Saturday, September 22, 2018

Labour Party Conference 2018 - Liverpool

At Party conference and on route to London Labour regional reception (then the Welsh) 

I am attending as a Newham Councillor (self funding) and looking forward to the speeches, stalls and fringes. 

There is a stack of housing fringes this year but only a few on pensions which is a shame. 

Now, will I make it for a run tomorrow morning or not...?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Three Cliff Bay Walk (The stunning and beautiful Gower Peninsula)

Off message but last month Gill and I spent a week on holiday in the Mumbles, South Wales. This walk was magnificent. I have heard over the years many people praise the Gower Peninsula as a top holiday destination but have never been until now.

This walk is 9.3 miles and a mixture of classic coastline and inland valley walks. Check out Hikideas for the route but make sure you download instructions and have a decent map. You start at a National Trust car park in Pennard where there must be ancient common law rights for cattle to range at will in the car park and village. Reminds me of our own backyard in Wanstead flats, East London where cattle also used to roam freely before the onset of BSE in the 1990s.

Once you leave the amazing cliff tops and go inland the route is a little overgrown and unclear. A fair bit of up and down work but well worth the effort.

Lots of history en route including ancient green lanes and completely isolated medieval (open) churches and the remains of an early non conformist chapel. The last leg of the walk you rejoin the Welsh coastal path route and enjoy more stunning bay views.

A moderate effort but at times a breathtakingly beautiful walk. Recommended. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby speech to Congress 2018 #TUC150

I am not a member of the Church of England (nor any other religion) but the speech by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the TUC was a master class in humanity. This speech was so powerful since he also criticised past abuses of power by his Church and trade unions as well as tax evading thieves and abusive employers such as Amazon.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Is it time for a Progressive Alliance to defeat the Tories? Newham Compass with Neal Lawson & Sian Berry

While a very,very worthy aim I don't think it will work nor is it necessarily the right thing to do. What about a progressive alliance within the Labour Party instead?

But I hope to attend and listen to the arguments.  

Monday, September 17, 2018

Newham Full Council Meeting 17 September 2018 (my twitter feed)

A busy evening. Confirmed new Chief Executive. Passed motions, submitted petitions, deputation that schools should have ballots before deciding to become academies, Councillor questions, public questions, Mayor and CEO report.

At Full Council meeting in historic Stratford Town Hall. Delegation speaking to meeting on anti-academy campaign, just moved petition on behalf residents from about repairs & ( Cllrs have been with residents)

His first speech to Full Council, Cllr speaks about how we need to change traffic management and support the near 50% of residents who do not have a car. “The roads belong to all of not just cars”

If this was a unison conference or TUC we would clap first time speakers :)

Now Cllr Shaban Mohammed moves motion on ballots calling for all schools considering becoming a to hold a ballot. seconds

moves sponsored motion against . I spoke about ensuring that the £1.4 billion fund takes action to ensure that we do not allow such exploitation of workers in companies we invest in

Council meeting over. Now presentation by on electoral review of for 2022 elections. ward

Picture of  & councillors supporting campaign and motion on

Sunday, September 16, 2018

TUC Congress 2018: Tuesday Day 3

Still catching up on posts about last week's TUC Congress. After a "late night" on the Monday following the UNISON TUC delegation social (and aftermath) I was in Congress for the 9.30am start on the Tuesday but a little slow on "twitter" for some reason.  

I was really pleased at Congress for the support for "Show Racism the Red Card’s Wear Red Day, which this year will be on 19 October.

Lunchtime, I went to the "digital transformation for unions" fringe where Chair, Jenny Andrews, of Unions21 made it clear that we have to learn from Darwin survival of the fittest theory and as a movement either "adapt or die" to digital change (I sort of agree but not totally). 

Alison Charlton from UNISON digital team spoke about the quote that when digital transformation is done right, it is like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly but when it is done wrong, all you get is a really fast caterpillar.  She also made a really important practical point that don't just ask what people want from digital - but instead ask what is the problem & what do they want to achieve?  Her role as a professional is to provide the digital solution.

Ali Melanie from the NUS said the next big human rights issue will be on our data rights. People are still trying to grapple with the concept of "Ethical digital". He answered my question to the panel on how to deal with all the digital "babble" out there by saying we need to try and compartmentalise the information that unions send out to make it relevant. 

When an assistant general secretary from a more "traditional" union (who many years ago I was on an WEA Employment rights course with him) asked how he can digitalise union circulars sent out to members? Ali asked in apparent all seriousness "what is a circular?". 

I was interviewed by Dr Jeong-Hee Lee, a researcher from the Korean Labor Institute about collective bargaining in Local Government! We also discussed the UK Labour manifesto on this topic. She interviewed me a few years ago when she was researching her PHD. I was given a lovely gift for taking part in the survey. A traditional Korean image on a USB stick (see bottom right on college).

Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, received a standing ovation after announcing to Congress on how he will be able to pay for nationalisation & public services. He has found the Tory Government Magic Money Tree in the Cayman Islands. He will dig it up and bring it back to UK to be planted!

In the evening I went to the "People's Museum" for the Daily Mirror fringe on the fantastic "Wigan Pier Project". It tracks where the author George Orwell went in the 1930s when he was researching his famous book "The Road to Wigan Pier". George wrote about the hunger and poverty he found at this time, while the project has followed in his exact footsteps and compare his findings with the dreadful child poverty, homelessness and unemployment in modern day Tory Britain. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Lehman Brothers collapse - 10 Years on

10 years ago  "The filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by financial services firm Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008, remains the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history, with Lehman holding over US$600,000,000,000 in assets".

The former head of Lehman Brothers, Richard Fuld, (see picture) “earned” $300 million in the previous 8 years.

While The Independent reports "Average real earnings – adjusted to take inflation into account – for employees are 3 per cent below where they were in 2008. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Thank you Cllr Veronica Oakeshott - Boleyn Ward

This is simply a lovely photograph of Newham Council Executive Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, presenting flowers to Councillor Veronica Oakeshott, who has announced her resignation in order to move closer to her family outside London.

Veronica has been a fantastic and effective Labour Councillor and campaigner for Boleyn ward who was also instrumental in the successful campaign to keep the World Cup Champions Statue in her ward.

She was a ferocious advocate of her constituents and the interests of all residents in Newham. Veronica will be missed and we have lost a talented Vice Chair of our £1.4 Billion Pension Investment & Accounts Committee.

hat tip photo Ali G

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Red Brick - "The Help to Buy Gravy Train" by Steve Hilditch

A fascinating discussion yesterday evening with London Labour Housing Group on "Policy & Practice". Some great ideas and presentations.

I was a little late and missed items on policy context and improving the private rented sector but was there for - delivering new Council homes, working with with Housing Associations and best practice on community led housing. Chaired by lead GLA housing spokesperson Tom Copley

See below yet another superb article on "Red Brick" about the "Great British Housing Rip Off" by Steve Hilditch.

"Some people suffer because of the housing crisis, others do quite nicely out of it thank you. Land owners are perhaps the best example of those who have traditionally coined it in. Nothing much has changed since Winston Churchill, way back in 1909, called land ‘the mother of all monopolies’, criticising ‘the enrichment which comes to the landlord who happens to own a plot of land on the outskirts of a great city, who watches the busy population around him making the city larger, richer, more convenient, more famous every day, and all the while sits still and does nothing.’ And still they do.

But attention has been drawn more recently to another group of people who have been achieving great riches from the miseries of others – the housebuilders. You might say that at least housebuilders produce something of use, unlike the landowner, and the point is valid. But recently the vast profits being made by the volume housebuilders have been substantially donated by the government, free gratis and for nothing.

The housebuilders’ own special magic money tree is called Help to Buy. In an excellent article in the Times on 8 September, Property Correspondent Tom Knowles showed how the average profit made by housebuilders on each home has doubled since the scheme was launched. Knowles’ analysis showed that ‘the top five builders in Britain are making an average profit of £57,000 on each house they sell, compared with a mean average of about £29,000 in 2007’.

On Red Brick we have criticised Help to Buy from the time it was launched in 2013 because it is a subsidy on the demand side of housing – it enables people to spend more on housing without necessarily increasing supply. A little bit of economics tells us that in the longer term it is likely to be self-defeating because more demand with no more supply will lead to price increases. Far better, we have consistently said, to apply whatever public finance is available to boosting housing supply not demand.

At the launch of Help to Buy the argument was made that the scheme would boost supply by giving developers confidence that they would have buyers for their output – after all, no-one builds what they cannot sell. Yet Knowles confirms that the total number of new houses being delivered is much the same as it was ten years ago. He uses Barratt as evidence: profit per house has doubled since 2007 (he uses that date because it was the last full year before the global crash), but it is building only 411 additional homes. He provides a fascinating chart to illustrate the detail, repeated below.

Knowles quotes analysts who confirm that the largest driver of today's profits is Help to Buy. One assesses that housebuilders would be making £22,000 less profit on each house built for first time buyers if Help to Buy was not in place, and concludes that ‘someone is gaming the system’.

One of my favourite analysts, Neal Hudson, who puts good stuff on Twitter @resi_analyst, is quoted saying that shareholders had become ‘the main priority’ for housebuilders since the financial crash. ‘The over-arching factor has been big pressure from the City,’ he is quoted as saying. ‘The priority for them is profit margin not the number of homes built.’

One housebuilder chief executive was paid £75 million in a bonus last year, putting even bankers to shame. I suppose you could argue that no-one would turn down a nice earner, even if it is on the back of a government scheme designed to tackle the housing crisis. And, of course, it is government policy that is to blame. Since 2010 housing finance policy has been turned on its head. Instead of providing grant to enable genuinely affordable homes for those on low and medium incomes, Government help is now aimed at supporting the private housing market – and not very successfully it seems. The Chartered Institute of Housing’s Housing Review estimated that support for the private market is taking nearly 80% of current investment compared to just over 20% going as support for affordable housing.

At local level, the riches flowing into the pockets of the housebuilders should stiffen the resolve of councils who are fed up with developers pleading that schemes are ‘unviable’ due to modest requirements that a proportion of new homes should be affordable.

In this debate, profits per home of around 20-25% of the cost are taken almost as a given, a fixed cost. I can remember a developer telling me that the rule of thumb in building costs was ‘one-third for land, one-third for construction, and one-third profit’. In our Brexit-dominated world, construction costs are likely to inflate rapidly in the near future. So, if anything is to be done it must be to bear down on the other two elements: land and profit. We have posted a lot recently about land and taxation: another good step would be to tackle the Help to Buy gravy train.