How to make very bad council decisions – leave them to clueless councillors!

Owl says: Do you think this applies to Tavistock? Dream on!

“Auditors have blown wide open failings in the way plans were cooked up for a sprawling Premier Inn development in a leafy Devon town.

West Devon council chiefs have been criticised for the way they led multi-million plan proposals to build over a key car park in the heart of Tavistock.

A damning new independent dossier reveals how Invest to Earn – a team of three councillors tasked with leading the project – lacked crucial knowledge of the property market and received no training to ensure they knew every risk before taking decisions.

A lack of communication between elected members about the gravity of the development, ‘hostility’ on social media and a failure to access key documents online all inevitably brought down what many deemed a pipe dream, the public file reveals. …”

[read on for more shocking information how bad decisions got worse]

https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/plymouth-news/premier-inn-tavistock-report-findings-2665718

“Cashless Britain: over-55s and low earners at risk of being left behind”

“With Britons increasingly turning to digital payments, consumers aged over 55 and those on low incomes “risk being left behind” by banks, according to new research.

The findings come in the wake of a major report earlier this month that says more than 8 million UK adults would struggle to cope in a cashless society.

According to the survey of 3,000 consumers, three-quarters (74%) of those aged 55-plus never use mobile-banking apps, while the figure for low-income earners was 57%.

In addition, in both these categories, one in four (26%) of those surveyed said they never used online banking via a computer.

But at the same time, the research from management consulting company Accenture found that only 10% of UK consumers visited a bank branch at least once a week – falling to 7% of people aged over 55.

With banks increasingly focusing on their digital platforms, it is important for them to adapt their offerings to ensure certain groups of consumers “are not left behind in the digital revolution”, says Peter Kirk, managing director of financial services at Accenture. “Our research shows that low-income earners and those aged over 55 are using branches less, but they’re not using digital channels either,” he adds.

However, the survey indicated many of these people would like some help with using mobile or online banking. When it came to in-branch services that would appeal to them, 58% of over-55s and 55% of low-income earners would find in-branch education sessions appealing to help them improve their digital skills.

With bank branches and ATMs closing, a report published by the Access to Cash Review earlier this month said companies and organisations providing essential services should be required to ensure that consumers can continue to pay with notes and coins.

The review found that cash is still king across large parts of the UK economy, with more than 80% of people in Britain saying they pay taxi drivers, newspaper sellers, window cleaners and gardeners with notes and coins.

The report warned the country’s “cash infrastructure” – which costs £5bn a year to run – was on the verge of collapse because of its declining profitability, and said the government, regulators and banks all needed to take action. The review was funded by the cash-machine network Link, but was independent from it.

The report’s authors said the UK was not ready to go cashless and that despite the runaway growth of contactless and mobile payments, a “significant number” of people – about 2.2 million – were using cash for all their day-to-day transactions.

Last year, debit cards overtook notes and coins as the most popular form of payment in the UK for the first time, and the report predicts cash could fall to just 10% of all payments in the next 15 years.”

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/mar/23/cashless-britain-over-55s-and-low-earners-at-risk-of-being-left-behind

“The Mass Sell-Off Of Public Land Is Driving The Housing Crisis”

“A major new investigation by the Bureau Local and HuffPost UK revealed austerity’s dirty little secret: massive funding cuts have been, in part, offset by a mass sell-off of public land. But what’s not being examined is who is buying that land, and what they are building on it. If used appropriately, surplus public land could be an important first step towards solving the housing crisis, but the present fire sale is, if anything, making it worse.

The Bureau’s research uncovered 12,000 public spaces sold into private ownership since 2014/15, ranging from grand metropolitan libraries to small patches of scrub land. Guy Shrubsole and Anna Powell Smith, in mapping landownership in England, discovered that £100million worth of the land sold-off by councils between 2017 and 2018 went to offshore companies. Earlier this year, Brett Christophers revealed that 10% of the UK’s land has transferred from public to private hands since 1979. In 2016, our own work at NEF revealed an alarming spread of sales from central government departments in recent years. The government itself claims to have sold 25% of the ‘core’ property holdings government departments since 2010.

Why are we offloading land at all? Ostensibly it’s to meet the government’s target: 160,000 new homes on previously public land by 2020. But the murky reality is that local authorities, like other public bodies, are selling land to fill the vast funding gaps driven by austerity. And it’s because of this fact that selling public land won’t generate the affordable homes that we desperately need to solve the housing crisis.

Local government funding has been cut in half between 2010/11 and 2017/18, so when government policy dictates selling surplus land, it’s no wonder that councils are using their land assets to plug the holes in their budgets. Birmingham City Council has used £53million from asset sales to balance its books, more than any other local authority in England, with as much as £26million of that revenue used to fund redundancies (also a result of austerity) at the council.

As NEF have shown, a key driver of the housing crisis is the price of land. When the incentive in selling public land is to raise cash to keep vital services afloat, councils inevitably sell to the highest bidder, as quickly as possible. While local authorities are technically allowed to sell at slightly less than the highest value (although many don’t out of financial necessity), central government departments are actually prohibited from selling land at lower than the ‘best consideration reasonably obtainable’. Developers cannot both build affordable housing and make a profit, because the price of land is prohibitively high. Expensive land leads to expensive houses. In this upside-down system, the price paid for land ultimately dictates what gets built when it should be the other way round.

This theory is laid bare in the planning documents that sit behind the sites. In our research on the central government sell off, we’ve come across countless examples of developers securing planning permission with promises of affordable housing, only to wriggle out of their commitments a few months later by claiming they can’t afford to.

Take Runwell Hospital in Wickford. Chelmsford City Council’s affordable housing plan requires that 35% of homes on new developments are affordable. Yet the site’s initial planning permission required only 20% affordable housing provision. Even so, the developer later submitted an application to reduce this further to just 10% on the grounds of affordability – just 61 of 575 homes.

Our research in 2017 revealed that:

Only one is five of the new homes to be built on sold-off public land is likely to be classed as ‘affordable’ (which, at 80% of market rates, is still largely unaffordable to those who need it most).

As little as 6% of new homes are likely to be social housing, and in some cases developments comprise solely of luxury properties.

New homes on formerly public land are dramatically behind schedule. At the current rate, the government’s target of building 160,000 homes will take until 2032 to achieve, 12 years later than promised.

Releasing land into the private market is not delivering the quantity or quality of affordable homes we need. As more land is sold, there is less opportunity to reverse these trends.

The sell-off of public land for hole-plugging cash receipts is not only economically short-sighted and unsustainable, it’s also driving the housing crisis. There is a clear tension between disposing of land to plug funding gaps and developing high-quality, genuinely and permanently affordable housing and other infrastructure. This year we are continuing to get to grips with the effect of the public land sale on the housing crisis. First up is a close look at NHS sites sold in the last year, then in the coming months we will be bringing together central government and local authority land sales to get a truly national picture of the sell-off. Only then can we build a picture of an alternative to the fire sale of public land, that results in the supply of genuinely affordable homes.”

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/housing-crisis-public-land_uk_5c811055e4b0a135b5199d5d

“When Will Britain Acknowledge Our Countryside Poverty?”

“… If you live in a rural environment your chances of being successful in life are very much linked to your early years. I live in rural Worcestershire, and went to college from rural North Yorkshire. I remain the only degree educated person in my family and the reasons are clear – opportunities in rural areas are not as abundant for young people as they are in cities. As a result, our countryside has become a social mobility coldspot, with my local council of Wychavon rated 310th out of 324 councils in a recent government report. If your parents are plumbers or cleaners, bakers or builders, the chances are you will follow in their footsteps. For some, through choice, but for others, it is because options are limited.

It is easy to hide social mobility in the countryside. My town of Pershore is generally a well-off and affluent area. House prices and wages are above the national average, the town is a great place to raise children and the schools are generally good. But if you are from a working-class background and work in the service industry the average house prices of £300,000 quickly make the experience of living in the area unsustainable. And the recent revelation that house prices have been forced upwards by the government’s Help to Buy scheme, just adds to the issues people face. With housing unaffordable, people are struggling to help their children access opportunities to increase their chances in life.

Education is the key to success. Education opens doors to all, regardless of backgrounds. But in a rural area, education opportunities can be very limited. Schools have the added pressures of large catchment areas, with children travelling from a wide area. Class sizes can also be small and, in the current educational climate, unsustainable. So schools have to focus on traditional GCSE and A level subjects, limiting their students’ knowledge of other, potentially inspiring minority subjects. Similarly colleges focus on qualifications aimed at the local economy. In Pershore, our local college is an agricultural centre so, if a young person wants to study ancient history or geology, electrical engineering or photography, they must travel to neighbouring towns. This commute requires time and the money, and is also restricted further by the continued reduction of bus services in the area.

But it is an even bigger issue for the local economy if young people decide to go to university. As young men and women move into cities to study at university, they create a rural brain drain. This results in a drop in the 18-30 year old population, which further limits the opportunities of those who remain as it keeps job opportunities in traditional low paid professions. New industries rarely emerge and there are few incentives for young locals to return after graduation. With limited public transport and sluggish roll-out of high speed broadband graduates find no drive to return to their childhood homes. …

… Of course not everything is perfect in major cities, but it is clear that opportunities are more accessible and education is the driving force that helps students from more deprived environments succeed in life. Wychavon, however, is struggling to keep up with the pace, with education opportunities limited and access to transport becoming ever more a problem. Has social mobility stopped? Certainly not. But if you live in a rural area, your chances are being constrained, and maybe we need to seek alternative approaches to help our rural young people succeed.”

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/countryside-poverty_uk_5c7da47de4b060c5e078048c

“Tories cling on to tax exiles’ right to vote for life despite bill delay”

“The government has said it remains committed to passing a law that could allow tax exiles the right to vote and donate to political parties for life, after it failed to pass through the House of Commons.

MPs, including the serial filibusterer Philip Davies, tabled dozens of amendments to the overseas electors bill for debate on Friday, resulting in it being dropped after parliamentary time to discuss it ran out.

Under current law, British expatriates can remain on the electoral roll, allowing them to vote and make donations, for 15 years after they leave the UK. The overseas electors bill proposed removing the time limit, giving all expats the right to vote and donate for life.

Speaking on behalf of the government, the cabinet office minister Chloe Smith told the House: “The government remains committed to scrapping the cap.” The Conservative party pledged to bring in the law in its 2017 manifesto.

Anti-corruption campaigners and Labour MPs had expressed alarm at the bill. Margaret Hodge, the former chair of parliament’s public accounts committee, described the bill as “shocking” and warned it would “increase tax haven billionaires’ influence and allow dirty money donations to political parties”.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/mar/22/tories-cling-on-to-tax-exiles-right-to-vote-for-life-despite-bill-delay