Thursday, 13 November 2014

Taking the Biscuit: United Biscuits, McVitie's, Job Insecurity, Living Wages, Household Anxieties

Taking the Biscuit

© London Intelligence, November 2014

Peel off the wrapper.
Dunk in your tea.
Rich Tea.
Mini Cheddars.
You might’ve munched many of these biscuits, writes Paul Coleman.
Churned out from a factory first built in 1902 in Harlesden, north-west London.
Made by employees of United Biscuits - founded in 1948 - working across a 24-7 shift pattern.
United Biscuits once swallowed McVitie’s, the biscuit and Jaffa Cakes maker.
McVitie’s, a company that first produced Digestives in 1892.
And then added chocolate to the Digestives in 1925 – before introducing Jaffa Cakes to a grateful world in 1927.

But a £2 billion deal in autumn 2014 sees United Biscuits - and its McVitie’s brands - bought by Yildiz, a privately owned global food group based in Turkey.
Rhys McCarthy, an official with trade union UNITE, says assurances will be sought from the new owners about the futures of United Biscuit’s 4,600 UK workers.
Yildiz chairman Murat √úlker says: “We’re very excited to work with United Biscuits’ strong and experienced management team to achieve our aim of building the world’s leading biscuits business.”

Assurances, though, are required
Especially by London workers worried about their job security in London’s low wage real economy.
And, in a food industry where takeover promises prove indigestibly hollow.
For instance, when US cheese slice group Kraft took over famous UK chocolate maker Cadbury in 2010.
Kraft promised no compulsory factory redundancies for two years. But 200 jobs were sliced a year later.

You can see why London workers worry.
Over the cost of rising food and energy.
And, about the way high train fares voraciously gobble money constantly topped onto travel cards.
And, that’s not including worries over soaring rents and property prices.

None of these anxieties are mitigated by a tiny rise in wages above the official inflation rate of 1.2% in early November – a blip seized on by politicians heralding ‘progress’ in their stat economy but sneezed at by real people surviving in the real economy.
True, the London Living Wage – a rate set by the Greater London Authority and currently paid voluntarily by about 1,000 firms – rose by 4% to £9.15 an hour.
(Outside London, the UK Living Wage rises by 2.6% to £7.85 per hour).
Yet 5.28 million workers earn less than the Living Wages.
And, the number of people on the national minimum wage of £6.50 per hour continues to soar – especially in catering, care homes, hotels, and retail.
With taxpayers topping up low-earnings through benefits.

The minimum wage is now the norm.
No longer a floor for an unlucky few.
Wage stagnation and job insecurity grind their way into people’s lives.
Devouring life chances.
Depositing only a bitter aftermath.
Of daily anxieties – reflected little in daily newspapers.

Many people are working two and three jobs just to make ends meet – whilst forlornly hoping to meet the end of these anxieties.
Meanwhile, bonus greedy City bankers - buoyed since 2009 by taxpayer bailouts and by Quantitative Easing - receive a November slap on their wrists for crookedly fixing money markets.
Mealy-mouthed politicians do little or nothing about this inequality.
Often, only Church leaders speak out.
“A healthy, active civil society is reliant on people volunteering their time and enthusiasm for the good of others,” says the Reverend Lucy Winkett, rector of St James’s Piccadilly.
“We risk losing that great British tradition if our families are too troubled with tackling household expenditure.
Hard working people should have enough to live, not simply survive.”

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, November 2014

London Signs: Comet, Gothic, Genocide, Pogroms, Organ Harvesting

London Signs

Photos by Paul Coleman

© London Intelligence 2014

'Comet': TVs at Orion House on Upper St Martin's Lane gleam news that robot probe
Philae has landed on Comet 67P after a 6.4 billion-kilometre (4bn-mile) decade-long journey
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2014

'Gothic': Meanwhile...back on Earth...British Library on Euston Road goes Gothic
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2014

'Without Touching Anyone...' NHS England poster's worried warning about Ebola virus
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2014

'Pogrom': An atrocity reminder© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2014
'Holocaust & Genocide': A Russell Square place of dedicated recall
Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2014

'Organ Harvesting?: Staking a claim outside the British Museum on Great Russell Street© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2014

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, November 2014

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Demolish. Rebuild. London's Council Estates: Barking, Dagenham, Westminster, Ealing, Barnet

London housing campaigners condemn local politicians for demolishing council estates and allowing developers to build unaffordable 'affordable housing'. 
But are some councils starting to buck this trend? 

Paul Coleman reports.

London Council Estates


© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2014

Around 100 architects and local authority officers gather early on the morning of Tuesday, 11 November 2014, writes Paul Coleman.
Hosted by New London Architecture at The Building Centre just off Tottenham Court Road, they start to talk frankly about the ‘regeneration’ of some of London’s council estates – outlining the potential benefits and perils.
Jeremy Grint, regeneration director at Barking & Dagenham Council, outlines how the east London local authority is borrowing £89 million over 30 years from the European Investment Bank – at “favourable” terms apparently – to deliver 500 new homes on the former Gascoigne Estate.
The Council has presided over the demolition and rebuilding of other local estates in recent years – The Lintons and Goresbrook Towers.

'Aspirational Council Housing'
But an unanswered question hangs heavily over Grint’s outline.
How many of these new ‘Affordable Rent’ and ‘Shared Ownership” homes will prove genuinely affordable to Barking and Dagenham residents on average and lower incomes?
Architect Andrew Beharrell of Pollard Thomas Edwards says he will check on the progress of 276 new Affordable Rent homes on another Dagenham project – the Thames View Estate.
“All homes were let on the day of release,” reports Beharrell.
“This is aspirational council housing.”
Again, an unanswered query hovers – is replacing subsidised council housing with ‘Affordable Rent’ homes (up to 80% of local market rents) really a ‘like-for like’ replacement?

Councils turn developers
Stephen McDonald, Director for Place, at the London Borough of Barnet, reaffirms a commitment to the building of new ‘council’ homes even thought the anti-council housing Conservative Party rules the Barnet roost.
““Barnet Council is turning into a developer,” confirms McDonald.
The Council also borrows prudentially,” outlining how ‘Re’, the council’s new ‘Joint Venture' with Capita, will help to fulfil a political promise to build 16,000 homes over 20 years.
More helpfully open than other speakers, McDonald explains these homes will be for rent, sale and shared ownership.
Eoin Keating of architects Jestico & Whiles explains the rebuilding of the Grahame Park Estate – a large Barnet estate built on the site of RAF Hendon – is already underway. 

Resounding 'Yes'
Pat Hayes, director of housing and regeneration at Ealing Council, says the borough aspires to providing new homes that local people in reasonably well-paid jobs can genuinely afford.
Hayes mentions Broadway Living, a development company wholly owned by Ealing Council, set up to borrow money in order to “deliver genuinely mixed communities”.
Richard Lavington, founder of architects Maccreanor Lavington, explains how the ‘mansion block’-style regeneration of the South Acton Estate – will create new homes, again for Affordable Rent, Shared Ownership and market sale.
Tristan Samuels, head of major projects at Westminster City Council, says residents voted resoundingly ‘Yes’ to plans to regenerate two central London estates, Tollgate Gardens and Ebury Bridge.
Tenants and leaseholders enjoy a ‘right of return’ to the new Ebury Bridge re-development, a right that Samuels says is bolstered by the Council offering equity loans. “A leaseholder taking out such a loan could move from a council home worth £300,000 to a new home worth £600,000,” chirps Samuels.

Bone to marrow
Developers as well as council tenants and leaseholders might take note of an possible emerging pattern, illuminated by the NLA discussion.
Some councils might be weaning themselves off the dominant ‘demolish and developer-led’ regeneration model for council estates - especially in the face of stiff residents' opposition through the planning process.
Ealing, Barnet and Barking & Dagenham, in their different ways, seem to want to redevelop but also to own and manage newly redeveloped estates - "or retain the value", as Hayes, McDonald and Grint label it.
But it’s early days.
And, as McDonald points out, to genuine applause from the breakfast club, local authority budgets are likely to be cut from the bone to the marrow in the next four years.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2014

Estate Regeneration: how local authorities are responding, hosted by New London Architecture and sponsored by Tibbalds, an urban design and planning firm.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, November 2014