Sunday, December 31, 2017

Why Local Authorities need "honest serving" men and women with the tools to ensure effective scrutiny

I have just been re-reading an excellent hard hitting report published earlier this month by the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government.

The Select Committee examined the grossly inadequate scrutiny arrangements in many Local Authorities. The deaths in Mid Staffordshire hospital and child sex abuse in Rotherham Council were given as examples of failures in scrutiny.

"Clive Betts, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said:

Scrutiny is marginalised at too many local authorities, which in extreme cases can contribute to severe service failures, letting down council taxpayers and those that rely on services.

Scrutiny of those in power is a vital part of any democratic system and has huge benefits for all. We are calling on the Government to strengthen guidance to make overview and scrutiny committees truly independent of those they are charged with holding to account and to make sure the process is properly funded and respected.

Only by rebalancing the system and ensuring scrutiny is held in high esteem will we see better decisions and the outcomes that residents who pay for council services deserve."

Clive calls for a much needed change in culture which is welcome but to be honest this will need Government action since many Councils (not all) dominated by strong Executive models do not believe in Scrutiny and deliberately block it.   While there are many "honest serving" Councillors from all political parties up and down the Country trying to properly scrutinise their Executive this report reflects their frustration. 

I think that there are many lessons to be learnt from this report for my own Council, Newham. However we are not the only one with inadequate scrutiny arrangements. 

Report recommendations 

1.That overview and scrutiny committees should report to an authority’s Full Council meeting rather than to the executive, mirroring the relationship between Select Committees and Parliament. 

Agreed. Reports are sent in Newham Council to the Executive or "via the Executive". 

2.That scrutiny committees and the executive must be distinct and that executive councillors should not participate in scrutiny other than as witnesses, even if external partners are being scrutinised. 

Agreed. In Newham executive members are allowed to vote for Scrutiny Chairs. Also, Executive members take part in Audit Committee and the Investment & Accounts Committee (and even chair both Committees!). 

3.That councillors working on scrutiny committees should have access to financial and performance data held by an authority, and that this access should not be restricted for reasons of commercial sensitivity. 

Agreed. Even Scrutiny Chairs are blocked from receiving "sensitive" financial information (for example, the report on £52 million loss on the London Stadium deal.) The Executive decides if and when information is realised. 

4.That scrutiny committees should be supported by officers that are able to operate with independence and offer impartial advice to committees. There should be a greater parity of esteem between scrutiny and the executive, and committees should have the same access to the expertise and time of senior officers and the chief executive as their cabinet counterparts. 

Agreed. This doesn't happen in Newham and many other Councils. Executive members have refused to attend Scrutiny meetings in the past and requests for Officers to attend have to be made via the Executive. 

5.That members of the public and service users have a fundamental role in the scrutiny process and that their participation should be encouraged and facilitated by councils.

Agreed. Recently the public (and media) were banned from attending (never mind participating) in the Newham Council Fire Safety in Tower Blocks scrutiny. 

6.That overview and scrutiny committees should be given full access to all financial and performance information, and have the right to call witnesses, not just from their local authorities, but from other public bodies and private council contractors. They should be able to follow and investigate the spending of the public pound. 

Agreed. See 3 above. Council special purpose vehicles (Local authority trading companies etc) provide services and control £ billions of assets and need to be fully scrutinised.

7.That the DCLG works with the Local Government Association and the Centre for Public Scrutiny to identify councils to take part in a pilot scheme where the impact of elected chairs on scrutiny’s effectiveness can be monitored and its merits considered. 

Agreed. As long as this doesn't mean things are kicked into long grass.

I have other concerns as well such as how committee members of Scrutiny are appointed in the first place and scrutiny arrangements being subject to political whips. I will be sending this article and links to the Chair of Newham Overview & Scrutiny and ask to meet the Committee to discuss the report and its recommendations.  

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Alwen Trail (& The Fairy Freckled Cow)

Picture collage from a lovely walk in North Wales last week. A 7.5 mile circular walk around the Alwen Dam and Denbigh moors. The dam was built in 1911 and flooded an ancient sheep farm  valley in order to provide drinking water for Birkenhead in Merseyside.

The route is well sign posted (but we still got lost for a while by not paying attention to the signs). When we started the walk it was cold but dry and in sunshine but typically for Wales at this time of the year there was sudden snow and hail flurries (see picture of the dam bottom right - before and after).

The trail passed the ruined cottage and birthplace of the Welsh bard (poet) Taliesin Hiraethog who learnt his craft according to the nearby panel from gatherings of his neighbours who "recited poetry, told tales and played the harp". Called "Nosweithiau Llawen" (Merry Nights).

The walk went through forests and moorland with the lake often out of sight.

Just before the end we passed a panel which told the local folklore story of the magical "Fairy Freckled Cow" (which sounds more interesting than it actually is and is now the name of an annual cross country race around the dam).

A nice varied all seasons walk but make sure you have appropriate clothing (there was a few cold, wet and miserable looking people about who hadn't planned for North Walian weather). Final hint - don't trust the car park postcode for the SavNav. Search Alwen Dam instead. 

#We Were Many - A Philosophy Football Review of 2017


Friday, December 29, 2017

Protect the Protectors

This is an article written by our West Ham MP, Lyn Brown.  Seen here at the memorial to PC Nina Mackay. Over the Christmas and New Year holiday not only will public service workers be looking after us 24/7 but many of them will face abuse and violence while doing so. 

"Being the Shadow Minister for Police and Fire services was the highlight of my Parliamentary career so far. I met truly dedicated and amazing people, many of whom are real heroes.

Their bravery and commitment to the public good is plain to see, following the dreadful spate of terror attacks this year and the horrific Grenfell Tower fire: workers risking their lives to save the lives of others.

That’s why I supported MP Chris Bryant’s bill to “Protect the Protectors,” ensuring that those who menace or attack our firefighters, nurses and police officers receive appropriate sentences to deter their appalling crimes.

When I sat in Moorfields hospital a couple of weeks ago, alarms sounded three times to warn of attacks on staff and summon help. Figures from Barts NHS Trust show their nurses, doctors and support staff were assaulted 120 times in 2015. The police face the same hazards. Nearly three thousand Met officers were assaulted last year, though the true number may be much higher.

Attacks on emergency workers keep increasing.

Our emergency workers shouldn’t have to expect such abuse in the course of their duties. Nor is work-related violence the only threat to their wellbeing. Time and again, I hear first hand of the stress caused by demands to do more with less. Recently, a West Ham officer’s wife told me he faces a repetitive scenario of working late, without lunch breaks; being short staffed, leaving him exhausted, and working against the odds to safeguard us, his colleagues and himself.

Their families, too, face the strain of making ends meet, while prices continually rise and pay flat-lines.

Our police have more crimes to solve, with fewer officers. Our NHS has to treat more patients, without the right funding.

Theresa May should stop pretending everything is fine and start funding our public services properly.

Only when they’re given the support, time and resources they need, will emergency services’ staff receive the dignity and respect we owe them.

So, “Protecting the Protectors” is only the first step to improving the lives of those who risk everything for us, every day".

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Democracy Rules..."Newham councillors welcome call to cancel trigger ballot result"

Latest in local newspaper about the "rigged" selection for Newham Mayor and call by local Councillors for an open and this time, democratic, selection process.

"Two councillors have welcomed mayor of Newham Sir Robin Wales’ call for Labour to cancel the result of the controversial trigger ballot.

Cllrs John Whitworth and Kay Scoresby both put their names forward as potential mayoral candidates at the end of last year if the result of the trigger ballot was for an open selection process, rather than automatically putting the incumbent Sir Robin as the party’s candidate.

Sir Robin won the trigger ballot with 20 votes to 17 thanks to most affiliates backing him - but 11 out of 20 Labour electoral wards called for the involvement of other candidates.

In a statement issued on December 21, he explained that he would be “supporting a new process to be undertaken under the auspices of the national or regional Labour Party”, having called for the previous result to be scrapped after legal action was launched.

This was set to focus around the allegation that Labour’s governing body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), failed to investigate any allegations of wrong-doing.

Those criticising the process claimed that some of the affiliated organisations voted more than once in the trigger ballot - known as the affirmative nomination process - while others did not as the rules were “inconsistently applied and explained”.

Cllr Whitworth, who represents West Ham, was the first to throw his hat into the ring last year and said: “There is not enough time for another trigger ballot process. The Labour Party must organise an open democratic selection for a range of Newham Labour Party candidates including Robin to be chosen democratically and fairly as our Labour candidate in 2018.”

Cllr Scoresby, who represents Canning Town North, added: “We need to bring and unite the local party together once again and for all let them decide in an open, honest and transparent process who should be our mayoral candidate.

“Trust East Ham and West Hammers to do the right thing for the party and the people of Newham. An open selection of candidates. A secret ballot. One member. One vote. Democracy rules.”

The election for the mayor of Newham, along with ward councillors, is set to take place on Thursday, May 3.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Rising housing costs forcing public service workers out of London

25% spend more than £300 per week on their housing costs...more than 50% of their income. Who is going to work in our hospitals, our schools, clean our streets, maintain our parks & provide all our other public services?

I missed the launch of this excellent report by UNISON last month.  This is not just a crisis facing London but in high cost housing areas throughout the UK. I used the report for this motion and speech to the London Labour conference.

"UNISON launches a survey report into the impact of housing costs on London’s public service workers

London faces an exodus of public service workers as housing costs become unaffordable, says a new report published today (Tuesday) by UNISON.

The report, based on a survey of over 1,000 UNISON members living and working in London, showed that two thirds of workers (63%) spend more than 30% of their income on housing. This figure rises to 82% for private renters.

According to the findings, nurses, teaching assistants, social workers and other public service employees are increasingly looking to leave London as a result of exorbitant housing costs. Almost two thirds (62%) of workers want to leave the capital because of the cost of housing. This figure rises to 87% for health workers living in the private rented sector.

The departure of staff from the capital would deepen the already serious recruitment and retention problems in public services, with knock-on repercussions for schools, hospitals and other public services, says UNISON.

Ahead of the launch of the report in the Houses of Parliament, UNISON’s newly-appointed London regional secretary Maggi Ferncombe said: “The lack of suitable, decent and affordable housing is hurting public service workers.

“Employers are also struggling to recruit and retain staff. In London, we are seeing evidence of staff shortages and high turnover of staff, with turnover rates at 30% in some areas.”

“The government needs to take real action to resolve the housing crisis. And that doesn’t mean just making changes to Stamp Duty.”

“That is why UNISON is calling on the Mayor of London and the government to set a target to build more genuinely affordable homes, working with councils and housing associations to solve the housing crisis.”

Notes to editors:
– UNISON’s London Housing Survey Report is available here– The report will be launched in The Houses of Parliament on 28 November 18.00-19.30, hosted by Daniel Zeichner MP and chaired by Maggi Ferncombe, UNISON London Regional Secretary. Speakers include John Healey MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Housing), Melanie Onn MP (Shadow Housing Minister), Yvonne Green (UNISON Regional Convenor for London) and James Murray (Deputy Mayor of London), followed by a panel discussion.
– A recent study by the Chartered Institute of Housing shows that 79% of government spending on housing subsidises the private housing market.
– London has the highest rents in comparison to average weekly wages. According to the National Housing Federation: “The average rent in the Private Rented Sector in London is more than double the average for the rest of England. House prices in London are nearly double the national average (mean) at £563,000; and average house prices are almost 17 times local salaries, this means that a household in London will require an income of almost £130,000 a year to afford an average mortgage compared to average salaries of just 34,000.”
– Maggi Ferncombe has worked for UNISON for the past 22 years and became the Regional Secretary for the South East region in May 2015. Prior to that she was a regional manager in the London region for 10 years. She left school at 16 with 5 O’levels and worked in retail for a couple of years before getting a job with the trade union MSF (now part of Unite).

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sir Robin Wales speaking at Forest Gate ward meeting  4th January 2018

Dear John

 Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Forest Gate North Labour Party.

Our next meeting is in January and will be a BIG EVENT. See details below:
Forest Gate North Branch Meeting
Speaker: Sir Robin Wales will be speaking on the Olympic legacy and recent issues about the stadium.

Thursday 4th January 2018 8.00 p.m. Durning Hall,
Earlham Grove, Forest Gate London E7 9AB

Come along and hear Robin Wales speak and ask questions.
We want to hear your point of view. 
Carel Buxton, Secretary Forest Gate North Labour

(I understand that he will be speaking to Stratford & Newtown branch immediately beforehand on that day)

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Anti Academies Protest Hallsville School

Photo college from protest outside Hallsville Primary School on Wednesday evening against the Academisation of our schools. The protest followed strike action in Avenue and Royal Docks School. 

I spoke at the protest as did other Councillors such as Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz, unions, retired teachers and parents. 

I made it clear that Academisation is privatisation and will result in the pursuit of profit not excellence. Low paid school staff will have their terms and conditions slashed while top managers get massive pay increases. Children will treated as commodities not pupils.

Nearly all schools in Newham have been transformed and are achieving excellent results. We do not need privatisation. If it is not broke don't fix it.

Newham Council must raise its game and do everything it can to support its education establishments to remain in the Newham family of schools. 

Update: Check out report in Newham Recorder

Friday, December 22, 2017

"Sir Robin Wales calls for contested mayoral ‘trigger ballot’ outcome to be cancelled"

Hat tip Dave Hill's On London blog 
"Sir Robin Wales has asked the Labour Party to cancel the outcome of the internal selection process that saw him endorsed to seek a fifth term as Mayor of Newham following a campaign by local members for an investigation into its conduct.
An affirmative nomination or “trigger ballot” held in the autumn of 2016, saw Sir Robin prevail by 20 votes to 17, and Labour’s governing National Executive Committee (NEC) has resisted calls by party members in Newham, including ten councillors, to look into what they described as “many failures of process/propriety and procedural irregularities”.
But now Sir Robin has told the Newham Recorder that although the trigger ballot outcome was confirmed by the NEC, legal action against it by some of the complainants had prompted him ask for it to be quashed because “the costs of a court case would be significant and Labour Party members’ money should not be used in this way”.
Sir Robin’s initiative came after those pursuing the legal action secured the funds they required to move to the “statement of claim” stage, setting out the grounds for their case that their party has “behaved improperly” over the trigger ballot, both locally and nationally.
A letter to the NEC sent in January signed by 47 Labour members, including 10 councillors, argued that seven of the votes cast in favour of Sir Robin going forward automatically as Labour candidate for next year’s mayoral election rather than facing potential challenges from other hopefuls had been dubious and that there had been inconsistencies in the way unions affiliated to the party locally had been enfranchised.
Each of Newham’s 20 ward branches had a single vote in an electoral college, which also included 11 affiliates, seven of which were trade unions. The branches voted by 11 to nine against Sir Robin progressing without a further contest, but the balance of affiliates’ votes gave the incumbent the majority he needed.
A review by the Fabian Society of the approach taken by its Newham branch to deciding which way to vote found that it had “breached the society’s rules” in coming to its decision to back Sir Robin’s automatic candidacy.
It has been established by On London that the headquarters of Bectu, one of the unions with a local affiliated branch at the time of the ballot, cannot confirm that an affiliation fee was paid for the relevant year. (For unrelated reasons, Bectu is no longer affiliated to Labour).
On London has also learned that the ballot paper for an affiliated branch of the TSSA union was conveyed directly to an officer of that branch by a councillor who is a member of Sir Robin’s mayoral team rather than being sent initially to a more senior figure in the organisation, as appears to have been the case with other unions. The TSSA vote was eventually cast in favour of Sir Robin.
One key point of the dispute has been whether Labour party rules entitle each affiliated union branch to vote separately in mayoral trigger ballots or whether just a single vote per union should be accepted, regardless of how many different branches are affiliated locally.
Not all the unions involved interpreted the rules in the same way, resulting in Unison casting just one vote – against Sir Robin going forward automatically – despite having six branches affiliated, whereas the GMB – which supported Sir Robin – cast four votes, the CWU cast three and Unite cast two.
It is understood that an audio recording, heard by On London, which those who have been seeking an investigation believe reveal an ally of Sir Robin disclosing questionable conduct concerning the trigger ballot process, has been sent to a senior Labour Party official.
In his comments to the Newham Recorder Sir Robin says he is “supporting a new process to be undertaken under the auspices of the national or regional Labour Party”. The complainants have criticised the involvement of at least one member of Sir Robin’s mayoral team in the running of the process.
Any decision by the party to instigate a fresh trigger ballot or to hold an open selection contest will entail settling on a “freeze date” in advance of which members and affiliates will have to had have had their documentation in order to be eligible to vote.
Since the completion of the original ballot, the GMB has affiliated 26 branches to West Ham constituency Labour Party in Newham, each of which would have a separate vote if a freeze date subsequent to their affiliation were set and multiple votes per union again accepted.
Read all of On London’s coverage of the Newham mayor trigger ballot dispute via here.

Social Media Hate Crime Interview with BBC News London

Fantastic video clip of Forest Gate Labour Councillor, Seyi Akiwowo, being interviewed by BBC news (after speaking at a United Nations conference no less!) exposing the inconsistency and hypocrisy of twitter and the other social media platforms towards online violence.

Seyi has helped set up Glitch UK "an organisation working to reduce online violence against women and girls (OVAWG) and online hate speech through advocacy, campaigning and training workshops"

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Newham Mayor admits that his selection process was "rigged"?

I have received a number of comments from Labour Party members in Newham today who were somewhat surprised to get a very odd email from our  Labour directly elected Mayor, Robin Wales.  He wants a rerun of the very controversial trigger ballot selection process that "elected him" as a Mayoral candidate for the 5th time (20 years in power) for the local elections next May 3rd 2018. 

This email appears to have been sent at the same time as a press release from Robin to the local newspaper, Newham Recorder - see here. 

I would not normally comment on such internal Labour Party matters but I can on this occasion as I was the campaign manager for Councillor John Whitworth   John had previously declared in the controversial selection process that he wanted to be a candidate, if the trigger ballot had resulted in an open selection.  I therefore think I ought to point out some points of clarification. 

Robin suggests in his press release that "anonymous" people are attacking him and have filed a court case against the Labour Party. Since Robin has brought this out into the public arena, I feel that it is only right that I point out that in British law if you are "anonymous" you CANNOT take such legal action and that I understand the claimants in this legal action are actually named former senior Newham Councillors and long standing local Labour Party members from all political wings of the Party. 

I assume from the email and the press report (which are different but the full email has been widely published on social media) that Robin accepts that there is overwhelming evidence his selection process was indeed 'rigged' and that the Court would find against the Party over it or he would not now be calling for it to be rerun?

There are other allegations flying about which I cannot comment upon but I am, to say the least, disappointed that Robin has done this public act without any apparent consultation with the local Party. 

The only thing now is for the Labour Party to order an open selection process, not yet another a discredited trigger ballot, for local members to choose from a selection of candidates including Robin (who will automatically be shortlisted by the Party) by secret ballot. 

There is a real practical problem in that there is simply not enough time to have a Mayoral trigger ballot, which could end in an open selection before 3 May 2018 and complete the outstanding Newham Councillor 2018 candidate selections.

Open selection. One member. One vote. Decision.

Let’s get on with it. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"On the Rent Strike in West Ham and Canning Town in Newham London Borough"

"The Housing Crisis in London has over the past decade developed and manifested in a variety of forms. 

From homeless citizens robbed of their rights to squat the plethora of empty residential properties that litter gilded neighbourhoods of London’s ‘jet setting’ elite, to the decanting and levelling of social housing built decades ago, mostly by local councils, to accommodate the contradiction that has always defined London as a world class metropolitan centre, i.e. the rich living across the road to the poor.

Recently an interesting episode of this drama has unfolded in Newham. The borough is home to the London 2012 Olympic stadium (now West Ham United football club’s home ground) andmany other venues that hosted athletes during the hot summer of 2012. Housing Association - One Housing Group Limited (OHG), a registered social Land Lord, issued Rent increase letters to ‘key worker’ residents (teachers, nurses and emergency service workers) in February this year. The increases were in some cases 40% and there were also changes to the tenancy agreement (1 year contract, 6 months break clause and 2 months’ notice period). The deadline to agree was 1st April 2017 (it was no joke!). It became clear to residents OHG had been planning this in advance because letters were issued in January 2017 that aggressively directed renters to switch from Standing Orders to Direct Debit. The loss of control over rent payments would make it easier for OHG to impose the new higher rates and collect them with as little resistance as possible.

Immediately resistance, to the 40% rent increase and changes to tenancy agreements, was organised. This started off with a group of keyworkers getting together, meeting in each other’s homes, to organise action. From the start there were differences over the approach to take. This took shape in the form of two poles of attraction. One group insisted on launching legal action through individual grievances (but paid for collectively). Another group favoured collective struggle – direct action supported by trade unions, knowledgeable fellow strugglers from outside and friendly councillors.

To cut a long story short, it was the collective struggle tendency that won the arguments and immediately car park meetings were held,an action group launched named One Housing Tenants Action Group and officers elected. A public meeting for tenants and supporters was organised in March 2017 which included representatives from trade unions Unite, Unison and NUT. There was also support from Labour Counsellors such as John Gray and John Witworth and journalists from local press like the Newham Recorder.

It was in the weekly meetings that a letter to OHG was put together and a petition launched. A day of action was called for 6th May 2017 outside the offices of OHG in Mile End. Slogans were voted on: “rent up 40% won’t pay will stay!” and “One of us is all of Us!”. Press releases were sent out and call outs for solidarity issued. Just before the day of action a representative from OHG got in touch with the Chair and Secretary of the Action Group (Truus and Tawanda) informing us that the planned rent increases had been cancelled. The OHG representative also requested that the day of action be called off and talks begin as soon as was practicable. We saw this as a significant change in OHG’s posture and confirmation that our strategy of refusing to pay the new rate and organising collectively and very publicly got the result we wanted. The day of action was called off and a meeting was held with OHG.

Since then, the tenants have formed a Residents Association (OHG West Ham and Canning Town Tenants & Residents Association). We have held regular meetings and the officers of our association have made links other OHG tenants associations. We have also reached out to other housing struggle groups. Our efforts were recently rewarded when ‘rent decrease’ letters were issued to some tenants by OHG on the 1ST of September. It was only through collective struggle with our friends and unions that we are still in our homes and looking forward to a more secure future".

Tawanda Nyabango
Secretary - OHG West Ham and Canning Town Tenants & Residents Association

(the TRA are happy for this statement to be posted in full elsewhere on social media)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Local housing companies: Good, bad or ugly?

This is a fair and balanced post on Local Housing Companies reposted below and here on Redbrick blog. 

While I understand that Councils have to make up somehow the reduction in Central Government grant by making money my concerns are :-

1. Councils are using up their scarce land resources and planning influence to build homes for non residents at market rents

2. "Only around 10% of new LHC supply will be for social rent" This is completely unacceptable.

3. Councils do not have the development experience or resources to design, build, market and manage PRS homes. Those who do not have any partner are putting themselves at risk of a possible financial disaster.

4. LHCs are usually unaccountable, secretive organisations with no meaningful resident involvement nor subject to any open democratic scrutiny.

By Ross Fraser

The Smith Institute has recently published the first in-depth analysis of one of the most significant new developments in the housing sector.

Delivering the renaissance in council-built homes: the rise of local housing companies estimates that around 150 councils have set up local housing companies (LHCs) over the last five years or so and that, on the current trend, over half of English authorities will have one by 2020. The majority of the current LHCs are in London or the South East. The LHC model has been adopted by authorities regardless of political control.

What can we learn from the research about the opportunities that LHCs provide? How can we evaluate the likely impact of LHCs in helping to solve the housing crisis? Why do concerns remain regarding the role of LHCs?

What are local housing companies?

LHCs are intended to act commercially for a social purpose. The primary purpose of most LHCs is to directly develop or acquire new local housing supply - whilst making a return for the local authority. Profit that might otherwise go to developers can instead be captured by the authority and recycled to help maintain core services or reinvested in further housing provision.

For some councils, the LHC is intended to complement new provision via the Housing Revenue Account (HRA). For others, LHC development is a substitute for HRA-funded development. For stock-transfer authorities, without an HRA or a housing team, LHCs are an alternative to reopening an HRA.

There are essentially three forms of LHC – wholly-owned by a single authority (the majority), multi-authority owned (such as the North Essex Garden Communities LHC), or a joint venture (JV) between a council and either a housing association or a private developer (such as the Haringey/Lendlease Development Vehicle (HDV)).

The nature of council investment in LHCs varies, but the following approaches are being adopted:

· Using HRA (if this doesn’t conflict with the HRA ‘ring fence’) or general funds to meet ‘start-up’ costs and capitalise the LHC

· On-lending Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) borrowing – at a return to the authority

· Equity investment in the LHC

· Sale or leasing of land

LHCs also offer councils additional New Homes Bonus and council tax. For example, LB Newham expects its LHC (Red Door) – focused on new build for intermediate rent – to deliver an extra £18m council tax (by 2028) plus £17.5m in Community Infrastrucuture (CIL) funding and a direct return once it becomes profitable (within the next 5 to 10 years). Some of the larger LHCs – primarily JV LHCs – have attracted private finance and have established ‘revolving investment’ funds.

Most LHCs are, initially, focusing on developing council-owned land, which might otherwise have been sold to a developer or housing association or developed directly via the HRA. Some are seeking to channel section 106 ‘planning gain’ opportunities, previously offered exclusively to housing associations, to their new LHC.

What new opportunities do these companies provide?

The intention is for LHCs to intervene in local housing markets to compensate for slow or insufficient new supply by developers or housing associations, to undertake specialist provision where this is urgently needed and to disrupt the local private rented sector and in doing so stimulate PRS improvement by offering private lets at higher standards, better terms and greater security.

LHCs are frequently intended to enable authorities to exert a greater stewardship role in place-making. They can undertake new build on smaller sites or in areas currently unattractive to developers and housing associations, with the objective of raising land and property values and making the area more attractive for private investment.

As John Perry of CIH has recently pointed out, “most of the LHCs have been set up since the government reinvigorated the right to buy (RTB), emasculated the HRA and undermined its own self-financing settlement”.

LHC development is attractive because it appears to avoid issues limiting development via the HRA, such as stock loss via RTB, limits on the recyclability of capital receipts from future RTB sales, etc. and controls over borrowing. As LHCs can offer assured shorthold lets, rather than secure tenancies, they enable authorities to offer private rented accommodation at profit.

LHCs are also seen as flexible and dynamic organisations, less constrained by shareholder profit expectations than developers and thus more able to invest counter-cyclically, be flexible over the timing of profit-extraction, ‘flip’ new homes between tenures to meet changes in demand – all whilst acting as a direct instrument of a council’s housing and planning strategy.

What impact might the companies have on solving the housing crisis?

The Smith Institute estimates that, based on current business plans, LHCs could build up to 25,000 new homes by 2022. The scale of ambition varies – RTPI research indicates that some LHCs (notably in rural areas) are planning to provide less than 50 new homes per annum whilst others plan to build more than 1,000 per year within five years.

Provision of 25,000 new homes over five years would be a significant increase on output expected from stock-retaining councils via the HRA. The Smith Institute estimates future council supply at c2,000 homes per year (using DCLG construction statistics) but CIH and the UK Housing Review estimate future provision at c3,000 homes per year (using the more reliable DCLG affordable housing statistics).

However, the real extent of net additional supply is more difficult to determine. Where an LHC develops on HRA land or uses HRA resources or acquires property via section 106, then the new LHC homes will not necessarily be ‘additional supply’ to what, for example, housing association partners might otherwise have delivered.

The area where the ‘additionality’ of LHC provision is least contestable is where it focuses on the PRS. For example, LB Newham set up Red Door Ventures to build 3,158 new PRS homes over the next six years (mainly on council-owned land).

If LHCs can increase PRS provision and change the culture of the local PRS market – by offering higher standards of management and maintenance plus improved security of tenure – this may (in my view) be their most significant legacy.

What ongoing concerns arise from the research?

The Smith Institute takes an overwhelmingly positive approach to LHCs. This is understandable, as the research suggests that LHCs offer councils a ‘triple dividend’ in the form of much-needed extra housing, greater impact in place-making and a financial return to the council.

In any terms, this is an impressive manifesto for LHCs and the sponsoring authorities should be congratulated for their initiative, pragmatism and vision. However, concerns remain about the practical application of the LHC model. Some of these are referred to in the report – others reflect concerns expressed more widely.

· Only around 10% of new LHC supply will be for social rent

The fact that many of the LHCs are in London and the South East reflects the underlying business model of most LHCs – recycling receipts from market sale or revenue from intermediate or market rents – to cross-subsidise ‘affordable’ housing provision. In this sense, LHCs operate exactly like housing associations.

Following this model may boost overall new supply, but Smith Institute research suggests that whilst 30-40% of LHC homes are likely to be ‘affordable’, only around 10% (i.e. between 25% and 33% of the ‘affordable provision’) will be for social rent. Given the cross-subsidy model, it is difficult to see how a higher proportion of social rent can be provided by LHCs.

In its recent report, Building Bridges, CIH estimated that if the housing crisis is to be tackled in a balanced way, around 33% of new supply needs to be at a social rent. Current LHC projections fall well short of that target.

NHF figures show 38,082 housing association completions in 2016/17 of which 12% (4,775) were social rent – 75% delivered using cross-subsidy. Perhaps housing associations are not performing so badly after all?

· Where is the next generation of social rented housing going to be built?

John Perry of CIH has expressed concern that if LHCs do no or very little social rent they may use up council land that might have produced 100% social rent if it had been developed through the HRA. He also points out that by building outside the HRA (where one exists), LHCs are denied the ability to pool rents, thus limiting their ability to dampen rents for new homes.

The provision of council-owned land at less than market value is a vital subsidy towards the provision of social rented housing. So, if scarce council land is being used for LHC development – where exactly is the next generation of social rent housing going to be built?

· Does LHC governance demonstrate an accountability deficit?

As most of the LHCs are still in ‘start-up’ mode, their directors tend to be council officers, often reporting directly to the council chief executive. Some LHCs have also appointed local politicians as directors, but this has been limited by concerns over future conflicts of interest in respect of planning permission.

Whereas ALMOs – an earlier variant of LHC – adopted a transparent approach to governance, involving resident and independent board members, most LHCs have yet to address the issue of accountability.

Reading the Smith Institute research, it appears that only a few LHCs have community representatives on their boards or a formal detailed strategy for community engagement. And, as the Haringey HDV controversy demonstrates, LHCs which are not publicly accountable risk the loss of public and political support.

· What is the risk of government controls over LHCs?

LHC business plans are vulnerable to the risk that the government interferes in the regulatory framework. Senior figures in local government have told me that that there is less concern that the government will insist that LHCs apply the RTB and greater possibility that, if any LHCs fail, controls will be imposed to limit borrowing or to place limits on what wholly-owned LHCs – as distinct from joint-venture LHCs – can do.

· Will LHCs have the capacity to build at scale?

Most of the LHCs are in ‘start-up’ phase, managed directly by council staff with the assistance of consultants. Most have yet to recruit managers with direct development experience and these skills (particularly in the LHC heartland of London and the South East) are expensive and in short supply.

The risk is that authorities and their LHCs lack the commercial and technical skills to develop at scale and at pace and/or that LHCs fail commercially – for example sales receipts or rental surplus are insufficient to repay their borrowing.

Privately, senior figures in local government concede that this skills deficit is the biggest risk to LHC effectiveness and that only a proportion will be able to build at scale. One of the key recommendations in the Smith Institute’s well-balanced report is that a centre of excellence is established to support the development of LHCs – perhaps managed by the LGA.

· LHCs are only part of any local solution to the housing crisis

There is much to commend in the pragmatism and ambition of those authorities setting up LHCs. They have the potential to transform areas of low demand, secure a better mix of housing tenures and products and improve standards and security in the private rented sector.

However, under the current cross-subsidy model, LHCs can only provide limited assistance to people in the greatest housing need.

This means that solving the housing crisis still requires a major social rent contribution by housing associations – underpinned by increased levels of grant.

Equally, the government (or more likely a future Labour government) needs to relax its controls over the HRA to enable stock-retained authorities to harness the remaining HRA asset base to provide social rented housing, and to reduce RTB discounts and allow councils to retain 100% of RTB capital receipts.

A future Labour government would, of course, be wise to follow the lead of the Scottish and Welsh administrations and abolish RTB entirely".

Monday, December 18, 2017

International Migrants Day - 18 December 2017

"International Migrants Day is an international day observed on 18 December as International Migrants Day appointed by the General Assembly of United Nations on 4 December 2000 taking into account the large and increasing number of migrants in the world. On 18 December 1990, the General Assembly adopted the international convention on the protection of the rights of migrant workers and members of their families (resolution 45/158).[1]
This day is observed in many countries, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations through the dissemination of information on human rights and fundamental political freedoms of migrants, and through sharing of experiences and the design of actions to ensure the protection of migrants".

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Update on Newham Council London/Olympic/West Ham FC Stadium loses

On Thursday 14 December I was at the meeting of the Newham Council Investment & Accounts meeting.

I had a chance to question the Newham Council Finance Director on matters arising from the joint audit meeting on the 27 September 2017.

At that time we knew that the £40 million loan (& £4.4 million interest payment due) was "impaired" (no value) and that an unknown amount of other money ("working capital") was also at risk of being "impaired".

Since then of course the Council has admitted to losing some £52 million of money (original loan and working capital) in the stadium. Apparently we will still have some legacy regeneration benefits for the next "100 years".

However, leaving aside for the moment that the stadium does not have a shelf life of 100 years, I understand that West Ham FC nor any other user have no contractual obligations to do anything for the community but no doubt they will offer some charitable benefits that they see fit to provide. Plus, there was always going to be possible benefits from the redevelopment but this could have happened anyway without us risking our money.

I asked the Finance director for an update on the "impairment" shown in the accounts (which means that the £40 million loan had currently no value) and was told that the loan was not being "written off" but instead converted into some form of "Debt for Equity" swap? Whatever that means? I assume that the £40 million loan which I think is currently valued as being Zero is being converted into a shares into what must be a bankrupt company? Need more information.

I will ask further questions about the lost £4.4 million interest charge, the £5 million loan for investments in the Olympic South Park and the £12 million of "working capital" (I think) that has also be "lost".

Watch this space.

Mentioned in the Council accounts and during the joint audit meeting I had brought up the reference to a possible significant criminal fraud in Newham Council procurement, which I must also chase for an update. What has happened? Are internal audit involved and have the Police been informed if there is evidence of criminality?

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Manifesto Against Blacklisting

new report published by independent think tank the Institute of
Employment Rights recommends a public inquiry is conducted into the blacklisting scandal, and sets out a Manifesto Against Blacklisting, proposing changes to the law, including criminal sanctions for employers operating blacklists. 

It has been eight years since the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) raid of blacklist operation The Consulting Association found evidence that thousands of workers had been locked out of employment in the construction industry for such reasons as highlighting dangerous working practices or being a member of a trade union.

Despite continued legal action, justice has not yet been served, with Unite the Union now seeking compensation for 70 further workers who did not benefit from previous out-of-court settlements, and new evidence of continued blacklisting in the construction industry being debated in parliament.

In the latest IER publication – Blacklisting: The need for a public inquiry – Secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, Dave Smith, maps out the barriers to justice experienced by workers, both in terms of accessing the tribunal system and in securing a guilty verdict for their former employers. He emphasises that what the thousands of victims of blacklisting want the most is for the individuals responsible for their plight to be publically held to account.

"It's been an ongoing fight for decades and the end still seems distant," Dave Smith, Secretary of the Blacklist Support Group and co-author of the report, said. "Before the 2009 ICO raid that finally proved us right, we were labelled conspiracy theorists, and even after we had the evidence it was an uphill struggle to be heard in court.

Even for those who eventually received compensation, money alone is not justice. Blacklisted workers spent years of their lives struggling to make ends meet, with many reporting to me that the strain stretched beyond finances, to their families and relationships, their mental health, their social lives.

What blacklisted workers most want to see is the individuals responsible for their suffering to be held to account. We want a full public inquiry to investigate the truth behind what happened, and we want a change in the law to prevent other workers from going through what we have."

The publication concludes with a Manifesto Against Blacklisting drafted by employment law expert Alex Just, who makes several recommendations for changes in the law. Key recommendations include:
  • Criminal sanctions for employers that illegally blacklist workers, including personal criminal liability for staff who knowingly blacklist
  • A 10-year ban on holding a directorship for any person found guilty of blacklisting
  • A ban from public contracts for firms that illegally blacklist workers
  • Compulsory training for HR directors and staff on the law around blacklisting
  • Stronger powers for the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to investigate cases of suspected blacklisting
  • The establishment of a new UK Data Court to consider civil and criminal charges jointly so that judges are able to hear all of the evidence pertaining to a case
"It is clear that the law as it stands is not robust enough to protect workers or to bring those operating illegal blacklists to account. Not only is there still a requirement for further legal action eight years on, but the employers involved continue to make billions in profit from public contracts having been able to evade being found officially 'guilty' of acts they have publically admitted to," employment law expert and co-author of the report, Alex Just, explains.

"A thorough examination of the obstacles faced by blacklisted workers over the last eight years has revealed several key factors that we recommend are reviewed and changed in order to prevent another years-long scandal being dragged through the courts in the future. The law must provide justice to those workers who have lost years of their lives, and it must act as a deterrent to the secret continuation of blacklisting by holding those responsible to account."

press release from

Friday, December 15, 2017

A helping hand from the government (NOT)

Love it.

A clever message by UNISON exposing the hypocrisy of the Government towards the public sector workforce.  

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Christmas Story. East London. 2017 (In one of the richest countries in the World)

I have just donated £50 to the Magpie Project in Forest Gate in lieu of xmas cards to friends and colleagues.

"Welcome to the Magpie Project

We can’t solve the housing crisis, but we believe in making children’s lives better during their time in temporary accommodation.

We provide practical support and advice to mothers and children under five in temporary or insecure accommodation in Newham.

We believe all children have a right to a secure, safe place to play, healthy food, engaged parents, and access support no matter what their family circumstances".

I admit to being somewhat hypocritical since I like getting xmas cards myself and to being disorganised and a little lazy with sending cards but I do prefer donating (and then sending daft e-cards).

I know people who volunteer to help in this project and I think the above caption about "this is a crisis" says it all.

It also reminds me why we need a proper Labour government in this country.

Magpie project

Donate here 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Call for Action: West Ham Labour Xmas Campaigning & Events Update

Dear Member
West Ham Labour Party Xmas update
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Looking forward to an early general election and a Labour Government in 2018 with Jeremy Corbyn as our Prime Minister.
As well as the usual campaigning and political events there are also surveys and petitions that you are being asked to participate in and support.
Councillor Candidate’s selection meeting postponed until New Year. 
Firstly, apologies to members who had reserved last weekend for the chance to elect candidates to be our Labour Party candidates in the local elections in May 2018. Due to a number of appeals outstanding for applicants who did not pass the initial interview the Regional Labour Party has postponed the selections until the New Year. We will let you know the new date ASAP
“Bookmakers target people who can’t afford to lose their money on these machines” 
Our MP Lyn Brown asks you to support her call to curb the blight being caused to our community by Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBT) and take part in the government consultation. Check out further information
In response to years of Newham’s campaigning the Government has now launched a consultation survey which might lead to these terrible FOBT machine stakes being reduced.  But we need to make sure that gambling industry lobby don’t dominate the responses, which is why we would appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to respond to the survey online by clicking this link.
Newham Council: More Social Housing in Plaistow Petition
West Ham Ward ask you to support their online petition on a controversial planning application. See stall on 14 December. So please share with all your Newham friends and family:
If you are interested in planning policy then Newham Council is also undergoing a review of its #LocalPlan Proposed Submission is open until the 16th January, so have your say!” (warning this is heavy going but important)
West Ham CLP General Committee motion was passed calling on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner: To Suspend police officers under investigation for deaths of Edson da Costa & Rashan Charles. You can read more and sign the petition here:
Zero Tolerance
Also please read the article on our website by our CLP Women’s officer, Seyi Akiwowo, about our zero tolerance of Sexual Harassment in our Party
Marked Register data inputting
If you have some time to spare before the New Year then contact our CLP secretary to volunteer to help us input the “Marked Register” data from the General Election into Labour Party records. He will explain if contacted.
Future Dates
Thursday 14th December – 6-7.30pm Street staff on West Ham ward petition for social housing outside Plaistow Station E13 organiser
Thursday 14th December – Newham Compass debate: “What should the Left be doing about Brexit?” at East Ham Working Men’s Club, Boleyn Road E6 1QE at 7.30 pm. Stephen Timms MP & Gordon Murray of the SNP are the speakers. Contact for details.
Saturday 16th December – 1030hrs CTS Corner Tarling and Radland Road, E16 Organiser Terry Paul
Saturday 16th December, 11.00am, Stratford International DLR Station. Leafleting in E20. Contact: Clive Troubman,

Wednesday 20 December – 7.30pm to late Newham Co-operative Party Crimbo Social. Westbridge Hotel, High Street Stratford, E15. John Gray/Neil Wilson organising

Thursday 4 January 6.30pm FGN Canvass meet outside Forest Gate Tavern E7(before ward meeting) John Gray organiser
Saturday 13th January at 11am Plaistow North  canvassing session on meeting at Plaistow station E13 contact Daniel or Mehmood.
Saturday 13th January 11-1pm Custom House Canvass check CLP website for meeting point and organiser)
Sunday 14 January 11.30 FGN Canvass (check CLP website for meeting point and organiser)
Saturday January 20th – 1100 am to 1 pm. PS Meeting at Plaistow  Library  E13 9HL
Contact Neil Wilson
Thursday 25th January – West Ham CLP GC, 306 High Street, Stratford E15 – Visiting Speaker Nia Griffths, Shadow Defence Secretary
Saturday 27 January 11.30am FGN Canvass meet outside Hibiscus Community Centre E15 1SP organiser John Gray 
Sunday 28 January 11-1pm Custom House Canvass check CLP website for meeting point and organiser)
Sunday January 28th 2.00pm to 4.00 pm PS Meeting at Plaistow Library E13 9HL Contact Neil Wilson
Monday 26 February 7pm Newham Full Council Meeting, East Ham Town Hall E6
We look forward to seeing you at future events and campaigns!
John Gray
Vice Chair (Campaigns and Comms) West Ham CLP