Ozzy's Corner

A view from the Libertarian Left. With no spin


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Time to consider Brick Bonds

A joint report by the National Housing Federation, Shelter and the Chartered Institute of Housing has been published, accusing the Government of failing to tackle the housing crisis.

Kay Boycott, director of communications, policy and campaigns at Shelter, said:

Every day Shelter sees families up and down the country whose lives are being torn apart by the shortage of affordable homes.

This government has had two years to start delivering on housing, yet this report paints a pretty bleak picture of its current record on housing in all its forms.  We must now see progress made on the commitments outlined in November’s Housing Strategy and bolder action taken to make sure families across the country can find a decent place to call home.

In Local Authorities across the country there is a battle to build the houses required to meet the needs of those who need secure, affordable housing. The lack of finance and the pressure to protect Green Belt land makes it even more complicated.

In November 2011 Homes from Empty Homes reported that 720,000 homes were empty in the UK, 279,000 for over six months. In addition, many urban areas have unused business properties that could be converted, both providing affordable homes and improving what are often eye-sores in poor condition. Another benefit is the way that no more Green Belt need be built on.

As well as providing homes, this would create new jobs, require more apprenticeships and cut the benefits bill. Creating hundreds of thousands of jobs would really boost the UK economy. Dr Eoin Clarke has researched this issue here.

Clearly funding this via Government in the foreseeable future is a tough ask. However, there is an alternative source that could be created without costing the Government a penny – Brick Bonds.

Currently, savers face record low interest rates and are desperate to find a decent return.. Businesses are sitting on huge cash piles. In the third quarter of 2011, according to Deloitte, UK businesses were sat on a cash pile worth a staggering £ 731.4 billion. There is money out there, it’s just not being spent.

I propose the creation of Brick Bonds. These would be an investment that would allow Councils, Housing Associations and Co-Operatives to borrow money to bring these homes back into good use.

Building affordable homes to both buy and rent securely would not be without at least a modest return. This would make the buyer of the bond enough interest to justify it being a good deal for the purchaser, when stable good returns are hard to find elsewhere.

The Government could assist in making Brick Bonds work. A framework of regulation would make them safe. Some concessions, such as making them partially tax-free, could boost their popularity and help ordinary savers.

Planning laws could eased to enable the easy change of use of former business property to residential property.

A new legal framework could be enacted to allow the compulsory purchase of unused and empty property by Councils and Housing Associations, before they become too derelict.

A new stream of affordable homes would also have the knock on effect of giving those living the poorest slum accommodation in the private sector a way out. Putting slum landlords out of business would be doing society a huge favour.

You never know, this idea might just catch on…

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Francois Hollande – a Sheep in a Wolf’s Clothing?

Francois Hollande swept into power, not only with the hopes of French voters behind him, but also with the hopes of the whole of the European left.

The Euro crisis looks no nearer to being solved than a year ago. The only solution sanctioned by the European and world financial elite, lashing of austerity, is clearly not working. The European economy is bogged down and going nowhere.

The price paid by the people of Greece is terrible. Listening to Radio 4 today, poor Greek women giving birth in hospital are being bullied into paying over € 1,000, under the threat of the hospital not allowing them to have their children unless it is paid.

Both Greece and Italy have Leaders that have not been elected, but forced upon them to deliver austerity by the IMF, World bank and the Central European Bank.

The European banks are sitting on huge amounts of toxic debt. To admit the true scale of this time-bomb could sink the capital bases of the Europe banking system, bringing much needed credit grinding to a halt.

Against this backdrop Francois Hollande won the French Presidency by promising growth, higher taxes for the richest people in France and employing more teachers – instead of austerity.

A stated aim within his campaign was to renegotiate the stability pact. This pact is appalling in democratic terms, and is only fit for the dustbin. It is one of the final pieces in making a federal Europe. If a nation chooses to invest seriously in its infrastructure by running a deficit of 5% for a few years rather than a prescribed 3%, it is no-one else’s business. The budget of a nation is its own business. The trouble with the single currency is plain to see. Monetary union can’t work without fiscal union. Fiscal union is political union by default. Political union is both unwanted by the people of Europe and undemocratic. Francois Hollande needs to do more than just tab a few growth policies onto this pact – this is not enough.

The BBC’s Stephen Evans reported:

President Hollande did what it seems likely that President Nicolas Sarkozy would have done: he asserted, as one with Chancellor Angela Merkel, that (1) Greece should remain within the euro and (2) that it should adhere to the painful commitments already made.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18087085

The situation is critical in Greece, a microcosm of the every problem with the Euro. Yet Mr Hollande seems keen to maintain the ostrich stance that has totally paralysed Europe’s Leaders.

It’s early days, but I fear that pinning hopes on a Europe based on the values of people, not the markets, on Francois Hollande may well lead to disappointment.


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The Greens Crossroad

Two events have combined to leave the Green Party at a crossroads.

Firstly, the Green Party made some progress in this month’s local elections. In my own area, Kirklees, in wards where the Liberal Democrat was not an established Councillor, the Green Party over took them into third place. One seat was gained and the standing Green Councillor in another ward won by a convincing margin. Nationally the party made  a small number of gains. The Green Candidate came third in the London Mayoral race.

Secondly, on the 15th May, Caroline Lucas announced that she will stand down as Leader of the Green Party in September, since being elected in 2008. The MP for Brighton and Hove, and former MEP said:

Green politics has shifted from the margins to the mainstream of British political life. As the party grows, buoyed by a new generation of activists and underpinned by the achievements of our outstanding elected members, now is the time to make space for other talented Greens to come through and take us even further forward. For me, this decision is about staying true to green principles.

My experience in the local elections convinced me of one fact the party as a whole must accept – it does not have the resources: members or financial – to increase it’s vote beyond it’s current limits. Without strong media support, the only way to get the Green Party message across is old fashioned door-to-door leafleting and canvassing.

It’s membership is about one twentieth of the Labour Party,  one sixteenth of the Conservatives  and a sixth of the Liberal democrats (based on 2010 figures). This is simply inadequate for the required task. Every election means either getting a small vote from everywhere, or ignoring the majority of electors to focus winning a bigger share in a smaller area.

The election of a new Leader will be a moment to take some major long-term decisions. Does the party wish to remain as it is, and be a small voice, but be no more than a poorly resourced pressure group?

The alternative is to grow the party beyond it’s comfort zone. The party has a great message on the elements of social justice that could transform the lives of those living in poorer urban areas, left behind by successive Conservative and Labour Governments. The Greens are about more than renewable energy, although it is important issue. It should talk to those without work, those left in the poorest housing. It should explain it’s policies to pensioners, who would get a much higher basic pension without means-testing or degrading tax credits.

The new Leader must also work out how to handle the party’s relationship with other parties. This must involve making a clear decision about the possible co-operation with other parties where common aims exist.

The in-tray for a new Leader – a membership drive, a re-focussing of the Green Party’s message to reach a broader electorate and the possibilities for electoral co-operation –  is a challenging one. The internal debate within a very open and democratic party will be nothing short of a full-bloodied discussion and rightfully so.

I look forward to it.