Greater Manchester council cuts

Greater Manchester is set to welcome its first Mayor into office later this year as the centrepiece of the Devolution Agreement imposed on its three million inhabitants in 2014. However, no matter what grand promises will be offered during the upcoming mayoral election campaign, the fact is that 2017 will witness the continuation of brutal cuts to public services, as Labour-controlled councils in the region continue to do the government’s dirty work.

Manchester City Council announced late in 2016 it would be implementing a cuts package totaling £30m. Despite a proposed 8% hike in council tax, the council still seeks to trim £12m from the social care budget, directly affecting some of the city’s most vulnerable. This will be accompanied by savings in the deployment of school crossing wardens – jeopardising child safety – and cuts to parks and recreation budgets, affecting many public spaces in the region. The council undertook a ‘public consultation’ regarding the impending cuts. Its supposed aim was to ‘use what you tell us as part of our budget setting process’. Yet, with just 1,700 residents taking part and the limited scope of options offered, the exercise was less a consultation and more an attempt to frame any proposed cuts as having public approval.

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Housing: No respite for the working class under London’s Labour Mayor

Homes for Londoners

In December 2016, London Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan launched ‘Homes for Londoners’ – his much-touted draft of plans to ease the capital’s housing crisis. In May, while running for Mayor, he described the election as ‘a referendum on housing’, and his manifesto promised that 50% of all new builds in London would be what he called ‘genuinely affordable’. The destruction of London’s council housing estates – so-called ‘regeneration’ – would only go ahead, he pledged, with majority resident support, and only where there was no loss of social housing.

These were just some of his lies. His Affordable Homes Programme 2016-2021, and its accompanying Draft good practice guide for estate regeneration, are a hotch-potch of broken promises, weasel words and sops to the middle classes and better-off sections of the working class who aspire to own their own homes and whose votes Labour is desperate to retain. Meanwhile, it will accelerate the dismantling of social housing, making it easier for private developers to push through their plans and harder for residents of working class housing estates threatened with demolition to resist.Cat Wiener reports.

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Housing In Brief

Bristol: private housing plans generate community fightback

Following a spirited campaign by local housing activists, with support from the RCG, in December 2016 Bristol City Council’s planning committee deferred granting planning permission for 135 luxury flats until plans were amended to include social housing. Now, developers are seeking to undermine this setback by appealing to national government at public expense.

Protests outside the council’s Planning Committee meeting in November 2016 marked the culmination of the first stage of campaigning that began six months before against property developers ducking their obligation to provide social housing. Under pressure, the committee – against the advice of its officers – decided that it could not rubber-stamp plans to develop Easton’s Chocolate Factory in their current state, and requested that the developers amend them. The site, located in a working class and largely black area of Bristol, was due to be turned into luxury apartments, of which only six would be sold at the slightly discounted ‘affordable’ rate.

On 14 January 2017, site developers Generator South West announced that they would appeal the decision. Tenants’ union ACORN and the RCG have already been out on the streets to make local people aware of Generator’s plans, and local campaigners are meeting to discuss their strategy. However much Generator may think that they’ve circumvented community opposition, the reality is that it’s not going away any time soon.

Luke Meehan

London Labour council targets homeless centre

As part of Southwark Labour council’s continued effort to demolish the Aylesbury Estate in south London, Divine Rescue – a homeless outreach charity and foodbank that uses the Thurlow Lodge community centre on the estate – has been threatened with eviction. In December 2016, council officers entered the building, locked up all the tables and chairs and, in a typical act of mean-mindedness, removed all the toilet rolls. They also threatened to switch off the electricity supply and lock up the building. But, thanks to the resilience and solidarity shown by workers at the centre who staged an occupation of the premises, alongside residents and campaigners such as Defend Council Housing and the Revolutionary Communist Group, the council has been forced to backtrack. Southwark Labour ‘regeneration’ councillor Fiona Colley – notorious for her contemptuous comments about council estate residents being ‘all on benefits’ – issued a statement in early January denying it ever intended to evict Divine Rescue. However, it still intends to put the management of the premises ‘out to tender’ – for which read ‘privatise’. Divine Rescue has issued its own statement, describing the council’s move as ‘both an attack on the homeless, disabled and poor clients of this charity and an attack on council tenants and residents on the Aylesbury Estate. By demolishing more than 2,000 council homes on the Aylesbury, the council will create even more homeless people.’ Campaigners have set up a new tenants and residents association which claims the right to manage the centre on behalf of the community. The next step must be to take the fight to the council, and lead tenants, campaigners and the many, many users of the community centre to confront these social cleansers in their own premises.

Dominic Scofield

No democracy in choice for Newham Labour mayor

Robin Wales has been the Labour Mayor of Newham in east London since 2002. During that time he has shown himself to be an advocate of gentrification and social cleansing, a friend of big business and an enemy of the poor, who has waged an unrelenting battle against the Focus E15 campaign. He enjoys a salary of £80,000pa – with expenses of £100,000 – while presiding over one of the poorest boroughs in London. Meanwhile, 80% of council tax is being used to service high-interest loans recklessly taken out by the mayor on behalf of the council, at the expense of frontline services.

With the next mayoral election due in 2018, a trigger ballot took place in October and November 2016 to give local Labour members a say in selecting their Party candidate. The choice put before them was either to vote ‘yes’ to having Robin Wales as the sole candidate, or ‘no’ – which would mean that other candidates could also stand for selection.

775 party members across 20 wards took part, voting by 11 wards to 9 for a choice of candidates. So the Robin Wales camp dredged up a whole new lot of votes, including the borough’s 17 Labour-affiliated organisations, mostly trade union branches, whose support was counted as a ‘yes’ to Robin Wales, in many cases without any vote being taken. Newham Fabians – another ‘yes’ for Robin Wales – have not actually met for four years, and the BECTU branch’s support comes from its single member – who happens to be a paid adviser to Robin Wales. This blatant act of gerrymandering swung it for Robin Wales, and he will once again be Labour’s uncontested choice for Newham mayor.

Hannah Caller

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 255 February/March 2017

Who owns England’s green and pleasant land banks?

William Blake’s poem, Jerusalem, the anthem of conservative sentiment, gives a surprisingly true vision not just of England but of the whole of the United Kingdom. The majority of the UK’s 60 million acres are lightly populated and comprise vast swathes of empty countryside. Urban plot makes up just 6% of the land and is where 90% of the population of England, Wales, Scotland and the north of Ireland live and work. The rest is 42 million acres of ‘agricultural land’ and 12 million acres of ‘natural waste’ – mountains, bogs, moors, estuaries and so on. Only 5% of England remains ‘common land’.

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Housing In Briefs - FRFI 254 Dec 2016/Jan 2017

Autumn Statement: smoke and mirrors

The measures announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond in the Autumn Statement will do precisely nothing to resolve the housing crisis for the working class. The promise of £1.4bn to build 40,000 ‘affordable homes’ – with an additional £3.15bn for 90,000 in London – is the same old sleight of hand. Firstly, it begs the question: ‘affordable’ for whom? ‘Affordable’, ‘submarket’ and ‘intermediary’ rents are all euphemisms for anything up to 80% of market rents – ie unaffordable for the majority of people in most of Britain. In London so-called ‘intermediate housing’ requires a minimum salary of £57,000 a year. In southeast London, as the campaign has discovered, Southwark Labour Council’s new planning policy for the Old Kent Road ‘regeneration’ now allows developers to decide for themselves what constitutes ‘affordable housing’. Secondly, there have already been massive handouts of government money to private builders to tackle the housing crisis. In the words of economist Paul Mason, this has simply resulted in ‘a glut of luxury apartments and a shortage of homes for ordinary people’.

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