Proportional representation: Nancy Platts

Nancy Platts, a Brighton Labour Party councillor, who has worked for London Fire Brigade, Daycare Trust and Consumer Focus, points out that under the proposed new boundaries, the problem of ‘electoral bias’ means the Conservatives will only need a lead of 1.6% per cent to win a majority (less than they won by in 2017) – while Labour will need a lead of more than 8%.

One of the main reasons for this is a total lack of proportionality: under first-past-the-post, seats do not match votes – it is where those votes are cast that really matters. Huge Labour majorities do not equal more representation: instead, millions of votes are thrown on the electoral scrapheap. ‘Losing big and winning small’ is rewarded.

Westminster’s voting system splits the left vote, but projections by the Electoral Reform Society show Labour would now be Westminster’s largest party under the preferential STV system (used for local elections in Scotland).

A new report on the benefits of the case for fair votes makes clear that the experience of councils in Scotland as well as governments across Europe shows that proportional voting systems – where every vote counts – help to foster ‘consensual’ politics, where unions and civil society are included as key players.

Democracies with more consensual structures are more progressive, with larger welfare states and lower rates of prison incarceration and lower economic equality.

EU countries which have proportional representation have embedded trade union rights, high union density and extensive collective bargaining coverage use proportional electoral systems.

Nancy ends “There is increasing momentum for change both in unions and the Labour Party. It’s time to replace Westminster’s broken set-up and extend the progressive voting systems we see in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland into Westminster.

When every vote counts – with seats matching how people really vote – parties don’t just pander to wealthier swing seats and a handful of influential voters. They have to win support across the board”.






Universal basic income would enhance freedom and cut poverty

In the Financial Times, Dr Guy Standing, SOAS University of London, replies to Ian Goldin, who gave five reasons for dismissing basic income.

In his recent book, summarising 30 years of research, all five are considered. He explains:

First, he says universal basic income (BI) is unaffordable. Many advocates do not use “universal”. What they mean is that all legal residents (and legal migrants after a qualifying period) should qualify. Most believe the BI should be clawed back from the rich in tax. This is administratively easier, more equitable and efficient than targeting by means-testing. The latter has high exclusion and inclusion errors, low take-up and poverty traps, inducing bureaucrats to use intrusive behaviour tests. Mr Goldin claims that a BI is “unaffordable and leads to ballooning deficits”, adding it would be paid by “reallocation of resources from other areas such as health and education”. You cannot have it both ways. Anyhow, BI could be paid by cutting regressive subsidies, including the 1,156 tax reliefs that cost the exchequer £400bn a year.

“Second, he claims it would “lead to higher inequality and poverty”, adding “it typically aims to replace existing unemployment and other benefits”. The latter is untrue. What most advocates want is replacement of means tests, with supplements to BI for those with extra costs of living or lower expected earnings. As for the claim, all pilots/schemes have shown reduced poverty and inequality. In Alaska, when the Permanent Fund was established from which BI was to be made, the poverty rate and Gini were the highest in all US states. Twenty years later, they were the lowest. In India, pilots in nine villages resulted in reduced poverty/inequality, by comparison with beforehand and with other villages. One cannot presume a BI would raise poverty or inequality.

“Third, Mr Goldin claims a BI would “undermine social cohesion” by “rewarding people for staying at home”. All polls show that more than 90 per cent would continue to work if they had a BI. Unlike means-tested benefits, a BI would overcome the poverty trap, whereby many face marginal tax rates of 80 per cent in taking low-wage jobs.

“Mr Goldin’s fourth point is similar to the third, claiming a BI undermines incentives to participate”.

“His fifth point is that BI “offers a panacea to corporations and political leaders, postponing a discussion about the future of jobs”. Why? Most of us want to improve our lives. A BI as anchor of a new distribution system is justifiable for six reasons. It is a matter of social justice, would enhance freedom, produce basic security, cut poverty, promote political stability at a time of rising discontent, and, as India’s government recognised in a parliamentary report, even in a low-income country, a BI is affordable”.





Slating Basic Income: a starting point for a WM New Economics discussion?


Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalisation and Development at the University of Oxford, a former World Bank vice president, gives five reasons in his FT article why UBI is ‘a red herring’.


First, UBI is financially irresponsible. Universal means everyone gets it. Even in the richest societies, if UBI was set at a level to provide a modest but decent standard of living it would be unaffordable and lead to ballooning deficits. To close the UBI budget black hole, much higher taxes or reallocation of resources from other areas such as health and education would be needed.

Second, UBI will lead to higher inequality and poverty. It typically aims to replace existing unemployment and other benefits with a simple universal grant. As the OECD has shown, by reallocating welfare payments from targeted transfers (such as unemployment, disability or housing benefits) to a generalised transfer to everyone, the amount that goes to the most deserving is lower. Billionaires get a little more.

Third, UBI will undermine social cohesion. Individuals gain not only income, but meaning, status, skills, networks and friendships through work. Delinking income and work, while rewarding people for staying at home, causes social decay. Crime, drugs, dysfunctional families and other socially destructive outcomes are more likely in places with high unemployment, as is evident in the drug pandemic in the US.

Fourth, UBI undermines incentives to participate. Stronger safety nets are vital. No decent society should tolerate dire poverty or starvation. But for those who are able, help should be designed to get individuals and families to participate; to help people overcome unemployment and find work, retrain, move cities. Wherever possible, safety nets should be a lifeline towards meaningful work and participation in society, not a guarantee of a lifetime of dependence.

Fifth, UBI offers a panacea to corporate and political leaders, postponing an urgent discussion about the future of jobs.

The demographic pressures in rich countries, and the deep challenge artificial intelligence poses to development prospects in poor ones, adds to the need for this conversation.

There must be more part-time work, shorter weeks, and rewards for home work, creative industries and social and individual care.

Forget about UBI; to reverse rising inequality and social dislocation we need to radically change the way we think about income and work





The arguments made during the first referendum in 1975 on Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?” were, as I remember, largely economic, tied in with a vision of where the UK’s future place in the world ought to be.

Would it do better linked to the old Empire, most of which was now becoming independent, or as part of an expanding Common Market, free of internal tariff barriers, in non-communist western Europe?

It’s true there was some discussion about sovereignty. Formidable speakers like Enoch Powell and Tony Benn abhorred any tampering with the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament, as had Hugh Gaitskell before him, but such constitutional questions seemed to many people rather academic. It is therefore interesting to turn to the recent second referendum and there to the factors found to have influenced people’s votes (see the data provided by the Rowntree Foundation and Lord Ashcroft’s polls in the weblinks below).

Here the issue of sovereignty was cited as the main reason for opposition to the EU by those who voted leave, and economic prospects as third in importance. However the second most significant reason cited in the 2016 referendum on Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” was a new one: the better control of immigration.

Admittedly in 1975 immigration in general was a controversial issue – the “rivers of blood” speech by Enoch Powell 1968 had stirred passions – but the immigrants objected to then were not from Europe; furthermore, the free movement of persons in the EU, and the entry to the UK of a large number of them, particularly from Eastern Europe, had yet to come.

Between 1975 and 2006 the powers of European institutions expanded. After all, for markets to operate smoothly and effectively rules need to be applied by governmental bodies capable of enforcing them. For there to be a level playing field it was understandable that there should be freedom of movement of goods and services, with common standards, for example of weights, measures and hygiene.

Furthermore the players in the market – business people, workers and investors – from all countries needed to have the same opportunities everywhere. Hence the four freedoms of the single market (of goods, services, people and capital), mentioned in the 1957 Treaty of Rome, were set up in stages by the treaties of Maastricht 1993, Amsterdam 1999 and Lisbon 2009.

The European institutions responsible for regulations included the Commission (EU secretariat), the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, and the directives so produced have become part of the law of the UK. Alleged infringements of the rules are brought to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg whose judgements are mandatory on any member.

(As an aside, it’s important to distinguish between the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights based in Strasbourg. The latter is the court of the Council of Europe – founded in 1949 and consisting of 47 member states of which the EU 28 states are only a part – and concerned with the upholding of Human Rights, in particular the Convention on Human Rights. The Court’s decisions are not mandatory though have considerable authority; for example, when it decided that the UK was wrong in not giving prisoners the vote, the UK government refused an immediate change but has since come to a compromise.)

The UK now is in the formal process of leaving the EU. It began in May 2015 when the UK parliament voted by 544 to 53 to hold a referendum; this was held in 2016 with the question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Though the margin of victory in the referendum was slight – 52 to 48% to the nearest point – the overwhelming majority in the parliamentary vote to hold the referendum and the long campaign leading up to it gave added weight to the final referendum vote and has made many MPs feel under an obligation to support a Brexit deal even if it is not what they personally would have chosen.

In October 2016 Theresa May said she would trigger Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty in March 2017; however, Gina Miller’s court case forced May to put the issue through Parliament and, in early 2017, MPs voted to trigger Article 50, with the consequence at 11pm on 29th March 2019 the UK is to be out of the EU.

At the time of writing both sides are proposing that there will be a transition period from March 29th 2019 to the end of December 31st 2020 after which all the changes will apply.

Furthermore, by the end of 2017 substantial progress was made in negotiations about the respective rights of EU and UK citizens, the financial compensation to the EU owed by the UK and the mutual desire not to have border posts between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

But what has still to be decided is the nature of the future relationship between the two bodies. The deadline for doing so and agreeing the transition has been set by David Davis and Michel Barnier as Oct 2018.

One option is for the UK to remain part of the Single Market. This would preserve London as a global financial centre but would entail accepting the four freedoms and the jurisdiction of the European Court.

Another is to retain membership of the Customs Union alone. That would mean no tariff barriers and so no need for border posts, for example in Ireland, but UK would not be allowed to make trade deals with other countries outside the EU.

The two remaining possibilities already on the table are,

 first, for the UK not to leave at all,

or, second, to come out with no deal and move to the World Trade Organisation rules which would mean being subject to all the EU tariffs and doing any deals on an ad hoc basis.

What the UK government seems to be hoping for is a “bespoke” customs deal that does not prevent the UK making other trade agreements; this might mean avoiding border posts in Ireland by registering goods on which tariffs are due at the point of dispatch or by treating local trade around the border as so small that it can be disregarded.

Not unnaturally the EU is wary of this; what can start as a little local trade can expand vastly if smugglers get it.

How things will turn out eventually it is hard to be sure. The negotiators need our support – not least to conduct the negotiations in the right spirit. When passions run high it is very easy to demonise opponents.

What concerns me is that the UK should not lose some of the good things the EU has brought us, for example about the environment, conditions at work, and action against tax injustice.

One of the consequences of Brexit would be that vast quantities of EU directives would have to be brought over into UK law and adapted to fit our own institutions.

The (Great Repeal Bill) was read the first time in the House of Commons on 13 July 2017, and completed its passage through the Commons on 17 January 2018, by passing the Third Reading by 324 votes to 295. It has completed First and Second Readings in the House of Lords, and Committee Stage is scheduled to begin on 21 February 2018.

The necessary action, in a short space of time so that there is not a legal vacuum, is likely to give considerable power to government over against parliament, possibly in ways that cannot be afterwards reversed.

Even more concerning is the division the debate seems to have brought out within our own society. According to the studies of both the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and of Lord Ashcroft, the groups in general voting remain were those under 40, better educated, with good jobs, in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The leavers were generally poorer, unemployed or in less lucrative employment, and in areas not so much of high immigration but of a rapid increase in immigration over the last few years.

Maybe the divisions were already there but it has taken the referendum question to bring them out. The challenge now is to use the negotiations and the eventual decision and implementation as a means of fostering social and environmental justice for all, including migrants and refugees.

Though difficult, it is a moral and religious imperative.


John Nightingale, 11th February 2018





Rail privatisation

The FT’s Gill Plimmer and Jonathan Ford make the points summarised below in the latest of a series on public services.

There is a growing consensus among both executives and industry experts as well as the public that Britain’s unique attempt to create competition on Britain’s rail network has not delivered.

Two decades on, passenger numbers have more than doubled since the last year under British Rail but how much of this is due to the benefits of privatisation, rather than the shift to the suburbs, increasing urban congestion and a rising population?

Privatisation has led to more services, and encouraged more users to pay higher prices, but it has not led to the productivity improvement needed to upgrade the network and stabilise the network’s finances.

Over the same period, London’s state-owned metro network, Transport for London, has grown just as quickly and delivered more state-of-the-art investment.

“It’s very hard for people to travel around and not suffer from the cracks in the system,” says Christian Wolmar, a train historian. “It’s everything, from knowing who to buy a ticket from to the signalling failure that delays the train to the lack of information when your train is cancelled.

  • Journeys are often uncomfortable: 23% of customers commuting into London at peak hours have to stand.
  • According to the consumer group Which?, delays of at least 30 minutes afflicted more than 7m journeys last year.
  • Ticket prices have risen: they are now 25% higher in real terms than in 1995 and 30% higher than in France, Holland, Sweden and Switzerland.
  • The latest average rise in fares of 3.4 %, announced on New Year’s Day, was greeted with outrage.

Wolmar adds: “It’s hard to know which is worse — fragmentation or privatisation — but I’d probably say fragmentation.” The government broke British Rail into three: track, rolling stock and train operators, and sold it in 100 sections between 1995 and 1997.

Fragmentation has encouraged each part of the system to prioritise its own profits rather than collaborating to improve the system.

“The train you catch is owned by a bank, leased to a private company, which has a franchise from the Department for Transport to run it on this track owned by Network Rail, all regulated by another office, and all paid for by taxpayers or passengers,” says John Stittle, a professor of accounting at Essex university. “The complexity is expensive.”

  • The contribution from the state has almost doubled from £2.3bn in 1996 to £4.2bn in real terms in 2016-17,
  • The cost of running the UK’s railways is 40% higher than it is in the rest of Europe, according to a 2011 government report by Sir Roy McNulty, who has long experience in transport regulation.
  • According to the 2011 report, unit costs per passenger kilometre were roughly 20p in 2010, much the same as they were in 1996.
  • In 2009 the Competition Commission said the owners of the trains could have cost the taxpayer as much as £100m a year by overcharging operators.
  • It cost £4.1bn to provide maintenance and renewals work on the system in 2016-17, but the train operators paid only £1.5bn to access the nation’s tracks – half of what they paid at privatisation.
  • The Competition Commission concluded in 2009 that the rolling stock companies could have cost the taxpayer as much as £100m a year by overcharging operators on leasing rates.
  • The train operators have paid dividends of £654m between 2012-13 and 2015-16, compared with total operating profits of £868m.
  • The Virgin bailout, National Express failure, early withdrawal of Stagecoach and the collapse of Railtrack have damaged the case for private rail ownership.

When National Express handed back the keys to the East Coast line franchise in 2009, it was renationalised under an arm’s-length government body called Directly Operated Railways. During the following five years under state control, it increased ticket sales, returned about £1bn to the taxpayer and delivered record levels of customer satisfaction.

Railway rolling stock — which is leased to the train operators for about £1.5bn a year — is still largely owned by three companies:

  • Eversholt is owned by a Hong Kong company with a Cayman Islands subsidiary;
  • Angel mostly by Luxembourg-based investors;
  • and Porterbrook by another consortium of international investors, ‘Parent organization’, Deutsche Bank.

Some argue that track and train should be reunited and returned to public ownership. Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour leader, has proposed putting the franchises back under state control as they expire and commissioning trains directly from manufacturers. An October poll by the conservative think-tank Legatum found nearly three-quarters of the UK population agreed with him.




Universal Basic Income 9: Scotland

Jonathon Porritt tweeted a link to Libby Brooksarticle in the Guardian about four Scottish councils who will be undertaking the first universal basic income pilot schemes in the UK, supported by a grant announced last month by the Scottish government.

She explains: “The concept of a universal basic income revolves around the idea of offering every individual, regardless of their existing benefit entitlement or earned income, a non-conditional flat-rate payment, with any income earned above that taxed progressively. The intention is to replace the welfare safety net with a platform on which people can build their lives, whether they choose to earn, learn, care or set up a business”.

Grassmarket and Victoria Street in Edinburgh

There is cross-party support across the four areas currently designing basic income pilots – Glasgow, Edinburgh (above), Fife and North Ayrshire – the projects have been championed by Labour, SNP, Green and, in one case, Conservative councillors.

Ms Brooks continues, “A civil service briefing paper on basic income expressed concerns that the “conflicting and confusing” policy could be a disincentive to work and costed its national roll-out at £12.3bn a year. But advocates argue the figures fail to take into account savings the scheme would bring. The independent thinktank Reform Scotland, which published a briefing earlier this month setting out a suggested basic income of £5,200 for every adult, has calculated that much of the cost could be met through a combination of making work-related benefits obsolete and changes to the tax system, including scrapping the personal allowance and merging national insurance and income tax”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told a conference of international economists days after the critical briefing paper: “It might turn out not to be the answer, it might turn out not to be feasible. But as work and employment changes as rapidly as it is doing, I think it’s really important that we are prepared to be open-minded about the different ways that we can support individuals to participate fully in the new economy.”

Urban and rural councils will take part (above, rural Fife).  Joe Cullinane, the Labour leader of North Ayrshire council, said:

“We have high levels of deprivation and high unemployment, so we take the view that the current system is failing us and we need to look at something new to lift people out of poverty.

“Basic income has critics and supporters on the left and right, which tells you there are very different ways of shaping it and we need to state at the outset that this is a progressive change, to remove that fear and allow people to have greater control over their lives, to enter the labour market on their own terms.”





A shorter working week: Owen Jones & NEF’s Anna Coote

Owen Jones recently called for shorter working week and harked back to a 2014 article by Anna Coote, head of social policy for the New Economics Foundation.  

We have long called for shorter and more flexible hours of paid work, firstly in our report 21 Hours and more recently in our book Time on Our Side. Any move towards a shorter working week would need to be implemented gradually, alongside efforts to strengthen wage levels across the economy. But as long as that’s understood, there are clear benefits for environment, economy and society:

  • A smaller carbon footprint: Countries with shorter average hours tend to have a smaller ecological footprint. As a nation, the UK is currently consuming well beyond its share of natural resource. Moving out of the fast lane would take us away from the convenience-led consumption that is damaging our environment, and leave time for living more sustainably.
  • A stronger economy: If handled properly, a move towards a shorter working week would improve social and economic equality, easing our dependence on debt-fuelled growth – key ingredients of a robust economy. It would be competitive, too: the Netherlands and Germany have shorter work weeks than Britain and the US, yet their economies are as strong or stronger.
  • Better employees: Those who work less tend to be more productive hour for hour than those regularly pushing themselves beyond the 40 hours per week point.  They are less prone to sickness and absenteeism and make up a more stable and committed workforce.
  • Lower unemployment: Average working hours may have spiralled, but they are not spread equally across our economy – just as some find themselves working all hours of the day and night, others struggle to find work at all. A shorter working week would help to redistribute paid and unpaid time more evenly across the population.
  • Improved well-being: Giving everybody more time to spend as they choose would greatly reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being, as well as mental and physical health. Working less would help us all move away from the current path of living to work, working to earn and earning to consume. It would help us all to reflect on and appreciate the things that we truly value in life.
  • More equality between men and women: Women currently spend more time than men doing unpaid work. Moving towards a shorter working week as the ‘norm’ would help change attitudes about gender roles, promote more equal shares of paid and unpaid work, and help revalue jobs traditionally associated with women’s work.
  • Higher quality, affordable childcare: The high demand for childcare stems partly from a culture of long working hours which has spiralled out of control. A shorter working week would help mothers and fathers better balance their time, reducing the costs of full-time childcare. As well as bringing down the cost of childcare, working fewer hours would give parents more time to spend with their children. This opportunity for more activities, experiences and two-way teaching and learning would have benefits for mothers and fathers, as well as their children.
  • More time for families, friends and neighbours Spending less time in paid work would enable us to spend more time with and care for each other – our parents, children, friends and neighbours – and to value and strengthen all the relationships that make our lives worthwhile and help to build a stronger society.
  • Making more of later life: A shorter and more flexible working week could make the transition from employment to retirement much smoother, spread over a longer period of time.  People could reduce their hours gradually over a decade or more.  Shifting suddenly from long hours to no hours of paid work can be traumatic, often causing illness and early death.
  • A stronger democracy: We’d all have more time to participate in local activities, to find out what’s going on around us, to engage in politics, locally and nationally, to ask questions and to campaign for change.

Anna’s article followed a call for a four-day week from Dr John Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health. He called for the country to switch to a four-day week to help combat high levels of work-related stress, let people spend more time with their families or exercising, and reduce unemployment. Bringing the standard working week down from five to four days would also help address medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and the mental ill-health associated with overwork or lack of work.

Universal Basic Income 8 – update

In October, Dylan Matthews (US Occupy website) wrote about a forthcoming Basic Income pilot.

Next year, a random sample of the 300,000 residents of Stockton, California – the largest city in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy during the financial crisis – will get $500 per month with no strings attached. It’s the latest test of basic income, funded by the Economic Security Project, a pro-basic income advocacy and research group co-chaired by Facebook co-founder and former New Republic publisher Chris Hughes and activists Natalie Foster and Dorian Warren; Hughes provided the group’s initial funding.

Many of Silicon Valley’s tech entrepreneurs and investors see basic income, as a necessary way to support Americans if artificial intelligence and other automation advances lead to unemployment for vast swathes of the population, redistributing the wealth that Silicon Valley creates to poorer people and localities left behind.

Ontario, Canada, Finland, and the international charity GiveDirectly in Kenya have all launched basic income experiments of their own and Glasgow, Edinburgh, North Ayrshire and Fife in Scotland are jumping into the ring too. A list of ongoing and announced basic income pilots can be found on the BIEN website.

In 2011, a pilot BI project was launched in rural Madhya Pradesh through the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), in collaboration with UNICEF.

See this excellent video account – well worth twelve minutes of your time.

For 12 to 18 months, over 6,000 individuals received ‘basic income’. The grants were universal, unconditional, and were given to individuals, not the head of the household, to ensure that there is no harassment and ensuring financial inclusion of women, children and the elderly.

Two pilot studies were conducted under this project: in one, 8 villages received the basic income, while 12 similar villages didn’t. In the other, one tribal village received the income while another tribal village was taken as control group. The studies covered over 15,000 individuals in all.

The results of these pilots, published in the book Basic Income: A Transformative Policy for India. (2014, London: Bloomsbury, by Professor Guy Standing of BIEN who speaks in the video), showed many encouraging developments, debunking the myths that basic cash transfers in rural India would inevitably lead to a decrease in work or that money would be wasted in alcohol consumption and other pursuits:

o   Basic living conditions, starting with sanitation, better access to clean drinking water, improvements in cooking and lighting energy sources, improved significantly.

o   There was a major increase in food sufficiency, improved diets, better nutrition and reduction in seasonal illnesses.

o   Better health of children led to higher school attendance and improved performance. The basic income also facilitated spending on school uniforms, books and stationery.

o   The cash transfer facilitated small scale investments such as buying better raw materials and equipment, which resulted in a higher income.

o   There was also a shift, especially in the tribal village, from wage labour and bonded labour to owning farms and to other forms of self-employment.

o   Women’s empowerment was another outcome of the pilot studies: their participation in economic decision making in the household improved.

The basic income also enabled indebted villagers to pay back the money lenders and borrow less from them.

Readers who wish to know more about the Indian pilot may do so by using the links at the foot of this blog.

The Times reports that Nobel Prize-winning economist Professor Joseph Stiglitz, a member of the Scottish government’s council of economic advisers, had reservations about Basic Income, saying that it would be better to focus on targeting those who have particularly strong needs and on creating jobs while ensuring the most vulnerable were supported. But Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has vowed to press ahead with plans to explore such a policy, where welfare payments are replaced with a guaranteed income for everybody, and has offered government funding for research schemes.





NEF: putting tenants back at the heart of social housing policy

Joe Beswick writes: “At the New Economics Foundation, we’re working with resident-led groups across the country proposing detailed, costed plans for affordable housing projects on public land – such as StART Haringey.  It takes courage, resources and imagination to see tenants and communities as the real agents of regeneration, and ensure that what gets built responds to community needs, instead of ignoring them. But that is exactly what needs to happen. If we learnt anything from the Grenfell tragedy, it was that for too long, social housing tenants’ voices have been ignored. Residents knew the tower was unsafe – but nobody listened to them. Lightly edited extracts from Joe’s article follow. The full text may be read here.

Earlier this week the leader of the Labour Party made a real commitment to increasing tenant power. His promise to give social housing tenants a ballot on the decision to regenerate their estate would be an important first step in putting tenants back at the heart of social housing policy.

So-called consultations have, in effect, made decisions about what happens to people’s homes behind closed doors, without meaningful input from residents. Some regeneration schemes, like the Heygate Estate in Southwark, have seen the numbers of affordable social rent homes plummet, with only 82 of the 2,704 new homes built available at social rent levels.

An excellent article in the Financial Times is cited: “I in London, as has been widely reported, the current models of estate regeneration already lead to a large net loss of social rented homes, with regeneration often actually making the housing crisis worse:

Local authorities and housing associations should offer increased access to information and clear options for regeneration – something which has so often been lacking in recent schemes. They would need to ‘win over’ their tenants in order to succeed in the ballot.

But community control over regeneration can work. On many estates undergoing regeneration, residents have created their own ‘people’s plans – innovative regeneration schemes which put residents in control and deliver net increases in social housing. For instance the residents of the Waterton and Elgin Community Homes estates in Westminster, which are entirely tenant controlled, are undertaking a major regeneration scheme, adding 43 affordable homes to Westminster’s housing stock.

For social landlords to be able to work with tenants to deliver regeneration which consistently meets the needs of the community, they will be need to empowered, reskilled and resourced – for example, by lifting the borrowing cap which so often forces local authorities into unsatisfactory regeneration partnerships with private developers, to the exclusion of tenants.

Mr Beswick concludes: “expanding the power and control of tenants must not be restricted simply to regeneration. To begin to fix our broken housing system, tenants and local communities need to be genuinely empowered in areas where for too long they have had too little control. This would include giving tenants greater involvement in the day-to-day management of their estates, to end the ‘them-vs-us’ relationship between social tenants and their landlords which has become so common. It would also include putting the needs of local communities at the heart of decision-making over what gets built in the local area, especially on public land”.





New Economics:  a local alternative to Uber

Transport for London has decided not to give Uber a new license, though its application (Uber requires drivers and users to have a smartphone) will still be operational in London while Uber appeals against the decision. Problems have arisen partly due to the company’s policy of not finding out whether the prospective driver has a criminal record.

An Uber executive from the scandal-prone company is said to have advocated hiring investigators to “dig up dirt” on journalists who criticize them. A commissioner in Virginia who opposed Uber was flooded with emails and calls after the company distributed his personal contact information to its users in the state.

Uber has been banned from or – due to legal restrictions – has voluntarily pulled out of Alaska, Oregon (except Portland), Vancouver, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, German, London, the Northern Territory in Australia, Japan, and Taiwan.

The New Economics Foundation has called for a mutually-owned, publicly-regulated alternative to Uber, providing better working conditions for drivers and higher safety standards for passengers.

Stefan Baskerville (NEF: Unions and Business) said: “Digital platforms are here to stay and technology cannot be reversed. The question now is how they should be controlled and by whom, as well as the standards they set and how they treat people. It is time to develop alternative models which put people back in control”.

As NEF points out, drivers in different parts of the UK are developing their own platforms

In 2015 Cab:app was co-founded by London taxi driver Peter Schive, who said: ‘Cab:app draws on the heritage and expertise of the black cab industry and translates it for the digital world.

Other early examples included the Bristol Taxi App – abbreviated to Braxi – which will only employ drivers licensed by Bristol City Council. Farouq Hussain, ‘one of the brains behind the app’, described it as being “just like Uber, only local”, with no surcharge and 25% pay cut. He added: “Our app takes the best of Uber and makes it local”.

The most recent: in June Anlaby-based 966 Taxis in Hull designed and launched its Uber-style app which they believe could transform the service. Alice Martin (NEF: Lead for Work) said: “TFL’s move will send ripples across the country where there has been a recent surge in private hire licenses given out to support Uber’s growth, particularly in the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West” adding:

We’ve been working with drivers in different parts of the UK who are developing their own platforms. The time has come for the Mayor to back a better alternative to Uber and lead the way for other local authorities to do the same”.


Jeremy Heighway writes:

Years ago (but still after the dawn of apps) I thought about putting some effort into an app that would be more closely related to hitch-hiking than getting a taxi.

Basically, new trips by car should not be generated (aside for slight detours), and drivers would only be sharing the costs of trips they would have made anyway – and not making an actual profit.

I hope that a new platform manages to get the idea across that socially and ecologically sound mobility is not via job and journey creation using cars, but more efficient vehicle use.