Archives for category: Finance

FT View recalls that Theresa May made solving Britain’s housing crisis a personal mission when she became prime minister in 2016.

A copy of her ‘burning injustices’ speech hangs in the No 10 waiting room according to Matt Chorley (Times). He reports, however, that references to it may be ‘ditched’ to avoid damaging the party’s poll ratings and notes that Tory MPs are now discouraged from using it in their campaign leaflets.

Philip Collins reminded us in the Times: “Conservatives often give bold speeches which herald no action. After the expenses scandal David Cameron diagnosed all that was wrong with politics and proclaimed a radical plan to put it right, not a word of which ever materialised. In her first address as prime minister, Theresa May set out the array of social issues which would define her premiership. Mired in Brexit, we are still waiting.”

The FT asserts that current proposals fall far short of an answer: there are now more than 1m people on the waiting list for council housing and, according to the charity Shelter, 300,000 people without homes. The un-named FT journalist adds that after years of austerity many local councils cannot afford to replace the social housing sold to tenants under the right-to-buy rules brought in by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and there is no new state money for housebuilding.

The new borrowing headroom they may be afforded looks limited and does not represent a rethinking of the ‘stifling’ constraints imposed on councils by Whitehall and the lack of subsidy for construction means sub-market-priced housing will continue to be subsidised through rents in the inefficient form of housing benefits.

So the state will continue to pay off the mortgages of private landlords rather than investing in the construction of an asset owned by either the state or a non-profit landlord

And the new rent settlement of inflation plus 1% to 2021 is grim at a time of stagnating incomes for tenants who have been tied to above-inflation rent rises for many years. Increasingly they cannot afford it.

Fast forward to Birmingham

 

A reader attended a Local Government Association breakfast meeting at a ‘costly’ hotel in the city with 9 others,  but with enough ‘luxury salmon etc’ to feed 30. As she handed out what was left over to the homeless lining the city centre, she heard ‘heart-breaking’ stories from some including one man who had winter frost-bite in one foot which was amputated, was released too soon and got frost bite in two other toes, so now is in a wheelchair. Her comment:

“What makes me fume is that there are 9,600 homeless in the city & 10k empty houses, so using special laws the council could requisition them & do them up with grants but instead their inefficient silo housing department evicts people instead of helping them”.

A search revealed that according to Government statistics (updated in May 2018) giving these figures for Birmingham:

  • the total number of empty homes in the city in 2017 was over 400,000
  • over 60,000 are local authority owned,
  • over 40,000 are owned by private registered providers (housing associations and social landlords)
  • and over 300,000 are privately owned.

According to a council report, more than 5,000 private homes in Birmingham have been empty for more than six months: of those 1,900 have been empty for three years. In many cases they have overgrown gardens, with litter, graffiti and broken windows blighting their neighbourhoods. But in June the Mail reported that the city council has set up a £4.6 million fund to buy empty homes and make them fit for use.

FT View summarises that at present, the emphasis remains doggedly on the right to buy what housing already exists

Worse still, today the FT reports that an analysis by Hamptons International, the estate agency, records that since the policy was introduced in 2013, more than 32,000 households have used the government’s Help to Buy scheme (a loan of up to 20% of the value of a newly built home in England, or 40% in London, interest-free for five years) to trade up for bigger properties rather than buying a first home. 

FT View’s verdict: “Britain needs a more proactive state to help solve its housing crisis. It looks unlikely that Mrs May’s government will deliver it”.

 

 

 

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After being awarded a 15-year contract in 2011, as part of a wider move to bring more competition into the prison service, G4S has been stripped of control over ‘failed’ HMP Birmingham jail (details here). This is the latest crisis of the decades-long move towards privatisation of public services.

Following the first ‘takeover’ for a privatised prison contract, David Gauke, justice secretary, is appointing a new governor and management team on the site and has compelled G4S to take on 30 extra staff to instigate various improvements.

300 of HMP Birmingham’s 1,330 inmates will also be moved to other jails

Ministers said that G4S, which had failed to run the prison safely, would continue to run the facility under the direct control of the Ministry of Justice for at least the next six months.

This is government’s first ‘step-in process’.

Though G4S also runs HMP Altcourse, HMP Parc, HMP Ryehill and HMP Oakwood, all of which are “performing well” according to the government, shares in G4S dropped 2.5% after the government assumed control of the prison. Other problems include:

  • the government’s 2003 installation of a new governor at HMP Ashfield, run by Premier Prison Services;
  • the criminal activity of some Serco staff at the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre;
  • problems with Capita’s NHS back-office functions for primary care providers;
  • in 2016 ministers took over the running of Medway, a youth custody centre, where a G4S contract was coming to an end;
  • construction and public services company Carillion collapsed in January
  • and the Stagecoach and Virgin Trains East Coast mainline service was recently nationalised.

The Financial Times reported that violence, drugs, suicide and self-harm, squalor and poor access to education were once again “prominent themes” in jails during the year to the end of March. in July, Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales, in a highly critical annual report, said that conditions in some UK prisons are “disgraceful” and “should not be accepted in 21st-century Britain”.

Education, health, prisons, transport: in how many other sectors is the private sector failing?

 

 

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In December last year it was reported that several of the brown recycling bins supplied to Solihull Council by Yorkshire manufacturer MGB Plastics were faulty. Many were prone to splitting, while several could not be lifted on to recycling lorries.

But this saga began as long ago as 2015 – reported by the Independent Councillor for Blythe Ward at the time, Linda Brown, whose bin had split.

In her Spotlight Council slot in the monthly Dickens Heath Directory (August 2015) she wrote that faulty brown wheelie bins were splitting at the side (right) due to a manufacturing fault of which the supplier was aware.  She also gave details of council contacts to report broken bins for replacement.

On 9th May Priscilla Taylor contacted the council to ask for a replacement brown bin.

  • She was told to expect to wait up to 20 working days but it still was not delivered.
  • She started calling regularly, asking when her bin would be replaced but was ‘fobbed off with a variety of excuses’.
  • On June 11 she was told that she would be on the “Priority” list.
  • She was then informed that her bin was replaced on June 13.
  • But her old bin still sits outside on the pavement.

Around 17,000 requests have been lodged for replacement recycling wheelie bins following splits and mounting rubbish. Residents have spoken out about severe backlogs of recyclable waste and bin men refusing to take collections.

Online reference ‘buried’ overnight

6th July

An online Google search using ‘mgb split bins’ (page 1) reveals no acknowledgement of this problem by the firm, which is seeking business with many local authorities, but newspaper reports of Solihull’s problem.

7th July

An online Google search using ‘mgb split bins’ (page 1) reveals no newspaper reports of Solihull’s problem. It is now necessary to know of its existence and search on ‘mgb split bins solihull’.’

Will local taxpayers be picking up the cost for distribution and disposal of faulty recycling bins or will Solihull Council require the suppliers of this unfit equipment to do so?

 

 

 

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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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