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grey_man last won the day on December 19 2019

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  1. From the FT today. Auditor raises alarm at £6.6bn council property spree Fourteen-fold increase in deals as local authorities seek to plug funding gap The UK government’s spending watchdog has raised the alert over local authorities pouring billions of pounds into commercial property at a time when many private investors are shying away from the sector. The National Audit Office found councils had spent £6.6bn on shops and offices between 2017 and 2019, a 14-fold increase compared to the previous three years. Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, said it was understandable that councils were carrying out “risky investments” to get more money in. “However, a fourteen-fold increase in spend on commercial property raises serious alarm bells,” she said. “The [communities] department needs to take stock and ensure that there is protection for local taxpayers from local authorities acting as investment bankers. ” The NAO found the investments were focused on a small number of local authorities, with 49 out of 352 carrying out 80 per cent of the deals. Local authorities in the south east of England were highly active, accounting for 53 per cent of commercial property spending in the past three years. Spelthorne borough council in Surrey has blazed a trail, building up a portfolio of nearly £1bn of commercial property including BP’s £358m business campus in Sunbury-on-Thames. Other big spenders include Warrington borough council and Eastleigh borough council. Councils investing in property have seen “significant increases” in debt and in the cost of repayment, according to the authority. Some councils have justified their purchases as a way to ensure the survival of shopping centres or offices in their local areas — or to carry out regeneration projects. Local authorities face potential investment risks from buying commercial property, such as in the event of an economic recession or a downturn in a particular economic sector. But many have been investing in other parts of the country: 38 per cent of spending in the three-year period was on properties outside the buying council’s own geographical area. The NAO said there was a growing trend of authorities speculating in real estate to make up for deep cuts to their budgets: “A key motive of some authorities’ recent investments in commercial property has been generating rental income in order to offset reductions in their funding.” Local authority spending power — a mix of government grants and council tax — has fallen by 28.7 per cent in real terms since the start of public spending cuts in 2010-11. In a review of 45 authorities’ strategies for investment, the NAO found that all but three identified generating income as a significant objective. “Local authorities face potential investment risks from buying commercial property, such as in the event of an economic recession or a downturn in a particular economic sector, particularly where authorities are dependent on their rental income to keep up with debt repayments or fund local services,” the watchdog said. “The scale of spending and borrowing by some authorities in recent years leaves them potentially exposed to these risks.” Retail property in particular has been under relentless pressure with rents falling as competition from online shopping has forced traditional outlets into administration. Some councils had mitigated risks by recruiting specialist staff, undertaking due diligence and using external expertise. “Nonetheless, local external auditors indicated to the NAO that there was room for improvement in the governance and risk mitigation arrangements of some authorities,” the report said. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is responsible for the framework of statutory codes and guidance that set the parameters for local authority borrowing and capital spending. It has recently tightened up that guidance. But the NAO said: “Recent activity has raised questions about the extent to which MHCLG can rely on the framework in its present form to support local authorities to make decisions which provide the taxpayer with good value for money.” The NAO identified various risks including “specific risk” — such as the length of the lease of the financial strength of tenants — as well as “systematic risk” in terms of market movements in commercial property. “In recent years, systematic risk is apparent in the performance of the retail sector with the shift to online sales, among other factors, leading to growth in vacancy and void rates,” it said.
  2. People can have lots of reasons for remaining anonymous Geoff, only some of which are malicious. You and I have communicated under my real name and I have no problem doing so in direct interactions. I just don't want to do so on a public forum. Talking of this though, how often do we see the council hiding behind an anonymous 'spokesperson' whenever anything controversial happens or on an issue which has the potential to cause an individual a problem? You'll find councilors and senior officers queuing up to be associated with good things, yet the moment anything goes wrong or needs somebody to be held accountable, suddenly the only person available is 'a spokesman'. Here's a perfect example from the other day. https://www.warrington-worldwide.co.uk/2020/02/04/progress-being-made-on-refurbishing-swing-bridges/ Then you have the council's propensity to blame people who have died or retired. Did nobody at the council really notice about the payments for Hatters Row for 30 years until somebody was in the ground? Do you object to all of that? Especially from people who are on six figure salaries precisely because being accountable is what they are supposedly paid so much for. And one person in particular. Naming no names obv but you know who I mean. He suddenly found out about Hatters Row when the person he claims is responsible had recently died? Do me a favour. Let's call this person at the council Simon Brushhead to protect his anonymity. He's been at the council at various times for a quarter of a century. And he never knew about this until a former employee was dead? Edit: How could I forget the anonymous Labour councillor who suggested to Chris Vobe that ‘the Labour Party would be better off if you found a packet of razor blades and did away with yourself’?
  3. 'Billywires' was called out several times on the Guardian forum as somebody with an unhealthy obsession with Helen Jones who might find himself subject to some sort of intervention. This would explain why he no longer posts there or here. This report may make it look mild but the kicker was always his worrying paranoia about who might be Helen Jones or in her team, as can be seen by the posts Gary has clipped under the story. It was unhinged and relentless. I disagree with Bill about the scariness. Helen Jones had every right to be worried that some nut was dangerously obsessed with her. It's one thing having a bee in your bonnet, another making literally everything about an individual, saying you know where they've been in public and displaying a range of paranoid delusions about everybody else being part of a conspiracy against you involving that individual.
  4. And they're going to decimalise the number of days in a year which will lead to a massive increase in life expectancy.
  5. Nobody could have predicted that putting politicians in charge of the police would lead to this. 🙄
  6. An interesting exercise to try is to ask Russ Bowden directly the cost of the new offices and the original budget. Maybe Gary could try it. Perfectly straightforward question with a perfectly straightforward answer obviously and one to which the people paying for it are perfectly entitled. I've tried it myself a few times. The council 'spokesman' used to say 'there isn't one' because there's only one cost for the whole project, which is an obvious lie. Now Russ says he can't say what it is because if he does, it will breach commercial confidentiality on the rest of the project, which is utter bullshit. If I spend £30 on shopping, I can tell you what the bananas cost without you knowing the price of the beans. And don't even bother to ask about the business case for the offices or the alternatives considered. Where it gets really interesting is what Russ does after he's pushed. First he'll have some sort of rant based on the idea that he's above this sort of thing and you don't understand and it's all the Tories' fault anyway, then he'll vanish. Works every time. Doesn't even have to be about the costs of his new offices. Works with Redwood, the council's accounts, Steven Broomhead's directorship of Together Energy, Charlotte Nichol's home address, the switching on of Christmas lights. He never wavers from his MO.
  7. You still waiting? Looks good to me and I think everybody hopes it's a great success.
  8. Or vote for neither. It only encourages them.
  9. It's Cathy Mitchell's house. Charlotte Nichols is registered on the electoral roll in Islington so the question is why she gave the Deputy Leader's address as her home address on the nomination form. That may be the breach of the law. I think there are two possibilities. The most generous and likely interpretation is that they're rattled about the backlash to her being parachuted into a safe seat so have pretended she lives in the Borough for the credulous to see on their ballot papers. The other possibility is they've done that and committed electoral fraud at the same time, all under the watchful gaze of the agent and proposer, a Mr R Bowden, the seconder, a Ms C Mitchell, and the returning officer, a Mr S Broomhead. BTW, watch how Russ deals with this sort of stuff. He has a standard MO. He first will make an aggressive assertion about 'mischief' and ignorance of some issue - classically people not knowing the difference between revenue and capital budgets or some stuff about the Tories - then when asked for a supporting detail for his assertion - let's say whether interest paid on capital spending comes out of revenue budgets, the cost of the council's offices, Redwood Bank, why the candidate for North Warrington is registered in Islington but has given her home address as somebody else's, and so on... ...he disappears. It obviously frustrates him that the people of Warrington won't just be told and pipe down. I assume he doesn't respond to the police and the Electoral Commission in the same hectoring tone.
  10. Usual caveat about the source of this story but ... https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7724983/Labour-election-candidate-probed-police-shes-accused-giving-false-address.html
  11. grey_man

    Bus Company

    I get the feeling a lot of the whinging will have been based on past experiences and frankly inadequate management. They certainly seem to be more forward looking and positive recently. More power to them.
  12. Personally, I think the obsession with speed is nothing more than an obsession with speed from an industry that likes the idea coupled to a bottomless money pit. The design flaws of the project are so obvious, inevitable and a dead giveaway that the solution was developed for reasons other than functionality. Certainly Lord Adonis likes this kind of awful project. Not that we have a lot of choice in the matter now it has got this far. I still suspect it may never get past Birmingham or Crewe and that we'll see smarter solutions that serve the rest of the UK better.
  13. Your last point and the dog's dinner in the East Midlands proves my point. Somebody currently taking one train from Nottingham will now have to take three. Or drive to a parkway and take two. It is obviously the project's obsession with speed that means it has to bypass cities and airports. As does the bit about Stoke and other cities being harmed economically. What sort of national project is that? Eddington's report was at least an integrated strategy. HS2 is just what I said. An expensive mess that creates almost as many problems as it solves. And that's even before you get to the final cost which clearly will be massively higher than the original budget.
  14. And yet the Eddington Report explicitly stated that high speed rail of this type is not needed in a country with the UK's geography. We should invest in infrastructure and have an integrated transport strategy as set out in the report. Instead we've put all our eggs in one massively expensive, badly designed but glossy basket. The capacity issues it sets out to solve are primarily south of Rugby and experts have argued that HS2 classic compatible trains might even reduce capacity on parts of the network including North of Warrington. That's even before you get to the issue of how HS2 will actively harm the economies of cities like Stoke. HS2 does very little in terms of the rest of the country's transport issues which are related to connectivity rather than capacity. And then you have its ludicrous design flaws necessitated by the need for speed such as bypassing East Midlands airport to stop in Toton so that it serves both Derby and Nottingham which will require the construction of new lines so that people can use it. These lines are not in the budget of course and you have to wonder about the advantages of having to travel from these cities to even use it. It doesn't link to HS1 and the Northern Line can't cope with it at Euston. And of course it's massively environmentally damaging with a great deal of that damage a consequence of the need for it to be unnecessarily fast. It's a boondoggle and not surprisingly a favourite of Lord Adonis who has a love of such things for London including the Garden Bridge and The Tulip.
  15. If councillors are as dim as confused52 says, maybe they get their bungs in sacks with the word SWAG on the side.
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