‘Covid created an opportunity’: Lisbon turns 20,000 tourist flats into homes

Do “tourist flats” = “student flats” in Exeter? – Owl

Ashifa Kassam www.theguardian.com

For centuries, the maze of narrow, cobbled streets that make up Lisbon’s Alfama neighbourhood has told the story of the city’s past. But in recent years, as trendy cafes and tourist flats proliferated, the historic quarter began telling a worrying tale of the city’s future.

A rapid transformation had rippled across the city centre as Airbnb-style tourist rentals swelled to a third of the properties. As locals found themselves priced out and communities began hollowing out, many began grumbling about the aftershocks of terramotourisma tourism earthquake.

That was, at least, until the pandemic brought tourism to a standstill. “In a certain sense Covid has created an opportunity,” Fernando Medina, the mayor of Lisbon, told the Guardian. “The virus didn’t ask us for permission to come in, but we have the ability to use this time to think and to see how we can move in a direction to correct things and put them on the right track.”

The city seized on the moment to cast new light on a programme that was in the works prior to the pandemic: an ambitious plan to convert some of the city’s more than 20,000 tourist flats into affordable housing.

The initiative, billed by the city as a “risk-free” option, offers landlords the possibility of receiving up to €1,000 a month by renting their properties to the city for a minimum of five years. From there the city takes over, finding tenants and renting the homes at a subsidised rate capped at a third of the household’s net income.

For landlords, the rental income is likely to be lower than what they might earn from tourists down the road. But the city is betting that the long-term, stable income – and the offer to pay an advance of as much as three years’ rent – will win over landlords as they grapple with the uncertainty generated by the pandemic.

Lisbon’s efforts hint at how the pandemic has given governments around the world leverage to reshape their approach to the housing crisis. “Just as employment and work are likely to change profoundly as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, housing is likely to change as well,” Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the United Nations envoy on the right to housing, told Reuters in May. “I hope we see it as an opportunity to reimagine housing for the post-Covid-19 world.”

A handful of governments have started doing just that. In England officials have promised to make 3,300 homes available to rough sleepers by next May, while Venice has struck an agreement that will see some tourist flats rented to university students.

Others have fast-tracked plans already in the works. In June, two hotels in Vancouver, with 173 rooms between them, were purchased to house some of the city’s most vulnerable. “The Covid-19 pandemic has put into even sharper focus our urgent need for housing,” the city’s mayor, Kennedy Stewart, said in a statement. Months earlier the Californian city of San Jose said it would accelerate a $17m plan to build up to 500 tiny homes to house homeless residents during the pandemic.

In Barcelona the virus added impetus to a long-running crackdown on empty homes. In July officials sent a warning letter to 14 banks and investment funds whose stock of 194 homes are believed to have been sitting vacant for two years. If the homes were not rented within a month, the letter warned, the city would move to expropriate them at half their market value and turn them into social housing. “The plan was there,” said Lucía Martín, the city’s housing commissioner. “What Covid did was make it even more necessary.”

Some have set their sights on short-term rentals, in plans that could nudge landlords to list them on the long-term market. Amsterdam recently banned vacation rentals in its central old town and imposed restrictions on rentals in other neighbourhoods, while legislators in the Czech Republic have rolled out legislation aimed at better regulating tourist flats. In September Toronto began requiring short-term rental operators to register with the city, a move aimed at allowing officials to enforce a bylaw restricting short-term rentals to principal residences.

The critical role of housing was laid bare early on in the pandemic as governments around the world turned to lockdowns to rein in the spread of the virus, said Leilani Farha, a former UN special rapporteur on adequate housing. “And it couldn’t be more stark. Because in the face of a novel virus for which we have no medicinal cure or protection, the only protection we have is our homes.”

Months later, however, she described the approach of governments as “patchy”. The housing crisis has sharpened in places like the US, where tens of millions of people face evictions, and India, where reports have emerged of forced evictions in Indigenous communities and informal settlements. Even as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on people’s livelihoods, many governments have been reluctant to extend protections such as bans on evictions and foreclosures.

“I think that governments did realise, maybe in a new way, ‘Oh dear, we have trouble on our hands,’” she said. “But what I’m not seeing enough of is the structural changes that we need.”

That’s where Lisbon is hoping it will be a mould-breaker. The city’s programme comes with a caveat for landlords in the historical centre: once their contract with the city is up, they will not be able to return the property to the short-term rental market.

“We need to make a shift,” said Medina, the mayor. “It should change the way the housing market works here in the city.” The city has budgeted €4m for the programme, allowing 1,000 properties to take part, with the national government offering to double that number if there is enough interest.

So far the response has been tepid, with just 177 owners expressing interest after the first appeal for participants. “There was a wait-and-see approach,” said Medina, as landlords held out hope that tourism would rebound. The city is expecting an uptick in demand after its second round of recruitment.

Where the programme has already made waves, however, is in the northern city of Porto, where officials announced earlier this year that they would launch their own version.

Ultimately, Medina hopes the initiative will help strike a balance between locals wrestling with the fallout of their town becoming one of western Europe’s hottest property markets and a tourism industry that has played a critical role in ushering in urban renewal and lifting the city out of financial crisis.

“There is that tension: too much of a thing is not good, but too little of it is a problem,” he said. “It’s a question of balance. Having a house cannot be such a burden that you have to have two or three jobs – that’s not a dignified life for anyone.”

Scotch egg to the rescue: minister says it can be ‘substantial meal’

A Cornish pasty isn’t, unless it’s with chips.

A single slice of pizza wasn’t, but then it was.

And now, the environment secretary, George Eustice, has decreed, a scotch egg probably is, because it’s a starter, apparently.

Archie Bland www.theguardian.com 

The question, of course, is what constitutes a substantial meal: once a dilemma for dieters looking for an excuse for that mid-afternoon pork pie, now a matter of national importance.

Pubs in tier 2 areas will only be allowed to serve drinks if they come alongside a proper feed, the government has said, leading to some confusion over where, exactly, the line is between a bar snack and a feast. For pork scratchings or a Sunday roast, the answer is obvious. So, Eustice was asked on LBC on Monday, what of the scotch egg?

“I think a Scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service,” Eustice improvised. “Often that might be as a starter, but yes, I think it would.” But, of course, it’s not as simple as that.

“It depends on how they’re made,” said David Laing, co-owner of North Yorkshire-based specialists The Clucking Pig.

“A lot of them are very quick, very commercial, cheap stuff. But the likes of ours are a proper meal. You get a large free-range egg, 90g of rare breed Berkshire pork, fresh breadcrumbs, it’s probably a three-and-a-half inch circumference. The royal family have had ours – they’re very filling. A lot of people have to halve them.”

If the image of the Queen being so stuffed she has to hand Philip her leftovers doesn’t persuade you, Laing adds that many of his deli and pub customers serve theirs with sweet potato fries and salad. Plus, “you can definitely eat it with a knife and fork. I would recommend a serrated knife.”

Adam Coghlan, editor of food and restaurant news website Eater London, is less convinced of the sit-down credentials of a classically handheld foodstuff. “Of course it isn’t a meal,” he said.

“I mean, I suppose there are some people who might have a scotch egg for lunch sometimes, but that’s not really the rule, is it? Pubs are really annoyed they can’t open, and anything they can do that allows them to they’re going to attempt.”

Yes, there might be some places where a gastro-egg comes as a main, “but those places will be opening anyway. It’s the places with scampi fries and peanuts that are going to use this as an excuse to serve loads of pints of Foster’s. It’s a perfect example of how difficult all of this is going to be to enforce or police.”

For Oisin Rogers, landlord of the Windmill and the Guinea Grill pubs in Mayfair, London and founder of the hotly contested Scotch Egg Challenge, an attempt at definition leads to a kind of philosophical limbo. “I can’t answer that question, I just can’t,” he said.

“The brilliant thing about them is you can have a pint in one hand and the egg in the other. But it can be a meal too. You get a softboiled egg and you put it inside a sausage, who doesn’t want that?”

Even before the scotch egg question arose, ministers and officials were having a hard time providing clarity on the wider point.

It was the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, who declared that a pasty counted only if it came with sides, which is a frankly bizarre way to eat a pasty; the pizza dilemma, meanwhile, left police in Manchester in knots when they stopped local favourite Common from serving single slices that the venue described as “fucking massive”, only to eventually back down.

In the end, Rogers views the question as a sideshow. “Rather than going down this rabbit hole, the real point of the guidance is to stop people having a casual drink without eating.

“We will make sure that people sit down in a safe environment, well spaced out, servers in masks. If you take those precautions, it’s perfectly safe to have something off a plate.”

‘Guest accommodation’ to replace offices – Exeter

An example of the new normal? – Owl

Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter and Radio Exe News www.radioexe.co.uk

Less demand for business space expected

Guests will rendezvous above wine bar at 38 Southernhay East

Plans to convert officers in Southernhay East, Exeter into guest accommodation have been unveiled as ‘home-working here to stay’.

Internal alterations to the ground and first floors of the offices at 38 Southernhay East in Exeter have been proposed to change their use from offices to guest accommodation.

It is not clear who the guests will be, how long they will stay or who will own the properties.

The application says that the proposed alterations will ensure a sustainable and viable future for the property and quotes figures from the Institute of Directors which suggests coronavirus is set to have a lasting impact on office use.

ln a survey of close to a thousand company directors conducted last month, nearly three quarters said they would be keeping increased home-working, and more than half said their organisation intended to reduce long-term use of workplaces. More than one in five reported their usage would be significantly lower.

A statement with the application adds: “The minor internal alterations will not harm the character of the building, which will be enhanced through the restoration of lost internal features and the preservation and continuing maintenance of the exterior to ensure the high-quality visitor satisfaction. There will also be economic benefits to local businesses and the wider city through the provision of this facility.”

The basement, which is a wine bar, and the second floor, which is in residential use, are unaffected by the plans.

Exeter City Council planners will decide whether to accept or reject the scheme at a later date.

Secret dossier on coronavirus damage

The government has drawn up a secret dossier detailing the impact of coronavirus on the economy, with a dozen sectors rated “red” and facing significant job cuts and revenue losses, The Times has been told.

By Propiteer www.thetimes.co.uk

The Covid-19 sectoral impacts dashboard, which is prepared by officials from across Whitehall and frequently updated, gives “granular” detail on the effect of coronavirus on nearly 40 areas of the economy.

Among the sectors with a red rating are aerospace, the automotive industry, retail, hospitality and tourism, arts and heritage, maritime, including ferries and cruises, and sport.

Details of the document emerged as up to 70 Tory MPs prepared to rebel today over the government’s new tiering system, which is due to come into force tomorrow.

Ministers published an assessment yesterday of the health, social and economic impacts of coronavirus after weeks of pressure from Tory rebels, who have accused the government of failing to take into account the economic effect of the lockdown.

The 48-page impact assessment says that it is not possible to know the impact of the restrictions on the economy while warning that failing to control the virus would have “intolerable consequences” for businesses.

However, the unpublished dashboard provides a “deep dive” into the effect of coronavirus. For each sector it gives a red, amber or green rating for revenue, jobs and financial stability, with an assessment of the “overall trend” for the industry. A minister familiar with the document said: “There is a lot of detail in there, none of which is in the official impact assessment the government has published today.”

A government spokesman said: “The document referred to contains publicly available information and does not alter the fundamental analysis published today.”

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, will increase pressure on the government today by abstaining for the first time in the vote on the new tiered restrictions. The party wants more support for the hospitality sector.

The tier system will put 99 per cent of the country in Tier 2 and Tier 3, leading to bans on indoor socialising and the closure of many pubs and restaurants.

In an attempt to win over Tory rebels Boris Johnson will announce today that “wet” pubs and bars, which cannot open under Tiers 2 and 3 because they do not serve “substantial” meals, will be given additional grants.

The government’s official impact assessment did not include any new economic analysis. Instead it referred to modelling by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which suggested that the economy could contract by 11.3 per cent by the end of the year.

The document states: “It is not possible to know with any degree of confidence what path the economy would take if restrictions in place were not sufficient to prevent exponential growth, or in the absence of restrictions entirely . . . More widespread infections and the consequences of pressure on the NHS would affect spending in the economy due to voluntary social distancing, effects to confidence and impacts on businesses, including through high levels of employee sickness.”

Mel Stride, a Tory MP and chairman of the Treasury select committee, said: “This rehashed document offers very little further than that which the OBR published last week. It’s frustrating that there is little that sets out how the different tiers might impact on the specific sectors and regions across the country. Those looking for additional economic analysis of the new tiered system will struggle to find it in this document.”

Published analysis gives little insight into effects of tier system

Running to 48 pages, the government’s analysis of the economic, health and social effects of England’s new tiering system draws together existing facts and figures but also reveals ministers’ wider rationale and acknowledges what they still do not know:

Consequences for the NHS

The analysis shows just how far the NHS has come in treating Covid-19 patients since the start of the pandemic. Of the patients admitted to intensive care before August 31, 39 per cent died. In the second wave from September to November 19, this fell to 24 per cent. But the document does not try to assess explicitly what the consequences would be of the NHS exceeding its capacity to cope. Instead it simply concludes it “is clear” that a “much higher proportion” of patients would die.

Economic impact of no action

The document is most sketchy on what the effect on the economy would be if the current restrictions were relaxed. It simply states that it “is not possible to know with any degree of confidence” what the outcome would be. While fewer restrictions could allow businesses to operate as normal, increased infections could affect spending.

Health impact of the new tiers

The document cites evidence from Sage which, it says, shows that the previous tiering restrictions had not been enough to control rising case numbers except in those areas with the most stringent restrictions. This, it states, is why the new tiers need to be broader than those they replaced. Yet it warns that they may still not be enough to control the virus.

Economic impact of the new tiers

The document relies on previous national forecasts by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which are already out of date because they were compiled before vaccine trial results. These include an upside scenario in which most of the UK is in pre-lockdown Tier 2 restrictions until the spring when a vaccine becomes available, a central scenario in which most of the UK is placed in Tier 3 lockdown until the spring with an gradual easing of restrictions until a vaccine arrives later in the year. A downside scenario sees national lockdowns become necessary until well into next year.

In the upside scenario GDP falls 10.6 per cent this year but bounces back next year and unemployment peaks at 5.1 per cent. In its central forecast GDP falls by 11.3 per cent and recovers at the end of 2022 while unemployment hits 7.5 per cent. In the downside scenario, GDP levels do not recover until 2024.

It concludes that while it is “clear” that restrictions to contain the spread of Covid-19 have had and will have a “major impact on the economy and public finances” it is not possible to “forecast with confidence” the precise impact of a “specific change to a specific restriction”.

Sajid Javid’s £300,000 ‘side hustles’: Ex-Chancellor’s £1,900-per-hour role with AI firm

Ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid will earn more than £300,000 for just three weeks work after landing his second lucrative job outside Parliament, official documents have revealed.

By David Wilcock, Whitehall Correspondent For Mailonline www.dailymail.co.uk

The former Cabinet minister, who quit in February after clashing with the PM’s then aide Dominic Cummings, has been appointed an advisor to a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence firm.

His contract with C3.ai will see him paid £151, 835 for working 80-86 hours a year – or between 10 and 12 days – according to the register of MP’s financial interests. 

The pay works out to around £1,900 per hour. He took up the post on October 22 and will provide ‘advice on the global economy, geo-politics and market opportunities’.

It comes months after he landed a similar sum to work for a US-based bank. In August he landed a lucrative role as a senior adviser at  JP Morgan, where he started his career as a graduate in New York. He will earn a £150,000 salary for working the same number of hours as at C3.

This is on top of his £80,000 salary as the Conservative MP for Bromsgrove.

The former Cabinet minister, who quit in February after clashing with the PM’s then aide Dominic Cummings, has been appointed an advisor to a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence firm

His contract with C3.ai will see him paid £151,835 for working 80-86 hours a year – or between 10 and 12 days – according to the register of MP’s financial interests

The appointments come as Mr Javid is being tipped by some to return to Boris Johnson’s Cabinet. 

Reports suggested he could be brought in in a new year reshuffle if Mr Johnson decides to freshen up his top team.

Mr javid, a former banker who quite the financial world for politics, left the Cabinet just before the coronavirus outbreak in February.

The Bromsgrove MP – who challenged Mr Johnson for the Tory leadership last year before becoming his top minister – was given an ultimatum by the PM that he must accept his political advisers being ousted and replaced by Cummings loyalists to stay in No11.

Instead he chose to walk away and was replaced by his deputy Rishi Sunak.

Days later he made a thinly-veiled attack on Mr Cummings in the Commons, saying he quit as chancellor because changes to the Treasury planned by the powerful aide were ‘not in the national interest’.

It comes months after he landed a similar sum to work for a US-based bank. In August he landed a lucrative role as a senior adviser at JP Morgan (London HQ pictured) 

The former minister used a resignation statement in the Commons – in front of a watching Boris Johnson – to say that a semi-merger of behind-the-scenes teams at No10 and N011 would hamper the finance department’s ability to ‘speak truth to power’.

He declined to name Mr Cummings directly, but joked that there had been a lot of gossip already about ‘comings and goings’, to laughter from MPs.

Mr Javid follows in the footsteps of former prime minister Tony Blair, who is paid £2million per year as a part-time global adviser for JP Morgan. The ex-Chancellor will be under strict rules over what he can divulge, especially privileged information gained as a minister.

Earlier this year, JP Morgan posted the biggest annual profits of any US bank in history – just shy of £28billion. Its 64-year-old chief executive Jamie Dimon was the best paid banking boss for a fifth year in a row, scooping £24million.

C3.ai bills itself as ‘a leading enterprise AI software provider’. Today it announced a link-up with defence giant Raytheon, ‘to develop artificial intelligence solutions for aerospace and defense missions for government customers, including the US Air Force and intelligence community.

In the ‘wild west’ of online campaigning we need the Electoral Commission more than ever

The Electoral Commission have never been more vital in its 20 year history

By Darren Hughes  inews.co.uk

Our independent elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, has been in the crosshairs recently – and we all need to take notice.

Back in August, the chair of the Conservative Party Amanda Milling set up a showdown with the Electoral Commission, threatening to abolish the electoral regulator if it didn’t “get its house in order”. This is despite widespread support for the Commission from those who engage with it, including transparency campaigners.

Ensuring our parties don’t break the law or try and game the system is a vital check and balance in any democracy – one of the reasons the Electoral Commission is respected across the world.

Individual MPs and campaigners (as well the Remain and Leave campaigns alike) have been among those investigated in recent years, whether that’s on overspending in the 2015 general election and or the the 2016 EU referendum. Sometimes there’s no rule breach, sometimes there is: the important thing is the fact that the process is trusted and independent.

But threatening to shut down our watchdog responsible for ensuring a level playing field represents something quite dangerous: chipping away at our established democratic norms and safeguards.

There has been a consensus that we can’t go back to the dark days of the 1990s – when party funding scandals felt like a weekly phenomenon.

It was 20 years ago this month that the Electoral Commission was established – the first independent electoral regulator of its kind here in the UK. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000 put into law clear rules on donations, spending and campaigning – the most significant modernisation of the system in over 100 years.

Before this, political parties weren’t even required to disclose their financial accounts, donations to political parties and campaigners were unregulated, and there was little transparency over who funded our politics.

The 1990s were plagued by party funding scandals, with parties free to rake in cash from anywhere they could. From the ‘cash for questions’ scandal to allegations of cash for law-changes, it was becoming increasingly clear that something needed to be done to regulate party politics. Who knows what scandals went unreported, when parties didn’t have to declare their donations and have them audited?

Two decades on, much has changed, and our elections face new challenges – ones we could not have imagined 20 years ago, when dial-up internet was just about reaching a third of homes.

Now much of our politics is conducted in an unregulated ‘wild west’, with online campaigning changing our elections beyond recognition. Far from kneecapping our independent elections body, we need to give it a boost for the digital age.

At the last election nearly £3m was spent on online Facebook ads from non-party campaigners. We saw pro-Green Party ads set up by Vote Leave figures apparently intended to split the left vote. Meanwhile, opaque ‘outrider’ organisations spent tens of thousands of pounds – with almost no transparency – variously decrying ‘Labour’s tax raid’ or ‘Tory tax cuts for the rich’. Since foreign donations aren’t explicitly banned in UK law – and online groups not having to say clearly who is behind their ads – we don’t really know who was influencing our election debate.

While the nature of our elections has changed, the powers of the Electoral Commission have not. Even now, electoral rules refer only to ‘printed material’ when demanding transparency in campaign literature. In 2019, millions of voters were subjected to a barrage of ads through their phone, tablet or PC with little idea of who was behind them and why.

That’s why defending our democracy and standing up for our elections watchdog is so important. Without it, the integrity of our elections is at risk.

While threats to the Electoral Commission may be simply sabre-rattling, they should be taken seriously. Make no mistake: removing this respected scrutineer would create a free for all when it comes to unscrupulous campaigning, with MPs able to mark their own homework when it comes to donations.

Handing all this over to the police is not an option: they don’t want to get tangled in constant technical election disputes, and nor should they. Turning all breaches into a criminal matter would be the worst of all worlds for what are sometimes honest mistakes.

There’s much to be done to revitalise democracy in the UK – from a fairer voting system to lower caps on election spending to level the playing field. What we cannot do is go back to the corrupting chaos of the last century.

We all need to stand up and defend our elections watchdog from these attacks. We need to know who is funding our politics, that our elections are fair, and that voters can see who is trying to influence their vote.

Twenty years ago, the Electoral Commission was given this task. Now, two decades on, it must be given the powers to get to grips with online campaigning – and stand up to attacks on democratic integrity, wherever they come from.

Darren Hughes is Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society.