Archives for category: Finance

The Heritage Lottery Fund Schedule of Decisions has recorded a grant given to a two year project which will work with local communities to establish heritage fruit and nut tree sites in Stirchley, Birmingham.  The project is a partnership between Food Forest brum and Lets Grow Together.

It will engage the local community with the history of traditional fruit and nut trees and encourage involvement in the creation and management of urban orchards, nut groves and forest gardens.

Felipe Molina, one of five directors of Spring to Life which applied for this funding, has been involved in the development of Food Forest Brum and Mother Gardens projects.

He spoke about this project at Stirchley Neighbourhood Forum Meeting on 11th June, at Stirchley Community Church, Hazelwell Street (above).

 

 

 

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After the leader of Birmingham City Council welcomed the 2018 Local Government Association Conference to Birmingham (ICC, 3-5 July) Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, spoke.

An extract from his keynote speech, published on the Local Government website

 I know that the state of Council finances keeps many of us up at night. Making the bottom line work for you will continue to be a priority for the LGA’s lobbying.

The money local government has for vital day-to-day services is running out fast. There is also huge uncertainty about how local services are going to be funded beyond 2020.

Councils can no longer be expected to run our local services on a shoestring. We must shout from the roof tops for local government to be put back on a sustainable financial footing.

We’ve protected government for a long time by making sure all the cuts thrown our way were implemented in a way that shielded our residents as much as possible.

But if austerity is coming to an end, then, as we were in the front of the queue when it started, we must also be at the front of the queue for more money when it ends. Only with adequate funding and the right powers can Councils help the Government tackle the challenges facing our nation.

Lord Porter (left) added that the cap on council tax also needs to be lifted: “Let us be clear, every penny in local taxation collected locally must be kept by local government and spent on our public services”.

Stroud District Council is the first council in Gloucestershire to lose its revenue support grant from the Government – a grant that has been paid in some form or another to all local councils for more than 50 years. In 2019/20 it must pay back £549,000, due to a ‘tariff adjustment’. This will be the largest sum paid by any Gloucestershire council and marks a new relationship between central and local government.

In July the FT pointed out that between 2015 and 2020, the Revenue Support Grant will have shrunk 77p in the pound, the Local Government Association the UK government plans to slash their core funding 77%. Almost half of all councils — 168 — will no longer receive any core central government funding in the 2019/20 budgetary year, according to the LGA, adding:

“The LGA says it is impossible to cut any further. It estimates a £5.8bn funding gap in 2020 — even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks and open spaces, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres, turned off every street light and shut all discretionary bus routes”. 

 

 

 

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CoStar reports that through Rothschild & Co (condor.enquiries@rothschild.com), Network Rail has begun to sell its commercial estate and most of this property is located in railway arches.

They will be sold as leasehold with Network Rail retaining the freehold to ensure maintenance access rights continue. Project Condor is expected to raise more than £1bn and Mark Carne, Network Rail’s chief executive said: “This deal will bring more investment into the commercial estate for the benefit of the local communities and it will help fund a better railway. I hope to see areas around the railway positively transformed with new and refurbished shops, amenities, and extra facilities for local people and passengers.”

A mailing from the New Economics Foundation recalls that in 2015 Network Rail struck a bargain with chancellor George Osborne: “give us the funds we need for infrastructure upgrades, and we’ll sell off a big chunk of our assets. The railway arches are one of those assets”.

Around 80% of the property is located in London, with much of the rest in Manchester and Birmingham. Occupiers of railway arches include restaurants, bars, offices, retail, leisure operators, breweries, car washes, gyms and healthcare centres.

We were unable to contact Tom Maher, co-founder of Birmingham’s Original Patty Men, who serves locally sourced longhorn beef burgers – and more – to appreciative customers in one of Digbeth’s railway bridge arches (above) in Shaw’s Passage.  Last year the Mail described its expansion plans to expand into the premises on the right, retaining the outdoor seating area in the space between the bar and restaurant with a bakery at the back.

Will the OPM be adversely affected? We hope not.

Network Rail’s sale is expected to attract attention from private equity and sovereign wealth funds who would find the average rents – at around £8 to £9 per sq ft – rather low, but CoStar reports that Network Rail has met stern resistance from small business owners, notably in Hackney, E1, and Brixton, SW9.


Supported by the New Economics Foundation and the East End Trades Guild, a group of arches tenants from around the country (three above and many more pictures here) has formed Guardians of the Arches to oppose the sale and seek a viable settlement for the future.

They are organising an open letter to Chris Grayling asking him to halt the sale and meet them to talk about the future of the arches. Thousands have signed this letter in just the first few days, and the group are planning a lobby of parliamentarians in June. Readers may sign as suggested below.

The NEF article ends: “Like many public asset sales, it makes little sense no matter how you look at it. In financial terms, selling off the asset means Network Rail – and by extension the public – will no longer benefit from the steady annual rental yields generated by the portfolio. And it’s no excuse to say there’s no other way of funding infrastructure improvements. The Government is currently able to borrow at historically low interest rates, but instead they are forcing public bodies to sell income-generating assets to fund investment”. 

 Click here to sign the Guardians’ letter to the Secretary of State for Transport.

 

 

 

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Birmingham Friends of the Earth’s building, The Warehouse, enters the final stage of its refurbishment project.

The building is really starting to look like the plans developed for the Share offer. Jericho has continued to reshape the building internally. New windows and doors have been installed on the ground floor which let in a lot more light than the old shutters.

Middle Bay has been cleared and is now the seating area for the Warehouse Cafe. A new kitchen has been installed for the Warehouse Café which is up and running again.

A lift has been installed and was officially opened. It will allow volunteers not previously able to access the top floor of the building, to do so. The ribbon cutting ceremony:

The new Meeting Room spaces will soon be finished and will be open for bookings. Existing tenants – businesses and community groups – will thrive in the improved building which will also offer opportunities to new businesses and community groups.

Shaz Rahman writes:

“The building looks dramatically different. I was amazed when I saw the new shop front for The Warehouse for the first time. What was once a dreary entrance, which had no appealing features, is now an inviting shop front. The glass makes the space look really large. We are really proud of what has been achieved at Birmingham Friends of the Earth. An incredible amount of time and effort went into the Community Share Offer, and even more time and effort has gone into implementing the building project. Internally the building is unrecognisable from what it was a year ago and so we thank our investors for helping to make this idea become a reality”.

 

 

 

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WEST MIDLANDS NEW ECONOMICS GROUP

Date: Thursday 26th April, 5pm-7pm

Carol Martin who will be opening this session, will do a brief introduction. She has circulated notes to members of the group. An extract: 

I believe that Council Tax is no longer fit for purpose. I propose a Land Value Tax based on the 1948 Town & Country Planning Act. It would not be linked to the old rates system which was based on a “notional” rental value of that property. People rent/buy where they can afford to.  They consider factors such as proximity to work, schools, shops, places of worship, transportation links.

In large cities such as London, but especially in South Birmingham, it throws up some bizarre rents. The rental on a 3 bedroom property in the inner City can be as high as in the suburbs . . .  

Venue: The Community Hub room, Level 4, John Lewis, Birmingham Grand Central Railway Station aka New Street Station.

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

 

Anyone not on the mailing list who wishes to receive Carol’s notes beforehand should contact comments on the WMNEG website.

 

 

 

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Jeremy Corbyn spoke at the launch of Labour’s Housing Green Paper.

 

He opened by referring to the sky-high rents and house prices, luxury flats proliferating across our big cities, while social housing is starved of investment and a million are on housing waiting lists. Tens of thousands of children are in temporary accommodation and homelessness is up by 50% since 2010.

Housing has become a means of speculation for a wealthy few, leaving many unable to access a decent, secure home.

Labour’s plan to turn this around involves two simple steps:

  • build enough housing
  • and make sure that housing is affordable to those who need it.

The promise: the next Labour Government will deliver one million genuinely affordable homes over ten years, the majority of which will be for social rent.

Fifty years ago, local authorities were responsible for nearly half of all new housing completions. Nowadays it is just 2%. Private housebuilders openly acknowledge that it is simply not profitable for them to build houses for the less well-off. We need to do it ourselves.

At the beginning of the Thatcher years, nearly a third of housing in this country was for social rent. That figure is now less than 20%. Council building has been in decline since the Right to Buy was introduced and councils were prohibited from using the proceeds to replace the houses sold.

Sadiq Khan has announced that the number of affordable homes and the number of homes for social rent started in London in the last year, is higher than in any year since the GLA was given control of affordable housing funding in the capital.

That is the difference Labour can make in Office. But Sadiq and his team are starting from an extremely low base and working within the crippling constraints imposed by this Government, cutting social housing grants time and time again, redefining affordable housing so that it’s no such thing and forcing councils to sell their best stock.

This Green Paper sets out many of the radical measures needed to transform the planning system:

  • ending the “viability” loophole so that commercial developers aren’t let off the hook;
  • giving councils new powers to acquire land to build on and better use land the public already owns;
  • and the financial backing to actually deliver, which means the ability to borrow to build restored to all councils; and extra support from central government too.

When the post-war Labour government built hundreds of thousands of council houses in a single term in office, they transformed the lives of millions of people who emerged from six years of brutal war to be lifted out of over-crowded and unhygienic slums into high quality new homes and introduced to hitherto unknown luxuries such as indoor toilets and their own gardens.

Setting new benchmarks in size and energy efficiency, something that old council stock still does to this day council housing was not a last resort but a place where people were proud to live.

In the Green Paper it was good to see an emphasis on retrofitting the housing stock and hopefully bringing back the thousands of empty houses back into use.

Having previously blocked and voted down Labour legislation to give tenants the right, the Government now say they support the basic legal right for tenants to take a landlord to court if they fail to make or maintain their home ‘fit for human habitation’, a right included in MP Karen Buck’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill.

A Labour Government would introduce and fast-track this legislation, if the current Government fails to ensure it is enacted before the next Election.

The next Labour Government would launch a new programme to complete the job – Decent Homes 2. Following the Grenfell Tower fire it would update regulations to include fire safety measures and consult on a new fire safety standard to add to the existing four Decent Homes criteria, including retro-fitting sprinklers in high-rise blocks.

A Labour Government will deliver a new era of social housing, in which councils are once again the major deliverers of social and genuinely affordable housing and set the benchmark for the highest size and environmental standards.

The full text: https://labourlist.org/2018/04/a-decent-home-is-not-a-privilege-for-the-few-but-a-right-owed-to-all-corbyns-full-speech-on-housing

 

 

 

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Vintage Trains runs Tyseley Locomotive Works (below) in Birmingham, restores and cares for its collection of historic steam engines and carriages, preserving traditional skills and ensuring steam locomotives from a bygone era remain in service for people to enjoy. The company has promoted express steam train excursions to destinations including York, Oxford and the Cotswolds for a number of years.

It launched the share offer in January intending to set up a train operating co-operative, in a move expected to create up to 11 full-time roles. The firm is now within touching distance of its first target of £800,000 which will allow it to establish itself as a train operating company and be in control of its own destiny. More than £600,000 has been raised by its share sale to date. Other funds to be raised will be used to invest in teaching traditional railway skills and to preserve the historic fleet of steam locomotives.

Curzon Street Station

Community share members will have voting rights, travel benefits on the company’s services and, after six years, members may also have the opportunity to receive interest payments on their shares and to withdraw their capital.

Adrian Shooter, the former chairman of Chiltern Railways who will chair the Vintage Trains operating company, said: “There is still time to get involved in this unique opportunity and own a piece of history whilst helping us to train young engineers, and continue the investment in our fleet of locomotives and carriages.”

Through the share offer and investment, Vintage Trains said it was hoping to boost Birmingham’s tourist economy through an increased programme of trips and additional services and will work to deliver a heritage gateway to the city, incorporating the grade I listed 1832 Curzon Street station and the 1906 Moor Street station terminus (above).

For the share offer see: http://www.vintagetrains.co.uk/offerinfo.aspx

 

 

 

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Five months after announcing a £2bn fund to build a new generation of council homes, the government has not released the money.

A country that works for everyone

Theresa May promised the state would get “back in the business” of building social housing to address the shortage in a speech at the Conservative party conference in October.

Actions belie words

Andy Bounds in the FT notes that despite this commitment to funding social housing, government regulations have merely required private developers to build or fund so-called affordable housing, with rents at 20% per cent below the market average.

The Ministry of Housing said: “We are delivering the homes our country needs and since 2010 we have built over 357,000 new affordable properties.

Paul Dennett, mayor of Salford, wrote. “We are concerned and frustrated that . . . we still being advised by Homes England and partner registered providers [housing associations] that the guidelines for the allocation of grants to build homes for social rent have not been published, and that no date has been set for when this funding will be made available”. The letter was addressed to Sajid Javid, secretary of state for housing, who has not yet replied.

Councils want to build social housing which would pay for itself over time through rental income and increased property value, but the government currently prevents them from using the proceeds of social housing sales to build replacement homes. It has also restricted councils from borrowing to build houses themselves, although some have used reserves for modest building programmes.

Mr Dennett said that across the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester, there are 84,000 people in temporary accommodation, with their rent paid for by local authorities: “Our housing bills are going through the roof. The government is making the right noises but we need action now.”

The Ministry of Housing said: “We are determined to do more and we are investing a further £9bn, including £2bn to help councils and housing associations build homes for social rent.”

 

When? And, if built, will they be alienated under the right to buy?

 

 

 

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 “The West Midlands is beginning to get its act together under its new metro mayor”: Will Hutton Observer 18th February

George Morran, Director of the West Midlands Constitutional Convention and former Assistant Chief Executive of Dudley Metropolitan. Borough Council, comments: “Will Hutton’s praise for the West Midlands elected mayor and the Midlands Engine is misplaced”. He continues: “The mayor is constantly seeking publicity for policy developments for which he has no or limited responsibility. His budget proposals have not been supported and his capacity to make any real difference is compromised by the WM Combined Authority and District Councils”.

Deborah Cadman, the new Chief Executive of the West Midlands Combined Authority, appears to have similar misgivings “I can’t deliver the half a million new jobs we are trying to do and that massive investment. I can’t do that directly, I have to do that through local government.” (WMCA)

Morran points out that, despite so called devolution deals, the real power remains with Government Ministers and Whitehall:

“The Mayor’s democratic accountability is very questionable given that his election was based on a very low turnout, combined with the media and business support. The geographical focus of the West Midlands Mayor and Combined Authority is an area which divides the West Midlands Metro from the adjoining shires, urban and rural, town and country which together make up the West Midlands Economic Region.

“The “Midlands Engine” is as important a symbolic rallying cry as the “northern powerhouse” but it is a totally anonymous entity. It lacks any local or regional democratic accountability. It is totally dependent on Government, Whitehall and big business. It does not reflect the very different traditions, economic and political focus of the West and the East. Its focus does make life simpler for Whitehall than having to deal with two regions. What we need is a focus on the local and the region rather than what suits Whitehall. We need radical reform as part of a new constitutional settlement for the West Midlands and the other English regions. This settlement must focus on improving economic prosperity, the wellbeing of residents, business, civic society and democratic representative government in the West Midlands and the other Regions.

“This new settlement must include the transfer of real power and democratically accountable government from London to the local and the region; the downsizing and refocusing of Westminster and Whitehall. The new local has to be really local and not based on the existing large local authorities imposed on us in the past by Westminster and Whitehall.” 

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive, Centre for Cities, focuses on the limited powers and resources at the metro mayors’ disposal:

“As highlighted in the recent international mayoral summit organised by Centre for Cities (in partnership with Citi and Boston University’s Initiative on Cities), England’s mayors are highly constrained in their control over local tax revenue and how it is spent compared to their counterparts in other countries. They have also faced delays in gaining the powers already promised to them by the government in their initial devolution deals. For example, Street has criticised the Department for Education for postponing the devolution of the adult education budget to the mayors, a key policy area they need control of to improve the economic performance of their city regions”.

Richard Hatcher (BATC) is campaigning for the reform of the WMCA based on the following three principles:

  • A critical challenge to the claims for the economic strategy of the WMCA, and for an alternative primed by government investment and based on meeting social priorities and the promotion of the green economy.
  • Defence and improvement of public services, the protection and improvement of jobs and conditions and the involvement of workers and service users in policy decisions.
  • A radical democratisation of the WMCA with the full participation of citizens, communities and employees at every level of policy making and implementation so that it is genuinely democratically accountable.

As George Morran wrote last year: The needs of the West Midlands and the other English Regions will only be realised if there is a real transfer of power and elected representation from Westminster to the regions and a far more localised local government underpinned by a more proportional voting system to ensure cross party and geographical support.

 

 

 

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This question was posed last week and I replied cautiously, “Wait and see”.

However a link from Welfare Weekly sent by a Bournville reader led to forebodings.

It included information taken from the website ‘They Work for You‘ which shows that Esther McVey, who has been appointed as Secretary for Work and Pensions:

  • consistently voted for reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (which Labour describe as the “bedroom tax”),
  • consistently voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices,
  • consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability,
  • generally voted for making local councils responsible for helping those in financial need afford their council tax and reducing the amount spent on such support,
  • consistently voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits and
  • generally voted against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed.

Then a message about Dominic Raab’s appointment as new housing minister appeared in the inbox 

It recalled that only a year ago, Labour attempted to get an amendment added to the Housing and Planning Bill requiring that houses rented to human beings be ‘fit for human habitation’.

Raab voted against making it a legal requirement for rented housing to be fit for people to live in. Indeed, as the party voting record for the amendment shows, not a single Conservative MP voted to support it.

Another cause for concern was his remark about foodbank users in his constituencies, first reported in the local media: “I’ve studied the Trussell Trust data, what they tend to find is the typical user of a foodbank is not someone that is languishing in poverty, it is someone who has a cash flow problem episodically”.

But the Cobham Foodbank in Mr Raab’s constituency, affiliated to the Trussell Trust, has issued figures on referrals to its service from April 2016 to March 2017: low income was the main reason more than 910 adults and children received foodbank aid over the 12 months. Debt was the second most likely cause to seek assistance, with 669 people, including 362 children, helped by the foodbank. And more than 160 people were referred due to benefit changes and delays.

Most of the comfortable merely feel uneasy about these appointments, but people struggling on low incomes, in poor-quality housing or homeless must be taking these appointments to heart and feeling profoundly worried about their future.

 

 

 

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