Leathermarket: calls for more transparency at Southwark’s biggest tenant managed housing organisation

Kit Heren (02 December, 2021)

Some residents of Leathermarket's 1,500 properties argue that they have fewer rights than if they had stayed under council management

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Calls have been made for Southwark’s biggest resident-managed housing organisation to become more transparent, after a controversial recent annual meeting.

Leathermarket joint management board (JMB) is a tenant managed organisation (TMO) that manages about 1,500 homes in the area around London Bridge and west Bermondsey.

TMOs are groups of council tenants that have taken over management of their estates from the local authority. The idea is to give tenants and leaseholders more control over the day-to-day running of their homes, taking over areas like major works, maintenance and cleaning.

Leathermarket JMB took over management of its first Southwark estate in 1996 and has since grown into a much larger organisation – with about 40 employees and financial reserves of more than £6m, as of the end of March 2021.

To continue to exist, the organisation has to hold a vote of its members every five years, run by an independent third party. About 90 per cent of Leathermarket tenants and leaseholders voted in favour in the most recent ballot, which took place this autumn.

But some residents are concerned that they have less understanding of what goes on at the TMO than they would if they were still managed by Southwark Council.

The TMO held its annual general meeting (AGM) in November. One resident, Richard Lee, proposed a motion calling for Leathermarket to respond to freedom of information (FOI) requests – which broadly means a public body has to provide information to anyone who asks for it.

As a public body the council is required to do this, but TMOs do not have to.

Mr Lee said: “I wanted the JMB to be better than Southwark Council, and I wanted to see the discussions that were happening at the JMB…

“At the end of the day, it’s about the principle – it’s important in a democracy to be accountable. On the other hand I do also think that we should have at least equal rights to those who are residents of Southwark Council. It seems completely wrong that you should take that over and give fewer rights.”

Mr Lee said the vote was passed in the meeting itself, but Leathermarket later told the News that many of the people who voted were not members, meaning the motion did not pass.

Leathermarket chair Andy Bates said that responding to freedom of information requests would be too time-consuming for JMB staff, who were busy attending to the practical needs of residents. When asked about the 40-strong staff at the TMO, he said that many of them were not in desk jobs and so would not be suited to responding to requests.

Mr Bates added that Leathermarket residents have other rights that aren’t available to council tenants. “Every element of our activity is scrutinised through five subcommittees that every resident and property owner can join,” he said.

Mr Lee said: “The only thing I said at the AGM in support of my motion is that it’s a right that you have as a last resort, to be used sparingly. Within reason you should get an answer… I don’t see it as something that is going to be placing huge requirements [on Leathermarket staff].

“My argument is that if I’m living on a council estate managed by the council, I can use [FOI]. If I’m living in a Leathermarket estate, I can’t.”

 

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