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Gazette letters: Outsourcing, HCLC and Hackney's secret gardens

PUBLISHED: 08:30 20 April 2019

Hackney Town Hall. Picture: KEN MEARS

Hackney Town Hall. Picture: KEN MEARS

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To answer your editorial question ("Who benefits from outsourcing?", Ed's comment) write Mary Pimm and Nik Wood, Gore Road, Hackney.

Outsourcing is creative accounting. The original council staff who did the job are chopped in two. The actual workers are shipped off to the firm and their wages are re-classified as capital investment paid to the outsourcer. The supervisory workers are deemed surplus to requirements and made redundant.

Unlike the old days, when there was an uninterrupted managerial chain from the leader of the council to the bloke with his arm down your lavatory, nowadays the outsource firm has hairs to split over the contract terms and faces few and disempowered supervisors.

The supposed savings for the public are imaginary, as is usual with privatisation, but councils have earned brownie points with central governments since 1979 by saving wages and spending money on profitable work for private firms. The benefits are to be seen in the bonuses and balance sheets of the likes of Carillion, Interserve or Capita.

And where the balance sheet has become the purpose of the exercise, such as supposedly philanthropic, charitable housing associations, the delusion is alive and well. The chair of Peabody, which owns so much ex-council housing in our borough, Lord Bob Kerslake, is on the advisory board of French outsourcer Engie, which suggests his tenants face a continuation of their services being run for the outsourcer's profits and not for their welfare.

I am writing to you in response to your recent article, “What will people do without the community law centre? Clients react to shock cuts” which refers to concerns that the Hackney Community Law Centre (HCLC) is at risk of closure writes Cllr Caroline Selman, cabinet member for community safety, policy, and the voluntary sector.

First of all I would like to highlight that as a council we value, champion and continue to invest in independent advice within the borough despite the challenging financial environment we are operating in. This reflects our recognition of the critical role independent advice, including specialist legal advice, plays in helping some of the most vulnerable people in our borough.

While other councils are cutting their grant funding available to the charity and volunteering sector, we are protecting ours, maintaining over £2.7million in our budget, and ringfencing the same level of funding for advice, including legal advice, as in previous years.

It is a reflection of our strong commitment to independent advice, that we have spent three years working closely with local advice providers to co-design an advice framework that better meets the needs of Hackney residents – listening to the experiences of service users and looking at how collectively we could best help people to solve their problems in the round, including through improved collaboration and join up between providers.

This continues to recognise the important role of access to independent legal advice and this is reflected in the fact that we are allocating the same amount of grant funding to providers offering specialist legal advice as in previous years. As with other years, how this has been allocated is the result of an open competitive grants process.

We also recognise the challenging environment in which voluntary sector advice providers are operating, with – amongst other things – the impact of welfare reform and reductions to legal aid, which is why as part of the current grant allocation decision we identified additional funding for transitional and developmental support as appropriate.

We are aware of the concerns raised by HCLC regarding their current financial situation after they weren't as successful as in previous years as part of the competitive grant allocation process. HCLC are a valued part of the advice landscape in Hackney – reflected in the fact that they continue to receive the second highest grant allocation of any individual organisation.

We are therefore committed to engaging with them to ensure there are no unintended impacts on their ability to continue in that valued role.

Who would have thought that after more than eight years running and cycling the streets of Hackney and Islington, there were still places left unvisited? writes Will McCallum, Newington Green.

Especially odd to find one leading off a street I head down most weeks – Bethune Road. Running south back from Woodberry Wetlands (a bitter wind, so nothing but gulls screeching over the water), I must have been on a different side of the road from normal, because I came across a small alleyway I'd not spotted.

Turning left off the street into it, I came out into Allens Gardens – a patch of green I'd never seen before sitting between the back of the houses along Bethune Road and the train track – like one of my other favourite small parks in the area, St Paul's Shrubbery, there are no roads or traffic lining its borders – just private gardens.

Aside from the cherry blossom and maze-like topiary, the main delight was in finding a park so well used – tens of young people playing with their parents in the playpark area, far away from any danger of cars or their exhaust fumes. These gardens are pleasingly secret, so much so I thought twice before writing about them – tucked away through two snickets at either end, even their layout is a warren of archways and hedges.

It also plays home to a small market garden run by Growing Communities, who are always on the hunt for more volunteers. If you're interested in spending time in one of Hackney's best kept secrets, and using it to keep that space beautiful, visit growingcommunities.org.

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