Letters - FRFI 261 Dec 2017/Jan 2018

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Labour hypocrisy over social housing

The Labour MP for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), Emma Dent Coad, has produced a 19-page report on the Grenfell Tower inferno. Amazingly it makes no mention of the estate regeneration programme that actually caused the fire.

I sat through a number of residents’ meetings on estate regeneration on the Silchester Estate that lies alongside the Lancaster West Estate – on which Grenfell Tower stands – from early 2016 through to 1 April 2017.

In these meetings residents from both Silchester and Lancaster West estates expressed their misgivings and alarm about the RBKC’s proposals for more of their planned ‘regeneration’ programme. I saw that vast sums of money were sometimes poured into various fake ‘consultations’ about this so-called regeneration, organised by RBKC complete with expensive plans, maps, glossy brochures and glossy ‘presenters’ to help residents through the ‘options’. These were a maze of carefully-drawn squashed-up blocks arranged in varying degrees of unsightliness, fooling nobody since this kind of hanky-panky had been going on since the ‘regeneration’ cladding of the neighbouring Grenfell tower – while nothing had been done to rectify the abysmal state of fire safety in the Tower. In fact, to make things a thousand times worse, its emergency access had been blocked by the new private school and swimming pool/sports centre they had built alongside it. Fittingly the last of these ‘CONsultation’ events about ‘regeneration’ took place on April Fool’s Day 2017 – and fooled nobody!

I understand that Dent Coad sat on the Housing Committee that gave the planning permission for the ‘regeneration’ of the Grenfell Tower a few years before – regeneration   that turned out to be tragically lethal.

I also understand that her Labour council colleague, Judith Blakeman, was a member of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) which received repeated warnings by residents (who were told to be quiet!) about fire safety at a number of their meetings – and repeatedly ignored them.

Dent Coad talks about the immense inequalities, financial mismanagement and the contempt for residents’ views by the council – and that is absolutely true – but don’t let us kid ourselves that RBKC has a monopoly on unaccountability or social cleansing. The same exists in the Labour-run boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark, with thousands of people evicted, never to return. These and other Labour-run councils such as Haringey and Newham behave like dictators; yet so far no Labour MP from any of these boroughs (such as Diane Abbott or David Lammy in Hackney and Tottenham) have produced any damning reports on their appalling behaviour towards residents, in the way Emma Dent Coad has come forward about RBKC.

The truth of the matter is that 22 Labour councils are actually leading estate regeneration and the managed decline of council properties in London, with potentially lethal ramifications.

RBKC is the wealthiest authority in the country so it seems a bit absurd to claim that austerity caused the terrible Grenfell fire. No, the greedy ‘gold rush’ for land grabbing in this neck of the woods is to blame. Every regeneration programme in London carries with it potentially fatal consequences because of ‘managed decline’ which runs alongside such programmes with its neglect of general repair work often including (as in the case of Grenfell) the failure to replace outdated fire equipment or ensure the renewal of vital safety procedures. These ‘regeneration’ programmes with their opportunity to make a ‘quick buck’   are operating right across London. In Labour-run local authorities alone, there are 150 council housing estates being privatised for demolition, and their occupants decanted and socially cleansed out of the area, with 37 more in Tory-run authorities and five in one LibDem-run borough. Where will all these residents live when London has been gentrified? If you want an idea of the heartbreak and worse that this ‘regeneration’ game can cause, try talking to some residents in Lambeth, like those who knew the marvellous Ann Plant and her fight to save her home in Cressingham Gardens – a struggle that continues to this day; or about Tony Healy, the evicted 81-year-old dragged out of the home he’d lived in 30 years and forcibly sectioned by the Labour council, with a broken hip.

Norma Buddle
West London


Whittington Hospital Rydon Alert

In 2013-14 this newspaper carried reports about the privatisation and sell-off threats to Whittington Hospital Trust in north London. There was a massive demonstration against the proposal to close the Accident and Emergency Department and cut the number of beds. The hospital board had to cancel its plans. Nevertheless, rumours have persisted since then about the future of the various old buildings in the 48 acres of the hospital and the land itself. Whittington Hospital is on a hill in Highgate and a very desirable ‘development’ area in the current situation of land prices in north Islington, the constituency of Jeremy Corbyn.

Last year the chairman of the Whittington board, Steve Hitchens, announced a ‘land strategy partnership’ to develop the site, demolish the old buildings and sell off some of the land. In October 2017 it was announced that the chosen partner is Ryhurst, a subsidiary of the Grenfell Tower contractor, Rydon.

Hitchens says that the joint venture deal was signed three days before the outbreak of the Grenfell fire and that to breach the contract now would mean an expensive and time-consuming legal challenge from Ryhurst.

As an NHS Foundation Trust, Whittington Hospital would receive the money from any land sale. However, if it lost a legal challenge over the sale, the money would go to the NHS nationally.

Outsourcing to the private sector has created a long legacy of suffering. Only a determined stand against privatisation will stop the attack on our services. No ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’, services belong to us.

Francesca Lawless
North London


Anti-Internment Group active in London

On 18 November 2017, the Anti-Internment Group (AIG) London held our first joint action in Brixton in protest against police frame-ups and police killings. We were delighted to join forces with Lambeth Arise! and the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG). Andrew C made and displayed information boards on the Craigavon 2, Tony Taylor, Mark Duggan, Jean Charles de Menezes, Sean Rigg, Mumia Abu Jamal and Thomas Sankara. We were able to show the links between the framing of Tony Taylor and the Craigavon 2 with police frame-ups and police killings in Britain.

Despite the poor weather we had a great response from local people. Carol read a poem about the police killing of Sean Rigg. There was also great interest in Andrew’s poster showing how Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the judge in charge of the Grenfell enquiry, has explicitly excluded survivors of the fire from being assessors. Dom from South London RCG gave a great speech in solidarity with the Irish struggle. Eric from Lambeth Arise! pointed out how the British state will make an example of anyone who fights back in Britain just as it has done in Ireland. We are looking forward to holding future events in Brixton.

The AIG is holding a public meeting in support of Irish political prisoners on Friday 19 January 2018, 7pm, at the Marchmont Centre, 62 Marchmont Street WC1N 1AB. Cait Trainor and others will be speaking

More details can be found at https://www.facebook.com/AIGLondon/

In solidarity
Seamus O’Rourke
Anti-Internment Group


Stop debt-collectors in the NHS! Stand up to state racism!

‘I no longer open any letter that says NHS on it’ is what a mother of two told me in a hospital outpatient department after she received a bill for over £14,000 for ‘one item’ between 2013 and 2016. The first letter came out of the blue in September 2017; the second in October was more aggressive and threatened that if the payment has not been received in full in a month and no contact is made, then court action will begin and the woman may be responsible for additional court costs. The woman involved in this case has two young children (and it is their births that she thinks this payment is for) and no recourse to public funds. She has lived in Britain for over a decade, but was recently sent out of the borough for housing, and she is now far away from her support networks. She is terrified, anxious, penniless and isolated.

Now things are getting worse; on 23 October NHS England introduced passport checks for everyone accessing most secondary (non-emergency) care, including maternity, paediatrics and cancer treatment. Trials of this policy have revealed some people wrongly denied care and some too scared to attend in case they are charged. This is a policy intended to deny health care.

Research has shown that hospitals in England are using debt-collectors, and in some cases bailiffs, to recover money from migrants who have used the health service. 59 of the 111 hospitals which responded to a Freedom of Information request, had used debt collectors. These 59 hospitals have been chasing £5,788,018 since January 2016 and currently there is £5,128,931 outstanding. Harassing vulnerable people who can’t pay is a gross waste of time and money with terrifying consequences.

It is the responsibility of all health care workers to raise our voices and fight for the right for everyone to be seen and treated in the NHS, free at the point of delivery. Silence is assent.

Nora St Loski
London


Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 261 December 2017/January 2018