Archives for category: City Council

“100 tenants a day lose homes as rising rents and benefit freeze hit”The Observer July 2017.

In the same month, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation study attributed 80% of the recent rise in evictions to the “no fault” process under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. Two months’ written notice is all that private landlords need to do: they don’t need to give any reason when they ask tenants to leave.

It allows the worst landlords to ignore disrepair – tenants who complain are given notice – a process officially recognised under the name retaliatory eviction’.

Read more about retaliatory eviction’ – the subject of Commons Briefing paper SN07015 by Wendy Wilson – published on June 13, 2017.   

 Jeremy Corbyn raised the issue forcefully in today’s Prime Minister’s Questions

His exchange with the Prime Minister may be seen here, courtesy of Steve Walker and the full transcript in Hansard may be seen here.

Mr Corbyn reviewed the government’s record:

  • Homelessness is up by 50% and rough sleeping has doubled. Homelessness and rough sleeping have risen every single year since 2010.
  • Evictions by private landlords have quadrupled since 2010. There is no security in the private rented sector.
  • One-for-one replacement of council housing sold off through the right to buy was promised, but just one in five council homes have been replaced.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people are on housing waiting lists.

Shelter is calling for the introduction of a stable rental contract – to become the norm in England.

Campbell Robb, chief executive, said: “With the possibility of eviction with just two months’ notice, and constant worries about when the next rent rise will hit, the current rental market isn’t giving people – particularly families – the stability they need to put down roots. The stable rental contract offers renters a five-year tenancy and gives landlords more confidence in a steady income, all within the existing legal framework”.

Scotland for best practice to date: the Scottish secure tenancy

In Scotland, under Jack McConnell’s Labour government, by an order under section 11 of the 2001 the Housing (Scotland) Act tenants of local authorities, housing associations & tenants who are members of fully mutual co-operative housing associations, from 30 September 2002, became Scottish secure tenants.

Read the excellent terms here. Will a Labour government in this country adopt this Rolls Royce standard model and also introduce a stable rental contract for those in private accommodation? Or will the profit motive win the day?

 

 

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Reading Christian Wolmar’s article: ‘Rail’s dirty secret’, recalled last year’s  question on this site: ‘How many lungs and hearts will be damaged by air pollution before action is taken?’

There is concern about the levels of diesel-generated air-pollution on Grand Central (New Street) platforms experienced by travellers like Professor Rex Harris (Birmingham) whose work includes the promotion of a hydrogen fuelled transport system for rail and waterways.

Professor Thorne’s student monitoring air pollutants at Grand Central

Research conducted by Professor John Thorne (Birmingham) found almost seven times the annual average EU limit of particulate matter on one platform.

The TV programme Dispatches then visited New Street Station with its own monitors and found “high levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulates on one of the platforms… way above EU annual limits”. Network Rail told the programme it wanted the station to be a “safe and healthy environment” and that in the coming years it “will shift to less polluting electric trains”. Wolmar writes:

In the Rail Engineer, Malcolm Dobell wrote about a hydrogen fuel cell locomotive he saw four years ago; a team from Birmingham University had designed, constructed and entered a fuel cell powered one-fifth scale locomotive in the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Railway challenge.

He reported that Alstom’s new train, the Coradia iLint (above), which runs on hydrogen power rather than diesel, has had its first successful test run. It is the first low floor passenger train in the world to be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

The hydrogen used for the test runs is the by-product of an industrial process, which is reasonably reused as a waste product, but because Germany has invested heavily in wind turbine technology as part of its energy mix, it will also be able to use the energy generated by the wind turbines to make hydrogen when electricity demand is low.

As Dobell mentioned, the Birmingham Centre for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research undertook a cross-disciplinary venture with a number of Birmingham Energy Institute academics and Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, to design and construct the UK’s first practical hydrogen-powered locomotive.  The Centre’s website adds that there will be a requirement for such autonomously powered trains to serve non-electrified lines.

Hydrogen-powered locomotives, cars and boats, emitting only steam and condensed water, Dobell comments, are better for the environment, more pleasant for passengers and less disruptive to communities.

Time for change.

 

 

 

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In July, Birmingham City Council reneged on an ACAS-mediated, cabinet-approved agreement between the Unite union and Birmingham’s talented Council Leader, John Clancy, which was to end the seven-week refuse collection dispute.

The well-paid BCC chief executive (right) was seeking to downgrade 106 Grade 3 jobs to a Grade 2, which meant that workers would lose £3,500-5,000 from their already low salaries of around £20,000.

And when BCC reneged on the Unite/Clancy deal, they also issued redundancy notices to the Grade 3 workers. These were later banned in the High Court when Mr Justice Fraser spoke at length about the “extraordinary” and “astonishing” state of affairs at Birmingham City Council with “chaos” between senior personnel. Read more about his reflections here.

Council leader Ian Ward (left) told a BBC reporter: “The cost of the (three month) dispute, yes that’s cost in excess of £6m”.

This ‘new’ version of the original deal (details here), described by union insiders as a ‘total climb-down’, was agreed at a special meeting of the BCC cabinet on Friday.

 ITV reports that yesterday Birmingham bin workers voted to accept the council deal.

So a seven week dispute was allowed to go on for three months, regardless of health and safety implications, losing £6m of ratepayers’ money – and the wrong head rolled.

 

 

 

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One of the charms of Stirchley is the active community bonding between many of its residents, regardless of age, income or education.

This may be seen by attending its neighbourhood forum, its market, its local history group, its renovated park, its library support group and many more activities housed in the re-opened Stirchley baths community centre (below) and the former Stirchley Institute.

Samuel Clark, development director at Seven Capital, looks forward to the ‘gentrification of this important Birmingham suburb’.

Gentrification (aka more expensive ‘aspirational’ housing) – the influx of more affluent people concentrated in a block on the nine-acre site on the corner of Hazelwell Lane and Pershore Road – would be a retrograde step.

Many who admire this active and creative neighbourhood, hope that developer Seven Capital, with bases in the city, London and Dubai, will really listen to ‘local stakeholders’ and, together with the council, design plans which include affordable, social and more profitable ‘gentrified’ housing for the new ‘mixed-use scheme’.

As one resident said on Stirchley online:

Mr Clark, please note. An appropriate scheme would counteract ‘Which’s designation of Seven Capital’s ‘worst case’ offer of housing as an investment opportunity.

No more empty ‘investment’ flats should be seen in the city; let house-building mean home-building.

 

 

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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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Emmaus has the answer to rehabilitation, offering both accommodation and work of a socially useful nature. As its website says, “overcoming homelessness means more than a roof over your head”.   Without a purpose formerly homeless people placed in ‘permanent accommodation’ become lonely and still feel like ‘outsiders’,  eventually having to leave because of alcohol or debt problems.

Trinity Centre in nearby Camp Hill, was highlighted on this site in 2014, as numbers of ex-servicemen were living rough in the city. It housed many more homeless people than Tabor House – which of course we congratulate. There were three aisles, like the one below and the centre led up to the chantry altar in which a Sunday service was held each week.

All meals were cooked in a splendidly fitted kitchen, there was a recreation room, a visiting library (taken round by the writer) and a rehabilitation flat at the top of the church.

The mayor of WM Combined Authority may visit the Coventry Emmaus, probably the nearest, or go the centre in Cambridge, which is the ideal aimed for by Emmaus, where housing, workshops and a place where locals can come and buy restored goods at modest prices from restored people are all on the same site. A secular organisation, its strength is that it is ready to welcome back those who need another chance – no closed doors.

 

Trinity Centre is for sale: could it become the city’s first Emmaus?

 

 

 

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Moseley Road Baths is one of the nation’s most significant heritage swimming pools – it is the oldest Grade II* Listed baths still open for public swimming. Last year nearly 80,000 people swam in this community pool.

The Baths were earmarked for closure last July but a community campaign and the support of heritage organisations led to Birmingham City Council granting a reprieve.

Next April Moseley Road Baths action group, who have formed a Community Interest Company (CIC), will take over the running of the baths from Council. The company’s business plan shows that MRBCIC can break even within three years but in the first year it needs to raise £75,000 to help to pay for essentials like staffing, heat, light and water. The company is seeking grant funding for some of this, but the group is also calling on support from anyone reading this appeal to add to this, helping us to meet two critical costs (swim trainers and lifeguard volunteers).

MRBCIC has nine months to develop a workable model for swimming, with the aim of taking over operational responsibility for water activity from April 2018. Since then it has been working hard – liaising with heritage partners, bringing in advisers, understanding the community swimming need and producing a business plan which shows that MRBCIC can break even within three years.  Click here to read the business plan.

Our initial target is to raise £13,552 to train 8 volunteers in lifeguarding and teaching as well as in customer service skills, health and safety, etc. Each volunteer must be trained so that  safe swimming can be offered at all times.  Crowdfunding is the first stage in raising the funds needed to ensure they have a fully trained team ready to go. Read more on their website.

Please spread the word – and if willing and able – donate by following the link.

 

 

 

 

 

Political Concern comments on Druids Heath and the role of the modern council

The presenter of this BBC radio programme, Adrian Goldberg, grew up on the Druids Heath council estate in Birmingham, the home of the ‘municipalism’ pioneered by Joseph Chamberlain when he was Mayor of Birmingham – summarised by Walsall MP John McShane in the Commons in 1930:

“A young person today lives in a municipal house, and he washes himself … in municipal water. He rides on a municipal tram or omnibus, and I have no doubt that before long he will be riding in a municipal aeroplane. He walks on a municipal road; he is educated in a municipal school. He reads in a municipal library and he has his sport on a municipal recreation ground. When he is ill he is doctored and nursed in a municipal hospital and when he dies he is buried in a municipal cemetery.”

Adrian is described as being an ideal candidate to judge the changing nature of the local council, because when he and his family moved there the local authority provided a range of services. He comments, “Today the situation is much more complex”- follow the link to read more.

Political Concern adds:

Inside Housing reports the housing minister’s description of sprinkler systems for high rise blocks as “additional rather than essential”, refusing a council’s request for funding offered after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

And comments: “Strangely, the conservative Prime Minister expresses admiration for Joseph Chamberlain”.

Mayor of Birmingham in 1873, city MP in 1876, Joseph Chamberlain directed the construction of good housing for the poorest, libraries, municipal swimming pools and schools. Unlike Ms May and colleagues, he was not in favour of a market economy, arguing for tariffs on goods from countries outside the British Empire. He was also an ‘economic interventionist’ (see Lewis Goodall, Newsnight), described as a “gas and water socialist”. He took profit-making private enterprises into public hands, declaring that “profit was irrelevant”.

In no way is she following the example of her hero. Ms May’s government continues to implement a series of cuts affecting the lives of the country’s poorest and most disabled with might and main. Ironically the contemporary politician sharing Chamberlain’s principles is the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, whose policies she echoes but does not implement.

 

 

 

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The BBC reports that, at a High Court hearing in London on Wednesday, Mr Justice Fraser dismissed the council’s argument that Mr Clancy had no authority to make a deal at ACAS with Unite.

He said that he was ‘more than satisfied’ there is enough evidence about what was referred to in court as the ‘Clancy Agreement’ to be tested at a full trial. He also dismissed a submission by Birmingham City Council’s legal team that a trial would not be in the public interest.

An interim injunction was granted against the bid – favoured by council officers – to make refuse collectors in Birmingham redundant.

The union is calling for Ms Stella Manzie, the authority’s interim chief executive, who had been leading the negotiating team, to stand down.

Justice Fraser said that documents made clear an internal rift at the council and read out an email sent on 15 August from the interim chief executive Stella Manzie to ex-leader Mr Clancy saying the council could not look weak and “as if it’s being walked over”.

On 11th August Cllr Lisa Trickett had corrected the impression that there will be job losses and cuts to basic pay for workers affected by the removal of the “leading hand” role  “one of the two supervisors in a three-person team: 

“Those supervisors will be offered other permanent roles within the council that their skills are broadly suited to, with training on offer to help ensure they could move into the jobs as easily as possible”.

John Clancy said in July that the council is ‘bending over backwards’ to reform the inefficient bins service inherited from the previous administration, without making job losses:

“We are giving the leading hands every opportunity to further their careers elsewhere in the city council with at least the same basic salary.”  He pointed out that 220 more permanent bin jobs will be created to replace the expensive agency staff currently used.

The conciliation service ACAS said on 16 August the council had accepted the workers’ case and restored the jobs of grade three workers, who are responsible for safety at the back of refuse vehicles. However, a council report said the deal struck by UNITE and the council was unaffordable.

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said refuse workers would now return to a full working day until the five-day court hearing.

 

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SUPPORTIVE COMMENTS ON THE BBC WEBSITE

  • So council bosses want to get rid of 120 binmen but not their huge wages and pensions. No surprise there then.
  • Why not scrap a couple of councillor jobs and pay for the service The council tax should cover bin collection costs, not pay rises for the suits
  • It’s costing the council more to pay for agency staff to clear the rubbish than it would for them to accept the deal brokered by ACAS with Clancy.
  • They could find £188 million to build a library, and no doubt have spent millions more on other vanity projects, but want to save money collecting peoples rubbish.
  • As with most councils, they have their priorities all wrong. https://www.letsrecycle.com/news/latest-news/sheffield-councillors-vote-to-end-35-year-veolia-contract/ I live in Sheffield & I can tell you first hand Veolia are 100% inadequately staffed and just as poorly managed and led by their corporate offices. Privatization of a service that should be ‘in house’ to any local authority is a huge financial gamble – as proven here.
  • That is the issue – tenders being brought in by councils that cost more in the long run to fund than staffing with their own paid employees. Look at Veolia – Google search to see the muck ups they make & their costs.
  • A simpler way to save the money would be to get rid of Stella Manzie, the interim CEO who has been sent to Birmingham by the government to do a hatchet job on our local authority. She is well known for being parachuted into ‘difficult’ local authorities who are not following Conservative government rules. She is the one who scuppered the agreement between Unite and the council leader John Clancy.
  • Birmingham City Council has behaved appallingly in this dispute. They did not consult properly with the bin men from the start. The council leader then agreed a deal that would change shift patterns but removed the threat of redundancy. The council then reneged on the deal. The interim CEO (a government stooge) was behind the report to scupper the deal. They then issued redundancy notices!
  • The right decision. Workers’ rights have been eroded to the core as it is but central government is the problem here. Birmingham, like most councils, has had its funding cut severely. If they don’t save the money here they will be forced, by the government, to save it somewhere else.

 

  • Be clear here. Bin men were not being made redundant to end up on the dole. Their jobs were being made redundant, & the men were offered replacement jobs elsewhere in the council work-places on the SAME PAY grade as they were on.

 

 

 

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Full statement from the Birmingham Newsroom site

“It has become clear to me that frenzied media speculation about the Birmingham waste dispute is beginning to harm Birmingham City Council and the Birmingham Labour Party. I can see no end to such speculation, as ill-informed as much of it is, for as long as I remain Leader.

“I have therefore decided to resign both as Leader of the Labour group and as the Leader of Birmingham City Council with immediate effect.

“I would wish to stress that the actions I took along with my cabinet to negotiate an end to an extremely complex and difficult industrial dispute were done with the best of intentions.

“None of us are perfect, and I made some mistakes, for which I am sorry and take full responsibility.

“I am honoured to have been Leader of the council since December 2015 and proud of the many achievements during my time in charge.

“These include issuing the first £45 million ‘Brummie Bond’ for local housing, and two other initiatives that generated substantial savings for the council – renegotiating the ICT joint venture agreement with Capita, and reaching agreement to reduce the council’s annual payments to the West Midlands Local Government Pension Fund.

“Events in my personal life during this year have convinced me that there are issues of far more importance than Birmingham City Council, and although this has been said by politicians many times before, on this occasion I really am looking forward to spending more time with my family.”

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A great loss to the city, for several reasons listed here. The union, officials and the critical Labour councillors should have taken a supportive constructive attitude and helped to reach a solution.

 

 

 

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