Tuesday, 26 March 2013

London films: John Boorman, British Film Institute, 'Hope and Glory'

Film director and producer John Boorman made Hope and Glory (1987), one of the best films depicting how Londoners coped with bombs dropped on the city during the Blitz of World War II. (London journalist Paul Coleman reports from the South Bank).
   Boorman told a South Bank audience: "Most films fail. But some films fail famously."
   Several Boorman films - Point Blank (1967), starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson, banjo plucking Deliverance (1972) and The Tailor of Panama (2001) - received global acclaim.
   But Boorman told the British Film Institute audience how even he advised people not to go and watch his 1977 film, Exorcist II: The Heretic.
  "People responded in droves," recalled Boorman. "And those who did go to see it threw stuff at the screen and demanded their money back."

Good fellow
Witty raconteur Boorman received his BFI fellowship from actress Sinead Cusack as actor Jeremy Irons looked on. Afterwards, the BFI screened Point Blank.
  "Audiences want to be lost in a movie," said Boorman.
 Sadly, the only thing I lost during Point Blank was my interest about half way through.
   Not one of Boorman's better failures.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013

Monday, 25 March 2013

Banking: City of London, Lax Regulation, Fraud Haven, London like the Caymans

"London is basically like the Cayman Islands...except without such nice weather," says Marc Hochstein of American Banker.
  Hochstein says the City of London financial sector is viewed as a "supine regulatory jurisdiction".
  American banks like to outsource operations to London. Hochstein says it's no coincidence London sits at the heart of many recent bank and brokerage scandals and massive finance institution failures.
   AIG-FP, Bernie Madoff's 'Ponzi' fraud, MF Global's failure, JP Morgan Chase's 'London Whale' losses, and manipulation of the key London Internank Offered Rate or LIBOR, all featured London-based operatives and offices.
  "London is viewed as a haven from regulation," adds Hochstein.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Free market: Please clean up my crack lab home

Free market entrepreneurialism thrives in the United States, writes Paul Coleman.
   Many home owners taking on mortgages from providers like Fannie Mae discover - to their dismay - their homes used to be meth or crack cocaine labs.
  Enterprising Joseph Mazzuca has started 'Meth Lab Clean Up' in Idaho state and has booked over 1,500 jobs inspecting and decontaminating 'meth lab' homes.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013

Food rationing, Food Stamps, SNAP, Woonsocket

At precisely one second after midnight on the first day of every month the American town of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, electronically receives $2 million from the snappily titled Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme (SNAP).
   Paul Coleman writes: The money helps grocery stores and food banks to provide food parcels for the 30 per cent of Woonsocket residents who need SNAP help, or 'food stamps' as they used to be called.
   Staggeringly, SNAP spends over $78 billion a year helping poor and low income families to eat across America.
   Nationally, some 20 per cent of the US population receives food rations and medicines.
  Food rationing...Only in America?

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013

Homes and Housing: the British home ownership obsession

Where does the British obsession with home ownership come from?
Paul Coleman writes: Apparently, it can be traced back to 19th Century electoral law when people wanting to vote needed to own land or buildings.
  This law was reformed and abolished. 
  But, according to Jon Neale, Jones Lang LaSalle research director: "Property ownership is deeply entrenched in the psyche and has become part of confirming your place in society."

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013

'Bankfare', Welfare, Eastland Homes and other 'Non-Essentials'

London journalist Paul Coleman asks: Which of these two letters is fictitious?
'Dear Chief Executive,
  Bearing in mind the billions of pounds spent by the taxpayer to rescue your ailing bank, can you afford a new glassy HQ with umpteen hi-definition widescreen TVs? Can you afford non-essentials like that new private jet, a yacht, dozens of cases of Veuve Cliquot champagne and those cigars?
  'If you want to keep your bank you have to start budgeting now...'

Here's the other letter: "Dear Tenant, Can you really afford Sky, cigarettes, bingo, drinks and other non-essentials?
  "If your benefit is being cut and you want to keep your home you have to make up the difference. Non-essential items won't matter if you lose your home.
  "Start budgeting now - we can help you to do this, call us."

Clumsy tract
Eastland Homes chief executive Sheila Doran has apologised to its Manchester residents for the patronising and "clumsy" words used in its tenants newsletter - the second tract above.
  Doran said benefit cuts mean some Eastland "tenants will be living hand to mouth".
Of course, the first letter to recipients of state welfare or 'bankfare' would never be written.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013

Saturday, 23 March 2013

New York, Mayor Bloomberg, Unmanned Surveillance Drones, London deployment?

Pardon the pun. I don't want to drone on about unmanned surveillance micro-aircraft, writes London journalist Paul Coleman.
But crime-fighting surveillance drones are set to be an inevitable part of New Yorkers' lives. According to New York's elected Mayor Bloomberg, the New York Police Department are very keen on the idea.
   The Obama administration's military drones already kill terrorists in places like Afghanistan. Alarm centres on the number of civilians killed by drones - fatalities termed 'collateral damage' by the military.

Mayor of 'Londrone'
Still, the drone industry flies high. But serious worries hover over whether New York surveillance drones would be used not just to target criminals but civilians engaged in lawful activity - such as political protest.
   London has imported many New York exports in the recent past.
Crack cocaine.
Starbucks and elected mayors.
So, expect soon to see our elected Mayor of 'Londrone' buzzing around TV studios to hum about the merits of the Metropolitan and the City of London Police using flying surveillance machines in the fight against crime and terrorism.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013

Friday, 22 March 2013

Dow and FTSE, Joe and Josephine: Reality and the 'real economy'

Both the Obama administration in the US and the Cameron-Clegg UK coalition claim their respective economic strategies are creating new jobs, writes London journalist Paul Coleman.
   Improved labour market stats prompt Wall Street and City of London investors to borrow more and buy more stocks. Up goes the Dow and the FTSE.
   Bulging corporate profits and balance sheets get rewarded by huge bonuses and stock options. In turn, these reported successes loop back and lift stock prices...and so on it goes.

Dow and Footsie, Joe and Josephine
But deeper analysis suggests labour participation rates are falling in both economies. Mainly because more people are taking on second and even third jobs to try and make ends meet.
   That many new jobs are part-time, low-skilled and low paid is also overlooked. So, the statistical representation of reality swallowed by the Dow and the FTSE bears little resemblance to the actual reality experienced on the streets by Joe and Josephine.
  Christopher Caldwell, writing in London's Financial Times, agrees rising share markets merit cautious viewing. "What looks like a rally may just be the effect of elites passing money among themselves," says Caldwell.
   Hence, the gap between banking and finance and the 'real economy' seems larger than ever.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013

The 'bubble-wrap' Budget: mortgage guarantees

Grey clouds and chilling winds continue to depress Londoners - and the coalition government's Budget seemed only to darken moods, writes Paul Coleman.
   The financial press scoured this week's Budget for 'good news'. Most cautiously welcomed the plan for government to guarantee some £130 billion of mortgages for people seeking to buy newly-built homes.
   The common account read: if people can raise a deposit, secure a home loan and buy a home, this is great for the UK's stagnant economy.

Apparently, according to the government, our chief aspiration as human beings is to mortgage ourselves and buy a home. Maybe, but it seems forgotten that the catastrophic 2008 financial meltdown stemmed from a housing mortgage bubble in the United States.
   And so, what's the UK government's economic panacea to re-boot the country's flagging economy? Yes, a housing mortgage bubble.
   Few politicians speak of the need to generate lasting economic growth by investing in manufacturing, technology, infrastructure and in real jobs.
  And the issue of job creation remains mired in party political tittle tattle...in the UK and in America.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Mayor Boris Johnson, Lord Mayor Roger Gifford: The banker in the Mansion House; a bankers' friend in City Hall

My puzzled French friend saw London's Mayor in Cannes and asked: "Why does London have a funny man as Lord Mayor?"
- "You're confusing the appointed Lord Mayor of London with the elected Mayor of London," I replied, (writes London journalist Paul Coleman).

Ambassador and Champion 
I told Pascal the appointed Lord Mayor - currently the banker, Roger Gifford - acts as ceremonial head of the Corporation of the City of London, the local authority for the 'Square Mile' that hosts the world's largest investment banks. Gifford, as the 685th Lord Mayor, acts as global 'ambassador' for the bankers in the City.
   The second elected Mayor of London - the Eton-educated 'funny man', Boris Johnson - 'champions London and all Londoners' as his Mayoral website puts it.

Pascal nodded, enlightened. But then I felt confused. Recent uttering suggests Johnson, the eccentric polemicist in City Hall, far more vigorously protects and promotes bankers than Gifford, the quieter man In the Mansion House, the Lord Mayor's home.
   Speaking to MIPIM global property shindig delegates at Cannes, Johnson caned European Parliamentarians for proposing bankers' bonuses be capped at their salary levels.
London's prosperity depends on successful City bankers, Johnson told MIPIM delegates. Despite the downturn since 2008, Johnson says London still needs to consolidate itself as the "global financial capital of the world".

Even if, Johnson seems to believe, this means turning most of central London - and redeveloping outlying rundown areas - into property playgrounds for global elites. Parts of London - Johnson told MIPIM - such as the Royal Docks, Croydon, Old Oak Common and Tottenham "are ripe for development".
   Johnson also lambasted a proposed 'mansion tax' on £2 million-plus London properties as "an abomination" and an attack on "wealth creation".
Johnson treated his Cannes crowd to an Abraham Lincoln wisdom pearl: "You don't make poor people richer by making rich people poorer."
- "You see, he's a funny man, your Lord Mayor," chirped Pascal.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013

Friday, 15 March 2013

Detroit Spinning

Can an entire city go bust?
  The State of Michigan has given power and control over the debt-stricken city of Detroit to an appointed 'emergency finance manager', writes Paul Coleman.

For more, visit http://aje.me/WiC8Ij

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013

Thursday, 14 March 2013

MIPIM 2013, Cannes: Investment, Regeneration and London's housing debacle

Cannes isn’t just the locus of sun, sea, gleaming yachts and celebrity film stars. The south of France resort currently hosts the annual global property industry jamboree, jauntily titled MIPIM, writes London journalist Paul Coleman.
   MIPIM stands for Le Marché International des Professionnels de L’Immobilier. (Sorry, but I could hear you asking). 
   At MIPIM 2013, elected UK politicians – including, naturally, London’s ubiquitous Mayor – and a plethora of appointed officials, have spent this week politely accosting global property developers and investors.
  They've told tales of the ‘investment and regeneration potential’ of entire UK cities, London boroughs such as Ealing and Newham, and ‘up and coming’ neighbourhoods like the Elephant and Castle.

Country of honour
These chaps in dark suits have handed over glossy ‘inward investment and regeneration’ magazines to other dark suited fellows. Inside these beautifully crafted volumes, you wouldn't have spied a single image showing bulbous graffiti, chewing gummed paving stones or strewn fried chicken bones.
   Turkey is MIPIM 2013’s ‘country of honour’. Apparently, Jones Lang LaSalle research predicts Istanbul will join Paris, Moscow and London as a ‘megacity’ by 2050.
  But what Cannes - pardon the pun - MIPIM 2013 do for London? What does MIPIM mean for London’s buoyant 'mega-luxurious' residential property market?
And what, if any, are the implications for the thousands of Londoners who can’t afford to buy a home in their ‘home’ city?

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

'Generation Rent': G15 London Housing Associations to build 13,000 affordable homes by 2015

This blog recently focused on how journalists created ‘Yuppies’, ‘Dinkys’, ‘High Net Worth Individuals’ and ‘Chavs’ to caricature whole sections of society, writes London journalist Paul Coleman.  
   Now, there’s ‘Generation Rent’, a new group invoked by housing professionals and eagerly echoed by headline writers.
   Yesterday, (4 March) London’s 15 biggest housing associations vowed to build 13,000 ‘affordable’ homes by 2015 for ‘Generation Renters’ – Londoners in their 20s and 30s on average and even higher incomes. These people can’t raise the average £98,000 deposit they need to buy a decent family home in London.

Profit motive
The ‘G15’ group of housing associations also aims to provide some 5,100 properties for rent at market prices offering secure tenancies. G15 associations will use profits from rents to fund more ‘affordable’ homes.
   Apparently, a G15 board paper says: “The average home in London costs more than £400,000 and is 15 times the median income for Londoners…Those without access to capital may become lifetime renters.”
   But are G15 affiliates moving into mainstream 'for sale'  and 'for rent'  property markets at the expense of their social mission to provide 'affordable' homes for those in genuine need? 
  G15 chair and Affinity Sutton housing association chief executive, Keith Exford, said: "The only profit to be made is from the sale of stock at a later stage as values rise. A well-managed, reputable private rented sector is an important part of our offer to London."

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013

Monday, 4 March 2013

Steel fence planned around Heygate for 'temporary' five year period: Heygate Estate, Elephant and Castle, Southwark Council, Lend Lease

A three-metre high steel mesh security fence will be erected around parts of the Heygate Estate for a 'temporary period of five years', writes Paul Coleman.
   The fence will be placed around a number of blocks including Ashenden, Claydon, Cuddington, Marsten, Chearsley and Risborough - if a Southwark Council planning application - reference 13/AP/0508 - is approved.

Last January, Southwark Council and developer Lend Lease secured outline planning consent to demolish and re-develop the 22-acre Heygate Estate at Elephant and Castle in south London.
   Detailed consent for the Rodney Road first phase of the overall 13-year Heygate 'regeneration' project was secured last month.
  Southwark Council is trying to compulsorily purchase the homes of remaining Heygate leaseholders. Government inspector Wenda Fabian is expected to report to the Secretary of State soon after closing a four-day compulsory purchase order last February.
  The now almost emptied Heygate once housed over 3,000 people in over 1,200 council homes. Over 2,300 new homes are planned over the next 13 years including 71 social rent (council) homes.

(Above): Most of the buildings of the Heygate Estate, completed in 1974, remain structurally intact, overlooked by one of London's largest 'urban canopies' of mature London Plane trees.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013

Bedroom Tax, Under Occupancy Penalty, Welfare Reform, Community Charge, Poll Tax, Margaret Thatcher echo

The 'Bedroom Tax' echoes the 'Poll Tax', writes London journalist Paul Coleman. Ten disabled children are legally challenging the new 'Bedroom Tax' due to take effect from April 2013.
But let's zip back to 1989 when UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tried to introduce her flat rate tax on every adult. Thatcher  sought to neutrally call the tax, the 'community charge'.
   But protesters, deeming it regressive and unfair to poorer folk who would've paid the same as richer people, tagged it the 'Poll Tax'. Many refused to pay. Some non-payers were jailed.
  And, after protesters and police violently clashed in London's Trafalgar Square, the 'poll tax' was politically poleaxed - a humiliating U-turn for Thatcher's government.

Disabled children's legal challenge
Fast forward to April 2013. The coalition government intends to introduce a welfare 'reform' it would like everyone to neutrally call, the 'under-occupation penalty'. Welfare benefits will be cut if recipients are deemed as having a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home.
   Under the new measure, two children under aged 16 of the same gender are required to share a room. Those under aged ten are required to share a room regardless of gender. 
   Housing benefits will be cut by 14% for one 'spare' bedroom and 25% for two or more 'extra' bedrooms. The government says affected  claimants will lose between £14-£16 a week on average.

Political echo
But, last Friday (1 March), ten disabled and 'vulnerable' children launched legal proceedings in the High Court against Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to challenge the under-occupation penalty' or, as the children and many others now call it, the 'Bedroom Tax'. The ten litigants include one with Downs syndrome, three with autism, and another with a genetic condition.
   The ten children are challenging the expectation they will have to share a bedroom with their siblings. All have been assessed as needing their own bedrooms due to their disabilities or traumatic experience of abuse and domestic violence.
   Solicitor Rebekah Carrier, acting for the children and their parents, says: "Experts have assessed my clients as being unable to share a room with their siblings."

Urgent hearing 
The government says the Under Occupation Penalty is fairer as taxpayers' money is not spent on welfare benefit recipients who could move to a smaller home. The High Court is being asked to list the case for an urgent hearing. 
   Thatcher's defeated 'Poll Tax' represented a humiliating climb-down and paved the way for her resignation as Prime Minister and the Conservative Party's defeat by New Labour in 1987. 
The 'Bedroom Tax' echoes those heady days - but how strong will the echo resonate? Will recipient families with disabled children be exempted?

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2013