Archives for category: Legal issues

“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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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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The Financial Times has reported that John Healey, shadow housing minister, has set out Labour’s plans to tighten a housebuilding loophole introduced by the Conservatives that has been blamed for halving the number of “affordable homes” built in Britain over the past five years by making it too easy for property developers to “dodge their obligations” by being allowed to haggle over the number of social homes they build.

Inside Housing adds that recent research by Shelter covering 11 local authorities found viability assessments had been used to deliver a 79% reduction in affordable housing built, compared to what council policies would demand.

Carol Wilcox Secretary of the Labour Land Campaign, Christchurch, Dorset, commented in the FT that Labour should instead be arguing for Section 106 Agreements to be scrapped rather than reformed.

She cites a study by Oxford Brookes university, which found that the number of affordable homes delivered through Section 106 dropped from 28,972 in 2010-11 to just 16,452 in 2015-16 — contributing to the wider downward trend, continuing:

“The whole system is open to corruption. There are websites that describe, for the amateur, how to negotiate with local authorities to avoid more than just the affordable homes obligation (one here). These agreements, together with their younger sibling, the Community Infrastructure Levy, are in effect just another misguided attempt to capture the uplift in value from change of use to residential”.

Her alternative: a comprehensive land value tax system which could easily finance public investment in goods and services up front and capture the rising land value from the resulting revenue stream. Increased public spending would lead to increased land value, leading to increased land value tax, leading to increased public investment

 — a virtuous circle in fact.

 

 

 

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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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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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The air we breathe is a hugely important issue for Birmingham – in fact, around 900 premature deaths a year in the city can be attributed to poor air quality.

Izzy Knowles, Chair of the Moseley Forum, writes about a meeting on Tuesday 28th March – 7.30PM at the Moseley Exchange, 149-153 Alcester Road, Moseley Birmingham, B13 8JP

Anne Shaw, Assistant Director for Transportation and Connectivity will be this year’s guest speaker at the Moseley Forum Annual General Meeting. She will reflect upon the work Birmingham City Council is doing towards introducing a Clean Air Zone as well as the implications of a High Court ruling regarding the Government’s air quality plans.

Izzy continues:

We will be exploring:

  • What are the main sources of air pollution in Moseley
  • What we can do to help reduce air pollution levels
  • What can be done specifically in Moseley

If you have any questions on air pollution in Moseley, please send us an email in advance to moseleyforum@gmail.com or come prepared on the day.

We hope that you can join us and help shape the future of air quality in Moseley.

 

 

 

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Jeremy Corbyn’s Energy and Environment manifesto acknowledges that 29,000 people die early every year because of polluted air and one of his eight campaign proposals is for “Cleaner air – tackling the air pollution crisis in our big cities and committing to full   independent public inquiry into levels of air pollution”.

The government has agreed to improve their plan to curb emissions after a High Court ruling. Documents revealed during the case showed the Treasury had blocked plans to charge diesel cars to enter towns and cities blighted by air pollution, concerned about the political impact of angering motorists.

Following December’s review of the high incidence of ill-health and premature death in Birmingham and other cities, The Times today reports that nitrogen oxides from diesel engines are one of the main pollutants, inflaming the lungs, causing respiratory diseases such as asthma and are linked to a raised risk of heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Data from King’s College London showed that Brixton Road in south London breached nitrogen dioxide pollution limits for the entire year in the first five days of 2017.

Pollution also increases the risk of dementia for those living near a busy road, according to a study published this week.

Research published in the Lancet followed ‘emerging evidence’ which suggested that living near major roads might adversely affect mental activity. As little is known about its relationship with the incidence of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, Health Canada, the Federal department responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health, funded research investigating this association. It involved nearly two million people in the Canadian province of Ontario, between 2001 and 2012. The abstract (link above) describes the method used and gives the information that 243,611 cases of dementia were diagnosed during that time, but the risk was greatest in those living closest to major roads. Compared with those living 300m away from a major road the risk was:

  • 7% higher within 50m
  • 4% higher between 50-100m
  • 2% higher between 101-200m

No association was found with Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.

As the BBC website reported, the Canadian analysis suggests 7-11% of dementia cases within 50m of a major road could be caused by traffic. It added that the researchers adjusted the data to account for other risk factors like poverty, obesity, education levels and smoking.

Whilst celebrating Birmingham City Council’s award which will be used to provide ‘state-of-the-art’ hydrogen fuel cell buses, more rapid and effective political action will be taken only when public awareness rises. To this end, a few references to the region’s research into cleaner modes of transport by road, rail and water follow:

oOOo

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The Methodist Tax Justice Network and Jubilee Debt Campaign present ‘Tax & The Law’: Closing the gap between legality and morality on international tax: 7-9pm, Birmingham and Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, Birmingham B3 3BS

Joanna Gray, Professor of Financial Law and Regulation at the University of Birmingham, is to talk on Tax and the Law – the present laws, how they are evaded and what changes should be made.

The event was inspired by a quote from Dame Margaret Hodge, who remarked that when it comes to tax, ‘morality should always trump legality’, and we wanted to gauge how far this holds true in the tax law/accountancy communities, and potentially whether there is any way of implementing higher moral standards for tax as a corporate social responsibility issue.

For more information and to reserve a place, please contact Matthew Jones:  mtjncoordinator@gmail.com, 07972 194236

 

 

 

ruth cadburyA hundred years after conscientious objection to military service was legalised, Ruth Cadbury MP (right), a descendent of WW1 Quaker conscientious objectors affected by the 1916 clause, is introducing a Bill to extend this right into the tax system.

It would increase funding for peacebuilding, development and diplomacy work, more economical, ethical and efficient forms of security.

The 10-minute rule Bill will be read on 19 July 19 2016 by the Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth, who has been working closely with a campaigning organisation, Conscience: Taxes for Peace Not War, to secure the right to pay for peace, not war.

Birmingham Peace Tax stalwarts, Else and Joseph Pickvance, repeatedly had possessions seized and auctioned in lieu of taxes and Gloucester’s Arthur Windsor was imprisoned for 28 days in his seventies, only to receive a parliamentary welcome on his release, conveyed to the House by MP Dennis Canavan. Many people on PAYE made sure of withdrawing their war tax equivalent by making gift-aided charitable donations.

It is taken for granted that we contribute taxes for military preparations; this is conscription by proxy because we live in a country where civilian men are no longer required for military service. Military tax is an issue of conscience, not a political preference – this type of hypothecation could not therefore set a precedent for selective taxation.

At its Parliamentary launch, Ruth Cadbury endorsed the 10 minute rule bill by stating “I want to pay for our national security, in fact I want to strengthen it. The Taxes for Peace Bill does this by investing in the most effective form of defence – conflict prevention.” She continued: “In an age where more and more people are concerned about spending their money ethically, this is an idea whose time has come.”

Source: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23247

An interesting list of 10 minute rule bills passed since 1945 may be seen here: https://web.archive.org/web/20100615142414/http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-04568.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around 29,000 people die prematurely each year in the UK because of air pollution, according to Public Health England in 2014. The worst affected cities in Britain are Birmingham, Leeds and London.

air pollution brum

Last week the FT reported on the findings of the World Health Organisation’s latest assessment of polluted air, a problem the body says is causing more than 3m premature deaths worldwide each year. It can cause breathing difficulties in vulnerable people, such as asthmatics and older adults and stunt the proper growth of lung function in children, according to Dr Annette Pruss-Ustun, a co-author of the WHO study. People get sore throats, headaches and breathing difficulties, “and that is just what you feel”, she said, adding air pollution had been linked to a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes:

“This really calls for a strong political will to recognise this as a major public health issue and do something about it.”

prof mackenzie air poll

A year ago, ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi reported from Birmingham. Professor Rob Mackenzie (above, Birmingham University) said that there is increasingly strong evidence of the effect of air pollution on hearts and lungs. ITV’s short video may be seen here.

ClientEarth: “We have the right to breathe clean air. It is a shame that our government doesn’t seem to agree.”

Another ITV News article quoted a spokesman for ClientEarth, an environmental law organisation which has been fighting a legal battle to improve air quality: “We think the government will need to get rid of the dirtiest diesel vehicles – perhaps with a network of ultra-low emission areas across the UK.” It was alleged that the main culprits are not private cars but older buses and diesel-powered trucks – a charge disputed by The Times.

After five years of litigation, the Government was ordered by the UK’s highest court to take immediate action over its obligations under European law on air pollution limits. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that government must submit new air quality plans to the EU no later than 31 December 2015.

However, ClientEarth believed the government was still in breach of its legal duty  to produce new air quality plans to bring air pollution down to legal levels in the “shortest possible time” and asked judges to strike down the plans released on 17 December, which, they contended, wouldn’t bring the UK within legal air pollution limits until 2025. They sought a court order requiring new plans and an undertaking that government will act on them. On April 28th this year, a judge at the High Court granted their request to pursue a Judicial Review against DEFRA.

ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews said: “The government’s new plans to tackle air pollution are woefully inadequate and won’t achieve legal limits for years to come. The longer they are allowed to dither and delay, the more people will suffer from serious illness or an early death.”