Archives for category: Finance

Birmingham City Council’s cabinet has approved a proposal to enable the development of new homes for self and custom build in the City; read more here.

‘Incentivising self-build in the city’, signed by Council leader John Clancy and Waheed Nazir Corporate Director (Economy), puts forward a series of proposals to enable the development of new homes for self and custom build in Birmingham, identifying and disposing of suitable council-owned sites and applying for grants and loan funding to support self and custom build. Self-build schemes currently deliver around 10,000 homes per year in the UK – see the government’s research briefing.

The Birmingham Newsroom release points out that the Government has taken steps to raise the profile of self-build, easing constraints in the planning systems, cutting taxes for self-build developments, providing a number of funds to assist individuals and communities to self-build and releasing public land for self-build projects. In 2016 councils became legally obliged to keep a register of potential self and custom builders and to facilitate access to suitable sites for interested parties. In 2014, a Guardian article refers to Eric Pickles as initiator and gives news of continental self-build.

The news release explains that ‘self-build’ is when the end user directly organises the design and construction of their home: “The most traditional is where the self-builder selects the design and undertakes much of the actual construction work themselves. However, self-build also includes projects where the self-builder arranges for an architect/ contractor to build their home for them; and those which are delivered by kit home companies. Some community-led projects are also defined as self-builds as the members may organise and undertake a proportion of the construction work themselves”.   There is a Self and Custom Build webpage on the Council’s website with five documents, one of which gives information about applications for self-build by individuals or associations.

As most online images were of individually designed houses in rural settings this Lancaster co-housing scene (small houses, with communal facilities and storage areas) was chosen – not ‘pure’ self-build, but the group designed it and did ‘site preparation on the periphery’.

As Brandon Lewis, when Housing and Planning Minister (2014-16) said, many other countries have a track record of delivering large numbers of local homes through self-build and there is now a determination to ensure significant growth in self housebuilding.

Long-forgotten references were revisited:

The Walter Segall Self-Build Trust has a website, not updated of late. In the late 1970s the ‘Segal method’ was adopted by Lewisham Council for a self-building housing project across four sites and in March 2016 the Architectural Association’s School of Architecture held an exhibition concentrating on two of the streets, Walter’s Way and Segal Close, built under Segal’s personal guidance.

A search updated news gf Mary Kelly, architect, self-builder and teacher who for ten years co-ordinating the activities of the Walter Segal Self Build Trust. She is now living and teaching in Northumberland, building her own house.

Habitat for Humanity, backing self- build in Peckham, has an online directory with a section for the Midlands.

The Self-build Book – Broome & Richardson – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Self-build-Book-Enjoy-Designing-Building/dp/1870098234

Selfbuild 123 – timber frame houses www.selfbuild123.co.uk

Green Building Store https://www.greenbuildingstore.co.uk/

Self build houses: http://www.selfbuildit.co.uk/

 

 

 

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Cuts protest during the last Prime Minister’s Questions session before parliamentary recess. Support given by Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Green leaders, Jonathan Bartley and MP Caroline Lucas.

British Medical Association calls for an end to a system harming the most vulnerable in our society

In their evidence to the Fifth Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the BMA repeated its 2012 call for government to end it “with immediate effect and replace it with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to the weakest and most vulnerable in our society”.

Research by disabilities campaign group found more than 80 cases of suicide directly linked to billions of pounds in benefit cuts. Many other deaths have been indirectly linked to this regime:

  • In 2014, it was reported that David Clapson, a diabetic, had been found dead in his home. His benefits had been cut, he had no food in his stomach and the fridge that stored his insulin was not working because there was no credit on the electricity card.
  • A senior North London coroner spoke out, highlighting his inquest verdict that ‘Mr A’s’ suicide was triggered by a ‘fit for work’ assessment.
  • In 2010 Coroner Tom Osbourne blamed the death of Stephen Carré on a decision by the Department for Work and Pensions that the Employment and Support Allowance claimant, who was clinically depressed, was fit for work following a work capability assessment.
  • The suicides of Michael O’Sullivan and Julia Kelly, were also blamed on the result of work capability assessments by their respective coroners.

An academic paper, published in the BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in which examined 149 English council areas, found that nearly 600 suicides in England may be associated with the government’s “fit-for-work” tests. Oxford and Liverpool researchers looked at three years’ data and also found the Work Capability Assessments could be linked to a rise in mental health problems. The BBC reports that the study found the areas with most WCAs showed the sharpest increases.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to reveal their peer reviews of suicides linked to the sanctions

Disability rights campaigners, mental health charities and the families of claimants who killed themselves, or died after cuts to benefits, have argued that 49 DWP secret investigations or “peer reviews” into the deaths of claimants should be published.

In April (2016) a decision was made by the First-tier Information Rights Tribunal that, pending any appeal by the DWP or the Information Commissioner’s Office, the government would have to hand over details of the circumstances of 49 deaths concerning claimants on benefits. The DWP was given five weeks to resolve the matter.

In May, following the successful legal challenge – John Pring v IC & Department of Work & Pensions – the DWP released the peer reviews of these cases but with many key words blacked out (redacted) and a Labour spokesman accused the Government of “rewarding failure” – giving new contracts to Capita and Atos.

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities finds that UK welfare reforms have led to “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights. Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green rejected the UN report’s findings 

Changes to benefits “disproportionately affected” disabled people, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) found. The investigation was launched after receiving evidence from disability organisations about an “alleged adverse impact” of government reforms on disabled people. UN committee members visited London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast in October 2015 to identify any gaps in human rights protection for disabled people. As part of its inquiry, the CRPD also looked at a range of recent welfare reforms and legislation including the Welfare Reform Act 2012, Care Act 2014, and Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.

The BBC reported the UN inquiry’s conclusion that changes made to housing benefits and criteria for parts of the Personal Independence Payment, combined with a narrowing of social care criteria and the closure of the Independent Living Fund, “hindered disabled people’s right to live independently and be included in the community”.

2017 update: continuing the cruel cuts to those on low incomes and generous treatment of those already wealthy 

More than 160,000 people initially denied PIP have had this decision overturned since the benefit launched in 2013, according to DWP figures,

ITV News: the Motability charity, which allows disabled people to pay for specially adapted cars, from their benefits, reports that 900 people a week are having cars, scooters and even motorised wheelchairs taken from them – some losing their jobs as a consequence.

Motability also reports that 51,000 people have been taken off the scheme after a reassessment for personal independence payments (PIP) since it was launched in 2013 – 45% of all cases. 

The benefits budget is being repeatedly cut to pay for the ‘bailouts’ following the banking crisis and people are stripped of disability benefits or having them reduced by half. This is causing pressures which can leave them too sick to work, too poor to support themselves and too tired and frightened to appeal against these damaging decisions.

Even in comfortable ‘middle England’ the number of people who find this victimisation shameful and seek radical political change is growing.

 

 

 

The sketchy reports on the dispute about the refuse collection changes on the BBC and Birmingham Mail websites have been supplemented by welcome information from Jacqui Kennedy, Corporate Director for Place.

She explained that this action is being taken because the council is facing significant financial challenges following six years of cuts to local government funding.

Taking refuse collection ‘in-house’ – dispensing with 200 expensive agency staff

Jacqui continued: “It is extremely important that we move away from relying on expensive agency staffAt the moment 200 out of 595 employees in refuse collection are hired from agencies. We intend to replace agency staff with up to 246 full-time staff employed directly by the council. All of these new permanent employees will enjoy the associated benefits that come with working for the council such as pension, holiday entitlement and sick pay”. The Mail adds that overtime will also go and the number of binmen will be increased by 152.

Agreement with the unions is sought as waste collection crews will be required to shift from a four day week of just over nine hours per day to a five day week of just over seven hours per day. Joint development of the detailed plans needed to make these proposals work is important.

Jacqui points out that over 40% of material in our bins is food waste. Last year, UK households wasted around 20% of all the food they buy – but there has been a 17% reduction since 2007, according to Food Waste Facts.

Visitors to this site come from many British regions and other countries – last week’s stats (right). A Gloucestershire reader recommends their food waste collection which began in 2016. Though some Birmingham gardeners already compost such material, other residents could make good use of a similar facility.

A Stroud newspaper recorded in 2016 that two weeks into the scheme 232 tonnes of food waste from 52,000 residents had already been collected – more than the weight of a blue whale.

Even the most careful householders have eggshells and orange peel to place in the small kitchen food waste bin provided – and the less careful dispose of ‘leftovers’ and unused, decaying food. These are emptied into a larger bin (right) kept outside. The bins are collected once a week and taken to an aerobic digester. In a few weeks it is turned into gas used in the grid and the residue is put on the fields as fertiliser.

“A great example of the renewable circular economy”, according to Green councillor Simon Pickering.

 

 

 

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Proposals for Brummie Bonds were first put forward by former Greenpeace economist Colin Hines at the end of 2004 (Birmingham Post – Comment: 5.2.04), at the end of 2004 by then Conservative council leader Mike Whitby mentioned here, advocated in the Stirrer (2008) and frequently by John Clancy (right), before he became Labour council leader (most eloquently in 2011).

Clancy acts, 2017

Professor David Bailey (Aston Business School, Birmingham) welcomed the news that the City has found a new way to finance house-building – John Clancy’s first issue of Brummie Bonds (more detail here):

“The City Council is already building more new council houses than any other local authority in the country – with the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust building 30% of all new homes in the city last year. But that’s still not enough and using Brummie Bonds to raise £45m to help finance more house building is welcome news. Clancy has talked of Brummie Bonds opening up new funding streams to deliver a “step change” in building homes”.

The Council has stated that the interest rate it will pay on the Brummie Bonds is actually lower than that charged by the Public Works Loan Board (or PWLB – a government body that provides loans to local authorities mainly for capital projects).

Pensions and life assurance specialists Phoenix Life, which employs around 600 people in Wythall, has agreed to invest in a ‘Brummie Bond’ and there is the prospect of other investors coming in. The West Midlands Local Government Pension Fund and other union and business pension funds could take up future issues.

Hines goes further, seeing municipal bonds as a safe haven for ‘People’s Pensions’ – just as when, following the Housing Act of 1919, the London County Council and other local borough councils began to sell housing bonds to the public to raise money for public housing. schemes. He also advocates that, in due course, such bonds would also fund the retrofitting of houses and clean modes of transport.

As Professor Bailey ends: “Hats off to Birmingham City Council for pulling this off. A “confident act of local economic self-determination”? Yes”.

 

 

 

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Deeply troubling? Is this democracy? Is this sovereignty? 

Should not political decisions be taken in the interests of the 99% ?

The Guardian article refers to troubling revelations by Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer and notes that the Electoral Commission is now investigating the role played by US billionaire Robert Mercer in our EU referendum – adding ruefully, “But if it discovers any breaches of the rules, the penalties are feeble”.

Journalist George Monbiot goes on to highlight the use of ’dark’ money that does not seek to influence elections directly, but to change the broader political landscape.  

He explains that dark money is funding used, without public knowledge, by front groups and some thinktanks which resemble ‘covertly funded lobbyists’. The research group Transparify ranks these “thinktanks” by their openness about their funding and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Adam Smith Institute and Policy Exchange are rated as “highly opaque”. But though they refuse to reveal their sponsors, they are often invited to speak by the BBC – in the Today programme, Question Time, (IEA’s Jamie Whyte on 5-Live today) and other media.

Monbiot cites the tobacco industry, which has sponsored the IEA since 1963 – a fact only revealed when a legal settlement forced open its archives. Last week the IEA published a report critical of the UK’s smoking ban and tobacco packaging law which was covered in the media, but with no reference to the institute’s funding-related bias.

Though the Conservative Party manifesto outlines a plan to “lead international action against climate change”, it also pledges to ensure oil and gas plays a “critical role” in UK energy provision. 

Ben Chapman in The Independent points out that the Electoral Commission files show oil and gas corporates’ donors to the May government including:

  • Ayman Asfari, the chief executive of Jersey-registered oil and gas firm, Petrofac, who gave £90,000 in December.
  • Ian Taylor, chief executive of the world’s largest oil trader, Vitol. He has personally given the Conservatives £47,000 since Ms May won the party leadership in July last year, adding to hundreds of thousands he had previously donated.
  • Former Vitol partner Matthew Ferrey has also given £124,000 to the Tories since last July. He has now set up his own investment company which invests in the sector.
  • Alexander Temerko, Ukrainian-born former deputy chairman of the Russian Yukos Oil Company, who has donated £63,800.
  • Amjad Bseisu, the Palestinian-born boss of energy company EnQuest who previously worked for Petrofac has given £28,500 to the Tories under Ms May, while
  • Abdul-Majid Jafar, chief executive of United Arab Emirates-based Crescent Petroleum, gave £28,000 in December.

The Independent article records accusations made against some of those listed, a legal case pending and a conviction and Monbiot ends:

“Why has there been no effective action on climate change? Why are we choking on air pollution? Why is the junk food industry able to exploit our children? Because governments and their agencies have rolled over and let such people make a mockery of informed consent. Now the whole democratic system is sliding, and the Electoral Commission is neither equipped nor willing to stop it. There’s an urgent, unmet need for new laws to defend democracy”.

 

 

 

 

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BFOE’s community share offer closes on June 2nd

Birmingham Friends of the Earth own The Warehouse in Digbeth, operating it as a not-for-profit business whilst campaigning for the improvement of the local environment. They want to raise investment capital to refurbish their building, which will lead to an increase in the financial, social and environmental value of that space:

  • there will be more space to let that is of a higher quality; this will allow them to increase the amount of space they provide and to maintain or increase the amount they charge per square foot for that space;
  • they will be looking to exceed the legal requirements (Building Regulations Part L) for conserving energy in their building by installing more insulation and more efficient glazing;
  • and they will be more accessible to wheelchair users and people with limited mobility and offer more community meeting facilities. The work will also allow them to reduce administration costs and focus more on meeting their social goals.

See the video and read the well-produced share offer summary complete with plans. Then:

  1. Invest! If you are able to please invest whatever you can between £250 and £10,000. If you have some money in an ISA earning 0.5% interest it could be doing a lot of good. If you know you are going to invest, please do so as soon as possible as this helps them to demonstrate it’s a viable prospect with gathering momentum
  2. Tell everybody you can about it – when you’re campaigning and in your everyday life. Friends, relatives, colleagues, rich uncles – there are a lot of people that would like the chance to make an ethical investment, the challenge they have is getting the word out to enough people. It’s not a donation so they’re not asking people to give them their money, it’s an investment
  3. Support the social media campaignshare, like, retweet anything you see about the share offer – this will help them to reach as many people as possible.

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An emboldened Conservative government would indeed be good news for ‘Strong and Stable’ funeral directors, as:

  • air pollution continues unabated,
  • the health service deteriorates,
  • the incidence of adult depression and mental illness in children grows apace
  • ‘moral fibre’ rots: latest indication:10,000 Britons signed up to one of the world’s largest paedophile internet networks
  • and others are debt-ridden due to the daily onslaught of consumerist advertising,
  • sedated by inane, often BBC-provided TV quiz shows
  • or led astray by a violent TV/online diet.

Tom Young says May’s ‘Strong and Stable Government’: (is) More Than a Tagline – indeed it is and a Conservative stabilisation unit would, in future, see an increasingly  heavy workload.

New claimants with a disability have just been hit by a £30 a week cut in benefits to save the government £1bn over four years even though their living costs are higher because of the need for assisted travel, hospital appointments, extra heating, etc., and they are likely to take far longer to find a job.

A Hall Green friend who intends to vote Labour writes of his issue with the Labour message: “it remains too rooted in struggle and injustice, and not enough in giving people a reason to vote if they don’t suffer or struggle”.

But many well-placed voters are deeply concerned when seeing others in difficulties. And a far larger swathe of the population is struggling than he seems to think:

  • graduates in formerly secure jobs are being made redundant,
  • people in their twenties and twenties now see no option but to live with their parents,
  • many people are suffering from urban air pollution and miserable traffic congestion,
  • education cuts will affect their children as the Public Accounts Committee has warned,
  • in some areas people in need of healthcare are affected by a declining NHS service.
  • mental illness, no doubt in part due to one of more of these factors, is rising rapidly in both children and adults.

Professor Prem Sikka sees the positive, constructive Labour message; U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn plans:

  • to raise corporation tax by more than a third over the next three years and plough the £6bn proceeds into schools and universities,
  • restore maintenance grants for the poorest students,
  • abolish university tuition fees
  • guarantee that five, six and seven-year olds will not be taught in classes of more than 30.
  • creating a National Education Service to equip Britain’s workers for the post-Brexit economy,
  • extend free adult education to allow workers to upgrade their skills,
  • raise the cap on NHS wages, and
  • to build up to a million new homes, many of them council houses.

If ‘the sums don’t add up’, a standard Conservative knee-jerk reaction:

Withdraw subsidies from fossil fuel & nuclear companies and arms exporters, jettison HS2 and redirect investment to improving rail and waterway transport links.

Sikka rightly ends: People are our biggest asset and only they can build a nation. We have a choice: Tax cuts for the rich or investment in our future to enable people to realise their potential.

 

 

 

 

 

So says George Monbiot in the Guardian. He trounces Blairite MPs who, disloyal to their elected leader and helping to grant Theresa May a mandate, ‘tolerated anything the Labour party did under Blair’:

They “proclaim disenchantment now that it calls for the protection of the poor, the containment of the rich and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

The popularity of Corbyn’s recent policy announcements leads Monbiot to believe he has a chance, albeit slight, of turning this around. His pledge to raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour is supported by 71% of people, according to a ComRes poll; raising the top rate of tax is endorsed by 62%.

He cites Labour’s 10 pledges, placed some time ago on another website, which could – incorporated in its manifesto – appeal to almost everyone. They promote the theme of security:

secure employment rights,

secure access to housing,

secure public services,

a secure living world.

Compare this with the attitude of the major funder of the Brexit campaign, billionaire Peter Hargreaves: ‘Insecurity is fantastic’.

Those who question Corbyn’s lack of experience and competence should remember where more ‘credible’ politicians led us:

  • Blair’s powers of persuasion led to the Iraq war.
  • Gordon Brown’s reputation for prudence blinded people to the financial disaster he was helping to engineer, through the confidence he vested in the banks.
  • Cameron’s smooth assurance caused the greatest national crisis since the second world war.
  • May’s calculating tenacity is likely to exacerbate it.

A progressive alliance/tactical voting?

Much advice follows; the most congenial is that Labour should embrace the offer of a tactical alliance with other parties:

“The Greens have already stood aside in Ealing Central and Acton, to help the Labour MP there defend her seat. Labour should reciprocate by withdrawing from Caroline Lucas’s constituency of Brighton Pavilion. Such deals could be made all over the country: and as the thinktank Compass shows, they enhance the chances of knocking the Tories out of government . . .”

Monbiot ends:

“The choice before us is as follows: a party that, through strong leadership and iron discipline, allows three million children to go hungry while hedge fund bosses stash their money in the Caribbean, and a party that hopes, however untidily, to make this a kinder, more equal, more inclusive nation I will vote Labour on 8 June . . . I urge you to do the same”.

 

 

 

Two candidates for the West Midlands Mayor have committed to conducting pilots into the Universal Basic Income (Labour and Greens) and the Conservative candidate has said on record he is fascinated by the proposal, although doesn’t commit to a pilot. And today, Ontario, Canada’s largest province, has become the latest to announce a universal basic income trial.

Are enough people talking about it in Birmingham? No!

Today Jeremy Heighway (WM New Economics Group) a UBI advocate who currently works in Leipzig, sent news of an action on Sat 29th April. Meet: New Street, Birmingham (Bullring end, in front of Carphone Warehouse) from 10:45am. Action: 11:00am-11:45am

A Basic Income Street where everyone had a universal basic income would be fun! Music/creative arts is essential, otherwise it’s just a street stall. People from volunteering organisations, educational institutions, health/carers sector and so on, with info stalls and banners saying why they have their place in a basic income street, would be welcomed.

Fake cheques on which people say what they would do differently if they had UBI and leave their name, contact (optional) and postcode. They take half the cheque with message and link to website and the campaign collects the stories, maps where they are from, and sends a follow up message. The answers will be taken later to the winning candidate (with extra additions from other civil society institutions that we know).

Becca Kirkpatrick lists volunteer roles on day:

  • refreshments for volunteers
  • stall coordinator
  • volunteer coordinator
  • media coordinator
  • set up and pack down
  • photographer

Contact: 07584 350039 or at wmbiuk@outlook.com 

Next event

Read more here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1788484311465670/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/WestMidsBIUK/

 

 

 

 

As the council has been planning the development of the wholesale markets and Birmingham Smithfield, it is alleged that the indoor, outdoor and rag markets are no longer properly promoted, local roads have been closed, buses have been re-routed with drop-off points moved away from the markets, and so the traders have seen a marked reduction in their footfall and income.

Duncan Tift reports, in Business Desk, that stall-holders from Birmingham’s Bull Ring outdoor market (see history here) have filed a suit against the city council. Around 30 tenant traders have been in dispute with their local authority landlord since 2010, when their previous leases expired, and they claim all requests for new leases have since been ignored. Because the council won’t give them new leases they cannot sell their businesses, relocate or retire.

The 13 stall-holders involved are being advised on a pro-bono basis by Jonathan Owen, the founder and joint managing director of Quarterbridge Project Management, who will also act as an expert witness (see our reference in a 2011 markets blog). He knows the market, its traders and city centre well, having advised the Birmingham Alliance which delivered the £530m Bull Ring redevelopment. Mr Owen said the stall-holders, many of whom had been trading at the market for most of their working lives, had been shabbily treated by the council.

Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidate, Beverley Nielsen, visited the market and said afterwards: “I’d seen so much about the wholesale markets being relocated to The Hub, in Witton and wondered what was happening to the traders still using stalls around the Bullring. I was dismayed to discover they’d been in dispute with the council for years.”

Ms Nielsen’s proposal: ”The local authority should be using the market’s heritage to attract visitors to the city and use the facility as a tourist attraction in the same way as European cities such as Barcelona, Rotterdam (Ed: above) and Valencia”.

 

 

 

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