On December 29th, Philip Aldrick Economics Editor of The Times (right), wrote: “This winter has been the worst for rough sleeping in memory. In central London, the tattered sleeping bags and cardboard mattresses that serve as beds are too often found in an underpass or crammed beneath an overhang. My children have started asking: ‘Why?’ “

He comments: “It is no accident. Government policy has made the situation worse. Not deliberately, mind you”.

  • Official figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government showed a 15% increase in those camping on England’s streets last year.
  • The single night count has risen from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,751. Of those, 1,137 were in London.
  • The charity Shelter estimates that 320,000 people are homeless in Britain today, 13,000 more than last year, once temporary accommodation is included.
  • That’s one in every 200 Britons.
  • Since 2011, there has been a steep increase in the number of people registering as homeless after being evicted for failing to pay rent.
  • On top of that are the “hidden homeless” living in sheds, cars or on a friend’s sofa.
  • homeless deaths in England and Wales. In 2017, there were 597, a 24% increase since 2013.
  • London and the North West were the worst affected, with 136 and 119, respectively.

To trace the roots of the crisis he went back to the right-to-buy revolution

In 1980 councils were still building 67,450 homes a year across the UK. The country had an estimated 500,000 more homes than it needed because the state had overbuilt. Margaret Thatcher therefore decided to withdraw the state as far as possible and successive governments persisted with the policy and the housing surplus turned into a deficit.

The decision to end council housing drove poorer people into private rented accommodation, where housing benefit soared to levels the state could no longer afford.

The government says England alone now needs 300,000 homes a year. Herriot-Watt University estimates that 145,000 must be affordable and 90,000 specifically for social rent to replace those lost in the 1980s.

The focus shifted to the private sector with a duty to build profitable homes, which tend to be higher value — not the ones most needed.

Competition for homes drove up prices and rents. By 2012, housing benefit claimants in the private rented sector more than doubled to 1.6 million. Rents rose faster than earnings, pushing more on to welfare. Housing benefit had risen from 0.8% of GDP in 1983 to 1% in the early 2000s and to over 1.5% in 2012, costing government an additional £10 billion more every year for housing claimants alone.

But, to date, private housebuilders, catering for the affluent, have failed to deliver the social homes needed.

The coalition government changed empty dwelling management orders under which councils could seize properties left unoccupied for more than six months – that was extended to a period of two years.

There are now an estimated 200,000 long-term empty homes in the UK – almost 20,000 of them in London

Aldrick believes that government’s decision – ‘finally’ – to give councils the resources to build again, addresses the core problem. He points out that in the long term, council housing is cheaper for the taxpayer than private rents and more secure for tenants. It also offers cash-strapped councils  the prospect of steady rental revenues to help fund services (see a Sheffield case study).

Until councils have built enough homes, Aldrick suggests a practical interim measure: government could return the empty dwelling rules back to six months in order to make more homes available.






West Midlands New Economics Group

Thursday 24th January, 5-7 pm

Open meeting: FOE Warehouse, 54 Allison St, B5 5TH


The subject will be opened by Peter Beck followed by discussion of the present situation in Birmingham and perhaps of what form of Local Government would work in a city the size of Birmingham.

A round table discussion

Coincidentally Birmingham City Council is currently consulting with its residents about the level of local government they would like to see in their ward e.g. a Parish Council.

Because of the Ward Forum meeting at 7pm Peter can only stay for an hour.

Hazel Clawley will update us on what she intends in the follow up to the discussion she led on Zero Waste in October.



Contributions of £2 to cover the cost of room hire






The next arms fair in the city is the 4th item on the agenda for Birmingham’s Stop the War Coalition committee meeting at 7 pm on Tuesday, 8th January (first floor room of the Wellington 37 Bennetts Hill City Centre).

On 28th March 2019 at the NEC, Birmingham, the Defence Procurement, Research, Technology & Exportability (DPRTE) 2019 will be holding a defence procurement and supply chain event.

Though some British cities are being used as market places for trading attack weapons, arms fairs are to be banned from Glasgow council-controlled venues

In June, the People Make Glasgow branding, overseen by the convention team for Glasgow City Council arm’s length organisation Glasgow Life, was removed from promotional material for the fair in the wake of the row. BAE Systems and Babcock International, which are designing and constructing a new fleet of Trident nuclear submarines, were lead sponsors of the fair. Glasgow, like Birmingham, is a member of the NFLA (Nuclear Free Local Authorities).

The 2019 DSEI opens once again in the ExCeL centre, despite a unanimous vote from the Newham, the local council, condemning it. In 2017, London Mayor Sadiq Khan called for The Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair to be banned:

“ExCeL is a commercial space for hire. I am opposed to London used as a market place for the trade of weapons to those countries that contribute to human rights abuses (but) it must be noted that I have no powers to enable me to ban or in fact control Arms Fairs in London in any way, which would be a matter for primary legislation by the Parliament”.













Though the NHS’s funding formula is designed to provide more money to the neediest areas, an FT article reported last week that – according to data analysed by the Nuffield Trust for the Financial Times – some poorer communities being “left behind” when accessing GP services.

Sarah Neville, Global Pharmaceuticals Editor, summarising the data, reports that rich and poor people in England receive different standards of care from the UK’s universal free health service.

Despite the higher burden of ill health in lower socio-economic groups, there are markedly fewer GPs per head in poorer areas of England than in richer areas. More details are given here.

Market Place, Tipton

National Health Service Sandwell residents feel health concerns go unheeded. The FT reports that data from the Sandwell and West Birmingham clinical commissioning group (CCG), which holds the budget for treating the local population, shows that 45.6% reported seeing their preferred GP always or most of the time, compared with a national average of 54.9%. The percentage not able to get a GP appointment stood at 17.1, compared with 11.4% nationally.

Pam Jones, who used to chair Healthwatch, described a kind of vicious circle for local surgeries: “Because they haven’t got enough GPs, they have to employ locums. They employ locums and then it takes more money out of their practice.”

Andy Williams, who heads the Sandwell and West Birmingham clinical commissioning group as its accountable officer, acknowledged that, despite measures to make more GP appointments available, he still receives feedback complaining that it is difficult to get an appointment, “ . . . so we know we’ve got a lot more to do. But we’re taking a much, much more diverse and imaginative approach now”.

He said recruitment has become much harder in the past two years, as a new generation of medical school graduates no longer want to make a mortgage-sized commitment to buy an equity share in a practice to which they are then tied to financially for their working life.

Local GP Ray Sullivan who chairs the local medical committee of the British Medical Association, said he was struggling with a relentless increase in workload without an equivalent increase in funding. He still receives “£150 per patient to do everything” and adds: “That’s the same as I got ten years ago. And the burden of work has gone up incrementally every year since.”

The findings increase pressure on the NHS to outline measures to reduce health inequalities when it publishes its long-awaited spending plan next month.





Peter Beck wrote to the Birmingham Post on Thursday December 6th 2018:

While agreeing that “the Paradise Project is a fiasco” (no name and address Post letter 29 Nov 2018) I draw a somewhat different conclusion as to who is to blame. I also think that Jonathon Walker’s article (Post 29th Nov) should perhaps have been titled “Council anger with Amey”.  However Carl Jackson’s article (Post 22 Nov 2018) is very revealing and there is so much for us to learn from this disaster of a development.


It is of course questionable as to whether Birmingham City Council (BCC) should be seeking partnerships with, or to employ the likes of Capita, Carillion, and Amey.  They have proved a very costly exercise. 

And why should we trust Argent, the present managers of this development?  Such companies and unelected organisations such as the LEP and PCLP (mysterious bodies to most of us) are out of BCC control, and unaccountable to the residents of Birmingham.

It does beg the question as to why we continue to demolish perfectly good existing buildings and spaces (offices, hotels, parking spaces, public spaces, shops, restaurants and cafes etc) only to replace them with the same.

After all, this requires a huge amount of embedded energy and contributes to climate change.  A good example is the Central Library. The original plan of architect John Madin for its setting was ignored, it was done on the cheap, and then successive administrations (Tory, Lib Dem and Labour) neglected and failed to maintain it.  Even so, the cost of refurbishing was estimated at £38m while the new one has so far cost more than £100m.

The new one has resulted in a drastic reduction in staff hours with an opening time of 11.00 a.m. – hardly a “world class” facility/service as originally claimed!  Further, it has led to the closure of the unique Brasshouse Languages Centre building and the transfer of its language classes (with the recent loss of English as a Foreign Language classes).  The fee payments are presumably helping to fund the Library but the classrooms do not adequately meet the students’ needs.

Another farcical aspect of the Paradise Project is its treatment of public spaces.  Centenary Square is being dug up yet again but the new version will be quite inferior to its original “gardens” ancestor.

My conclusion is that BCC should avoid private/public joint ventures and it should restrain those senior officers who currently work hand in glove with developers. We should once again give the councils the in-house resources they need to carry out the restoration, reuse, recycling, repair, refurbishment and maintenance of existing buildings. Lots of permanent jobs would then be created. 





FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21st, 12noon – 2pm:

‘Reclaim the BBC’ protest vigil outside the Mailbox, Birmingham as a West Midlands Extinction Rebellion action to draw attention to the urgency of need for action on climate change.

Climate campaigners are calling on the BBC to declare a climate emergency and make the issue its top editorial priority.

Richard Bruce draws our attention to the truly remarkable the Swedish youngster in the video link below, adding that her message should be widely heard around the world! He comments’ “There is hope yet – if only those in positions of influence would listen and stop depending on the dishonest corporate science…. Brave girl…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzeekxtyFOY&frags=pl%2Cwn

The Guardian reports that climate campaigners Extinction Rebellion (XR) came to prominence last month when they organised the largest civil disobedience protest seen in the UK for decades, culminating in the occupation and closure of five bridges in central London. The group launched at the end of October with a blockade of Parliament Square in London. Since then it has grown rapidly and XR branches have sprung up in more than 35 countries.

The rapid spread of XR comes as frustration rises with policymakers who are failing to slow perilous levels of global warming and biodiversity loss. There have been a flurry of reports on the scale of the climate crisis , including one from the UN which said there were only 12 years left to limit some of the most devastating impacts. Several cities in the UK, including London, have now declared a climate emergency.

XR is calling on the government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a “citizens assembly” to devise an emergency plan of action, similar to that seen during the second world war.

This month 100 prominent figures including the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the authors Philip Pullman and Naomi Klein backed XR: “We must collectively do whatever’s necessary non-violently, to persuade politicians and business leaders to relinquish their complacency and denial,” their open letter stated.

During a second wave of civil disobedience this weekend, thousands of people staged peaceful direct action protests in towns and cities around the UK.

The latest XR group to set up internationally was in New York, where activists announced plans at their first meeting this weekend for a US national day of action on 26 January. The group is planning an international week of rebellion in April.





David Lowe draws attention to the Railway Technology Magazine which adds to the report in the Birmingham Mail about the plans to reopen the Camp Hill rail line from Birmingham city centre to Kings Norton to passenger services, discussed for decades. The line was last used by commuters in 1941 and the stations bulldozed. But the tracks remain in use by freight services.

As the Mail comments:

“Congestion from this part of the city into the city centre is one of the huge drawbacks for what are otherwise thriving areas – undoing the rail closures seven decades ago will be a huge step in tackling both congestion and the clean air challenge we all face.”

RTM explains that the key obstacle to a fully functioning passenger service is that New Street is already operating at full capacity. There is no room for extra trains.

Proposals in the Midlands Rail Hub 15 year plan include proposals for the ‘Camp Hill Chords’ – new viaducts at Bordesley which would link the Camp Hill line to Moor Street Station allowing more frequent services to run. They would also open up the freight-only Sutton Park line, allowing new passenger services to link the city centre to Castle Vale, Water Orton and Walmley – where 6,000 new homes are due to be built – before heading through the park to Aldridge.

Above: Moseley station, now demolished. The plans for the new station show a more minimalist design

There will be three stations at Moseley, Kings Heath and Hazelwell, offering an alternative to commuting via bus and car on congested A435 Alcester Road In Moseley, access will be by St Marys Row and Woodbridge Road. In Kings Heath, it will be by Alcester Road and Highbury Park. Two trains would initially operate from these stations every hour into Central Birmingham, with an overall journey time of around 15 minutes.

Other proposals include two more platforms at Moor Street as well as remodelling stations at Kings Norton and Water Orton and reinstating the fourth platform at Snow Hill.

Engineers are currently working on the track, signalling and service requirements and next year detailed planning of the three rail stations will be carried out. Construction works are expected to start in 2020 and end in 2021. Later, the authorities may develop a fourth station on the line at Balsall Heath.

Councillor Mary Locke (Stirchley Ward) organised a public consultation about the Hazelwell line in November 2018 at Stirchley baths. She has now managed to get an extra consultation at the Hub Vicarage Road especially for residents of Pineapple, Cartland and Lyndworth roads on 12th Dec at 3-7 pm.







Community Energy Birmingham  co-operatives offer shares in order to fund the installation of solar photovoltaic arrays on community buildings in Moseley and Small Heath, Birmingham – see a 2015 post. 

Community Energy Birmingham (CEB) has some exciting news!

“We’re looking to grow our existing portfolio of renewable energy generation on community energy buildings in Birmingham, and have just launched a new share offer in November 2018. Our plan is to put a large solar roof (163 panels) on the housing association building in the centre of Castle Vale. This will be our largest solar roof to date, with a peak capacity of 50 kW. The total investment opportunity is around £44,000. We have already raised several thousand pounds”.

CEB aims to do this before the Feed in Tariff scheme closes in early 2019. CEB has already installed 6 solar PV on roofs belonging to community buildings where the organisations receive the benefit of clean and reduced cost electricity.

One example of its work is the installation of another 10 kilowatts of solar panels on the main roof of the Moseley Exchange building, joining the 8.5 kw on the sloping roof to the rear. The new panels cannot be seen, since they lie flat behind the parapet of this historic old Post Office building in the centre of Moseley. Since the building is in use almost every day, the solar energy will be consumed within the building, which is used by many Moseley community groups.

CEB ethical investors have been paid 4% this year on their shares 

Shares are from £250 to £10,000. CEB prefers investment from people living in or near Birmingham.  The new Share offer closes on 31 Dec 2018, but they would love to hear right away if you want to know more.

Email enquiry@communityenergybirmingham.coop

Full details are available in their Share Offer document and for those seeking shares, an Application Form may be filled out and returned.