The owl returns …..


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“Nothing about us, without us, is for us”

How much bigger does the housing scandal need to get before SOMEONE does SOMETHING?

“Millennials are spending three times more of their income on housing than their grandparents yet are often living in worse accommodation, says a study launched by former Conservative minister David Willetts that warns of a “housing catastrophe”.

The generation currently aged 18-36 are typically spending over a third of their post-tax income on rent or about 12% on mortgages, compared with 5%-10% of income spent by their grandparents in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite spending more, young people today are more likely to live in overcrowded and smaller spaces, and face longer journeys to work – commuting for the equivalent of three days a year more than their parents.” …

“Half of all secondary schools started the school year ‘over capacity or FULL’ “

Overall, one in four schools are over capacity in Year 7 – the first year of secondary school. A further 27 per cent of secondary schools are fully subscribed in Year 7 – meaning there isn’t enough teaching space available.

The figures – revealed in Freedom of Information responses from 100 English councils – show a 9 per cent increase in overstretched admissions.

By 2022/23 more than 125,000 children face missing out on a secondary school place altogether, according to warnings from the Local Government Association.

In Rutland 86 per cent of schools started the term over capacity.

In Slough and Solihull the figure was 80 per cent while Redcar, Bury, Redcar and Cleveland was 60 per cent over-subscribed.” …

“Do we need political parties?”

A view from a German writer:

“In many Western countries, party structures are dissolving. Traditional political organisations are disintegrating, being swept away by new movements, or infiltrated by fresh members. There is not much left of the once-defining role of classical parties. And the examples are abundant.

In France, the traditional party system has decayed. The Socialists, after being the governing party in Paris until spring, have practically ceased to exist. Other traditional parties have also been hit hard, replaced by movements such as Emmanuel Macron’s “En Marche!” and Jean-Luc Melenchon’s “La France insoumise”.

The US’ once-lofty Republicans – the self-proclaimed “Grand Old Party” – have now disintegrated into separate wings, whose positions differ to the extent that a common programme is hardly recognisable. And the party organisation is so weak that it could be captured by a non-politician like Donald Trump.

Until recently in the UK, the Labour Party, which had been positioned in the pragmatic centre, has moved vehemently to the left. It was infiltrated by an influx of often young new members, who celebrate the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn – formerly a marginal figure in the political life of the island – as a pop star.

In Italy, the populist Five Star Movement of former comedian Beppe Grillo has been unsettling the political system for some years. On the right, the former regional party “Lega Nord” is expanding with new national-populist content.

There’s an evolving pattern. Traditional political structures are breaking up, liquefying political systems. People are becoming more important than parties, and posing seems more relevant than policies.

Politicians who have served their time and worked their way up through party ranks are ousted by outside figures with star attributes – cheered along by citizens, who suddenly behave like fans. [Watch out Hugo!]

Still, there’s a prominent exception: Germany.

Or so it would seem. Large parties and their established top figures still dominate the political scene. At the top are well-tempered characters like Angela Merkel, the chancellor, and Martin Schulz, the Social Democratic contender. And, above all, both of them promise that as little as possible is going change.

But this is just the visible surface. In Germany, like elsewhere in Europe, the political system is being transformed. Anger and frustration are on the rise – sentiments which parties like the far-right AfD are only able capture to a small extent.

The next federal government will likely be formed by a coalition that promises stability on the verge of boredom. However, this does not preclude the possibility of unexpected turns in regard to specific topics.”

The neglect of social housing – now words but little action

Owl says: lots of sweet words, no action, no more [better] social housing … a problem but no solution.

“The Grenfell Tower fire showed that those in power had dehumanised tenants as “problems that needed to be managed”, the communities secretary said today as he announced an extensive review of social housing.

Sajid Javid said the way in which council tenants are housed in Britain needed a “top-to-bottom” rethink in the wake of the tragedy. Mr Javid said the government would be publishing a green paper in the coming months.

He pledged to make the work the most substantial report of its kind for a generation, looking at the quality and safety of social housing but also at ways to reinvent the sector and make it once again the “gold standard for accommodation”.

Referring directly to Grenfell, Mr Javid said that he believed the fire was the consequence of longstanding neglect.

“It is clear that in the months and the years before the fire, the residents of Grenfell Tower were not listened to,” he said.

“That too many people in positions of power saw tenants less as people with families and more as problems that needed to be managed.

“In one of the richest, most privileged corners of the UK, the world, even, would a fire like this have happened in a privately owned block of luxury flats?

“If you believe that the answer is no, even if you think it was simply less likely, then it’s clear that we need a fundamental rethink of social housing in this country.” …

[followed by more weasel words and rhubarb in the same vein]

Source: Times, paywall

Compare and contrast: pay rises

£81,000 to £95,000:

“The board that oversees Glasgow’s three further education colleges has dropped plans to award a 17% pay rise to a senior official.

This followed intervention by the deputy first minister after the proposal was roundly criticised by Holyrood’s public audit committee.”

MEANWHILE, here in Devon:

£90,727 to £115,000:

So, here we are: Somerset County Council theoretically holds the purse strings – except it obviously doesn’t! There is no scrutiny or transparency, no way of stopping this juggernaut that we have never been consulted about.

AND we have no way of knowing how Diviani voted – the LEP doesn’t release such information.

“Chris Garcia, chief executive of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), could see his pay jump nearly 27% from £90,729 to £115,000. [This was agreed today with the two councils objecting].

“Somerset council leader John Osman said: “The pay of £90,000 is already too much so I believe it should be at least 10% less than that.”

As a recent commentator points out:

“Two key points:

1. LEP is completely and utterly unaccountable either to the people of the SW directly or via our elected representatives on the CCs.

2. Unlike the Scottish government, the UK government is unwilling to step in in the interests of prudent and acceptable public spending, and by failing to step in is giving the appearance that they promote this sort of excessive pay for their friends (and in some case party sponsors) in what many of would consider a corrupt way.

Funny how there is never any money for essential rank-and-file public sector workers like nurses and firemen and prison officers and the police etc. whose pay rises (when they get them) continue to be below inflation, but they never have anything to say and never take any action when it is their mates and sponsors who are getting them. And if the excuse is because of the weight of their responsibilities and the stresses of the position, why does not that also apply to nurses etc. who face danger and traumatic experiences every day, and whose workloads are increasing due to cuts in staff numbers?

SUMMARY: Its one rule for the Conservative elite and their friends / sponsors, and another for the remaining 95%-98% of the population.

CONSERVATIVES: “For the few not the many.”

Another savage attack on government failure on affordable and social housing

Owl says: But why is everyone surprised? This is the free market in operation – what Conservatives have ALWAYS believed in. This automatically favours “survival of the fittest” which most often means the most wealthy. Nothing new there. Just get wealthy – problem solved.

Unfortunately, those low down in the pecking order seem to think that, if they vote Conservative, they will be helped to become rich. That isn’t how it works – the rich like their exclusivity and power. Sharing that power with more people isn’t in their interest as it dilutes both – less exclusive, more power-sharing = not a good idea.

Wise up everyone: if you want change in a Tory constituency or in the country, hold your nose and vote for whoever in your constituency is most likely to come second, and make them first. Change IS hard – but it is desperately needed if we are to do the right thing by all generations.

David Orr, National Housing Federation:

““… The prime minister is right that we’ve not paid social housing enough attention. After the tragic fire at Grenfell, this crisis can no longer be ignored. The government must be bold and make a break with the past by making money available to build genuinely affordable homes.

“There’s more than a billion pounds that remains unspent on Starter Homes. Let’s put this money to use and let housing associations build 20,000 of the genuinely affordable homes the nation needs.”

Orr, who is chief executive of the federation, is expected to argue for a complete shift in government policy.

Since 2010 the government has overseen a massive reduction in the provision of homes for social rent, instead focusing on “affordable” rents, which can be as much as 80% of the market value.

A report by the federation, produced to coincide with the conference, says the amount of capital committed by the government to homebuilding has fallen from £11.4bn in 2009 to £5.3bn in 2015.

In combination with this, the decision to stop public funding for social rented homes led to a decline in construction of these from 36,000 starts in 2010/11 to slightly over 3,000 the next year.

The report says the only new social rent homes now are coming either from previous funding commitments or through cross-subsidies within housing associations projects, amounting to just under 1,000 starts in 2016/17.

It says the increase in rented housing stock has instead come from the private sector, with a 57% rise in real terms over the past two decades.

The federation says private rents are on average £21 per week more expensive than their social let equivalents, meaning that over the last 20 years the annual spend on housing benefit has risen from £16.6bn to £25.1bn.

There is another cost, the report says. “Not only is it 23% more expensive to house someone in the private rented sector than social housing, but none of that money increases the supply of new homes.

“Social landlords do reinvest in new homes, building a third of all new homes last year including for social rent from their own funds, but the same does not happen in the private rented sector.”

In his speech, Orr will argue that this is an unsustainable situation. “It is absurd that we’re spending less on building social housing than we did in the 90s – there are even more people today on housing waiting lists than then, despite increasingly stringent criteria.

“We know we need more, better quality social housing. And yet, rather than putting public money into building the homes we need, we are propping up rents in a failing market. Ultimately, this is poor value for the taxpayer and has a knock-on effect on everyone struggling to rent or buy.”

John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, said: “Conservative ministers have washed their hands of any responsibility to build the homes families on ordinary incomes need. Ministers try to hide their failure to build more affordable homes by branding more homes ‘affordable’. The Conservative definition of affordable housing now includes homes close to full market rent and on sale for up to £450,000.

“Public concern about housing is around the highest level for 40 years. Millions of families are struggling with high housing costs. Faced with this, ministers have turned their back on the way they can help most – by building low-cost homes to rent and buy.” …”

Times leader column attacks housing developers and the government

(see also post below)

“Anyone who has fielded rival bids for a kitchen extension is likely to be familiar with the pattern: once contracts are signed and work is under way the winning bidder finds ways to cut costs or otherwise boost profits. Committed to the project, the client’s options are to sue or surrender.

In the multibillion-pound business of updating and expanding Britain’s housing stock, the equivalent of the kitchen extension is the mixed-used development that includes affordable housing to be let or sold at below-market rates.

Affordable housing is in critically short supply. This drives up prices in precisely the areas where buyers and the broader housing market need them to come down. It forces low-income families to live farther and farther from places of work, especially in the southeast, and it is storing up trouble for a weak Conservative government with little traction among voters aged under 40.

This is a government that has promised 1.5 million new homes by 2022. In principle almost all these homes are to be built by the private sector. In practice developers are being allowed to game the system by promising generous allocations of affordable housing only to dilute those commitments once planning permission has been granted and building is under way.

Examples of this underhand but technically legal approach are legion in cities. It has now spread to rural Britain too. The country’s biggest builders are rowing back on affordable housing commitments to the extent of 18 much-needed rural homes a day, leading to a projected shortfall of 33,000 affordable homes in the countryside as a whole by the end of this parliament.

The government should be acting to fix the problem. Instead it is making it worse, siding with developers against local councils in 17 of 23 appeals by builders seeking to cut the number of affordable housing units for which they have had to budget since 2013. Worse still, the process is shrouded in secrecy because it hinges on “viability assessments” that developers are allowed to keep confidential unless a court demands wider access.

These assessments should be open to public scrutiny as a matter of course. Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, claims to have adopted an “honest, open and consistent” approach to assessing local housing needs. It is none of these things.

In the housing plans that all local authorities are required to produce, the average requirement for affordable housing in rural areas is 68 per cent of the total. Under pressure from builders that share has fallen to 29 per cent, even as the companies post record profits. Those of the country’s three largest housebuilders have quadrupled since 2012.

Britain is a crowded island. Space for new homes is at a premium. Demand for land reliably outstrips supply. Landowners sell to high bidders who seek guaranteed generous profit margins to protect against downturns in a market that they are helping to overheat.

This is a classic market failure that might warrant state intervention in the form of publicly funded housebuilding to balance supply and demand at the lower end of the property ladder. This government has ruled that out, however, cutting public spending on social housing by 97 per cent since 2010 and on affordable housing by half in the same period.

At the same time, as the head of the National Housing Federation tells its annual conference today, housing benefit payments have risen by 51 per cent over the past two decades, to £25 billion a year, to help to cover inflated private sector rents.

If the government insists on staying out of the housebuilding business itself it must at the very least make affordable housing quotas binding, and high enough to house those unable to get on the housing ladder any other way. The alternative is a property-owning democracy that founders for want of property to own.”

Source: Times (pay wall)