Theresa May: “the government wants people to be able to manage their own (universal credit) budgets”

Yet again, the vulnerable suffer. Due to successive governments many now in need  have been ill-educated, ill-nourished and under stress because they could not find work.  In similar circumstances Mrs May and few of her colleagues would be managing their budgets well.

The introduction of universally paying housing benefit direct to landlord (stopped in 2008) was extremely helpful to those not able (or willing) to budget. It has been retained under universal credit and actually adds to the problems of landlords and tenants alike.

Quoting from a letter circulated by GAP Property during PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn said: “Will the prime minister pause universal credit so it can be fixed? Or does she think it is right to put thousands of families through Christmas in the trauma of knowing they are about to be evicted because they are in rent arrears because of universal credit?”

GAP Property said the introduction of universal credit would affect the vast majority of its tenants and it needed to take action to avoid a slew of rent arrears, which could put it out of business.

The company’s owner, Guy Piggott, said the letter was not intended to be threatening and he was pleased it had been highlighted by Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

“We are not planning to throw people out, but the prime minister should read this and recognise the problems . . . the majority of his tenants were on an average household income of about £17,000 a year. “People are already living hand to mouth . . . At best, if they need to wait six weeks to be paid, it will be the end of February before it comes, and by then they might have spent the money they had on feeding their families or heating their homes”.

Paragraphs from a snapshot of the letter:

Piggott said many landlords would soon refuse to take people who were on universal credit. “A lot of landlords are now saying enough is enough”.

Jeremy Corbyn said: “Will the prime minister pause universal credit so it can be fixed? Or does she think it is right to put thousands of families through Christmas in the trauma of knowing they are about to be evicted because they are in rent arrears because of universal credit?”

Mrs May replied that she wanted to “look at the issue of this particular case” but said the government wanted people to be able to manage their own budgets and expressed less than impressive hopes that the government could act next week to cut the six-week wait for payments to five.

 

 

 

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The Financial Times has reported that John Healey, shadow housing minister, has set out Labour’s plans to tighten a housebuilding loophole introduced by the Conservatives that has been blamed for halving the number of “affordable homes” built in Britain over the past five years by making it too easy for property developers to “dodge their obligations” by being allowed to haggle over the number of social homes they build.

Inside Housing adds that recent research by Shelter covering 11 local authorities found viability assessments had been used to deliver a 79% reduction in affordable housing built, compared to what council policies would demand.

Carol Wilcox Secretary of the Labour Land Campaign, Christchurch, Dorset, commented in the FT that Labour should instead be arguing for Section 106 Agreements to be scrapped rather than reformed.

She cites a study by Oxford Brookes university, which found that the number of affordable homes delivered through Section 106 dropped from 28,972 in 2010-11 to just 16,452 in 2015-16 — contributing to the wider downward trend, continuing:

“The whole system is open to corruption. There are websites that describe, for the amateur, how to negotiate with local authorities to avoid more than just the affordable homes obligation (one here). These agreements, together with their younger sibling, the Community Infrastructure Levy, are in effect just another misguided attempt to capture the uplift in value from change of use to residential”.

Her alternative: a comprehensive land value tax system which could easily finance public investment in goods and services up front and capture the rising land value from the resulting revenue stream. Increased public spending would lead to increased land value, leading to increased land value tax, leading to increased public investment

 — a virtuous circle in fact.

 

 

 

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The Employee Ownership Association (EOA) 12th Annual Conference represents organisations which are employee owned or transitioning to employee ownership. This growing sector employs over 200,000 employee owners across the UK. More than 700 attendees are expected to gather on the 27 and 28 November at the NEC Hilton Metropole. The programme, including news of awards to be presented, may be downloaded here.

One of several case-studies:

Page\Park is an architectural firm based in Glasgow that made the transition to employee ownership in December 2013. Since then, the business has recruited 12 new employee-owners, increasing its staff to a total of 54, to meet the growth in demand for their services – a positive commercial upturn which owners attribute in part to their transition to employee ownership.

This year’s conference will present the contribution employee owned businesses make to the economy – offering increased productivity, growth, resilience and good corporate behaviour. Delegates will hear from and share best practice with SMEs and global businesses that are employee owned or are exploring employee ownership and meet experts in subjects linked to employee ownership, from funding finance to engagement.

Founded in 1979 by journalist Robert Oakeshott and originally called Job Ownership Ltd (JOL), the EOA was established with the help of companies such as the John Lewis Partnership and international polymers manufacturer Scott Bader.

The EOA campaigns on behalf of members, with policy makers, the media, Government and a range of other audiences, winning the support of all three main political parties.

 

 

 

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In the Financial Times, Jim Pickard, its Chief Political Correspondent and one of Mr Corbyn’s consistent detractors, writes: “After largely ignoring Labour for two years, many business leaders are now scrambling to work out what a Jeremy Corbyn premiership could mean for their industries”.

Today, Mr Pickard opens by saying that, given increasing concerns about the housing market among young voters, ministers are drawing up plans to make housebuilding a priority in this month’s Budget. Just 32,630 affordable homes were built in 2015-16 — the lowest number in 24 years and down from 61,090 in 2010-11. But 16,000 were built as “affordable rent”, a new category under which landlords can charge up to 80% of market rents.

Under the “Section 106 agreement”, developers bargain with local councils over local amenities and affordable housing that they have to build in return for planning permission. But a loophole involving “viability assessments”, which was first introduced in the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), allow developers to negotiate away their Section 106 affordable housing commitments on the basis that they would make the scheme less profitable. If expected profits are below 20%, defined as a “competitive return”, the number of homes built can be reduced.

“This provides a safety net for developers, who can overpay for land to guarantee they win sites, safe in the knowledge they will be able to argue down community benefits to make their money back later,” said Shelter.

Last week Alok Sharma, the housing minister, admitted that the viability assessment system was “not working” and suggested that he favoured changing the process. “Clearly the system as it is does not work. We are proposing a set of improvements we believe will make it work better,” Mr Sharma told a Commons committee. “Let’s see what views come forward as a result of the consultation.”

John Healey, shadow housing minister, said Labour would carry out a review of the future of social housing that would look at how to maximise the number of genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy on new developments. “Changing the rules to capture more of the value created by the granting of planning permission will not only help fund new affordable housing, but help increase local support for new housing, too.”

In every major speech, Corbyn addresses the housing issue. On a site which records many of these references, see the housing section in his 2016 conference address.

Today, Labour will set out plans to tighten this housebuilding loophole, responsible for halving the number of “affordable homes” built in Britain over the past five years.

 

 

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Bournville Village Trust has agreed to acquire and manage some of the 138 homes at the Manor House site, which is being developed by Crest Nicholson. Work on the site will also include plans to rebuild Northfield Manor House, off Bristol Road South, which was demolished after being severely damaged in an arson attack three years ago.

Northfield Manor House was the residence of the Trust’s founder George, and his wife Elizabeth, until her death in 1951. In 1953 it became a hall of residence for the university, but has been empty since 2007 as the University decided it was too expensive to upgrade.

It is not legally listed with English Heritage, but has an informal grade A status on Birmingham City Council’s local advisory list of historic buildings. The English Heritage website (no general access) records that a farm house, part of the Manor of Northfield belonging to the Jervoise family, was recorded as being on the site circa 1750. In 1809 the estate was purchased by Daniel Ledsam, a London merchant. It is believed that he made alterations to the house and was responsible for the current main building.

This picture came from coverage on this site in 2014.

Local historian Dr Carl Chinn urged the university to stop the demolition of the fire-damaged building and consult local people through community groups and their elected representatives over the future of this building. He advocated restoration of the building, in partnership with the community.

The University’s vice-principal, Professor Adam Tickell, said that the planning application had been revived and now included provision for the rebuilding of the manor house, despite the demolition of most of the structure.

The Manor House is to be rebuilt in the original style with Georgian and Arts & Crafts facades and the decorative details of the exterior of the building in stone and brickwork, render and timber. The form and proportions of the 18th century manor will be retained but the interior will be divided into apartments.

 

 

 

 

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 Faiths working together for a low carbon future

As part of national interfaith week, join Footsteps’ annual event to meet other people faithfully caring for the environment, and share ideas about how we can work together for a low carbon future.

Footsteps is a project of the Birmingham Council of Faiths

Venue: the Progressive Synagogue, 1 Roseland Way, B15 1HD, Nov 19th 2-5pm

There is an optional tour of the synagogue at 1pm. If you would like to join please select the option when registering.

Doors will be open from 1pm for you to come and have a cup of tea, chat to others at the event and view exhibits about faith and other responses to climate change.  Many poor countries lack the funds to make the transition to a green economy because of debt. Main speakers & discussion session starts at 2pm.

To book please click on the link to the Peace Hub’s website: http://peacehub.org.uk/footsteps/events/tread-lightly-on-this-earth-2017/ or ring Chris Martin on 0121 475 2088

 

 

 

 

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A message from Councillor Mary Locke about city cycling has been forwarded by Peter Walker, Chairman of the Stirchley Neighbourhood Forum.

Would-be cyclists are being invited to apply for the latest free bike giveaway. In 2015 more than 3,500 people received an orange bike (above) and cycled over 300,000 miles which improved their mental health and wellbeing. This time the emphasis will be on encouraging families to cycle together.

2000 free Raleigh bikes are being offered to families and residents in the most deprived communities as part of the next phase of the Big Birmingham Bikes scheme. Part of Birmingham City Council’s Birmingham Cycle Revolution, Big Birmingham Bikes aims to encourage people of all backgrounds to cycle regularly by offering free bikes to those unable to afford them.

To see the Autumn / Winter Programme click on this link. There is information on Ride Active sessions and Led Rides, free of charge.

Read all about how to apply for a free bike here.

Bike banks – a children’s bike loan scheme (for under 16s) available throughout the city, targeting the most deprived areas: information here.

Copies of the brochure will be available shortly at the council’s Wellbeing Centres.

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Birmingham Cycle Revolution is funded from various sources including City Council funds and successful bids to the Department for Transport and the Local Enterprise Partnerships.

 

 

 

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Today the FT reports that Jeremy Corbyn was given a ‘rapturous reception’ in Brussels on Thursday, as he warned that leaving the EU without a Brexit deal would be “catastrophic” for the UK economy. Mr Corbyn met Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator (above), the European Parliament President Antonio Tajani and the prime ministers of Portugal, Italy and Sweden on Thursday in Brussels.

Mr Corbyn received a standing ovation from Europe’s centre-left parties as he addressed delegates at the Europe Together conference, just hours before prime minister Theresa May was scheduled to meet her EU counterparts at a European leaders’ summit. He said:

“We’re here to make sure that negotiations get on track, that we defend jobs in Britain, and that we make sure there is trade access to Europe in the future . . . We cannot countenance the idea that we rush headlong into a no deal with Europe. No deal would be very dangerous for employment and jobs in Britain. We are clear in our priorities: a jobs-first Brexit which maintains free access to the single market.”

He advocated “radical alternatives” for Europeans after years of austerity, rising job insecurity and falling living standards.  “The neoliberal economic model is broken. It doesn’t work for most people,” he said, adding: “Our broken system has provided fertile ground for the growth of nationalist and xenophobic politics.”

The FT ends: “Mr Corbyn’s enthusiastic reception was in stark contrast to Mrs May’s arrival in Brussels on Thursday. The UK prime minister was rebuffed from attending a meeting of Britain’s traditional European allies — including the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries and the Baltic countries — on the sidelines of the summit, though Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister, was invited to that meeting.”

 

First published in Watershed.

 

 

 

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West Midlands New Economics Group meeting:

Andrew Lydon will open a discussion on the issue of political and economic power.

How can power be used to achieve change, and how can it be used to prevent change? Andrew writes: “There are two sides of power that have been of concern to thinking people over the last hundred years. how can political and social power be used to direct change? How has power been used to frustrate and subvert change?”

5-7pm on Thursday 26th October at the John Lewis Community Hub, available to community groups.

It is located on the 4th floor of the John Lewis store over New Street station (lift and escalator). The hub is immediately off the area where television sets are being sold.

 

 

 

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People passing the illuminated Bournville factory buildings late at night will have noted its 24-hour operation – evidence of a thriving enterprise.

The factory buildings in 1932: unchanged exterior

The FT’s John Murray Brown (paywall) reports from Bournville that Mondelez has completed a two-year modernisation programme, investing £75m in the chocolate maker’s flagship factory: “Shiny new production equipment has been installed at the “factory in a garden” built by Quaker George Cadbury in 1879 alongside houses for its workers who had relocated from Birmingham’s industrial belt.

Under the agreement, 1,300 workers at Bournville and two other Cadbury factories in the UK will receive a pay rise of 3.2% in 2017-18, and an increase in line with inflation in 2018-19. Joe Clarke of Unite says this is considerably higher than other recent settlements in the food and drinks industry, which have been about 2.4%.

Mr Clarke highlighted the chocolate maker’s “strong ethical traditions: “Cadbury has a long history of good industrial relations. We’ve got records which go back to the tea break agreement of 1922.” Cadbury established works councils, with management and employee representative meeting to discuss company plans, back in the 1930s. It was also one of the first companies to offer sick pay and pension rights for women.

The improvement in industrial relations at Cadbury came after controversy when the company was bought by Kraft Foods of the US in 2010. The Takeover Panel, the custodian of UK rules on mergers and acquisitions, after reneging on a promise not to shut Cadbury’s Somerdale plant at Keynsham near Bristol but it was made clear that the original decision had been made by Cadbury in 2007.

There have been 200 voluntary redundancies at Bournville under the modernisation programme, bringing the manufacturing workforce down to about 800. The four new production lines have led to ‘dramatic’ productivity improvements closing the gap with Mondelez’ German plant. In an embedded video, David Bailey, professor of industrial strategy at Aston University business school, said, “We hadn’t seen significant investment at Bournville for a long time. It was pretty dilapidated. Old plant and equipment. The focus on productivity is the only way any company manufacturing in a relatively high-cost economy can survive in the long run”.

The changes at Bournville mean manufacturing is assured “for a generation not just for the short term”, according to Glenn Caton, president of Mondelez’s northern Europe operations.  

 

 

 

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