated as if it is.

This is just wonderful:

“Cameron’s ‘big society’ idea is as hard to grasp as it is to buy into. It’s centered on the notions that people will volunteer to provide public services in place of the state and that residents should drive local council spending and direction. Phrases like ‘community empowerment’ and ‘people power’ guff through big society talk.”

Yup, OK, Burke’s little platoons. And you’re saying that they won’t turn up, right?

“It was up to residents to defend their homes. Scully sniggers when we talk about community empowerment: for her, empowerment has meant spending her retirement acquiring an in-depth knowledge of council operations.

She and Porter have written a stack of letters, taken petitions around town, joined tenants’ groups and learned how to bail up councillors and St Modwen’s senior managers (St Modwen’s is the council’s private housing development partner) at meetings, in the street and/or whenever their paths sync. They’ve learned to read council files, shadow key political players and patrol their estate for anyone who looks like they’re planning to swing a wrecking-ball.”

And your proof that they won’t turn up is exactly that they have turned up?

Come along now, that’s cognitive dissonance even by the standards of this blog. That people won’t fight for their local community if the State gets out of the way is proven by the way in which people fight for their local community?

That really is snigger worthy. Laughable even.

Next you’ll be telling us that the success of the Co Op is proof of the way that everyone prefers capitalist owned supermarkets, that John Lewis shows worker owned coops cannot work and that tax evasion shows that tax rates are too low.

Ah, no, sorry, that last one is Richard Murphy, isn’t it?

Kate:

I have re-read my first response, and I think I owe you a bit of an apology (only a bit mind). What was written in haste does, I think in retrospect, come across as overly defensive, and the phrase about ‘challenging’ you on your reading of the situation was not appropriate, or how I intended it to come over.

What I meant to get over was that the local Labour party has tried its best to oppose the Tories’ way of doing things, but it did come over as overly Labour-centric.

Note to self: don’t leave hasty comments while trying to co-ordinate byelections and earn a living.

Hazel:

Nice to hear from you in response, and Bob, Mary Donna will i’m sure will be grateful for your kind words about their work, which I’ll make sure they know about.
You know my phone number. Like you, I’m glad that you and Kate have been able to set out your case on the national ‘internet stage’.

Tim,

Keep your shirt on. Pointing out a disconnect between Cameron’s rhetoric and the reality of Tory councils on the ground does not necessarily mean one is promoting the notion of State. It means I’m pointing out a disconnect between Cameron’s rhetoric and the realities of Tory councils on the ground.

Re:

“That people won’t fight for their local community if the State gets out of the way is proven by the way in which people fight for their local community?”

Yeah, well – duh. Think you might be taking the romantic view of the nature of the three-year battle I’ve described above. This wasn’t a fight that these people suggested at a focus group meeting. We’re not exactly talking about a community driven project or group-agreed demolition initiative. These people have been drawn into “empowerment” because the council started a fight with them. It ain’t exactly about community choice, people power, and all working together for a better tomorrow, is it, now? It’s about life on the hind tit and fighting your corner like a bastard. What’s big about life on the arse-end of that kind of society?

Mr Cotterill,

Your most recent comment is much appreciated. Your first one rather put me in mind of arriving at a party for Hazel to find you in her chair sucking the cake off her candles. This piece wasn’t about Labour.

I appreciate that you are an excellent councillor, primarily because your constituents regularly describe you as such. We were talking about Cameron and the Tories on this occasion, though. We barely touched on Labour, except right at the end, when Hazel talked about Rosie.

Go well.

“Cameron’s ‘big society’ idea is as hard to grasp as it is to buy into. It’s centered on the notions that people will volunteer to provide public services in place of the state.”

Cameron’s Big Society idea is an old idea.

It was much in vogue around 1800 and the early part of the 19th century when it was believed by many in the political classes at the time that schooling and what came to be called the social services could be safely left to voluntarism, the churches and to charity while markets would be self-regulating providing a government policy of laissez-faire prevailed. After all, hadn’t Britain pioneered industrialisation without state planning or direction?

Only gradually, through experience, did the political classes begin to appreciate that the outcomes from unabated laissez-faire and reliance on self-regulation were often unacceptable.

Hence, Parliament started to pass factory acts to control working conditions:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factory_Acts

The education act of 1870 created a structure to provide for universal primary education, funded by local property taxes, as it came to be realised that schooling standards in Britain were lagging those in other west European countries.

A framework for elected local government was created by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 and the Local Government Act of 1888, which established elected county councils:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_local_government_in_England

Winston Churchill was a minister in a Liberal government when he took through Parliament the Trade Boards Act of 1909. This provided for an administrative structure for determining minimum wages in particular low-wage industries which was certainly inconsistent with laissez-faire although subsequent Conservative governments allowed the legislation to stand until the 1980s.

As often mentioned, the credit for starting the beginnings of a national welfare state must surely go to Count von Bismarck, first Chancellor of the German empire (1871-90), who launched not only state pensions for the aged but, in 1883, a social insurance scheme to cover personal healthcare costs.

Btw Bismarck was not renown for his socialist tendencies. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Another perspective: this was Benjamin Disraeli’s commentary on the outcome of prevailing laissez-faire notions in early19th century England famously articulated in his novel: Sybil (1845):

“Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich and the poor.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sybil_(novel)

An implied commentary on currently prevailing Conservative tendencies, as articulated by Cameron, is that the previous aspiration of One Nation Conservatism seems to have evaporated completely:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_nation_conservatism

@24. Tim Worstall What are you taking? I have just been reminded why I don’t visit LC too often. You just don’t make sense to me Tim

31. Flowerpower

@ 30

skinnyvoice, it makes perfect sense to me. Translation: Kate’s claim that the Big Society will not work because ordinary folk will not step up to the plate and do stuff themselves as private citizens is utterly refuted by her own example of how some plain ‘ornery council tenants have stepped up to the plate and taken on their council.

28. Bob B

‘ The education act of 1870 created a structure to provide for universal primary education, funded by local property taxes, as it came to be realised that schooling standards in Britain were lagging those in other west European countries. ‘

Bob, when you say Britain don’t you mean England? Education was compulsory in Scotland from 1496.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_Act_1496

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_Establishment_Act_1616
The act stated

* the king (James VI) has a special care and regard that:
o Protestantism be everywhere fostered and promoted.
o everyone, especially the youth, be educated in civility, godliness, knowledge, and learning.
o the Scots language be universally established, and Gaelic be obliterated because it is a main cause for the barbarity and incivility of the people of the Isles and Highlands.
* therefore a school will be established in every parish, based on the resources of the parish, and such that:
o it will be paid for by the parishioners.
o it will be supervised by Church bishops.
o letters will be published so that none can claim ignorance of these requirements.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_Act_1646
Act for founding of schools in every parish.

The act stated that for every parish without a school and paid schoolmaster:

* a school will be founded and a schoolmaster appointed with the advice of the presbytery.
* to this end, the heritors of every congregation will meet and provide:
o a suitable house for the school.
o an annual stipend for the schoolmaster, between 100-200 merks.
o a new tax on land and outdoor property to pay for these.
* if the heritors do not do this, a panel of 12 men will be appointed by the presbytery, and the panel is empowered to do it and assess the new tax.
* if the new tax is not paid, the debt is doubled, letters of horning are issued, and further actions will be taken; and if the tax is still not paid, the debt is repeatedly redoubled until it has been paid.

@32: “Bob, when you say Britain don’t you mean England? Education was compulsory in Scotland from 1496.”

Correction accepted.

Try this link on the Elementary Education Act 1870:

“A driving force behind the Act was a perceived need for Britain to remain competitive in the world by being at the forefront of manufacture and improvement.

“The Act was not taken up in all areas and would be more firmly enforced through later reforms. There were objections to the concept of universal education. One was because many people remained hostile to the idea of mass education. They claimed it would make labouring classes ‘think’ and that these classes would think of their lives as dissatisfying and possibly encourage them to revolt. Others feared that handing children to a central authority could lead to indoctrination. Another reason was the vested interests of the Church and other social groups. The churches were funded by the state with public money to provide education for the poor and these churches did not want to lose that influence on youth.

“The Act established the foundations of English elementary education. The state became increasingly involved and after 1880 attendance was made compulsory for children until they were 12 years old.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elementary_Education_Act_1870

The essential but overlooked point is that Parliament came to appreciate that whatever prevailed in Scotland, schooling couldn’t be left to voluntary provision by the churches and charities as schooling standards in England were lagging those in other west European countries:

“We have noted a substantial body of original research . . . which found that stagnant or declining literacy underlay the ‘revolution’ of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. . . Britain in 1850 was the wealthiest country in the world but only in the second rank as regards literacy levels. [Nick] Crafts has shown that in 1870 when Britain was world economic leader, its school enrolment ratio was only 0.168 compared with the European norm of 0.514 and ‘Britain persistently had a relatively low rate of accumulation of human capital’.”
Source: Sanderson: Education, economic change and society in 1780-1870 (Cambridge UP, 1995) p.61

Scotland had long held more enlightened views on the value of education. By 1800, there were four ancient universities established in Scotland and only two in England.

“It ain’t exactly about community choice, people power, and all working together for a better tomorrow, is it, now? It’s about life on the hind tit and fighting your corner like a bastard. What’s big about life on the arse-end of that kind of society?”

But that fighting your corner like a bastard is what did create the friendly societies, the providents, the coops, the mutuals, the building societies, those bedrocks of the pre nationalised working class society.

I’m not sure how hard I would push this argument but let me just try flying it as a kite. That sort of self-organised, community managed infrstructure is, to use a modern phrase, a great deal more “empowering” than some wet behind the ears graduate in Whitehall deciding what it is that a grateful working class supplicant might be given by the State.

I have my doubts that that’s quite what Cameron means by the Big Society but I do regard it as an attractive vision. We might even coin a name for it, how about “working class solidarity” maybe? Certainly sounds better to me than the system we’ve been using for the past 70 years or so, when whatever sociologist manages to get the ear of Ministers gets to play with the lives of millions.

Yes but Tim, the things is the Gov is pretending that if ‘ordinary’ people roll their sleeves up and get stuck in then they’ll be supported by the elected officials (who y’know are paid to sort this stuff out), when in fact they’re just ignored and belittled as Kate points out. That’s the truth of the Big Society, it’s only Big for some people (ie: if you wanna follow Gov policy and set up “free” schools etc etc).

As I said in my last post, I think I was putting things too crudely, so could I appologise to Hazel for implying she believed she had ownership. However, I think right was the right term for what is being claimed in Kate’s piece, since she claims it comes from a sort of deal: they worked and paid taxes and got the nice home in return – that sounds like a right. If it was sold that way, someone was either liable or using council housing in a way no-one has yet shown me it was ever intended to be used. Clearly though, however it was sold and perceived, such a deal was never formal (and having checked with a couple of relatives, was not known in my family, many of whom also had council housing at the time Skelmersdale was built).

As to Hazel’s point about why the whole town should decide the fate of one estate, in shouldn’t unless the town as a corporation happens to own that estate, as in this case. This is what I mean by rights – the assumption that the estate should determine its own future rather than the body that pays for it and has title.

Incidentally, I’d favour self-government on estates (extreme localism, and quite Big Society) but that is not an option here. People like Hazel should have a much greater say, but ultimately they cannot override the will of the majority as to how public money is spent, as there is no actual threat to any rights. Perhaps the problem here is not now, but a long time ago, when tenants like Hazel were not given greater control over their own homes and area, which remained tightly controlled by the council.

@ Tim

I think we’re on the same page in some respects. I’m not particularly of the opinion that council structures have always been brilliant, or have always delivered. Complaints have been rife over the years about heavy-handed council bureaucrats – nasty little jobsworths with little interest in service delivery, etc, and a lot of interest in wielding power. I can see why phrases like ‘community empowerment’ and ‘people power’ and community driven policy are attractive.

My point is, though, is that those phrases are unlikely to make it past the rhetoric stage with these administrations. They’re not interested in dialogue with vulnerable groups. It’s my view that in the above example, the council’s main interest is getting council tenants off a well-appointed site so that they can sell it. I’ve got more examples of consultation failures to post, so as time goes on, we can look at each one in context.

@Flowers – you’re a disgrace to abuse at the moment. You copied and pasted Tim’s remark as though it was a Flowers’ original – even though it was just two posts up on the same thread. Pull yr finger out, will ya?

“Complaints have been rife over the years about heavy-handed council bureaucrats – nasty little jobsworths with little interest in service delivery, etc, and a lot of interest in wielding power. I can see why phrases like ‘community empowerment’ and ‘people power’ and community driven policy are attractive. ”

I hate the phrases but love the idea personally. It’s rather why I’m a “classical” liberal rather than left liberal really. I don’t want to destroy the State (it’s far too useful in doing some of the things which have to be done) but I certainly want to change it radically. And one of those radical changes is that I really do want power to be in the hands of the people: not mediated by whichever group of vote stealers or bureaucrats happen to be in the Town Hall or Whitehall.

@36: “Incidentally, I’d favour self-government on estates (extreme localism, and quite Big Society) but that is not an option here.”

I’ve some real world experience of this. The trouble with that idea is that tenants’ associations start off with enthusiasm but it often lasts only a year or so before fading. After a dormant phase, associations become vulnerable to take-over bids by extremist political groups or criminals intent on fraud. At least councils are statutory authorities which have to regularly seek re-election and which were subject to inspection by the Audit Commission – until it was abolished by the new coalition government. As a check and discipline, even that didn’t always work:

“Ministers take over ‘dysfunctional’ Doncaster council – Political feuding, bullying and intimidation are preventing council from serving community, says Audit Commission”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/apr/19/doncaster-council-failing-and-dysfunctional

Btw it seems to have escaped general notice here that Ed Balls represents a Doncaster constituency.

Kate @ 37

You copied and pasted Tim’s remark as though it was a Flowers’ original –

Nah Kate, your concentration is slipping. I merely translated Tim’s point into the demotic for the benefit of skinnyvoice, who was experiencing comprehension difficulties. Check out @ 30.

Back to the point at hand: West Lancs may not have been sufficiently dutiful about consultation in this instance….. they may even have felt the time for consultation was past and the time for action had arrived…. but it would be a mistake to infer from that the Conservatives generally are unwilling to engage in dialogue with vulnerable groups.

I know the Left has to sustain itself with the fiction that `lefties care more about the unfortunate and the oppressed and that righties are all hard-faced men only interested in making money. But it just ain’t so. Where I live, huge efforts and vast amounts of money have been contributed to projects aimed at making life better for disadvantaged people. By whom? Not by lefty activists or the unions, that’s for sure….. but by…..er….hedge fund managers.

41. Hazel Scully

Hello Watchman,
Your apology is accepted.We are not trouble makers-we have a right to fight for the homes and community we choose to be part of.Taking a tenancy was a home fo life and to have that sense of security suddenly turned on it,s head by a letter through the letterbox is frightening.It may interest you to know that my husband worked from the age of 15 until ill health forced retirement in his late 50.s.Manual labour on a wage that was not high,two children and a wife meant he almost worked for nothing,but the rent, utilities were paid,on time as were all other bills.We have never owed anyone but have worked to build our home together,saving for every carpet and piece of furniture.-A similar story to many thousands of tenants who placed their confidence in their Councils by turning down Stock Transfer.We do not want sympathy-we want support in standing up to say “no” for what we believe is right-Individual choice.

I am involved in a steering group who are about to take over the management of our local community hall.

Under council control it was costing ratepayers £100k a year and it was about to be closed.

Assuming our plans come to fruition we will run it to break even without any grant funding.

This is not a big idea but it is a working example of what can be achieved if the beaurocratic inefficiences of the state apparatus can be got rid of.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Low earners won't thrive in Big Society http://bit.ly/ckjkYH

  2. diana smith

    RT @libcon: Low earners won't thrive in Big Society http://bit.ly/ckjkYH

  3. earwicga

    Low earners won’t thrive in Big Society | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/bTlsrvO via @libcon

  4. Kate B

    Latest Liberal Conspiracy effort on the realities of Cameron's Big Society: http://bit.ly/do1kCp

  5. skinnyvoice

    Low earners won’t thrive in Big Society | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/N9VcDKM via @libcon

  6. skinnyvoice

    Low earners won’t thrive in Big Society | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/N9VcDKM via @libcon

  7. Maizey R.

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/08/31/the-poor-wont-thrive-in-big-society/ <good read.

  8. Maizey R.

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/08/31/the-poor-wont-thrive-in-big-society/ <good read.

  9. Dawn Foster

    This is excellent RT @hangbitch Latest Liberal Conspiracy effort on the realities of Cameron's Big Society: http://bit.ly/do1kCp

  10. CathElliott

    Great piece: RT @hangbitch: Latest Liberal Conspiracy effort on the realities of Cameron's Big Society: http://bit.ly/do1kCp

  11. Ulrike Jensen

    RT @hangbitch: Latest Liberal Conspiracy effort on the realities of Cameron's Big Society: http://bit.ly/do1kCp

  12. Raincoat Optimism

    Low earners won’t thrive in Big Society | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/ycSntUw via @libcon

  13. Fran Barton

    .@hangbitch piece looking at reality (or not) of Big Society at @libcon http://bit.ly/ckjkYH & extraord. constructive discussion in comments





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