Developers can’t afford affordable homes in luxurious Kensington and Chelsea

Or in relatively luxurious East Devon, too!

More than 700 promised social homes in Kensington and Chelsea have been lost “in large part due to a legal loophole” where developers use viability assessments to reduce the number they are required to build, Shelter has claimed.

Research conducted by EG for the housing charity suggested that developers had managed in this way to reduce the amount of affordable housing from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s policy target of 50% to only 15% on those schemes.

“This gap between the council’s target and what was eventually permitted is equivalent to 831 affordable homes, of which 706 would have been social homes, which have not been built,” Shelter said. It added that this would have been more than enough to house families made homeless from the Grenfell Tower fire.

Shelter called on the Government “to change the law so big developers can no longer use the loophole to boost profits”.

Chief executive Polly Neate said: “At a time when we desperately need more affordable homes, big developers are allowed to prioritise their profits by building luxury housing while backtracking on their promises to build a fair share of affordable homes.

“The government must make sure we treat affordable housing commitments as cast iron pledges, rather than optional extras, and act now to close the loophole that allows developers to wriggle out of building the affordable homes this country urgently needs.” …

Politics and life or death

The head of the Fire Brigade Union at the Labour Conference:

“They say don’t politicise Grenfell Tower, and we’ve not tried to politicise Grenfell Tower. But the truth is that actually when we examine this, and we do that, we’re already doing that, we will find – and any serious inquiry if it is genuine will find – that what led to the situation whereby Grenfell Tower could happen is a whole series of decisions, decisions that go back probably 30 years in reality, that go back over those three and a half decades.

“Decisions that altered the safety regime. Decisions that altered the housing regime. Decisions that altered inspection regimes and enforcement regimes.

“A process of deregulation and supposedly cutting red tape, where the previous Prime Minister David Cameron described health and safety as a ‘monster that should be slain.’ This is the language we’ve had off these people in power.” “And it is political decisions that have created the regime whereby Grenfell Tower, that atrocity, could happen.

“So there is no getting away from the fact that it is a political matter and we shouldn’t be afraid of saying it is a political matter.

Echoing Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s controversial claim that Grenfell victims were “murdered by political decisions”, Mr Wrack said: “They’re decisions and decisions are made by politicians. So by definition they are political decisions.

“To me it is a national political scandal. It is the sort of the scandal on which governments should fall, by the way.”

Mr Wrack said only London’s fire service was big enough to be able to give the level of cover needed to fight the fire.

“Plymouth has tower blocks that failed the tests” for flammable building cladding, he said. “They have night duties when they have 18 firefighters on duty.”

Turning to the inquiry, he added: “If we conclude, and if representatives of the residents and survivors and bereaved conclude, that the whole thing is a pointless stitch-up, then actually we may conclude that we’re going to walk away and boycott that inquiry.

“I hope it doesn’t happen but I think we need to tell the inquiry people that that’s where we stand.”

The “free market” PM shows how it’s done

As the article says: The NHS spends 1.02% of its budget on agency staff where the Cabinet Office has spent nearer 8% of its budget on such staff. But that is a mere drop in the ocean … read on …

“While all eyes were on the Labour Party conference, Theresa May’s Cabinet Office (CO) quietly published its accounts. And buried in the 114 pages was the fact that it spent a whopping £43.8m on agency staff in 2016/17.

But this was just the tip of a half a billion pound spending iceberg – with the CO blowing £8.86m on staff perks, and even giving [pdf, p89] former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg £114,982 from the public purse. …

Excruciating figures

Some of the most notable spending compared to 2015/16 was:

£43.8m on agency staff, up 54%.
£2.47m on staff “termination benefits” when they left the CO, up 162%.
£8.86m on staff travel, food and “hospitality”, up 63%.
£196.8m on total staff costs, up 20%.
£50.2m on Police and Crime Commissioner elections.
£1.54m on Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts, up 387%.
£21.7m on renting buildings, up 38%.
Writing off £2.3m of “bad debt”, up 5,342%.

But the £43.8m spent on agency staff (7.8% of the CO’s entire budget) does not tell the whole story. Because another set of CO figures reveals that it only employed 299 agency, interim, or consultant staff in 2016/17. Meaning the average cost of one of these, including agency fees, was £146,488.

The CO spent, overall, £558.58m in 2016/17; down £1.24m or 0.22% on 2015/16. The spending increases listed above were mostly offset by savings from not having the cost of a general election, reductions in pension costs, and less being paid out for “professional services”.

But delve a little deeper into the figures and some of the CO spending is even more questionable.

Nudging paper

The full CO accounts reveal that it paid out [pdf, p89] £538,067 in total to all living former Prime Ministers as “public duty costs”. But this also included £114,982 to former Deputy PM Clegg; a 12.8% increase on his payment in 2015/16.

The CO has [pdf, p99] £210.6m worth of agreements with private contractors to pay out over the course of their durations. It also holds [pdf, p101] £64m of investments in six private companies that operate within the public sector/government. One of these is Behavioural Insights Ltd, also known as the controversial ‘Nudge Unit’. As writer Sue Jones noted in 2015, the Nudge Unit is:

aimed at ‘changing the behaviours’ of citizens perceived to ‘make the wrong choices’ – ultimately the presented political aim is to mend Britain’s supposedly ‘broken society’ and to restore a country that ‘lives within its means’, according to a narrow, elitist view, bringing about a neoliberal utopia built on ‘economic competitiveness’ in a ‘global race’.
The Canary approached the CO for comment on its accounts, but at the time of publication had not received a response.

May’s money for nothing

John Manzoni, Chief Executive of the Civil Service, said [pdf, p9] in his introduction to the CO accounts that:

This year the Cabinet Office celebrated 100 years… ensuring that government works efficiently and effectively for citizens across the UK.
Manzoni’s hopes of the CO “ensuring efficiency” are laughable, at best, when you have a government department that happily spends £43.8m on agency staff and nearly £9m on ‘perks’ for its employees.

But the CO’s seemingly frivolous spending should contrast with other government departments. Because during 2016/17, the DWP cut Personal Independence Payments (PIP) for 164,000 people living with mental health issues. It reduced their payments from the enhanced to the standard rate, saving it £27.45 per person, per week. So, this saved the DWP £234m, or 0.11% of the welfare budget.

Also, the NHS spends around 1.02% of its budget on agency staff, but is criticised for doing so. So, when the CO claims “efficiency” but sees fit to spend 7.8% of its budget on agency staff, yet the DWP cuts crucial support from some of the poorest in society to save it a mere 0.11%, we have a truly broken government.

Axe Valley Academy 6th form to close due to austerity cuts

“AXMINSTER has been hit by the shock news that the sixth form at Axe Valley Academy looks set to close.

The board of trustees of Vector Learning Trust, which includes the academy, issued a statement this afternoon saying that a public consultation has been launched regarding the proposed sixth form closure at Axe Valley Academy.

The statement said: “Schools and academies nationwide have come under increasing financial pressure from government underfunding in the last few years with a particular reduction in the amount received per sixth form student.

“Consequently, schools with small sixth forms have supplemented post-16 provision from budgets allocated to 11-16 year olds; a situation which is neither fair on the lower school nor sustainable in the long term, and subsequently many school sixth forms throughout the country have closed or are planning to close.”

Ann Adams, chairman of trustees of Vector Learning Trust, said: “Despite the best ever sixth form results in August of this year, the finances at Axe Valley Academy have reached a critical point and tough decisions are having to be made.

“Re-designation of the academy to an 11-16 provider would guarantee financial stability and allow us to direct staffing and resources to the lower school resulting in a more effective and efficient organisation which will ensure outstanding education for the young people in the Axe Valley communities.”

The proposed sixth form closure is for August 2019, to allow the current cohort of Year 12 students to complete their two-year courses.

All further post-16 recruitment has been suspended pending the outcome of the consultation.

Martin Brook, CEO of the trust said: “We are totally committed to providing our existing sixth form students with high quality teaching and resources to attain their required grades at A Level and thus secure their preferred places at leading universities.”

He went on to say: “I have no doubt that this is absolutely the right decision for the young people and staff at Axe Valley Academy and by making it now we are securing the future of the academy in the long term as well as the provision of outstanding schooling for students in Years 7-11.”

Further information regarding the proposed sixth form closure can be found in a full consultation paper posted on the Academy website (printed copies available on request).

The consultation will run until Tuesday November 7thduring which time comments can be sent to the Academy by e-mail or delivered to reception in Chard Street, Axminster. A public consultation evening is being held at 6pm on Tuesday 10th October 10th in the Main Hall at Axe Valley Academy to which all are welcome to attend.”