Leaseholders score U-turn victory over council audit
PUBLISHED: 20:21 16 October 2008 | UPDATED: 13:42 05 October 2010
TOWN Hall bosses have bowed to people pressure' in London's East End for the second week running. They agreed last night to commission an independent audit of all service charges to leaseholders in Tower Hamlets to see whether costs are fair or not after years of pressure from disgruntled home-owners convinced they're being ripped off. It is the second U-turn in seven days after capitulating to a campaign led by the East London Advertiser to save the East End's famous Bancroft Archive collection
TOWN Hall bosses have bowed to people pressure’ in London’s East End for the second week running.
They agreed last night (Wednesday) to commission an independent audit of all service charges to leaseholders in Tower Hamlets to see whether costs are fair or not.
It is the second U-turn in seven days after capitulating to a campaign led by the East London Advertiser to save the East End’s famous Bancroft Archive collection.
The long-awaited decision on an independent audit of council leasehold services was announced by Tower Hamlets housing boss Marc Francis after years of pressure from disgruntled home-owners convinced they’re being ripped off.
It is a major victory for the Tory Opposition on the Labour-run authority as well as Tower Hamlets Leaseholder Association, 100 of whose members lobbied the Town Hall.
The association’s spokesman Andrew Coles led the applause in the public gallery as all political parties agreed a combined motion from Conservatives and Labour.
He said after the meeting: “All credit to Cllr Francis (Lab) and Cllr Archer (Con) for rising above petty party politics and agreeing to make this radical step.
“The political consensus was unprecedented and life-affirming.”
Cllr Francis’ intervention fulfils a promise made earlier this year that addressing rocketing service charges would be a main priority.
Independent accountants will be appointed to examine all processes within Tower Hamlets Homes, the housing managing arm of the authority, that led to the 2007-08 service charge actuals.’
The audit would be used to determine the estimated charges for 2009-10, just one year’s charges and not backdated to previous bills.
But Leaseholder campaigners are hopeful the result will provide ammunition for any outstanding disputes.
Mr Coles told the Advertiser: “We do not believe there is any single panacea.
“However, an independent financial review is the most important plank—because you need to stand firm on that plank before going on to the other things that need to be done to restore confidence and fairness for homeowners.”
He added: “We were delighted with the result last night.
“Historically there has been such hostility to our agenda from the political establishment.
“But for the first time, we actually felt solidarity and even a new resolve to get stuck in and start problem solving.”
Labour’s decision comes just a week after it handed a victory to the Advertiser’s Save Bancroft Archive & Library’ campaign.
Cllr Francis was central to both U-turns. He said at last night’s council debate: “I’m sure we don’t always get the bills right, nor that leaseholders get the service they are charged for.
“The time has now come for a new approach.”
Tory deputy leader Tim Archer’s previous attempts to move such a motion were blocked at two earlier council meetings.
He said after the meeting: “Tonight was a real win for leaseholders—they will now get the audit they want and deserve so badly.
“It’s good news that Labour came round to a more enlightened way of thinking.”
He added: “I am not worried that its only this year’s service charges.
“Any findings of improper accounting or costs apportionment will be grist to the mill for bringing into scope previous years—and of course good grounds to make disputes and ultimately go to the Leaseholder Valuation Tribunal.”