Asbo your neighbours!

A member of one of London’s most experienced community action groups has hit out against the ‘hidden agenda’ of a new measure to give ASBO powers to Tenant Management Organisations.

A member of Haringey Solidarity Group, speaking to Freedom Anarchist newspaper, has condemned the government initiative as a cheap attempt to head off a growing community movement throughout the UK resentful of relentless losses of and cuts to services. He said: “. From the community angle anti-social behaviour is a real issue and it’s true it can have a disproportionately large effect.

“People get demoralised if they feel it can’t be overcome. But the solution to that kind of behaviour is to build strong residents associations and groups, build a positive community spirit and improve conditions for everybody.

"The government are continuously looking for way to increase their control over people’s everyday lives. Crime and fear of crime has always been a great opportunity for them to justify their intervention in our communities. There’s no doubt that the government are very unpopular, they are looking for something which says ‘we are doing something’, which doesn’t cost anything but will improve their control."

“It’s a recognition of the growing power of residents associations and groups, and they want to mould this growing movement into a state-led agenda, rather than have a movement which questions the behaviour and existence of these authorities themselves.”

The powers will only apply to Tenant Management Organisations (TMOs), a form of organisation which in itself only has formal powers in council-owned housing. Groups applying for TMO status have to go through a rigorous training process and abide by agreements laid down with management at the start of the tenancy. Landlords retain control over any major outlays, along with rent collection.

Many grass roots activists are suspicious of the motive of the ASBO plan, which seems designed to push TMOs, which have had only limited success in establishing themselves around the country, to resident groups. “TMOs are being pushed because they see it as a step towards fragmentation of council housing which may get support from the estates. In Haringey council housing is now controversially managed by an 'ALMO'.

“We have one example in Haringey on Broadwater Farm, an intiative of the residents association. The plan is for the whole estate to be managed by the local government and the TMO together. People want to remain council tenants but take a much greater role.

“From one angle it can be seen as positive. But it suits the council and government because they will use that to try to accelerate the break-up of council housing. There’s a danger of activists being co-opted into formal structures rather than remaining independent groups and campaigning organisations. The focus should always be on independent self organisation.

“In theory TMOs are in the control of the residents but in reality you have to constitute yourself in such a way that you are co-opted into the state. The danger is you start to perform a different role, you become an administrator.”

Alongside the measure, Tony Blair and Communities Minister Ruth Kelly announced a £485m investment to ‘update run down council housing as part of a programme to update all social housing’.

However, in footnotes to the main body of the announcement, it is admitted that the money will be restricted to just a few areas, all of which have taken on Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) status.

ALMOs, where Registered Social Landlords take control of council housing from local government, have come under sustained criticism as a ‘backdoor’ means of privatisation for the last of the UK’s remaining social housing stock. In recent battles over stock transfer, central government has repeatedly been accused of making excessive funds available to bribe or threaten residents into voting for transfer.

Rob Ray