Category Archives: House-prices

Gus Christensen and co.

That previous post on housing was essentially a lament that the omniscient Economist had no answer to London’s affordable homes problem (short of building across the inner Home Counties — which might, just might, finally collapse the transport networks).

Today’s New York Times has a somewhat similar account of a similar problem:

Affordable Island in the Sun
Roosevelt Island Maintains Its Mix

Roosevelt Island, which is considered part of Manhattan and not Queens, was famously conceived as a utopia for working- and middle-class New Yorkers in 1969, and the architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee designed its master plan. Most of the apartments on the island were subsidized through state and federal programs, and various buildings were developed to house tenants of different income levels, so that someone receiving a Section 8 grant, for instance, might live next to a teacher in a rent-regulated unit.

The story is topped-and-tailed for “human interest” by Gus Christensen:

Gus Christensen was, until six months ago, a managing director at Evercore Partners, the boutique investment bank, a position preceded by stints at JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs and an education at Wharton. Some years ago, befitting that profile, he was a Republican; but eventually the religion of the free market lost its hold on him, so much so that his politics migrated aggressively to the left. Last week he posted on Twitter a link to a tabloid piece about a billionaire who was buying a $70 million pied-à-terre for his children at 740 Park Avenue, with the hashtag #Signoftheapocalypse.

Mr. Christensen is running for the State Assembly in the 76th District, which runs east of Third Avenue on the Upper East Side and includes Roosevelt Island, a community that might be seen as a template for the kind of equitable and more economically integrated city that he and other progressives, fearing the eclipse of all but the wealthiest faction of the plutocratic class, want to see achieved.

Christensen was profiled at some length in Esquire —

It is tax day, April 15th, and a rainy one on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where Gustavus “Gus” Christensen, a Democrat running to fill a rare open city seat in the New York State Assembly, works from his compact, ground level home office. Christensen sits in front of a closed HP laptop.  His campaign manager, on the payroll for about a month, sits in front of a 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display. Outside, commuters are soaked in the downpour.

The Assembly district that Christensen hopes to represent is the (relatively) poorer half of the wealthiest Congressional district in the United States.  The 42-year-old candidate left a post as managing director of Evercore Partners, a boutique investment bank, to run for the seat. He previously worked at J.P. Morgan (pre-merger with Chase) and Goldman Sachs.

Typical Wall Street, floor to ceiling on the diploma wall, too. Graduate school for Christensen was the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and he was a Yale undergraduate where he served as campus coordinator for moderate Democrat Paul Tsongas, then contesting the Democratic Party presidential primary.

For his first race, Christensen believes he’ll need to raise half a million dollars. He’s already gathered $145,000 from donors and has lent his campaign another $250,000.  It will be an expensive election. Three cycles ago, candidates in the neighboring district spent $3 million to fill an open seat. Inflation, it seems, is everywhere in New York. That’s one of the reasons Christensen is running.

There’s also a Bloomberg “In the Loop” interview, which covers much of the same ground.

250px-NYCS_map_F.svgI have to say, with his emphasis on housing and decent provision for schooling, Mr Christensen sounds like my sort of man. I don’t overlook, either, that he has seen the weakness of outcasting affordable accommodation to remoter spots (as for The Economist,  remember, that was the Green Belt):

The population of the island has grown by 20 percent over the past 10 years, and the demands on infrastructure are intense. One real problem for Roosevelt Island, as Mr. Christensen put it, is that

“there are just too many people on the F train in the morning”.

Rather like boarding the Northern Line south of East Finchley or Golders Green any morning, and expecting a seat.

Meanwhile, if you read Adam Boulton in today’s [London] Sunday Times, you got an eyeful of all that is wrong with Ed Miliband:

Today two of Miliband’s closest allies in the shadow cabinet are Rachel Reeves, who gave her first preference to Ed in 2010, and Tristram Hunt, who hotly backed his brother David. Brainy, academic, metropolitan middle-class professionals, they are also very much in Ed Miliband’s mould, which tells you a lot about his approach to politics.

Miliband believes he can answer doubts about his personality with two other P-words, policy and principle. In Miliband’s view, last week’s promised clampdown on the jobseeker’s allowance wasn’t a knee-jerk attempt to stem the flow of working-class voters to Ukip. It was a carefully calculated plank in his plan to combat youth unemployment.

The announcement was just a taster of the policy platform — on growth, on infrastructure, on education — that Miliband’s Labour will roll out through the summer, culminating in the party conference, an event that has so far proved a successful marshalling point for this Labour leader. The problem with this policy process comes when it intersects with reality. Not everyone sees things his way.

I wasn’t clear,. there, whether Brainy, academic, metropolitan middle-class professionals was Boulton channelling Pope:

Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike.

I, on the other hand, feel that Christensen, Reeves, Hunt, and Miliband are models of precisely the kind of caring, thoughtful progressives of which we need many more.

1 Comment

Filed under Democratic Party, Elections, equality, House-prices, Labour Party, New York City, New York Times, social class, Sunday Times

The Economist on housing

For reasons too complicated to explain, I was reading the international (i.e. US -orientated) edition of this week’s Economist.

That means I have to leaf through quite a lot of stuff that, however worthy, doesn’t have much impact for me. Except, I have to marvel that, in 2014, anyone can still get away with the phallic imagery and explicit sexism of this:

Korean

Finally, on page 57, I find this:

The screws on Britain’s housing market are being gently tightened. New figures published on June 17th showed that in the past year house prices in Britain increased by 10%. In London they rose by almost 19%. Such increases look unsustainable; so Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, has said he will “not hesitate” to quell the market if necessary. He had already hinted that interest rates might go up sooner than expected — perhaps suggesting a rise this year.

Having started so well, the piece becomes less focused, less conclusive:

What monetary policy cannot do is fix the deeper problem-which is that houses will remain least affordable in the places where most jobs are being created. Price increases in the capital are making lots of money for construction firms who own land: Berkeley Homes, a London-focused builder, increased its profits by 40% in the year to April. But they are not stimulating much supply, largely because planning restrictions are so tight. In St Albans, a southern commuter town, the price of greenfield land with planning permission has already eclipsed its heady pre-recession levels. Yet where there is actually plenty of land with permission to build, for example in the Thames estuary, house prices remain too low to entice builders.

George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, at least understands the problem. “British people want our homes to go up in value, but also remain affordable,” he said in a recent speech. Yet he has offered no new solution to London’s unaffordable housing. The green belt surrounding the capital, on which building is banned, will remain intact. House-building will therefore be limited to former industrial sites which are expensive to build on.

Tick the boxes:

  • a free market — ✔︎;
  • screw the Green Belt — ✔︎;
  • ignore social gain and don’t recycle Brown Lands — ✔︎;
  • keep it all in the private sector — ✔︎;

and … err …

  • beyond that, we haven’t a clue — ✘✘.

Hence the painful non-conclusion:

As a senior civil servant notes, Britain’s housing market is getting back to its pre-recession normal state: broken.

Well, Economist chappies, since you cannot voice the truth that dares not speak its name, allow me to assist.

The answer is there: do it as a public enterprise. Let local authorities, on sixty-year mortgage funding — the way they used to do it, acquire the Brown Land, clean it up (now there’s scope for employment), build on it (now there’s further scope to develop proper skills training) and house people.

What you don’t then do is flog off public assets at knock-down prices, in the expectation of buying votes.

Similarly, another what-you-don’t-do (and what-you-shouldn’t-have-done) is shovel out to your City friends, via various privatisations, those public lands acquired through the NHS, through nationalised utilities, through past generations’ investment in public education.

Having got bogged down, and thoroughly dis-chuffed by all that, only later did I catch up with the excellent demolition job (credited to “D.K.” in the Blighty blog) done on Iain Duncan Smith and his Department of Work and Pensions. This one has quite a spectacular ritardando [rallentando to coasting to a stop in your car and a ritardando to braking to a stop]:

Such has been the ineffectiveness of more systematic reform that Gordon Brown’s tax credits system, so widely mocked by Conservatives when they came to power in 2010, now looks like a relatively successful intervention. For all that the policy has numerous intellectual flaws, at least it actually works.

Whichever party comes to power in 2015, the next parliament is going to require real welfare reform. Mostly, ministers will have to fix the problems that have been introduced into the system in the past few years, but they will also to find ways of saving money when they finally admit that Mr Duncan Smith’s promises will in all likelihood come to naught. As to the welfare secretary himself: whoever wins in 2015, he will have quite a fight to protect his reputation.

Not so much braking to a stop as a full-on, self-inflicted car-crash.

1 Comment

Filed under Britain, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., Economist, House-prices, Tories.

“Very flat, Norfolk”

Thank you, Noël, dear boy … Don’t call us; we’ll call you.

Then there’s a property-page puff-piece from Max Davidson in the Torygraph:

Property in Norfolk: the perfect time to buy?

The Royal family and Bill Bryson aren’t the only people to love Norfolk: prices in the county are bouncing back

There are several oddities therein.

The main focus seems to be on North Norfolk, which is what had us salivating for insight:

Property prices are bouncing back, particularly in North Norfolk. This could be good news for ordinary home-owners. In fact, this may be the perfect time to buy, with temptingly priced properties in every price bracket.

“North Norfolk is certainly recovering quicker from the recession than the county as a whole,” says Tim Hayward of Jackson-Stops and Staff. In Burnham Market, aka Chelsea-on-Sea, transactions in the first quarter of 2013 were up by 38 per cent. In June alone, prices in the area rose by 2 per cent.

From King’s Lynn to Cromer, the green shoots of recovery are clearly visible. Buyers are drawn not by the fads of the market, but by more traditional values.

Everything you wanted to know about estate-agent talk …

Let’s take that slowly: “In Burnham Market, aka Chelsea-on-Sea, transactions in the first quarter of 2013 were up by 38 per cent.” That’s historic:

  • Why quote first-quarter of last year as if it’s the latest property news?
  • Then there are fewer than 500 dwellings in Burnham Market. Refer to zoopla.co.uk, and we find just five property sales listed for the first quarter of 2013. So what, exactly, underpins that “up by 38%” assertion?
  • Did Jackson-Stops and Staff manage to sell one-and-a-third more properties in that quarter?
  • Compared to what time-span?
  • Or, if it’s on price-achieved, how long back was the base price that has now shot up so significantly?
  • Are the properties sold in 2013 strictly comparable with those sold in that unspecified previous period?

Then there’s a geographical issue

We are regaled with two dozen paragraphs on North Norfolk (in which royal celebs get more than their proper share of gush). The final ten “points” of advice are all specific to North Norfolk. In between, unaccountably, the focus changes.

Aylsham is as near to Norwich as it is to the coast. It is in the patch of Broadland District, yet wikipedia places it in North Norfolk, and, sure, he is an honourable man. So we’ll let that pass.

But what can be said for “a converted windmill near Acle in the Norfolk Broads”? Or the sudden glissade into holiday rentals?

Decoding

Take this one:

Hindringham is not exactly Manhattan: the population hovers between 400 and 500 souls, fewer in winter. But if you treasure peace and seclusion, it offers them in spades.

Closer to 400 than 500, actually (the 2001 Census gives 431). The last village pubs, the Duke’s Head, closed in 1965, and the Red Lion, closed in 1969, are long gone. What’s left (or rather revived, thanks to a bit of communal effort) is the football club’s Pavilion.

Then there’s that weasily “fewer in winter”. Which means, in plain English, there are too many weekenders around, who stay at (first) home once the dark nights set in.

Feeling the draught

No, not the beer (though that has improved immeasurably since the Watney monopoly was broken). North Norfolk faces … north. Go for your walk at Holkham — “The combination of big skies and sandy beaches that stretch for miles and miles … seen to exquisite effect at the end of Shakespeare in Love, is irresistible.” Face out to sea. Due north — which is where that biting winter wind is coming from, the next bit of solid land is probably the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, the only bit of Russia in the Western Hemisphere. [Oh, work it out for yourself!]

There’s useful advice towards the end of Max Davidson’s effort:

Don’t buy a property unless you have seen it in winter as well as summer – North Norfolk in January can be an acquired taste. 

Note well.

Note, too:

Many of the most popular leisure activities in North No[r]folk, from sailing to links golf to bird-watching, have the sea as their focus.

Especially these last few weeks:

Homeowners have been left in tears as flood waters have crept towards their homes in north Norfolk – while Cromer seafront suffered major damage from the surging sea…

At Blakeney sea water rushed up Westgate Street, Blakeney, leaving pavement and roads under inches of water…

The A149 through Salthouse totally covered with sea water.

The A149 through Salthouse totally covered with sea water.

As for that golf course at Brancaster (“One of the Top 100 in the world”, no less), it may not have a long-term future:

The Environment Agency boss revealed yesterday that he is weighing up whether to reinstate flood defences in Brancaster, Blakeney and Salthouse, after they were breached last month.

Paul Leinster, who was hauled before a committee of MPs 
following the prolonged winter floods, said his agency is questioning whether or not to try to re-establish freshwater habitats, or let the sea water through permanently…

Mr Leinster told the committee that some flood defences were still under water, but went on to say: “In other places we will have discussions with Natural England and others as to whether we are going to reinstate those flood defences, or whether we will allow the water that has now broken through to remain.”

He added: “The question has to be, do we reinstate those defences and then allow freshwater habitat to re-establish, or allow inter-tidal habitat to establish?”

Max Davidson was particularly enthusiastic:

The odd grand period house does come on the market in North Norfolk, with a suitably hefty price tag. Appletree House in Brancaster, overlooking the West Norfolk golf course, was built in the 1920s and boasts magnificent views of the sea over manicured formal gardens. It is on the market for £4.5 million with Knight Frank (knightfrank.com).

Take those last two quotations together, and it might go some way to explaining this:

Appletree

Dring! Dring!

“Yes, Mr Coward, what can we do for you this time?”
“Norfolk, old chap …”
“Hmm. Thought we dealt with that a while back. You said Norfolk was flat.”
“That was no reflection on her, unless she made it flatter.”
“Your voice takes on an acid quality whenever you mention her name.”
“I’ll never mention it again.”
“So, goodbye, Mr Coward. Always a pleasure …”

[Compare the infamous exchange between Elyot and Amanda, Act One of Private Lives.]

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Telegraph, House-prices, Norfolk, pubs, Theatre, Wells-next-the-Sea

Verb. sap.

In full: verbum sapienti sat est — ‘a word is sufficient to a wise person’.

That’s a conflation of two expressions, one from Plautus, the other from Terence.

Michael Goldfarb has done a fine piece for the New York Times: he tackles the London property bubble with the sense, sensibility and astringency impossible for the [London] Times property section, or any other media outlet dependent on heavy estate-agents’ advertising.

Once past the anecdotal (see below), it is the numbers which should chill the marrow:

  • According to Britain’s Office for National Statistics, London house prices rose by 9.7 percent between July 2012 and July 2013. In the surrounding suburbs they rose by a mere 2.6 percent. The farther away from London you go, the lower the numbers get. When you finally cross the border into Scotland, house prices actually decline by 2 percent.
  • In 2011, at the height of the euro zone crisis, citizens of the two countries at the epicenter of the cataclysm — Greece and Italy — bought 400 million pounds’ worth of London bricks and mortar. The Italian and Greek rich, fearing the single currency would collapse, got their money out of euros and parked it someplace where government was relatively stable, and the tax regime was gentle — very, very gentle.
  • Hot money from China, Singapore, India and other countries with fast-growing economies and short traditions of good governance is pouring into London… An astonishing £83 billion worth of properties were purchased in 2012 with no financing — all cash purchases. That’s $133 billion.

The only one-word summary is: unsustainable.

However, (as Goldfarb doesn’t say) the ConDem Government cannot afford the inevitable before May 2015 and the next election, so:

  • the whole British economy is based on housing speculation in the capital. David Cameron’s government seems to think that is the case. Mr. Cameron may be pursuing austerity policies elsewhere in the economy, doing virtually nothing to help subsidize employment or industry, but his government has just started a “Help to Buy” program. The government will guarantee up to 15 percent of the purchase price of a house up to £600,000 ($960,000), if you have a 5 percent down payment.

Goldfarb’s anecdotal bit is about those who are baling out of London, either because:

  • they are taking their paper profits and moving to bigger, more reasonably priced properties out-of-town;

or:

  • because they simply cannot afford London prices.

Malcolm admits to being recently one of these emigrants from the Metropolis.

Now in retirement from professional jobs which kept them in London, the Lady-in-his-Life and the boyo himself upped sticks and headed for the city of (old) York.

OldBoothamBar

For barely a third of what the London house realised, they now have almost the same floor-space they had down south. Just down the line of the Roman road from Bootham Bar (as above – and, ignoring the traffic, little changed).

  • They live amid older, good-looking housing, and in clear sound of the Minster’s bells.
  • Transport is better — at a push, King’s Cross is two hours and some minutes, across Scarborough Bridge, front door to platform 9¾.
  • At least three regional airports are conveniently on the railway line from York — for continental flights, all cheaper than Heathrow.
  • They walk into town, almost all the way on old limestone pavings.
  • York is still enough of a “county town” to have a number of “useful shops”.
  • There are cultural and intellectual opportunities — perhaps not on the same level as London, but more immediately available (and Leeds, Scarborough and other places are as close, time-wise, as would be the West End from a London suburb).
  • There are local tradesmen who learned their trades the proper way, and do a professional job, but not at inflated prices.
  • Across the road or round the corner are two of the most successful schools in Britain (yes, there are grandsons …).
  • Just out there, a short drive or a bus ride, lie the Moors and the Dales.
  • Pubs and restaurants cannot rely on the Gold Card trade to the same extent, so service is better and prices acceptable.
  • Typically, beer is around £3.30 a pint (and pubs not so loud — except in the centre, on race-days).
  • People, strangers, talk.

What’s not to like?

Moreover, when the great property crash comes in London, there’s less distance to fall.

Oh, and York has a Labour Council.

1 Comment

Filed under George Osborne, House-prices, London, New York Times, Times, York, Yorkshire

Forelock-tugging time?

How does this sound for a realistic policy on home rentals? —

In addition to restoring security of tenure to every decontrolled house, we are appointing rent officers and rent assessment committees for fixing fair rents. The new Act also gives basic protection to almost everyone in his home, including the lodger and the worker in his tied cottage. Today it is a crime not merely to evict without a court order but to harass or to persecute anyone in order to force him out or force his rent up.

It’s from the 1966 Labour Manifesto. The preamble to that seems almost more pertinent in the present context:

The 1957 Tory Rent Act inflicted injury on hundreds of thousands of families by decontrolling their homes in a period of intense housing shortage. Labour was pledged to annul this social crime.

Back to the future

Malcolm reflects on that, if only because his entry into leftist politics was at a time (the end of the 1950s) and a place (Norfolk) when tied cottages — particularly for farm workers — was a very live issue.

In case anyone missed it, it’s about to come back again. Hidden behind Caroline Spelman killing off the Agricultural Wages Board is her other announcement: the Agricultural Dwellings Housing advisory committee would also be dissolved. All of which might, being generous, make sense if the workers on the land had the clout to negotiate a proper wages-and-conditions agreement. But, of course, it will always be cheaper for the agribusinesses to import cheap immigrant labourers and house them in caravans and Portacabins. With, if not the complicity, at least the active encouragement of the supermarket chains.

Only a cynic (perish the thought) would draw a direct line between a “free market” in former tied cottages, a chronic shortage of affordable housing, Iain Duncan Smith’s “welfare reforms” and ‘Gids’ Osborne’s budget, promising second homes on the back of government loans.

Duncan Smith, lest we forget, is possessed of a a £2m+ Tudor home (with ample spare bedrooms, five acres of gardens and a swimming pool), by courtesy of a very wealthy wife, heiress to the Cottesloe millions and 1,300 acres of Buckinghamshire.

It goes with the squirarchical mind-set

In the next few days anyone in social housing with that mythical (but Big Brother designated) “spare bedroom” faces a cut of 14% in benefits. Oh, no! It’s not a tax! Anymore than cutting the 50% tax rate for multi-million earners (those deserving bankers and plutocrats) is a benefit!

Let’s take Mr and Mrs Whatsit, who have lived in social housing for thirty-odd years, since they married. There they raised two strapping sons, who have done well, moved out, and left that “spare room”. As a result Mr and Mrs Whatsit, both heading towards retirement, but young enough not to come under Iain Duncan Smith’s oh-so-generous OAP waiver, are faced with a major cut in their income, or the unlikely prospect of finding smaller accommodation — there are 180,000 families in the Whatsits’ position, but just 70,000 one-bedroom flats available.

Now, here’s the suggestion: why was there not an incentive — rather than a fine — to persuade the Whatsits to move? Especially since we now know that Osborne has squoodles of money available for second homes:

The Budget included a £3.5bn Help to Buy programme under which the Government will provide up to 20 per cent of a deposit and the buyer only 5 per cent for a new-build home. The Government made clear that could not be used to buy a second home but failed to do the same for a separate scheme to underwrite £130bn of mortgage lending for any property.

But, then, when did a functioning Tory prefer to persuade rather than to coerce?

Leave a comment

Filed under Conservative family values, Daily Telegraph, George Osborne, Guardian, House-prices, Independent, Norfolk, Tories.

“I’m an estate agent. Trust me!”

The Lady in Malcolm’s Life coughed and spluttered her way to and from a City appointment. She brought back the Evening Boris Standard.

Page 2 has a post-Huhne pop-survey (dignified by Ipsos-MORI) on page 2. This tells us:

  • 41% of interviewees “generally trust” (and 57% distrust) business leaders to tell the truth;
  • which is more than 24% who trust (and 70% who distrust) estate agents;
  • and more than the 23% who trust (and 70% who distrust) MPs in general.

Since the bottom of the reliability pile involves “Politicians generally” (18% trusted, 77% distrusted) it would need a keen logician to untangle in what ways the general public differentiate them from their sub-set “MPs in general”.

Remember and despair: one in four of our fellow citizens trusts the snake-oiled property shark.

At a single bound …

… we leap to page 59 for the letters, and the main focus is the “Mansion Tax”. As we might expect from the Evening Boris Standard, this is the usual balanced viewpoints:

  • a no-no from “Trevor Abrahmsohn, Glentree Estates”;
  • a no-no-no from “M Truman, Taxation Magazine”; and
  • a severe snipe from “Andrew Pearmain, author, The Politics of New Labour“.

We shall not, on this occasion, pause to marvel that a magazine (a glossy?) survives on the topic of licensed mulcting alone, nor a self-proclaimed “author” who needs his magnum opus soldered to his moniker. Well, perhaps for just a moment of mockery.

Let us instead hang on the words of Mr Abrahmsohn. Here is one with considerable North London street-cred (though it’s more “avenues” and “gardens” in Abrahmsohn’s refined world):

Meet the man who holds the keys to Billionaires’ Row

He has sold the world’s most expensive house and rubbed shoulders with the political elite – but life was not always so glamorous for the keeper of keys to Billionaires’ Row.

His office on the edge of Hampstead Garden Suburb, adorned with letters from prime ministers and press cuttings from national newspapers, is a far cry from the shabby hotel room in Golders Green where Trevor Abrahmsohn forged his reputation as estate agent to the globe’s glitterati.

Armed with nothing but a temperamental phone line and a photocopier, the 58-year-old went on to enjoy 35 years selling “trophy mansions” on The Bishops Avenue to Saudi princes, Chinese businessman and Russian oligarchs.

That’s a recent puff-piece from the Ham & High.

And, finally, we have Mr Abrahmsohn’s missive to the Evening Boris Standard:

Mansion tax will never happen

Labour’s announcement of a mansion tax and reinstatement of the 10p tax band yesterday is headline-grabbing before the Eastleigh by-election. What are we to make of the two Eds’ integrity, given they were thew joint architects of Labour policy at the time Gordon Brown abolished the 10p band?

If Miliband had any sense, there is no way he will actually implement a mansion tax that would alienate an important element of middle-class Labour support. In the London property market, the likely £2 million threshold is hardly a fortune: perhaps buying a two-bedroom flat in a leafy, but not super-prime, inner London area, and there are plenty of properties in this bracket that were bought for relatively little years ago.

A mansion tax would have a profound effect on the dynamics of the market: a lot of people would sell up and court cases would be certain as others try to revalue their property. Foreign investors have already been hit by the Coalition’s clumsy levy of 15 per cent stamp duty in the last Budget, and a mansion tax would only magnify their problems; why are we trying so hard to repel them? A far more plausible, consumer-friendly approach is to bring in a range of higher council tax bands above Band G.

Trevor Abrahmsohn, Glentree Estates.

Kettling the pot

Spot the mutually-conflicting assumptions and statements there. Malcolm will tick just three.

For what it’s worth, the average price of a two-bed flat in NW11 (Mr Abrahmsohn’s home patch of Golders Green) is around £400,000. Only in five tight super-prime, inner London areas — W1 (Piccadilly), W8 (Kensington), SW3 (Chelsea), SW7 (South Ken)  and the Brompton Road (SW10) — would one readily hit on a £1 million plus two-bed pad. Those are not areas of solid middle-class Labour support.

Moreover, doesn’t any decent heart bleed for the misfortunes of those foreign investors who plump Mr Abrahmsohn’s portfolio? Malcolm regularly passes down the eternal building-site that is The Bishop’s Avenue (a.k.a. “Billionaires’ Row”). Its very existence involves tearing down perfectly-good (and hardly-offensive) granges, and erecting, in their place, over-sized but tawdry glass sheds — which, in turn, are gone in half-a-decade or so for something even more glitzy and ghastly.

There is a sound — nay, urgent — argument to be made for reforming the Council Tax. It was designed by Michael Heseltine as a regressive tax. It has become far more oppressive with subsequent postponements of revaluation — most recently, and seemingly twice, with malice aforethought, by Eric Pickles. What Abrahmsohn also elides is the distinction between national and local taxation: Council Tax is just that, local.

Bottom line

We should be looking at how we tax property. Since it is even more static than parked cars (which we tax and fine), it’s not rocket science to evaluate its worth and slap a duty on it. The over-inflated property market in London and the more-bourgeois areas of the South-East is ripe for plucking. Only the most self-interested Tory fails to recognise that. Doing so (and improving transport links) could and should encourage “trickle-down”, first to those crumbling areas adjacent to London, then further afield.

Once we’ve agreed the need, it’s only method that matters. Miliband and Balls have taken aboard the ‘mansion tax’, with due acknowledgements to the likes of Vince Cable. Why not go a step further, and snuffle around site-value/land-value taxation? Which was amply dealt with recently by George Monbiot in The Guardian and taken further by Alex Hern in the New Statesman.

If nothing else, it’s guaranteed to raise the Abrahmsohn blood-pressure.

5 Comments

Filed under economy, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, Evening Standard, Guardian, Hampstead, House-prices, London

“Welfare tax”?

Go to the BBC video of yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions.

Enjoy Miliband winding up Cameron on the Bedroom Tax.

Remember: in Cameron’s world, it’s not a “tax”, it’s a “benefit”. That was his effort, responding to Miliband’s first question. What is the “benefit” of losing £25 a week? That was enough to shock Malcolm — and got to Steve Bell as well:

Steve Bell 7.2.2013

Indeed the crude brutishness of Cameron’s manner made Malcolm miscue. So back to the BBC video.

The crucial moment comes about 7 minutes and 15 seconds in. Cameron is waxing loud and lyrical about Miliband’s policy deficiencies (though why Labour needs to be lumbered with detailed policy commitments this far out from a fixed election date is another matter).

Malcolm believed he heard Cameron say:

What this Government is doing is building more houses and controlling welfare bills. But, frankly, the question is one he has to answer, too. If he opposes the welfare tax, if he opposes restrictions on increased welfare, if he opposes reform of disability benefit, if he opposes each and every welfare change we make, how on earth is he going to get control of public spending.

What the Hansard reporter heard (or was persuaded was said) is subtly different:

The Prime Minister: What this Government are doing is building more houses and controlling welfare bills. Frankly, the question is one that the right hon. Gentleman has to answer, too. If he opposes the welfare cap, if he opposes restrictions on increased welfare, if he opposes reform of disability benefits and if he opposes each and every welfare change we make, how on earth is he going to get control of public spending?

Fair enough: on about the third hearing, Malcolm concedes Hansard is probably right, and Malcolm’s hearing is adrift. Still, the message lingers.

What is fiendishly wrong here is that people in social housing are being punished for disability, or for wanting to stay in long-established homes. They are also being caned because:

  • wages are criminally low, and are being driven even lower by deliberate government policies;
  • rents in the private sector are too high, and still rising.

Let’s take those in turn, and refer to two items in this current issue of Private Eye:

1. Giz a job

SURF, Scotland’s independent regeneration group, which aims to improve health and wellbeing in deprived areas, received 400 applications in response to an advert for a part-time admin job. Chief Executive Andy Milne also received an email from the folk at Liga UK, who were keen to let him know that they were a “government-funded training provider who help young people gety into the workplace”.

Liga helpfully suggested that Milne consider converting the paid job into an “apprenticeship” placement. After all, it suggested, “If you do take on an apprentice for this role, you only need to pay them £100-£270 per week.” Liga UK also offered a further inducement of the £1,500 placement fee from the government.

What Ligaq failed to mention was that if SURF agreed to shove the poor recruit out of the promised job, Liga could also claim an apprenticeship placement “success” and pick up its own fee. Milne asked Liga why on earth the government would want it to displace a real job with an apprenticeship. He is still waiting for an answer.

By no coincidence, just a week ago Channel 4’s FactCheck Blog ran the rule over:

… the latest stats on apprenticeships in England today, which show that more than half a million people began a placement in 2011/12.

That is costing the government (i.e. the tax-payer) around £1.4 billion — yes, billion — in 2011-12. Moreover, nearly a fifth of these placements run for six months or less. Such turn-over must be money in the bank for the likes of Liga. Moreover, as FactCheck adds:

… a few months spent learning how to stack shelves and a three-and-a-half year stint at Rolls-Royce both count as the same.

2. Gimme Shelter 

Welfare reforms brought in by the coalition were already bringing down rents, said a confident David Cameron in January last year. “What we have seen so far, as housing benefit has been reformed and reduced, is that rent levels have come down, so we have stopped ripping off the taxpayer.”

But have they come down? It seemed unlikely at the time, although it reflected a widespread belief in government that the local housing allowance (the form of housing benefit paid to private renters) was somehow causing rent inflation.

A year on, and with more housing benefit cuts due in April, rents are stubbornly refusing to go anywhere but up. A report from Shelter based on the government’s Valuation Office Agency figures says rents have risen 2.8 percent in the past year. That’s faster than the 1.7 percent rise in house prices and comes at a time when wages are at a standstill.

Several areas saw double-digit rises, including an eye-watering 10.8 percent in one local authority with which Cameron should be fa,iliad: West Oxfordshire, home to his Witney constituency.

This Shelter survey, The Rent Trap, is on-line. It covers only English local authority areas (as, indeed, does the Tory party’s world-view).

Leave a comment

Filed under Comment is Free, Conservative family values, David Cameron, economy, Ed Miliband, House-prices, Private Eye, Scotland, social class, Steve Bell, Tories.