The following year, despite receiving £25,171 in grants from the Government as well as £9,698 from the council, our section 16 agent fleeced us of £20,433 in administration fees. Our newly formed committee of 15 residents thought this was daylight robbery. The agent had not really made any effort to help us strategically plan the necessary steps to develop our committee or negotiate our future plans with the Borough Housing Officers. I did most of those negotiations, which wasn’t too difficult as the council had levered in a senior Social Services officer to act as Director of Housing and she hadn’t a clue about her duties or responsibilities. It would be wrong for me to give the impression that she was a pushover in negotiations. It was more the case that I argued more vigorously for social housing as a front line service. Most East London Local Authorities, including Havering, had their housing reduced after Government cuts, that the Thatcher Government had imposed between 1987 and 1990. My simple belief being that people living in “social housing” have intelligence, passion and ability and should decide their own future.
The one single great piece of legislation Mrs Thatcher brought in was to “Ring Fence” Local Authority Housing Revenue accounts. I did pull our section 16 agent some months later about the amount of fees he was charging but was quickly rebuffed as that was the charge fees set down by the then `DETR’ (Department of Employment & Rural Affairs). It seems Government were quite content to allow Section 16 agents to base their fees on 80% of the grants allocated to nascent TMOs. I must confess to feeling abused by this system of charges but knew we were just one of several TMOs that had gone through the development process with other section 16 agents. The PETRA Committee however were not so accepting and I seem to remember, wanted me to dump the agent and find another one. Unfortunately pulling out of the agreement with the agent was just not possible so we continued to develop under the same terms of the contract we had signed up to. Worse to come was a lovely lady the agent brought in to teach us about managing the committee development. Within the first teaching experience, I quickly made the memory connection of attending a previous course I had attended as a Foreman Plumber when I worked for Hackney Council. The course being presented was simply a revamp of the NEBSS (National Examination Board of Business Studies) course I had attended just two years before. Although, I did not remember accurately all the modules of the course, the really nice woman the agent had put in¸ both she and I knew the course she was presenting was one I had already passed. Nevertheless, other committee members did find the course interesting and informative, so I said no more. When we got to the “Double Entry” book keeping of finances I must confess, I was as lost as the first time I had taken that module two years before, although our new, 70 year old Treasurer (who had had a really tough life married to an abusive husband), who did not stint on criticising anything she did, seemed to grasp the concept easily. It was also a bit of a wake-up call that I had to accept that of the three methods of staff management, “autocratic, democratic or laissez-faire” I sadly, found the latter more suited to my temperament, later to the cost of PETRA. Anyway, another year passed quickly enough with a lot more training for the committee. That year we finished with a surplus of £2,679.00 not a lot but we were growing ever stronger.