Monday, August 29, 2016

Bristol Street Art

Just back from a holiday. I spent the first week based in Bristol sightseeing. What struck me was the number of colourful "Street Art" creations on various private buildings. Some were better than others but the best would make you stop and stare.

Bristol is believed to be the birthplace of the infamous Banksy but the only one I recognised was the (vandalised) "Naked Man" work.

During a day trip to Bath, I went to a more traditional Art Gallery which I enjoyed and would recommend if you are into that sort of thing but I thought at the time that in comparison, at its best "Street Art", was far more interesting and left a greater impression on me.

There was a couple of organised "Street Art" walking tours around Bristol which I didn't manage to fit in on this visit.

Last month I posted here a picture of the newly painted Street Art in Holbrook Road, West Ham ward, E15. Another one is planned soon. Maybe in future years Bristol will have some competition!

Bristol itself is a great place to explore. Lots of history, culture, shops, bars and "foodie" restaurants.  The waterfront and docks are well worth a visit. I will post on some walks another time. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

"Residents Launch Legal Objection to Bank LOBO Loans at 24 UK Councils"

This report by debt resistance shows that the LOBO loan scandal is a national issue and local authorities must take action to protect residents from being totally ripped off by the Banks.
 
"Local Residents Lodge Legal Objections to LOBO Loans at 24 Local Authorities Demanding Public Interest Reports and High Court Strike Out
Residents of more than twenty local authorities around the UK have mounted legal objections to risky council borrowing from banks, calling for public interest reports by council auditors, and requesting High Court declarations that controversial Lender Option, Borrower Option (LOBO) loans are “irrational” expenditure, and therefore unlawful.

In an unprecedented, nationwide action, the 24 objections lodged by residents throughout July and August under the 2014 Local Audit and Accountability Act force council auditors (PwC, KPMG, Deloitte, EY, BDO, Grant Thornton) to investigate why councils chose to take out risky, derivatives laced loans from banks at high interest rates, when they could have borrowed directly from Government, with significantly less risk?


(go here for live links)

A local objector who has requested remain anonymous said: “The use of Lender Option Borrower Option instruments without appropriate justification compromises the work of s151 officers. They should exercise more prudence to the risks that they are exposing local authorities to. The only people who lose out so far in these arrangements are current and future taxpayers. They only way out without incurring more municipal debt is higher taxes or reducing services

External auditors will effectively mark their own homework at these Councils, after Eric Pickles closed the Audit Commission in March 2015, as part of his package of ill-considered austerity cuts.

Commenting for Debt Resistance UK (DRUK), researcher Joel Benjamin said:

“UK local government finance is completely unregulated, so it’s great to see local residents around the country taking action, demanding accountability over how billions of pounds of public money is spent. For the past 6 years, councils have been passing down savage cuts to the poorest in society, using bailiffs to violently recover debts from the working poor, claiming they have “no other option.”

Debt Resistance UK research shows councils do have options, but councils are instead making the political choice that citizens wear the costs of the banking crisis, not the banks that caused it.”

Debt Resistance UK are calling for full transparency over how public money is being spent and an end to CAPITA lining their pockets through fraudulent financial advice at the taxpayers expense.

A significant proportion of the £15 billion in LOBO Loans taken out by councils amounts to “irrational expenditure” and should be cancelled, freeing up councils to refinance at lower rates of interest, making funds available for social housing and maintaining public services.”

Legal objections raise the prospect of High Court legal battles, rekindling memories of when Hammersmith and Fulham and 137 other UK councils in the 1980’s took out speculative  interest rate swaps from US and UK banks.

Hammersmith residents complained to the Audit Commission and a series of legal cases ending in the House of Lords, ruled the swaps contracts to be ‘ultra vires’ or illegal, because councils should not be speculating with public money. The deals were torn up, and the debts cancelled.

Ludovica Rogers from Debt Resistance UK added:

"When central and local government fail in their duties to act in the public interest, citizens are forced to use all democratic tools at their disposal to hold those in power to account. Local residents are now exercising their democratic rights granted by the Local Audit and Accountability Act to expose serial failings in the management of public finances, and we demand these concerns are taken seriously and acted upon."

Of particular concern are the legally suspect “range LOBO” product offered by Barclaysand “inverse floater” LOBO loans sold by RBS. These loans were effectively crystal ball induced bets on interest rates by banks and council finance officers, loans now costing councils 7-8% in annual interest, when base rates are near zero, and loans from the Public Works Loan Board are available for less that 2%.
In practice, this means councils like Newham London with £573m in LOBO loan bank debt now find that the equivalent of 80% of their council tax revenue is eaten up by debt interest repayments.

Repayments on debt interest at Newham Council (refer to chart below) now make up a greater component of expenditure than housing. 240 Councils around the UK now find themselves trapped into LOBO loans, with breakage costs greater than 90% of the loan face value and increasing further as base interest rates drop. Comparatively, the breakage cost on PWLB loans is just 30% of the loan face value.



Debt Resistance UK spokespeople are available for comment. 


For press inquiries 
 

Links to further information:

UK Local Authority Debt Audit website: http://lada.debtresistance.uk/
Debt Resistance UK website: http://debtresistance.uk/
Interactive map of local authority debt: bit.ly/LADAmap
What is a LOBO loan? http://bit.ly/LOBOLoan
LOBO Loans are potentially illegal http://bit.ly/DebtTrap
Conflicts of interest http://bit.ly/LADA3
 
Copyright © 2015 Debt Resistance UK, All rights reserved.


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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Uproar over lack of beneficiary representation on LGPS pools





"The local government pension scheme (LGPS) pools have come under fire for not including member representation on governance boards to oversee the radical changes.
This is despite the introduction of beneficiary representation in the LGPS for the first time through local pension boards, which have been in place around a year. 

The issue was discussed at a meeting with local pension board and employer representatives on 10 August, where speakers on a panel included Andrew Cornelius from HM Treasury and the Scheme Advisory Board (SAB) chair Roger Phillips.
According to notes from the meeting published on the SAB's website, people said without local board and member representatives, they would not be able to play an effective role in ensuring investment and responsible investment strategies were being implemented by the pools.
John Gray, who is a member-nominated trustee on the Tower Hamlets Pension Fund and attended the meeting, is particularly worried and revealed to PP there was "uproar" at the meeting.
"It was clear people up and down the country people are furious, having realised there is not a single beneficiary at the pool level."
He warned there is "hostility among beneficiaries based on a feeling they're being excluded from the pools in favour of officers and councillors".
It comes as there is deep concern among members the government is using the LGPS as a political football by mandating the funds to increase investment in UK infrastructure.
He believes in order to make pooling a success it is crucial to take into account the interests and feelings of beneficiaries and their elected representatives.
"There's a danger of bringing the whole thing into disrepute. I'm all for merging and pooling with regards to cutting costs but this exclusion explains some of the hostility, the fear these pools are being used to invest in British infrastructure that government doesn't want to invest in. If you exclude people from taking responsibility for their money and savings, these suspicions will occur."
It comes as the introduction of beneficiary representation in the LGPS through the local pension boards was hailed as a step towards mirroring the private sector where member nominated trustees have long played an important role.
"The Hutton report wanted beneficiary representation, similar to the private sector, to improve governance," said Gray. "If they're good enough to be on a local pension board and good enough to be on private sector pension schemes, why is there not a single beneficiary on any of the pools?"
Gray also warned Brexit may make the situation even more dangerous: "If protections we currently have under European legislation end up disappearing, such as conflicts between beneficiaries and employers, who will be there to protect the members?"
The proposals for the LGPS pool structures were set out in final submissions sent to the government in July.
At the 10 August meeting, in response to the concerns, the panel said there would be no mandatory membership of oversight structures and it would be for each pool to develop the proposals they considered appropriate.
The meeting notes said: "[The panel said] the majority of decision making remained at the local level and therefore the involvement of local pension boards in those areas would not change. Scheme managers should consider how best to involve their pension boards in ensuring the effective implementation of investment and responsible investment strategies by pools, which could include representation on oversight structures."
Unison has been encouraging its members who set on local boards to write to their schemes asking to be represented on the pools".
Stephanie Baxter


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sitting on the floor of a Virgin train? Luxury.... #traingate


Okay, this is the "silly season" but the fuss about Jeremy Corbyn and "did he or didn't he" have to sit on the floor during a Virgin train ride from London to Newcastle is still going on. 

I was not on that Thursday train journey but last month I did travel by Virgin on a Thursday from London to Newcastle for the Unison APF National Seminar.

The train was so crowded that there was no room to even sit down on the floor! I had to stand from London to York when I finally managed to get a seat. A unison colleague and fellow Newham Councillor was on the same train and had to stand for the entire journey. I wish I had a bit of floor to sit on but it was so crowded I had to stand. 

I tweeted this picture at the time. 

Why anyone is believing Richard Branson and then Virgin version of events is beyond me. He is a despicable privateer who makes millions out of the public subsidy of privatised railways.  Someone who hates trade unions and the entire Labour movement. No wonder he is happy to tell lies about the truly dreadful service that Virgin provides. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Investment Association gets bitten by Loch Ness Monster

I am catching up on my reading and have been enjoying the rather brutal kicking that the UK fund managers "trade body" the Investment Association (IA) has recently received following its nonsensical claim that their fees don't matter. The IA claimed that concern by pension trustees and other shareholders about the hugely excessive fees that fund managers charge is the same as a belief in the Loch Ness Monster. 

As a trade body looking after their interests, the IA makes the most militant UK trade unions look like pussycats. However, their arrogance and incompetence is becoming truly legendary. 

They sacked their former Chief Executive who was trying to get the industry to even admit there was a problem with their fees. Now they have shot themselves in the foot by trying to "monster" critics with a "report" decribed by the following as :-

Con Keating, Head of Research, BrightonRock Group

“I have read many hundreds of empirical financial studies and reports, perhaps even thousands. This report is by far the worst – so bad that it is offensive, insulting both our common-sense and intelligence.”

Gina Miller, True & Fair Campaign

“It was the IMA under Richard Saunders that produced an intellectually bankrupt and thoroughly amateurish piece of research in 2012 that we proved was totally misleading.

“The tone then, as now, was a PR exercise to show how wonderful the UK fund management industry is, how there are no hidden costs to speak of and how amazing all active funds are.

“Now under new management and a new name, the IA is still producing nonsense. This new research paper is not worth the paper it is printed on.”

Andy Agathangelou, Transparency Task Force

“I just don’t think the IA press release endears them to the market at all, and given the avalanche of adverse publicity they had when Daniel Godfrey’s ceased to be their chief executive, you’d think the IA would have learned a few lessons about how to avoid adverse publicity by now.

“I’m not so sure they have; but I am sure that if I was a fee-paying member of the IA I’d demand to know who signed off that press release, it’s just so churlish and needlessly provocative, in my opinion.

“If the IA are convinced it is complete then perhaps the IA would be willing to stand by it and guarantee to pay compensation to any investor that ever has, or ever will, pay any kind of charge beyond what is disclosed in this research?”

Henry Tapper, Pension Playpen

“The Investment Association has no earned authority, no integrity and has no place at the policy debate.

“It has always called upon the solidarity of its membership to provide the powerful lobby to ensure it retained control of the costs and charges debate. It relied either on a Labour Government with insufficient gumption to take them on, or a Conservative Government with too many fingers in their pie.”


(Hat tip http://www.evidenceinvestor.co.uk/lies-damned-lies-and-trade-body-pr/. Check out more @RobinJPowell)


It makes me despair that not only am I paying for the membership fees of the IA through my pension fund but this money is being wasted on those who clearly could not organise the proverbial at a brewery. 







Monday, August 22, 2016

"Madness to spend £9 billion of taxpayers money lining the pockets of private landlords"


Well said David Orr. Not that often I say that.

"Landlords paid £9bn in housing benefit
A study from the National Housing Federation (NHF) shows that private landlords are being paid £9.3bn in housing benefit this year, up from £4.6bn in 2008. In the same period the number of private renters receiving housing benefit has climbed 42% from 1.05m to £1.49m. The study shows that it costs £21 a week more to house a family in a privately-rented property home than in a social home, £110 on average compared with £89. The total housing benefit bill has risen from £17.4bn in 2004/5 to £24.7bn in 2014/15. David Orr, chief executive of the NHF, said: "It is madness to spend £9bn of taxpayers' money lining the pockets of private landlords rather than investing in affordable homes.”


http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-37132249

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Whether you love a Big Mac or Not. Ask McDonalds to stop pumpingantibiotics into cattle


Dear John,

McDonald’s is contributing to a public health crisis that affects every person on this planet – whether you love a Big Mac or not. The fast food giant is serving meats that are pumped with antibiotics, which are fueling resistance to the antibiotics we need to treat even minor surgeries and common medical issues.

Click here to ask McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook to stop supersizing antibiotic use in its livestock.

We were shocked to learn that almost 50% of antibiotics used in the UK and 70% in the US are given to the livestock used by companies like McDonald’s. The World Health Organization has warned that we are headed towards a ‘post antibiotic era’ [1] and the overuse of medically important antibiotics in farming is a key reason for that.

McDonald’s began leading the way in tackling overuse of antibiotics in poultry. [2] But this is only partial progress. We need to make McDonald's go further to raise standards across the fast food sector. McDonald’s investors are already calling out the company on its overuse of antibiotics. [3] CEO Steve Easterbrook has been slow to respond so it’s time for us to ramp up the pressure.

Will you take 2 minutes to call for an end to the overuse of antibiotics in McDonald’s meat supply chains?

As a global market leader, if McDonald’s improves its standards, the wider industry will follow suit.

Thank you,
Mara, Clare, Colette and the rest of the team at ShareAction


[1] Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, "Antimicrobial resistance – why the irresponsible use of antibiotics in agriculture must stop": http://www.saveourantibiotics.org/media/1466/antibiotics-alliance-40pp-report-2015-final-artwork-1.pdf

[2] McDonald’s already has a policy in place to curb the overuse of antibiotics in its poultry. Chickens for meals sold in North America are raised without medically important antibiotics and the company is planning to phase out use of ‘highest priority critically important’ antibiotics in Europe by 2018, though this still leaves significant room for improvement.

[3] "Shareholders to Press McDonald's on Antibiotic-Free Meat at 5/26 AGM," ICCR (24 May 2016): http://www.iccr.org/shareholders-press-mcdonalds-antibiotic-free-

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Jeremy Corbyn Rally: Newham Tuesday 23 August 7.30pm



On Tuesday evening Labour Leadership candidate, Jeremy Corbyn MP, will be at a rally in Manor 
Park. Other local and national speakers will also be present. I understand that it is open to everyone and is not ticketed. 

The Royal Regency is a very large venue within walking distance of Manor Park station and close to many bus routes. 

Hat tip Don Na Marie.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Some good news about LOBOs but...

See recent report below from Financial advisors "Vedant Hedging" below. While this is on face value welcome, Joel Benjamin, from LOBO campaigning group "Debt Resistance" thinks there are more cynical motives behind this move.

"Whilst there is PR value in Barclays cancelling the lenders option, as a "concession" to LAs and HAs, in reality it is nothing of the sort, and there is little tangible benefit to these clients, whose annual accounts must now reflect they are stuck with expensive, fixed rate loans.

In reality, rather than charity from Barclays - it means in banks cold business assessments, there is slim to no chance of interest rates returning to pre-2008 levels, so the LOBOs revert to a standard fixed rate, with the councils still locked in by the high breakage costs.

The banks have to keep less capital in reserve against the loans if they cancel the options, so Barclays appear to be doing this for solely regulatory reasons".

I suppose the good news for Councils such as Newham is that we do not have to keep huge cash reserves on option dates in case the Banks decide to increase interest rates (ironically earning little interest to cover loans which cost up to 7% per year).

However, this will do nothing to protect Newham residents from the growing burden of the £238 million of so called range LOBOs (loans whose interest rate goes up when standard rates go down) that Barclays sold to us at the same time as its traders (and "house"'funds) were conspiring to drive down the Libor rate.

Vedant Hedging

"We received some good news recently; Barclays Bank PLC has agreed to waive the option of increasing interest rates on a set of LOBO loans taken out by housing associations in the wake of the financial crisis. This news comes as a direct result of the investigations led by Vedanta Hedging and Debt Resistance UK in a Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ documentary which looked into these controversial bank loans. You can find more information and a recording of the episode here.

This is good news as a step in the right direction because Barclays realises that these were unfair and inappropriate contract terms, and decided to remove them rather than face potential litigation regarding these derivatives. This shows the power of campaigning on this issue by Vedanta Hedging, Debt Resistance UK and others. The important question remains why Barclays though that these were appropriate in the first instance!

LOBOs are very complex, long-term loans which contain embedded derivatives. Abhishek Sachdev of Vedanta Hedging also gave live evidence on this important issue to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee – which you can view here

In the released statement, Barclays was quoted as saying;

“Over a hundred local authorities and housing associations will benefit from greater certainty that their borrowing costs will not rise in future. They will also enjoy reduced break costs than there would have been had Barclays retained its right to change the interest rate. Also they will know that the original value they secured when taking out the loan at rates lower than those available publicly at the time, is now locked in for the lifetime of the loan.“

Want to read more about Barclays Bank waiving the right to increase interest rates on LOBO loans? Then click here.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Triathlon Training 2016: Five weeks to go


Thurs 11 Aug
Ran to Olympic pool E20
32 mins
Max Pace 2.7
2.61 miles
Pace 12.5
Slow but steady
4.8 mph
Early Morning Swim lesson Aquatic Centre
45 mins
 25m Training pool
Mostly backstroke, but did Butterfly legs work & tumble turns 
Sub Coach worked us pretty hard
Ran back
24 mins
Max Pace 1.33
2.23 miles
Pace 10.8
feeling knackered and bit painful
 5.57mph
Ken Bike Liverpool St Stn To Unison Centre 
20 mins (estimate)
4.14 mile?
994mph apparently
(Sportrate app not working)
Ken Bike back to Liverpool St Stn
21.2 mins
Max Pace 1.23
3.43 mile
Pace 6.19
 tired and stiff
9.7mph
Now just less than 5 weeks to g before my self organised Olympic distanceTriathlon on Sunday 18 September. 

This was from my training programme from Thursday. I was so shattered the following day that I had to take the Friday off exercise. Which shows how much I have got to raise my game during the next few weeks. 

My aim is to swim 1.5k at the Aquatic Centre in the Queen Elizabeth Park in Stratford then Cycle 40k up and down in Newham then return to the Olympic Park and complete a 10k run. 

I will be raising funds for the UNISON charity "there for you" and the "Greece Solidary Campaign". 

If you wish to sponsor me for "there for you" click here and/or the GSC then click here