Friday, January 29, 2010

People power

Just over seven years ago, I got an invite to a meeting which some local people had organised in the ward where I was a councillor. The organisers of the meeting were worried about the way that their area was changing, as a result of buy to let landlords buying up family homes and renting them out - with all the consequences of increasing amounts of rubbish in front gardens, lack of parking, some homes where ten or more people were crowded in to maximise rental income, and others where tenants received an appalling service from their landlord.

About thirty people turned up to that meeting, even though the organisers had only had time to send out leaflets to three, small residential streets. They argued that landlords should have a duty to ensure that their properties were kept neat and tidy, that bad landlords were destroying the community and that the council should take action to sort this problem out.

The response at the time from the government was that they were keen to reduce the 'burden of regulation' on landlords, and were dead set against giving councils powers which would enable them to address these concerns.

The local residents weren't deterred - they made links with other residents' groups across the city who had similar concerns, they turned up to try to influence planning decisions which they felt would be detrimental to their area, and they kept the pressure on their elected representatives to try to change the government's mind.

Fast forward to 2010 - the organiser of the meeting is now chair of the local residents' association, and another resident who was actively involved was elected to the council in 2006 as my successor. The local Labour MP called debates in parliament on the subject and the Labour-run council urged the government to give them the powers to introduce a mandatory registration scheme for landlords.

And last Wednesday, Housing Minister John Healey came to Oxford Town Hall to announce that he would amend existing legislation so local authorities could introduce compulsory licensing schemes from April. He said: “I am giving councils more powers to crack down on the worst landlords and stop the spread of high concentrations of shared homes, where it causes problems for other residents or changes the character of a neighbourhood.”

It takes time, and there are always frustrations along the way - but as a result of a meeting back in 2002, which a couple of local people organised, and which their friends and neighbours decided to attend, councils will now be able to act to prevent bad landlords exploiting their tenants and ruining communities.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Inequality and Tom Harris MP

I've just read an article by a Labour MP on poverty and inequality which even a particularly dim commentator on the Daily Telegraph website might feel a bit embarrassed to have penned.

The problem is not that Tom Harris MP (for 'tis he) is absolutely ignorant about the issue of inequality and his own party's policies. After all, if he really does know as little about the subject as he makes out, it would be possible for him to read a book, talk to people who know about it or get his researchers to do him an easy read one page summary of the issue.

Then he'd discover why inequality matters, how Labour managed to reduce inequality for a time through taxing higher earners and redistributing the wealth to poor families and pensioners, and how higher benefits payments actually led to more lone parents getting into work. He'd also discover a whole host of policy ideas for reducing inequality beyond 100% taxes on inheritance or 98% supertaxes on wealth, which appear to be the only ideas he has come across.

But the problem appears to be that he is actually proud of his ignorance, and would rather make stupid and flippant points than attempt to better himself. I guess better educational opportunities might be part of the solution, but any other ideas welcome about what can be done when MPs show no interest in learning about an issue which affects thousands of their constituents - maybe in line with the welfare reform agenda we should withhold part or all of the money they get from the taxpayer if they don't buck their ideas up?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Labour councils disproportionately likely to be "star performers"

Here's a nice example of sucking up to Tories reporting the research findings that your audience wants to hear:

Ben Page, CEO of Ipsos-Mori, writing on Conservative Home:

"If you want to have residents who are satisfied with their council and think they get value for money, get Conservatives to run it for you. That is one of the headline findings of Ipsos MORI’s latest report on local authority performance."

Harry Phibbs claims that this "report shows Conservative councils perform best".

But that's not what the actual IPSOS-Mori report found:

page 10:

"In terms of the political dimension of the 20 local authority areas which most exceed
predicted area satisfaction, two fifths have Labour-controlled councils. Across England,
Labour control only a tenth of local authorities, so it is over-represented in this list of best
performing authority areas."

page 12:

"Again, a disproportionate share of the best performing areas [where people from different backgrounds get on well together] has a Labour-led local authority. In seven of the top 20 areas (or 35%), Labour holds the council. In comparison, only four of the best-performing areas have a Conservative-led council (representing 20%, whereas nationally they represent 57% of councils)."

page 14:

"On the other hand, Labour political control is again over-represented. Although it controls
only one in ten local authorities in England (11%), it holds six (or 30%) of the top 20 which
most exceed their predicted level of influence. Labour-controlled Newham performs top in the
country for absolute levels of agreement that people can influence decisions."

page 16:

"Among the 20 areas where satisfaction with the council is farthest above
predictions, the Conservatives control 13 councils (or 65%). Nationally, they hold 57% of all
English local authorities, so their political control is slightly over-represented in these top 20
best-performers...The Liberal Democrats are the least represented; they control none of the councils in the top 20 local authority areas."

page 20:

"As with council satisfaction, Conservative and Labour political control is over-represented
among the top 20 best-performing areas"

page 24:

"In order to establish which local authority areas are the 'star performers' - those doing
consistently better than expected across a number of variables (or questions) analysed - we
have produced a standardised average for each area...

Labour is also in control in a disproportionate number of them. Three in ten (29%) of the 'star
performers' is Labour-controlled, compared to 11% of all English local authorities."


The Conservatives control more councils, but Labour-run councils are more likely to perform above average on a whole range of different measures. I wonder why the head of IPSOS-Mori didn't mention that when writing on Conservative Home?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Let them clear snow

Over the past few months, the Tories have been preparing for power by considering the question of what to do about unemployment. As part of this, the website ConservativeHome is hosting a competition calling for entrants to submit sub Thatcherite ideas which even a right wing moron in a hurry might balk at.

For example, Tory parliamentary candidate and wingnut welfare recipient Alastair Thompson thinks unemployed people should be put to work clearing away the snow. He thinks that this is an idea which "can keep the country working without saddling us, the taxpayer, with yet more hefty bills" and that it is the least the unemployed can do, given that "we spend £60 billion on Jobseekers' Allowance and other associated benefits".

Even most of the commentators on ConservativeHome (who usually make Genghis Khan look like a BMER 5 a day diversity outreach co-ordinator) think this is a really stupid idea. It's worth noting, for example, that Thompson overstates the amount that the government spends on unemployed benefits by the trivial sum of £52,000,000,000, and that he thinks that not only should unemployed people do this work without being paid, but that it doesn't cost anything to co-ordinate over 1 million people to clear snow and deliver food to elderly people across the UK.

But 'no hoper Tory candidate employed in pointless job in talking rubbish shock' is hardly news, surely their top people have a better grasp of the subject?

A recent article by their expert adviser and minister for welfare reform, Lord David Freud, would suggest not.

Freud argues that Labour has failed to reduce inequality, and that they have transferred too much money to the poor.

He claims that setting targets is a bad way to address poverty, which is why he argues that the Tories will support targets to reduce material deprivation.

"Severe poverty" has got worse under Labour, according to research which he cites which shows that the statistics about "severe poverty" are meaningless.

The "better off in work" calculation, which has been done by Jobcentre advisers for many years, is something which Freud appears to have only recently learned of, and he thinks it is called "the iron triangle of benefit reform".

The Tories will "push ahead aggressively to establish outcome based financing to help all those who are economically inactive back into the work-force", which sounds like gibberish and has already been implemented by Labour under James Purnell.

Freud claims that the Child Poverty Action Group "recommends a holistic approach to tackling the problem, like approaches being developed in welfare to work". In fact, the Child Poverty Action Group said the following about the approaches that he developed in welfare to work:

"Freud confesses to having known nothing about the benefits system, thinking it too complicated to understand. He clearly spent most of the 3 weeks writing and researching his welfare reform report playing around with financial models on the back of an envelope instead. The result is a proposal to hand over £167 billion of tax payers' money to private companies with incentives to keep as much as they can. But while the private companies get the cash, he wants more powers to cut benefits to families kept from work by disability."


Thompson thinks that unemployed people should work for no wages. Freud thinks that giving poor families more money has a "negligible impact on child well-being". Welcome to the 'let them clear snow' Tory plans for the unemployed.