London faces a £39.8 billion shortfall in funding for new homes

January 5, 2013 § Leave a comment


Local councils in London are facing an eye watering £39.8 billion shortfall in funding for new homes according to research published by organisation London Councils.

The Capital’s population reached 8.2 million people this year. Forecasters believe it will reach 9 million before the decade is over. To keep up with this demand London will need to build 36,000 homes a year. Between 2010/11 only 19,860 new homes were built. This lack of development is reflected in London’s house prices. London is one of two areas where house prices are still rising. The only other area is the South West.

It’s not only house prices. The average Londoner living in rented accommodation gives half their salary to their landlord. Affordable housing is also sparse, just over 5,000 new ‘affordable’ homes were built in the first half of last year. Councils sometimes ignore their affordable housing policy in an attempt to kick-start flagging developments.

These figures mean that by 2020 there will be a shortfall of 221,000 homes.

Unless steps are put in place to overcome this shortfall house prices will continue to rise. As a result first time buyers will become exceptional. An aspiration available to only the well off. Those living in rented accommodation will continue to do so without any hope of owning property.

Real poverty caused by extortionate rents will also become more common. A two child family living on benefits receives only £110 a week. A two bedroom rented property in Brixton costs an average of £364 per week, whilst in South Lambeth the price rockets to £601 per week. Neither of these are particularly glitzy locations. Whilst there are benefit contributions towards rent, £110 a week is next to nothing.



Peace I miss you

December 13, 2012 § Leave a comment



A collection of images from the Syrian Civil War. There are no heroes, these images detail the suffering and death ordinary citizens face every day.




























































Syria must not become another exception to international law

December 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

As the world witnesses the 21st month of continuous civil war in Syria the words ‘foreign intervention’ are becoming more common. During the last week the Bashar regime has fired scud missiles at rebel targets in the north. Whilst reports still need corroboration, it appears rockets from Damascus were aimed at captured recently rebel supplies and ammunition holds.

Chemical warfare
International law prohibits the use of chemical weapons under the Geneva Protocol. Throughout the 20th century this law was bolstered by a series of augmentations which went as far as to mandatecountries to destroy their stockpiles of weapons.

For the last week the reports from sources in Syria suggest that the Bashar regime is preparing sarin gas, a deadly nerve gas, for use against the rebels. Since the preparation and storage of such chemical weapons is prohibited the world has a duty to react.

White House Press Secretary Joe Carney told reporters “if true, this would be the last desperate act from a regime that has shown utter disregard for innocent life, utter disregard for the lives of its own citizens”. Whilst a spokesperson for the US State Department said “as the regime becomes more and more desperate, we see it resorting to increased lethality and more vicious weapons,”. As yet, there has been no clear guidelines on what would occur if the Bashar regime were to drop nerve gas on its own citizens.

Whilst the US is weary of making any clear threats, NATO has provided Turkey with Patriot Missiles. Turkey, already a key actor, is now especially important. With Patriot Missiles in Turkey a de-facto no fly zone exists over the north of Syria, this will give rebels room to establish some level of political infrastructure.

If reports of chemical weapons are a last ditch attempt from a dying regime all the better. However, the US and Europe must not forget the duty they have to uphold international law.

Every community needs a hero

June 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Community engagement is the buzz-word in government at the moment. Although news organisations have passed it by, David Cameron’s Big Society campaign is still an important part of government policy, effecting everything from housing policy to local elections. The Big Society seeks to shift ownership of community management from the state, to the general public. It is the friendly face of the Conservative’s suspicion of a large state capable of forcing its hands into the lives of every day people.

Strong communities are intrinsically valuable, they promote trust and mutual ownership. We English have a tendency to hark back to the ‘good old days’ where people watched out for one another. This discourse was dreamt up by newscasters looking for an emotive sign off, and historians seeking to appeal to the public mood, but it remains true that communities with a ‘village feel’ where divergent classes of people live alongside one another, are happier communities.

Big Society policy may have its values in the right place, but it will ultimately prove unable to realise its potential unless it recognises the importance of community leaders. Rather than absolving themselves of all responsibility and hoping that the community will pick up the slack, local governments ought to be identifying ‘Community Heroes’ who have the energy and enthusiasm to encourage apathetic residents to pick up a shovel and muck in.

Wards in the South West of Birmingham exemplify this issue. Follow the railway tracks south of New Street out of the city and you can see the stark effect committed individuals can have on a neighbourhood. On the one side you have Quinton and the Northern fringes of Selly Oak. Areas which have benefited tremendously from community engagement. Organisers linked to local government, or the Neighbourhood Watch have ensured that local problems are quickly dealt with. In Quinton Community Leaders were able to pressure a telephone company into dropping plans to erect a new mast. East of the line lies Selly Oak proper, a grotty little ward with zero upkeep and even less community engagement.

A high level of involvement isn’t for all, however local governments facing cuts ought to find creative ways to recruit and train new leaders able to take up the rains when council jobs are axed.

Latin America calls for new international drugs policy

April 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

The regulation of drugs has joined climate change, terrorism and the financial system as a policy area which can only be dealt with through international institutions. States are notoriously inept when it comes to working together to solve these international problems. They tend to focus on their own domestic advantage, as they should, rather than look at the bigger picture. However, these problems are not going to go away and since states remain concerned with the goings on within their own borders the responsibility falls to international institutions to pick up where states leave off.

Today the Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina called for a new international agreement on the trafficking and sale of illegal drugs. Speaking at a summit in Cartagena, Colombia, the former intelligence officer turned president, made the case that international policy on the matter ought to favour greater liberalisation and regulation.  He stated that:

“”Our proposal as the Guatemalan government is to abandon any ideological consideration regarding drug policy (whether prohibition or liberalisation) and to foster a global intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach to drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that drug consumption and production should be legalised, but within certain limits and conditions.”

Whether it is greater or fewer regulations that are being discussed governments ought to foster a policy which promotes the involvement of international institutions. Without these they will be left with a fractured and broken set of domestic rules which cease at the borders of the state.

New energy policy outlines increased dependence on nuclear power

February 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Note: this is from a piece I wrote for Redbrick Paper. You can find a host of other news about Birmingham and the wider world on their fine site.

Amid growing public opposition to wind turbines the government has unveiled plans to increase the role nuclear power will play in the UK’s energy economy over the next 8 years.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change has published figures that suggest by 2020 12% of the UK’s energy will come from nuclear power. Increasing the UK’s reliance on nuclear energy whilst building more offshore wind farms is expected to reduce the national grid’s reliance on coal-fired power stations.

Over the next 8 years the lifespan of existing nuclear power stations will be extended by ten years, according to the government’s report. Two new nuclear power plants are also expected to be connected by 2020, allowing the government to meet its targets on carbon reductions.

This report comes as 100 conservative MPs sign a letter to the Prime Minister David Cameron urging him reduce subsidies to onshore wind farms. This letter is designed to reflect the public opinion on wind farms, which many believe to be costly and unattractive. Tory MP Chris Heaton-Harris has said that “The more the true full cost of wind energy is exposed the more you have to ask why we continue to back such an expensive and intermittent source of energy”.

The latest figures from the government have revised the role wind power will play in the UK’s energy mix. Wind farms will now produce 4GW less energy than originally expected. This reduction will be balanced by an increase in the use of nuclear energy.

However, given the increased attention nuclear energy has received over the past year it is not clear that this new energy mix will be palatable to the UK public either. Nearly a year ago the Fukushima disaster saw the meltdown of 3 nuclear reactors following the Tōhoku earthquake. As the anniversary of the disaster draws nearer public fears surrounding nuclear energy will no doubt be heightened.

52% think the NHS bill should be dropped

February 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

A report from the Guardian this morning has shown the true extent of opposition against the NHS bill. Tom Clark reports that:

Labour is one point ahead, on 37%, with Ed Miliband’s party up from 35% last month. The Liberal Democrats slip back two to stand at 14%, and the combined total of the smaller parties has climbed by four points, to 13%.

An outright majority of respondents, 52%, say that the bill – which would overhaul NHS management, increase competition and give family doctors more financial responsibility – should be dropped. That is against 33% who believe it is better to stick with the plans at this stage.

Only the very youngest respondents aged 18 to 24, the least likely to vote, favour sticking with the plans, by 46% to 39%. Opposition hardens with age, and is at its most marked among the over-65s – who favour dropping the bill by a 56% to 29% margin. A third of Conservatives(31%) and a significant majority of Lib Dem voters (57%) also want the proposed law to be ditched.”

The government has over a month to withstand this tirade, and they’re looking increasingly marginalised. The Lib Dems need to put some serious pressure on them by speaking out in public, as Simon Hughes has done. What is more their peers in the House of Lords should scrutinise this bill all the more finely because of this opposition. This could serve to draw the process out for as long as possible.