'What Went Wrong?' An Interview.

Unwin & Friary Estate have been considering becoming a Southwark-style TMO for about eleven years, and the vote is in a few weeks. Julian Jackson, from the No TMO Campaign approached us to gauge our views on TMOs in general and Juniper in particular.
These are the conclusions of the resulting discussion.
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What went wrong with Juniper House?
Rob: “The Council bullied us into abandoning our traditional power structure. The original specialist group structure provided an ideal first step in taking part in a TMO.  People with skills and knowledge could use them to best effect, and the groups were the testing ground for ideas and projects in the pipeline. Absolute beginners were able to join at their own level and benefit from the experience of others, in many cases acquiring skills and interests which added to their employment prospects. All that research and experience was abandoned when the management-led model was imposed.”

Fay:  "The effect is of closed undemocratic decisions by a very small clique."

How has the money been managed?
Rob: Badly. The lack of time and expertise inherent in the management-led system caused hasty, uninformed decisions which quickly backfired. Whims were given enormous budgets, as in the new entry gates, which broke down within months of being installed, and are now permanently open, and the hideous, unnecessary new fences, which were rusted through within months.
The garden regeneration saw the most obscene wastage, much of the work having to be done twice.

Has there been intimidation and bullying?
Fay: "Yes. In a manner which rendered the management open to accusations of racism, a vulnerable resident was outrageously maligned and the management victimised her by banning her child (aged 5 at the time) from the garden.  After losing her flat through no fault of her own she was unnecessarily rehoused in a hostel with her child. I tried to help her any way I could, but hostility from management made all help more difficult, and for some, impossible.”

Have There Been Corrupt Practices?
Fay: "Basically it is 3 people taking decisions in secret. Minutes and communication are rare, which is highly irregular. We don't know why Southwark Council lets this happen. They seem to take no responsibility, and when confronted with clear worries, dismiss them out of hand, claiming that a vote of an insular, minimal management team justifies their confidence.

Rob: "The fact is that the practices of the management LOOK corrupt. Appointing a well-paid manager from the residents without advertising the post or informing the membership does not look like best practise. Especially when the beneficiary has no qualifications or formal experience for the post, and in my opinion and experience is totally unsuited temperamentally for the responsibilities of managing a housing estate.  
Things like that are routine."

Are there any confidentiality issues?
Fay:  "Yes, I feel there are. Residents’ private information has been disclosed by the manager (formerly chair)."

Isn’t there consultation on major decisions?
Rob: “After making up their minds on the garden regeneration, the management, in collusion with Southwark council, held a form of Playschool event and called it consultation. But that was to circumvent any formal, accountable democratic vote, which never happened. 
At one ‘consultation meeting’ I was physically attacked by associates of the then chair.
That is TMO democracy, Southwark style.”

Fay: “Attempts to take part in consultations were routinely frustrated. And any non-management suggestions were blatantly omitted from any agendas or discussions, and any attempt to raise them at meetings stifled by the chair.”

How would you sum up the Juniper House TMO now?
Fay:  "Our experience is that the TMO has taken away democracy, it's not a proper co-operative organisation any more, and the feuding has affected the whole community, particularly the children who don't play together like they used to.  The TMO and the Council have "poisoned the well" and it is difficult to see it do anything else but a long slide into disintegration."

Rob:  "It is labouring under a totally inappropriate, top-heavy management system, which centralises far too much power in too few hands. It also works to discourage involvement and participation, and makes any transparency and accountability difficult, and reduces the credibility of TMOs to the residents.
The decision-making is now so bottle-necked that it is just the whims and fancies of a tiny group of amateurs. Most people don't want to get involved any more, which is a sad waste of the potential of this community."

And TMO’s in General.?
Rob:  "I believe in TMOs. They can enable genuine community spirit and provide many opportunities for people to meet and work together, to everyone’s benefit. But the Southwark management-led model is fatally flawed. Any estate considering TMO status should seriously examine the option of dedicated sub-groups to evaluate key projects and policy in specialist areas, which report fully to management and general meetings for approval and voting.

Fay: “It is important not to let the TMO vote divide the community even further. Whoever wins the vote, the same people end up running a council TMO as ran the Tenants’ Association. But their job will be even more difficult due to the scars of the TMO campaign. In my opinion, any division can work to advantage any plan to sell off the property to private speculators.”

We felt that Unwin and Priory would not benefit from a do-or-die struggle between two dubious options. We tried to offer a third optiopn which could provide common ground for discussion, rather than division.
Rob Kenyon. Fay Roberts. Juniper House.
9/2/2011

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