Residents’ council boycott rolls on

Katherine Johnston (31 October, 2018) Housing

Tenants’ Council Chair says meetings used to be well attended by councillors, who now ‘hardly turn up’

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Eight tenants’ and residents’ groups across Southwark are now boycotting the council’s review into communication with tenants and residents living on estates and in council homes across the borough.

As the News reported last month, Southwark’s Tenants’ Council and the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations (STGO) – who were both invited to work with the ‘resident involvement co-design review panel’ – are refusing to take part, claiming the review could stifle their voices.

Setchell Estate TRA, Rotherhithe Area Forum, Buchan Road TRA, Walworth North Area Forum,   Nunhead and Peckham area housing forum, and Faraday Labour branch have all now join the boycott too.

The review will look at the role and format of area-based housing forums, borough-wide housing bodies, the use and management of the tenants’ fund and homeowners’ fund, and the role of resident support bodies such as the STGO.

Originally the review was slated to include TRA Halls – but campaigners successfully lobbied for this to be dropped.

Alongside fears the review could clip the wings of the democratically elected TRAs and area forums, campaigners are also aghast at the chair’s reported salary of £12,600 for two-months’ work.

At a public meeting held at  Walworth’s Inspire at the Crypt on Wednesday, October 17, Tenants’ Council chair Steve Hedger told the audience: “What we are experiencing at the moment is probably the lowest point in many years.”

He told the audience he found out about key housing issues across the borough from the papers, rather than being directly contacted by councillors or council staff, and said area forum meetings that used to be well attended by councillors now had hardly any elected representatives turning up.

But he also claimed Southwark’s existing model had received plaudits in the recent past.

“I have been around long enough to remember when both councillors and council officers came to Southwark to look at an example of best practice,” he told the audience, believing that the issue was not to do with the current structure, but rather councillor and council staff engagement.

Green Party co-leader and London Assembly member Sian Berry (pictured right) also gave her support, arguing: “This is exactly the wrong time for Southwark to be doing this, they should be keeping and enhancing the existing model.”

In October, councillor Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for housing management and modernisation, said: “The Resident Involvement Panel doesn’t replace any organisations or groups, but as lots of structures for engagement we have in place have not changed since the 1980s, with new technology and social media we want to find new ways to listen, consult and communicate with residents.”

Recommendations by the panel will go to a sounding panel of 80 tenants and for wider consultation, before final recommendations are published in January 2019.

It is expected that online communication – and social media – will be a big focus.

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