“Visas for super rich investors scrapped amid crackdown on money laundering”

Owl says: WHAT! The government WASN’T checking the accounts and investments of these people to begin with? Well, who would have guessed!

“The government will suspend golden ticket investment visas, which allow non-EU nationals to stay in the UK if they invest £2m, amid a crackdown on organised crime.

Just buying into UK companies, or buying government bonds, will no longer be enough for Russian oligarchs, Middle Eastern oil barons and other super rich investors to stay in the UK.

The tier 1 investor visas, which gave investors permission to stay in Britain for up to three years, are being scrapped at midnight tomorrow.

The changes will force applicants who want to come to the UK to hire British auditors to comb through their accounts and prove they control the investments.

Around 1,000 people applied for the visas in the past year. …

“I have been clear that we will not tolerate people who do not play by the rules and seek to abuse the system,” immigration minister Caroline Nokes said.

She added: “That is why I am bringing forward these new measures which will make sure that only genuine investors, who intend to support UK businesses, can benefit from our immigration system.” …


“Luxembourg to become first country to make all public transport free”

“Luxembourg is set to become the first country in the world to make all its public transport free.

Fares on trains, trams and buses will be lifted next summer under the plans of the re-elected coalition government led by Xavier Bettel, who was sworn in for a second term as prime minister on Wednesday.

Bettel, whose Democratic party will form a government with the leftwing Socialist Workers’ party and the Greens, had vowed to prioritise the environment during the recent election campaign.

On top of the transport pledge, the new government is also considering legalising cannabis, and introducing two new public holidays.

Luxembourg City, the capital of the small Grand Duchy, suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion in the world.

It is home to about 110,000 people, but a further 400,000 commute into the city to work. A study suggested that drivers in the capital spent an average of 33 hours in traffic jams in 2016.

While the country as a whole has 600,000 inhabitants, nearly 200,000 people living in France, Belgium and Germany cross the border every day to work in Luxembourg.

Luxembourg has increasingly shown a progressive attitude to transport. This summer, the government brought in free transport for every child and young person under the age of 20. Secondary school students can use free shuttles between their institution and their home. Commuters need only pay €2 (£1.78) for up to two hours of travel, which in a country of just 999 sq miles (2,590 sq km) covers almost all journeys.

Now, from the start of 2020 all tickets will be abolished, saving on the collection of fares and the policing of ticket purchases. …”


“The Government Thinks No-one Will Notice Their Devastation Of Local Government – We Won’t Let That Happen”

“Unless this Government changes tune, elderly people will be lonelier, disabled people will get sicker, vulnerable children will fall through the net.

Despite unprecedented pressure and growing warnings, Councils are bracing themselves for the biggest cuts they’ve had to face since 2010. That is the prospect of the Tories’ local government settlement set to be announced.

The past eight years have seen councils forced to make cuts – but they’ve reached the end of the line, with so-called “non-essential services” being cut to the bone, leading to even deeper reductions to the services that we all rely on like street cleaning, libraries, and children’s centres, and to many of the preventative services that previously reduced the pressure on the NHS and police.

So severe and urgent is the crisis facing our councils, that the UN’s special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights mentioned it in the opening paragraph of his recent report, saying that local authorities had been “gutted by a series of government policies”.

Despite all the warnings, the Government will announce a further 36 per cent cut to local government funding, the largest annual deduction in almost a decade.

Councils of all parties are facing a funding crisis with devastating effects on key public services – children at risk, disabled adults and vulnerable older people – and the services we all rely on, like clean streets, libraries, and children’s centres.

In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, this is an unacceptable position to be in. It is a national scandal that 1.4 million older people are now not getting the necessary help to carry out essential tasks such as washing themselves and dressing – up 20% over the last two years. The deterioration of social care alone will fundamentally damage the fabric of society as we know it. Huge amounts of money have been taken out of the system, despite obvious rising demand.

This is a crisis of the Tories’ creation, but as ever they are pushing the blame on to councils, communities, carers and families. Our councils were the first target when the coalition government came into power, losing 60p out of every £1 that the last Labour Government was spending on local government in 2010.

As a result of these cuts, the Tory-led Local Government Association is predicting that next year, councils will be facing a funding gap of £3.9 billion just to maintain current services, including £1.5 billion gap in adult social care funding.

Instead of showing the leadership that is needed in this crisis, the Government continues to put sticking plaster after sticking plaster, on what is now, an open wound.

Previous local government settlements under this Tory government have been unacceptable, unfair and unhelpful. Unless this Government changes tune, elderly people will be lonelier, disabled people will get sicker, vulnerable children will fall through the net, and our communities will become more unpleasant, unsafe and unattractive places to live. All councils are now reaching breaking point and short term sticking plasters will not keep the wolves from the door for much longer.

Andrew Gwynne is the Shadow Secretary of State, Communities & Local Government and Labour MP for Denton & Reddish”


“School Cuts: New £4.5bn Pensions Bombshell”

“Austerity-hit schools could be facing an eye-watering £4.8bn cuts bombshell if the government doesn’t fund a planned pension contributions hike.

Headteachers will be left with no choice but to slash spending on “the absolute basics” if Chancellor Philip Hammond does not plug the four-year shortfall at next year’s spending review, Labour has said.

The new figures, from the House of Commons Library, will pile pressure on ministers to act in the wake of a mass protest at Westminster by headteachers in September.

The Department for Education (DfE), however, said that the changes make teachers’ pension schemes “sustainable in the long-term”. …

In 2016, ministers admitted the pensions shortfall would amount to a sizeable £2bn, but that figure was revised up at the November budget and there is only enough cash set aside to cover costs for 2019/20.

It comes after respected think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that per-pupil funding had fallen by 8% since 2010.

Labour MP Stephanie Peacock, who is a former teacher, said the government should match the commitment it gave to the NHS, which has seen its extra pensions contributions fully covered.

“New homes ‘crumbling due to weak mortar’ : affected householders gagged about repairs

“Hundreds of new properties have been built using weak mortar that does not meet recommended industry standards, the Victoria Derbyshire show has found.

There are reports of homes with the fault on at least 13 estates in the UK.
The full extent of the industry-wide problem is hard to measure as some homeowners have been asked to sign gagging orders to claim compensation.

The industry says mortar performance is a complex issue and can be affected by a number of factors.

One of those homes was owned by Vincent Fascione, 70. He says he was watching football on TV one evening in 2016 when he heard a loud cracking noise from the external walls of his house.

The next morning, he found a sand-like substance all over his front path and driveway. Photographs and video from the time appear to show growing cracks in the mortar holding his bricks together.

Mr Fascione, from Coatbridge outside Glasgow, bought his semi-detached property in 2012 for £112,500.

He complained to the homebuilder, Taylor Wimpey, and to the NHBC, the industry body that signs off and provides the warranty for most new-build houses.


Under NHBC guidelines, mortar in most areas of the UK should be made of one part cement to 5.5 parts sand.

In severe weather areas such as Coatbridge, there should be even more cement in the mix to make it stronger and more durable.

Laboratory tests on samples taken from parts of Mr Fascione’s home showed the amount of sand was almost three times higher than recommended.

“I’m the guy who retired and decided to buy a new-build house,” he said. “I’ll never buy a new-build house again – never. It’s just been disastrous for me.”

After 18 months of complaints, the NHBC bought back Mr Fascione’s home at the market rate and he is living in alternative accommodation.

The organisation said it had done so because the performance of the company it had employed to repair the property had not been good enough and “in consideration of Mr Fascione’s personal circumstances”, not because of the original issue with the mortar.

‘Widespread and serious’

The Victoria Derbyshire Programme has heard about new build properties in at least 13 estates from Scotland to Sussex, built by different companies, with what appears to be a similar problem.

In one single estate in the Scottish borders, it is thought Taylor Wimpey has agreed to replace the mortar in more than 90 separate properties. The homebuilder says an assessment by engineers found “no structural issues” with the homes.

“This is both widespread and serious,” says Phil Waller, a retired construction manager who has blogged about the problem.

“It cannot be explained away by the industry as a few isolated cases.”

Exactly why the weaker building material may have been used is unclear.
In some cases, the housebuilder may have simply used the wrong type of mortar. In other cases, errors may have been made mixing and laying the material on site.

Some construction experts also blame the switch to a new type of factory-mixed mortar, which might pass a different strength test in the laboratory but not always be strong enough in the real world.

Non-disclosure agreements

Faced with what could be an expensive repair bill, many homeowners have been told by their own solicitors not to go public until the issue is resolved.
In some cases, customers have ultimately had their houses bought back by either the homebuilder or the NHBC.

In others, it appears repairs have been made and compensation paid as part of a deal that involves the signing of a non-disclosure agreement or gagging clause.

One homeowner in the north-west of England told the programme: “The only comment I can make is no comment. I’d like to speak out but at the end of the day I have to protect my investment.”

A gagging clause may stop the property owner talking not only to the media but also to neighbours in the estate who may be facing similar problems.

“It’s going on, it’s just not being talked about,” says Mr Waller.
“Non-disclosure agreements should be banned full stop. If it’s all covered up, more victims are likely to be drawn into the net and make the same mistakes.”

An NHBC spokesman said it included a confidentiality clause in a “small number of rare circumstances” but declined to disclose the number.
He added: “We work with builders to help them improve the construction quality of the homes they build. However, it is the builder who is ultimately responsible for the quality of the new homes they build.”
Taylor Wimpey apologised to Mr Fascione for the issues experienced with his home.

A spokesman said: “We are committed to delivering excellent quality homes and achieving high levels of customer satisfaction. On those occasions where issues do arise, we endeavour to resolve those issues as soon as practically possible.”


Grants to facilitate people with disabilities to put themselves forward for office

“People with disabilities are to be offered thousands of pounds to help them run for elected office in next year’s council elections as part of an effort to tackle under-representation in town halls.

Grants averaging £4,000 will be made available to some to cover costs of campaign expenses including specialist transport, screen reader software, sign language interpretation and braille transcription.

Only 10% of councillors have a disability, compared with about 20% of the UK population. The government is offering £250,000, which is expected to fund around 60 candidates. [The Guardian]

The Access to Elected Office fund provided such grants since its launch as a pilot in 2012 under the Coalition government, but after the 2015 general election the Conservatives put it into limbo.”