Praise be, fellows, for we have a small and equally rare snippet of good news to impart this week. Our esteemed but somewhat skint landlords, the People’s Republic of Haringey, have gone all Michael Gove on us and withdrawn the proposed 100% rent rise. Marvellous. No, not even a 50% rise either. Nothing (above inflation at any rate). So there.
And what prompted this, one might ask? ’Job to say really. The head honcho for the environment, mentioned in posts passim, wrote to all 27 site secretaries borough-wide a few days ago. She didn’t tell us all much, apart from “having listened carefully to people’s concerns and reviewing all the feedback, we have decided to freeze the charges for 2013/14”. The extra £60,000 they hoped to raise from this hike was never going to be any more than a drop in the bucket in any case, given the dire financial straits they are in – but I guess she could be forgiven for not mentioning that.
However, she went on to say: “We still want to develop an improvement plan for the allotments, as previously discussed, and have asked officers to draft a scoping document to share with you before the end of 2012/13. Your comments on this will be most welcome”. Uh huh. Scoping, eh?
I’m afraid I can’t help feeling mildly exasperated by this – not least because we went through most, if not all of these hoops about six or seven years ago when the republic carried out a “review” of the “service” and came up with a detailed report as to what needed to be done on a site-by-site basis. The whole lot ended up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere, not least because the bill for infrastructure repairs came in at something in the order of £500,000, and in the absence of any external source of funds to match the council’s promise to stump up half of that, nothing very much has changed – or been done. The neglect at some sites remains rampant.
Since then, responsibility for the “service” has been transferred from the parks department to the tree section (presumably to save money), we have lost our dedicated allotments admin officer and we appear to be back at square one so far as listing all the outstanding repairs is concerned as these people do not appear to be in the habit of talking to each other.
There is, however, one bit that was not considered during that review and which, I am led to believe, may pop up in this “scoping report” (the report already exists in draft form but has yet to be seen by any of us at the coal face). And that bit is self-management.
This is a big subject which was touched on the last time I paid a visit to the talking shop known as the Haringey Allotments Forum. The reaction was pretty hostile when I mentioned it, with one old duck referring to it as “privatisation” (no doubt the appalling Gove would be in favour if it meant knocking yet more lumps out of local government), but I fail to see how the notion of “stakeholders” (apols for that ghastly bit of jargon) becoming masters of their own destiny could add up to privatisation.
A more useful contribution came from one of the more sensible forum stalwarts who flagged up recent experience in neighbouring Barnet – a Tory-controlled borough where they appear to be hell-bent on flogging or hiving off absolutely everything. Those allotment sites where a measure of self-management already existed (i.e. those big enough to have a site committee) were pretty much bounced into taking the whole shooting match off the council’s hands with results that could euphemistically described as mixed.
For my part, I can see some obvious attractions in paying the republic a peppercorn rent for the site and sorting the rest of it out amongst ourselves, but I am far from persuaded. The republic may be totally crap in various respects but, like education for example, there is a stack of things that they do behind the scenes that would otherwise have to be done by someone else.
And as my forum colleague said, most of us volunteers have already got quite enough to do without taking on another great pile of admin and management. If there was money in it – a part-time job or two, perhaps – then maybe it would be worth exploring, but once the subject of money raises its ugly head, could we find ourselves wandering down the road of commercialisation? And once that happens, the nature of the beast may well change radically.
Did someone mention peppercorns? ’Never tried to grow those before. Any tips?