Grenfell Tower inquiry: expert explains four main findings – and how emergency services must improve

Focus on the fire service. John Gomez/Shutterstock.

Paresh Wankhade, Edge Hill University

The long-awaited phase one report of the public inquiry led by Sir Martin Moore-Bick into the fire at the Grenfell Tower has been published. This report examines the events of an extremely complicated situation on the night of June 14, 2017, which resulted into the tragic loss of 72 lives. It investigates the cause of the fire, how it developed and the steps taken by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) and other emergency services.

Understandably, the response to the findings – which underscore failures by emergency services – has been immediate and intense, with survivors calling for the resignation of London Fire Brigade chief Dany Cotton. Yet the report runs over 830 pages, and it will take time to examine and understand the findings in detail. For now, I’ve drawn on my expertise in the management of emergency services to summarise the report’s key findings and recommendations.

1. Require owners and managers to share information about building design and materials.

Similar cladding was found on Chalcots Estate in Camden, London. mattbuck/Wikimedia Commons.

While the report was critical of the fact that LFB was unaware of the combustible nature of the materials used in the external cladding that surrounded Grenfell Tower, it concluded that the cladding was largely responsible for the fire spreading so quickly.

The report recommends that owners and managers of every high rise residential building (over 18 metres in height) should provide their local fire and rescue service with information about the design of its external walls and details of the materials of which they are constructed. This is a significant recommendation, which should help local fire services to recognise the nature of each fire they face, and make contingency plans to deal with specific types of fires.

2. Develop national guidelines for the evacuation of high rise towers.

Moore-Bick praised the firefighters who attended the tower for their extraordinary courage and selfless devotion to duty, but concluded that the absence of an operational evacuation plan was a “major omission” in the LFB’s preparation for a fire at a building such as Grenfell Tower.

The report argued in length whether the “stay put” policy – whereby tower block residents were advised to stay inside their flats, to compartmentalise the fire – could have been reviewed by the brigade earlier in the night, so that more lives could be saved. This is undoubtedly one of the most emotive and controversial issues brought up by the report.

The report also called for a legal requirement on owners and managers of every high rise residential building to draw up evacuation plans and need for contingency planning, including speakers and siren systems, to alert residents to understand the evacuation drill when needed. This may prove more difficult to implement, especially in tower blocks with single staircases. Fears for the safety of elderly people and young children in such scenarios may require the government to bring in new laws to specify planning requirements for the number of stairs and lifts.

3. Improve the response, training and communication within the fire service.

The report was critical about the response of LFB, both on the ground and in the control room where 999 calls were handled – especially regarding how information from callers was processed and shared with ground commanders. The inquiry found that senior control room staff lacked the training to manage a large-scale incident, while operational commanders lacked the training to recognise the need for an evacuation – or organise one.

The report concluded with recommendations to improve call handling and staff training, and develop better communication channels between staff on the ground and and in the control room to facilitate direct communication. It also recommended providing an integrated system of recording fire safety guidance information.

4. Strengthening cooperation between police, fire and ambulance services.

The report also identified lack of coordination between the three emergency services (the LFB, police and ambulance), particularly in the “area of communication between control rooms” and in relation to the “advice to be given to callers” trapped in the tower.

Their failure to share declarations of a major incident – which calls for extra levels of command, control and coordination between emergency services – went against protocols and hampered a joint response between police, fire and ambulance services.

What lies ahead

The report identified massive communication and command challenges for the LFB – and makes a compelling case for organisational learning across the emergency services. My own research has also identified governance challenges and a lack of coordination between emergency services – as did the Kerslake Report on the Manchester Arena tragedy of May 2017. So clearly, these are persistent problems.


Read more: How to reboot Britain’s fractured emergency services


Giving staff proper training, re-assessing the way decisions are made and undertaking rigorous risk assessments – as recommended by the inquiry – will go a long way to reassure the public about fire safety in high rise buildings, and the conduct of emergency services. But it will require additional investments in the services, which are already grappling with spending cuts.

Fire services alone have witnessed a 12% spending reduction in real terms between 2010 and 2015.
Doing “more with less” is also proving difficult for ambulance services. And central government funding to police and crime commissioners has been reduced by £2.3 billion (25%) in real-terms between 2010-11 and 2015-16.

Phase one of the report has been revealing, but the public will be in a better position to exercise judgement after phase two of the inquiry has run its course, and identified the aspects of the “design, construction and management of the building that were primarily responsible for the disaster”.

Paresh Wankhade, Professor of Leadership and Management, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Week in Politics – 7 October

No sooner than they were back, they’re set to be off again! The Government plans to prorogue Parliament on Tuesday (8th) to prepare for the following week’s Queens Speech. That means no Prime Minister’s Questions and generally less of everything. (There could still be time though for a vote on the latest Brexit plan as the order of business early in the week looks very light indeed).

Of course the Commons isn’t the only game in town and over in Cardiff Welsh Assembly members are set to vote on….whether to change the name of the Welsh Assembly. That might sound flippant but the point of the name change is to emphasise the changed nature of the body. Those in favour say Senedd better expresses its Parliamentary nature. It does a lot more now than when it started and the name should show this. It’s not just about nomenclature though. The Bill also gives 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote in Assembly (or Senedd) elections. This week is Stage Two – a Committee of the whole Assembly. The whole thing goes on to a plenary debate later.

There’s rarely a week without an election of course, and this week sees Poland go to the polls on Sunday (13th) to elect a new Parliament. At the last contest the Law and Justice Party won enough seats to form a Government with Civic Platform (Donald Tusk used to lead this) becoming the main opposition party. Since then the Law and Justice Administration has stirred up some controversy, with rows over attempts to control the judiciary and stand offs with parts of the EU. The ever useful Europe Elects site tells us that Law and Justice are currently polling 47 per cent with Civic Platform (and partners) on 28. (Poll fieldwork 2 October). That’s quite a gap.

And as if there hasn’t been enough legal excitement recently, the Court of Sessions in Scotland is due on Monday (7th) to make an initial ruling on another Brexit related case. This time it’s about what could be done if Boris Johnson refuses to ask for the Article 50 extention as specified in the Benn Act. There are some key features of Scottish law which don’t exist elsewhere in the UK, and one of these is the brilliantly named nobile officium power. Could be another nail-biter for the Government!

The Week in Politics – 30 September 2019

This week sees the Boris Johnson speech at the Conservative Party Conference, potential co operation by anti-Brexit MPs in the Commons, the formation of a new Government in Austria and a key debate in the Canadian General Election.

Firstly, the PM speech. Party Conferences are designed to fulfill a range of roles. They are about enthusing party members, deciding policy (at some conferences), announcing policy, gaining positive media coverage and generally acting as a shop-window on the party. Usually Parliament takes a break so that the three main parties can have their events uninterrupted by Parliamentary process. This year however the recess has been refused for the Conservatives, who meet in Manchester.

Leaders speeches are generally the final act and crescendo of the conference. This year Johnson is scheduled as final speaker (2 Oct)and will be hoping for a good reception, both in the hall and elsewhere. Of course last time the Conservatives were in Manchester Theresa May had a coughing fit, a comedian attempted to hand her a p45 and various bits of the stage fell down. (I saw it all being in the hall with a group of Edge Hill students). Of course Johnson is more of a showman and you can imagine him working disasters into his act in a way that May couldn’t manage. However this time he will be focusing on delivering a message to people outside the event. It is a vitally important moment for him. Expect plenty of “surrender” and ” Get Brexit done”.

Back at the Palace of Westminster, while the cat’s away….. Pundits have been saying that these few days are a chance for anti-Brexit MPs to come up with more moves designed to make attack the Government and to reinforce the so-called Rebel Alliance. Some of this punditry is based on anonymous source briefings, and of course it’s worth remembering that some sources don’t actually have much in the way of information. However, with cross-party working very much to the fore these days, it makes sense to look out for signs of further moves. The tricky issue is yet again the Vote of No Confidence. Will it happen? Will there be enough in favour? Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (2011) a vote of no confidence doesn’t mean an immediate General Election. But it could lead to one in pretty short order. Parliament doesn’t officially resume until around 2pm today (30th) but that won’t stop the behind-the-scenes work.

In the UK we tend to have our elections on a Thursday, meaning a rush before or after work for some. On the continent they are a little more civilised and have polling on a Sunday. So there are often election results on a Sunday night. This time we’ve had results from Austria where it appears the Austrian People’s Party (in Government before) will be the biggest party but may need Coalition Partners. The Austrian People’s Party is the mainstream Right Wing Party (OVP). Previous Coalition partners have done badly so it remains to be seen who they can team up with. Incidentally, for election and opinion poll junkies I highly recommend the Europe Elects twitter feed. We cover European Politics as well as Elections and Voting on our Politics course at Edge Hill.

Finally, October sees the Federal Elections in Canada. Last time (2015) the Liberals left from third place to first, installing Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister. His brand was great then, young, fresh, open. Today however he struggles as first a row about alleged interference in a legal process and then revelations about previous “blackface” incidents have tarnished the brand. Both other main parties have changed their leaders since 2015 so it’ll be a case of seeing whether the newbies can overtake the Governing party. This week (2 Oct)sees one of the few Leaders debates – a French language one in Montreal. Trudeau is good in debates and the next few weeks will be crucial if the Liberals are to hang on.

Multi-level marketing has been likened to a legal pyramid scheme – the backlash against it is growing

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Máire O Sullivan, Edge Hill University

There is a growing rumble of discontent against multi-level marketing (MLM) businesses. As well as a growing backlash from former MLM recruits, regulators are getting involved, too. Unfortunately, however, these businesses that have been likened to legal pyramid schemes are unlikely to disappear altogether.

Multi-level marketing is the model of selling products through a network of distributors. Distributors buy stock in the company’s product and then sell it on, keeping a cut of the profits. Money is not just made from selling, but also from recruiting new distributors – if someone signs up under you, you become their “upline” and receive commission from their earnings, too. If your recruits sign up anyone beneath them, you also take a cut of their profits, and so on.

The difference with illegal pyramid schemes is that there is a product. But critics say that many MLMs have a business model that focuses on recruiting “downline” and getting new distributors to buy the product, rather than on actual sales to consumers, making them akin to pyramid schemes.

A recent report in The Guardian newspaper revealed the “cultish grip” that some of these businesses have on many recruits. They offer people a life-changing financial opportunity, but many lose money – and their friends – when they sign up to MLMs. Only the few at the top of the pyramid profit.

The Guardian focused on beauty sales business, Younique. But you may have seen a number of brands on your social media feed, including Herbalife which sells weight-loss products, Arbonne which sells skincare and many others. In fact, these businesses increasingly rely on social media to grow, both selling their products and recruiting new distributors online.

Women are the main target. According to the US Direct Selling Association, the trade body for the sector, 73.5% of those involved in MLMs in 2018 were women. The European Direct Selling Association suggests 77% are women in the UK.

Young mums, in particular, are inundated with requests to “support the businesses of their friends”. They are promised an easy way to make money from home, while balancing childcare. Another appeal of MLMs is the community they offer to distributors. Recruits are given coaching on how to make their side hustle a success and get support from others in the network.

This often results in vulnerable people being targeted by the allure of making easy money, fitting work around your own schedule and entering a supportive community. But some of these companies have an alarmingly cult-like mentality, encouraging distributors to cut negative influences and naysayers from their lives.

Bearing in mind that only 1% of people turn a profit, those naysayers may have good reason to sound the alarm. And the constant drive for sales can alienate friends and family who don’t want to get involved in the MLM.

Anti-MLM activism

The number of people that have been burned by their experience as an MLM distributor has led to the rise of an anti-MLM movement. The anti-MLM group on internet forum Reddit has almost half a million members. It states that: “Multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes are a drain on our society. Its participants either build the pyramid taller, or get squashed by it.” The Facebook group “Sounds like MLM but ok” has more than 100,000 members and a podcast to discuss MLMs and what it describes as “their poor business structure, obnoxious marketing practices, and all around awful nature”.

Clothing MLM Lularoe is a particular target for online activists and has been the subject of a recent Vice documentary. Lularoe had an initial buy-in cost of a minimum US$5,000 – an enormous sum in the MLM industry. A litany of subsequent scandals has culminated in the Washington state attorney in the US filing a lawsuit against the company alleging it is a pyramid scheme – something Lularoe says is completely without merit.

Activists have many major MLMs firmly in their sights. The Netflix documentary Betting on Zero, for example, features the fight against Herbalife by LatinX community activists in the US. The Pink Truth assists “women in freeing themselves from abusive pyramid schemes and predatory multi-level marketing companies like Mary Kay [cosmetics]”. Activists often feel they have been personally victimised by the industry, either as former distributors or as targets of them.

End in sight?

With this renewed media attention and a burgeoning grassroots movement against MLMs, it is interesting to see that AdvoCare, a diet and nutritional supplement brand headquartered in Texas, decided last month to abandon its MLM model. The company stated that the Federal Trade Commission took issue with “how AdvoCare compensates its distributors”.

The FTC talks that led to this decision were confidential so it’s hard to know exactly why AdvoCare decided to terminate its 100,000 distributors. But its MLM model had experienced difficulties in the past few years with an ESPN investigation into its practices, a class action lawsuit by former salespeople claiming it was a pyramid scheme, and an Olympic swimmer alleging that their products were responsible for her testing positive for a banned substance.

Despite all of this, it is unlikely that we will see an end to MLMs any time soon. While specific MLM companies have risen and fallen, the model itself – which promises easy money and an alluring community – has withstood a number of court challenges over the years. But hopefully the anti-MLM movement will bring about change through consumer education and pressure, as well as supporting the many people who fail to reap the rewards that these businesses promise.


We asked for comment from the MLM companies referred to. Only Lularoe responded. They insisted they offered participants an opportunity for “responsible entrepreneurism” and “a journey towards new freedom in their life”, suggesting failures just hadn’t put in the “required effort”.

Máire O Sullivan, Lecturer in Marketing and Advertising, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is there hope for independent candidates in a snap election? A short history of MPs who go it alone

Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

British politics is in a state of flux. In the space of less than a year we’ve seen at least two new parties formed – The Brexit Party and the Independent Group for Change (formerly Change UK). We have seen MPs leave parties to join others. Chuka Umunna, for example, left first the Labour Party then Change UK to end up in the Liberal Democrats, while various other MPs are sitting as independents in the House of Commons. And the most recent national election, the European election in May, showed that voters are increasingly willing to forsake the traditional two main parties.

As the number of groupings increases, perhaps parties are losing their hold. So does this open up opportunities for those who want to go it alone?

Former Labour MP Frank Field recently announced that he is to stand as an independent candidate in the next election, after quitting the Labour Party in 2018. The Birkenhead on Merseyside MP had clashed repeatedly with the Labour leadership over its handling of antisemitism in the party before resigning the whip and complained of a “culture of intolerance, nastiness and intimidation” in local parties.

Field, who has represented his constituency since 1979, has applied to register the Birkenhead Social Justice Party with the Electoral Commission to make his bid possible. The party is more of a vehicle for getting noticed on the ballot paper, however, rather than an attempt to start a new movement. To all intents and purposes, Field is striking out alone. Of course he’ll have helpers and supporters, but he is independent of party.

Modern British politics, particularly at Westminster level, is not that kind to independent candidates. The main parties have huge machines and most voters pick the party rather than the person when entering the ballot box. Even when a politician has a personal vote, it’s hard to beat the machine.

There are some examples of independents succeeding, though. One of the best known independent candidates must be the former broadcaster Martin Bell, who triumphed in Tatton in 1997. Bell stood as an anti-corruption candidate against incumbent Conservative Neil Hamilton, who had been part of a “cash for questions” scandal. Bell’s path to victory was smoothed by Liberal Democrat and Labour candidates, who stood down to give him a better chance. Both parties also provided support to Bell. He did. however, pledge to only serve one term, so we’ll never know if he could have won the seat again.

When MPs go independent, it’s generally because they are unhappy with their party. In 2005, Peter Law, a member of the Welsh Assembly, caused quite a shock when he quit the Labour Party to stand as an independent candidate for the Westminster seat of Blaenau Gwent. The seat had become available when the Labour incumbent announced his retirement but the Labour Party angered some local activists when it decided that his replacement would be chosen from an all-woman shortlist. Law was among the dissenters and caused quite a shock when he won the seat – supposedly one of the safest for Labour in Wales.

Another famous case is Labour MP Dick Taverne, who fought a by-election in 1973 as an independent in Lincoln after falling out with his local party over Europe. Taverne defended his seat successfully in the first of the two 1974 elections, but lost in the second.

History tells us that independent candidates find it difficult to win election and even harder to retain a seat. One of the few who has successfully stayed in place is Wyre Forest’s Richard Taylor, a retired doctor who stood on a single-issue campaign to save his local hospital. He won in 2001 and defended in 2005. On each occasion, the Liberal Democrats stood aside. He lost to the Conservatives in 2010.

Lessons for Field

Historically, successful independent campaigns in the UK have all involved a big issue, like the health service or sleaze, and a party row which effectively provides plenty of manpower and motivation or tacit support from potential opponents. They have also included some element of personal vote, although it is important not to overstate this. Bell’s triumph, for example, also included a good dose of anti-politics.

Field does have an issue, but frankly “social justice” is too broad and too open to being claimed by others. He has rowed with the Labour Party over antisemitism and over Europe (he campaigned for Brexit) but, again, these are too broad to make the difference for him as an independent candidate.

Field has certainly had a row with his former party, but will this deliver the person-power needed to mount a campaign? It is hard to see the Liberal Democrats standing down to help Field. The party has councillors on the Wirral and disagrees with Field on lots of issues – particularly Brexit. The Greens have been making progress locally too. Labour has just selected a new candidate and says it will contest the seat vigorously. Labour, after all, has since 2017 had a massive majority there. It is also hard to see the Conservatives walking away from this one – although the Brexit Party might step aside to give Field a better chance.

Field has a personal vote but, based on previous examples of independent campaigns, this is not enough for a victory. But politics is in flux today and maybe that big issue will come along.

As the election gets nearer, it will be intriguing to see if any others decide to strike out on their own. The risks are great, but the current talk about de-selection in both the Labour and Conservative parties may make some think more seriously about it. With most positions in the political marketplace clearly occupied at the moment though, any potential independent will need to keep his or her fingers crossed for that elusive local issue.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Remain Alliance – can it halt Brexit and beat Boris Johnson?

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Paula Keaveney, Edge Hill University

This week’s by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire will be the first formal test of the so-called Remain Alliance. The unusually short list of candidates in this contest is partly because parties such as the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, have stood down in favour of the Liberal Democrats. Campaign visits have also been made by those who originally formed Change UK, such as former Conservatives MPs Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen.

It is rare in British politics for parties to stand down in favour of their usual competitors. And while this isn’t the first occurrence, or the first initiative, the Brecon agreements could well lead to something more formal. A little earlier in the summer, former Change UK (now Independent Group for Change) leader Heidi Allen launched Unite to Remain. The idea is for Remain-supporting parties to work together to maximise the chance of electoral, and therefore policy, success. This would include the use of a common title or strapline to make the point.


Read more: How Boris Johnson can win a snap election – and what the others can do to stop him


There have been attempts to achieve a common purpose in the past. The 2017 general election, for example, saw the promotion of the so-called Progressive Alliance (of which more later). But what marks out the latest attempt is the move to register a name and logo (Remain Alliance) with the Electoral Commission. Current electoral law means that ballot papers can only include registered names and logos (or the word “Independent”).

Tribalism

To understand whether or not the current initiative can succeed, it is worth looking at cross-party cooperation, or the lack of it, in the past.

British politics is usually very tribal. This tribalism has meant that past efforts at cooperation have generally been motivated by negative factors, such as a desire to defeat a particular party (usually the Conservatives).

But the nature of the electoral system also means that tactics could trump tribalism. In a first-past-the-post system, which is used for UK parliamentary elections, a horse-race narrative often develops. It is in the interests of a challenger party to appear as the only participant with a chance to overtake the favourite and win.

This in turn means supporters of lower placed, unlikely-to-win parties are targeted to “lend” their votes to defeat a less-preferred option. This has given birth to idea that only certain parties are worth supporting.


Read more: How Boris Johnson draws on the past to rule in the present – with a little help from myth


Resistance, however, can come from the candidates and activists of those lower-placed parties. While the Green Party did stand down in favour of the Liberal Democrats in the 2016 Richmond Park by-election when the Lib-Dems successfully took the seat from Zac Goldsmith, for example, parts of the local Green Party felt very aggrieved and voiced their annoyance quite publicly. This in turn means that cooperative arrangements are often rare.

Who wins, and loses?

It can be very difficult to negotiate cooperation, particularly when one party will feel it is losing out. Anyone who thinks this is easy needs to look further into the SDP-Liberal Alliance.

The SDP was formed in 1981 and almost immediately began working with the existing Liberal Party. The idea was that one of either party would contest each parliamentary seat. This was generally achieved, but only after tortuous negotiations which rather ruined the image of cooperation and which are well described by participants such as the then MP, now Lord, Bill Rogers and the authors Ivor Crewe and Anthony King.

In fact, the Croydon North West by-election in 1981 was fought by the Liberal Bill Pitt – rather than by the leaders’ preferred option, Shirley Williams – because Pitt simply refused to budge. Pitt went on to win.

Of course, parties do not need to be working together explicitly for voters, or organisations, to urge tactical outcomes. While tribalism has a long history in UK politics, so too do attempts to persuade voters to make tactical decisions.

TV87, for example, referenced in an article in Political Behaviour, was a campaign set up to focus voters’ minds on the possibility of lending votes in the 1987 election. And it became common for publications and campaigns to produce lists of seats where incumbents were vulnerable to temporary tactics.

Anna Soubry: leader of Independent Group for Change. Shutterstock

The current initiative, which goes well beyond leaving decisions to voters alone, can perhaps best be judged against more recent projects. The 2017 general election saw the promotion of the so-called Progressive Alliance. The thinking was that Progressive parties (generally centre-left or left wing) could stand down for each other in seats where this might help defeat a Tory, or assist a vulnerable Progressive incumbent. The book All Together Now by Barry Langford lists 42 seats in which this happened, but it was not always successful and it was only really the Green party which played a full part.

So can the Remain Alliance work?

The Brecon and Radnorshire by-election result may provide part of an answer, although we need to remember that this has been a Lib-Dem seat in the past and the party has been campaigning there for some time (in other words, the cooperation between parties may not be the crucial factor here).


Read more: Brexit: wisdom of crowds proves effective predictor of Britain’s chaotic EU departure


Perhaps more telling will be any negotiations ahead of the forthcoming Sheffield Hallam by-election as well as what happens when more than one party has a justifiable claim to stand.

The big issue, however, must be Labour’s role and how one can define a Remain party. Labour played no active part in the 2017 Progressive Alliance, so what would the Remain Alliance do if Labour was the clear challenger to the Conservatives, or Brexit party, in a tight contest? Only time will tell, but the answer hangs on whether or not Jeremy Corbyn ever comes out as an unequivocal supporter of either Leave or Remain.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Parties launch for unexpected elections

Later this month we have an unusual, and potentially defining, political event.

In previous years, the five yearly European Elections have been low-key. Most parties have run campaigns about anything but Europe. Many voters haven’t bothered to turn out. Electoral regions have been too big for any real sense of a constituency link. And the results, rather than coming on a Thursday night and Friday morning after polling day, have waited till counts on a Sunday when only the very keen were paying attention.

But this time we have an election which wasn’t supposed to happen, and not one, but two new high-profile parties joining others on the ballot paper.

In the run up to the elections I’ll be looking at some of the communications issues surrounding the contest.

In this article I’m focusing on campaign launches.

It’s probably significant that, at the time of writing, the two parties with potentially much to fear from these elections (Labour and the Conservatives) haven’t held their launches. But we have heard from, among others, Change UK, the Brexit Party, Ukip and the Liberal Democrats.

The style and content of those launches can tell us a lot about each party and its current state of health.

Time for Change (UK)?

Change UK, the party based on the breakaway of a group of MPs from the Labour and Conservative parties, is so new that its logo wasn’t registered in time to make it onto the ballot paper.

I suspect in an ideal world the party would have wanted a longer build up before actually contesting an election. But this late May event could not be ignored, given what the founders have already said about Europe and Brexit.

Change UK traveled to Bristol for an invited audience event which also highlighted some of the potential MEPs. Media coverage has pointed to ‘celebrity candidates’ such as former BBC man Gavin Esler and journalist (and Boris Johnson’s sister) Rachel Johnson.

Realistically what we have here are people famous in a particular media environment rather than more widely. But given the objective of getting coverage, and given that this was not a policy launch, it is easy to see why Change would want to point to particular recruits.

Change UK, in its previous Independent Group form, did manage significant positive media attention. But the challenge for a new party, once the initial excitement is over, is to find other ways of standing out.

For me, having seen far too many political launches, this one didn’t really tick the boxes.

What Change needs is something which clearly explains why they deserve support in an increasingly crowded political market. However, they made a wise choice in appointing the media friendly Heidi Allen as interim leader, which will help them look fresher for longer.

Lib Dems and the B-word

The Liberal Democrat event took place later in the same week. There are clear benefits to going first, but there are other benefits to avoiding news clashes, and the Lib Dems’ Friday launch meant less competition with other political stories.

What I found interesting here was the focus on women as speakers and a clear ‘Stop Brexit’ message. This message is also used by Change, by the Greens, and by some other parties, and one of the big questions of these elections is whether it will end up definitively attached to one more than others.

The Lib Dems, however, must be pleased that at last there is an election which is highly relevant to this particular message of theirs.

Back to Brexits

The Brexit Party, which sees Nigel Farage back in a leadership position, has a very clear message too in its name. It traveled to Coventry for a launch, early in the season, which saw some candidates announced, including Jacob Rees Mogg’s sister, and former Conservative candidate,  Annunziata.

The party slogan – ‘fighting back’ – and its clear arrow logo mean it is easy to brand any venue.

In media terms, Farage is usually box office so there was little need to add much to the launch.

What I found impressive was the series of mini launches which followed, with the announcement of star or significant candidates over several days.

While a high profile leader matters, organisers will know that other capable and high profile interviewees are needed to carry the media load. And in former Government  minister and more recently reality show participant, Anne Widdecombe, the Brexit party has certainly found one.

Ukip-ed

Of course, the last Euro election, 2014, was a massive success for Ukip.

That party has suffered since from splits, defections, rows and rapid changes of leader. It will be impossible for Ukip to repeat the previous success. The communications issue is how to position the team so that the Brexit party does not simply roll up all support.

Middlesbrough was the location for a launch event with the slogan ‘Tell them Again – Make Brexit Happen’.

The dilemma facing leader Gerard Batten is whether to talk about The Brexit Party or not.

He needs to distinguish Ukip, perhaps by pointing out differences, but he also doesn’t want to talk up Farage by raising perception of his significance.

He’s chosen, perhaps unavoidably, to criticize, with one statement telling us that the party is ‘a wholly owned subsidiary of one man’s ego’.

To be fair to Ukip, this launch also included plenty of material about policies and plans, but unsurprisingly it is the personal invective which breaks through.

Spoilt for Choice?

Voters can only choose one party in these elections, so  campaigners will need to find ways to stand out and be preferred. This is going to be tricky for those on the Stop Brexit side of things.

Launches and slogans matter, but they are only part of the package.

In future blogs I am going to look at other key comms issues, including those affecting the Conservatives and Labour as they attempt to position themselves on the grid. Is there even any room?

We will soon see.

Paula Keaveney, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Politics

Landlords will be forbidden from evicting tenants for no reason – but reform has only just begun

File 20190418 28103 jwn7fs.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
No place like home. Shutterstock.

Tom Simcock, Edge Hill University and Kim McKee, University of Stirling

Change is coming. Soon, private tenants in England will have the security they need to call their rented house a home. The UK government has announced plans to abolish “no fault” Section 21 evictions in England, meaning that landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants without a legitimate reason.

Nearly one in five households in England live in the private rented sector. At present, no fault evictions cause significant insecurity for tenants, as well as negative impacts on mental health and well-being. So an end to Section 21 will have a real, positive impact on millions of households, preventing them from being uprooted at short notice. It could also help to prevent homelessness, since the biggest single cause is the ending of a tenancy in the private sector.

As waiting lists for social housing grow, the private rented sector is accommodating more vulnerable and low-income households, as well as growing numbers of families with children. Yet research shows that insecure tenancies aren’t the only challenge facing private tenants. Poor quality and unaffordable housing remain key concerns, right across the UK.

A state of disrepair

The latest government statistics show that one in four privately rented houses in England did not meet the government’s own standards for decent homes. This means that around 1.1m private renters are living in homes which contain dangerous hazards, are not in a reasonable state of repair, or lack suitable heating.

With Section 21 in place, tenants are vulnerable to “revenge evictions” if they complain about poor conditions in their homes. Citizens Advice found that tenants had a 46% chance of being served a Section 21 notice if they complained to the local council about their landlord.

Ending Section 21 should give tenants more confidence to speak out against dangers, without the threat of losing their home. But this will depend on whether councils have the funding needed to enforce standards and compel landlords to carry out repairs.

Historically, enforcement has been a postcode lottery and landlords are rarely prosecuted. In the context of austerity, where local councils have seen spending cuts of up to 40% since 2009/10, there’s little to indicate that more consistent enforcement will be possible.

Rent controls and reclamation

Tenants also face issues of affordability; particularly vulnerable, single parent families and low-income renters. This issue has worsened due to the housing benefit freeze, which has kept allowances at the same rate since 2016, while rents have continued to rise, meaning families are facing considerable hardships.




Read more:
Housing benefit freeze still driving tenants from their homes, despite Universal Credit reforms


Even with the reforms to Section 21, it would still be possible for landlords to take advantage of affordability issues, and unreasonably increase the rent to force tenants out of their home. Appropriate safeguards must be in place to stop this from happening.

Rent stabilisation measures – like those in place across much of Europe – are one solution. These measures, which can restrict when rent can be increased, or by how much, are even supported by nine out of ten landlords in England and Wales.

Berlin is well known for its rent controls. Shutterstock.

Reforms need to be introduced carefully, to minimise any unintended consequences. For example, landlords might become more risk averse, which could lead to greater discrimination against tenants who claim benefits. Or, they could decide to let their property on Airbnb instead.




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So the government’s proposed reforms to the court process and Section 8 are vital, to give landlords confidence that they can reclaim possession of their property quickly, for legitimate reasons. This will help to ensure that good landlords have the support needed to continue letting out safe and secure homes.

Learning from Scotland

Clearly, ending Section 21 is only the first step on a long path of reforms needed to modernise the private rented sector. But English lawmakers can look to Scotland for a good example of how to tackle all the different challenges facing the private rented sector in a joined-up way.

There, all new private tenancies since December 2017 are “private residential tenancies”. They are open-ended, meaning the tenant can remain in the property as long as they wish, unless the landlord uses one of the 18 grounds for eviction, such as wishing to sell the property. When this happens, the amount of notice required varies depending on how long the tenant has lived there and the grounds for eviction used.

Rent increases are restricted to once a year, and can be referred to a “rent officer” to adjudicate. Local authorities can also apply to the Scottish government to limit rent increases in specific areas.

Private tenants can take complaints to the new housing tribunal for free, without needing a solicitor to represent them. It is designed to be less adversarial than the court process. Among its many powers, the tribunal can serve a Repairing Standard Enforcement Order on landlords, which specifies work the landlord must undertake to ensure the property meets the “repairing standard”.

Though these reforms are still in their infancy, and by no means perfect, they show how security of tenure is only one element of a modernised sector. Other parts of the UK would do well to learn from the different approaches, all while collecting evidence on what works, sharing experiences and supporting tenants and landlords to understand their new rights and responsibilities.

Ending the “no fault” ground for eviction is vital for tenants to be able to put down roots, feel settled and make their private rented property a home. But reform can’t stop there.The Conversation

Tom Simcock, Research Fellow, Edge Hill University and Kim McKee, Senior Lecturer, Social Policy and Housing, University of Stirling

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Housing benefit freeze still driving tenants from their homes, despite Universal Credit reforms

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Tom Simcock, Edge Hill University

The controversial roll out of Universal Credit has been stalled. Under pressure from across the political spectrum, work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd has unveiled a “fresh approach”. Among the new measures, Rudd has announced that the government will launch a digital platform, which promises to streamline housing benefit payments to landlords, in cases where the tenant is having difficulty paying rent.

Though it sounds technical, there is much at stake: landlords wait much longer to receive such payments from the government under Universal Credit than they did under the previous system, which was administered by local authorities. And while they wait, tenants can slide further into arrears, leaving them prone to eviction – and possibly, homelessness.

If successful, the platform could benefit landlords, as well as tenants facing the prospect of eviction when they fall into rent arrears. Yet evidence suggests that the new platform cannot plaster over the deeper issues around housing affordability, which are causing benefits claimants to lose their homes.

Rising rent arrears

Research I conducted for the Residential Landlords Association showed that over the past three years, more and more landlords have reported tenants on Universal Credit going into rent arrears. In 2016, 27% of landlords said their tenants on Universal Credit had gone into arrears. By 2018, this had more than doubled to 61% of landlords.

Before Universal Credit, housing benefit could be paid directly to landlords without delay, at the discretion of local authorities. But now, landlords must wait until a tenant has been in arrears for two months before they can apply to receive the housing benefit directly from the government to cover unpaid rent.

On average, it takes 9.3 weeks for landlords to receive the first payment. By that time, the tenant could owe up to four months worth of rent. At this point, the tenant is at significant risk of losing their home, as landlords can lawfully evict tenants with two months of rent arrears. This was borne out in our research: 77% of landlords in my study reported that the main reason for evicting tenants on Universal Credit was unpaid rent.

If the government’s new platform makes it quicker for landlords to receive a direct payment, it could reduce rent arrears, help to sustain tenancies and ultimately reduce homelessness. But our research also showed that there was a significant increase in rent arrears for tenants who claimed housing benefit, but were not on Universal Credit. This tells us that the roll out of Universal Credit isn’t the only thing which is causing hardship for private tenants.

Five year freeze

These problems can be traced back to 2013, when the government reformed how the housing benefit is calculated. Previously, each claimaint’s entitlement was worked out using Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, based on private market rents in the claimant’s local area.

But from 2013, the government capped how much the LHA rate could rise – first in line with inflation, and then to 1% each year. In 2016, Chancellor George Osborne froze LHA rates for four years. In effect, this means that the housing benefit has not kept up with rising rents for five years.

Recent research from Manchester Metropolitan University found that the LHA rates were a major factor in the increase in homelessness. Researchers found that tenants on benefits were more likely to lose their tenancy, and then have difficulties finding an affordable home to rent, due to the gap between housing benefit and the rent.

Can’t make ends meet. Shutterstock.

Analysis by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has found that 90% of LHA rates across the country did not cover the cheapest rents and that some families face a shortfall of hundreds of pounds a month.

This is extremely worrying, especially as the latest figures from the government show that there are 1.2m housing benefit claimants in the private rented sector. And statistics from the latest English Housing Survey show that 81% of claimants report that their benefits only cover part of their rent.

This means that nearly 1m low-income renters are now struggling with housing affordability, and being forced to make hard decisions about how they make up the shortfall created by the government’s housing benefit freeze.

Relieving the pressure

The “fresh approach” to Universal Credit may go some way to relieve pressure on households, by making it easier for landlords to claim rent directly from the government. But it will not address the underlying affordability issues caused by the benefit freeze.

Rudd has said that the benefit freeze should not continue past 2020 – but serious questions remain. For example, if the freeze is lifted, will the LHA rates be increased to current market rent levels? The CIH estimates that this would cost the government nearly £1.2 billion in housing benefit payments, placing further pressure on the Treasury.

Building more social housing – with rents linked to tenants’ income, rather than rising property and land values – would directly address the lack of affordable housing for society’s most vulnerable. A cross-party report from housing charity Shelter recently called for the government to build 3.1m new social homes by 2040 to this end, costing £214bn over 20 years.

One thing is certainly clear: without action to improve housing affordability and end the benefit freeze, the hardship faced by renting families, those just about managing, is likely to get worse.The Conversation

Tom Simcock, Research Fellow, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why there will be no winners from the US-China trade war

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Christopher Dent, Edge Hill University

The clock is ticking for China and the US to resolve their trade dispute. Some progress was made at the last round of talks (January 7-9) but negotiators must find a comprehensive agreement by March 2. If they fail, the US government plans to raise tariffs from 10% to 25% on US$200 billion of Chinese imports. This would have an enormous impact not just on US-China bilateral trade but also on many other countries due to global supply chain linkages.

The US president, Donald Trump, wishes to adjust the “terms of trade” between both countries, addressing what he alleges are China’s “unfair” trading practices. Many observers believe this is a battle not just about trade but also about economic and technological supremacy.

The Trump administration accuses China of stealing technology from American companies. It has also been critical of the Chinese government’s strategic plans to make the country a world leader in industry sectors such as aerospace, renewable energy, robotics and electric vehicles. The recent successful landing of a Chinese spacecraft on the Moon would have caused further consternation among Americans fearful of China’s new technological capacities.

The US says it wants China to become a free market economy and ditch its state management approach. Ironically, the credibility of America’s position on this matter is undermined by Trump’s own protectionist stance on trade, which itself constitutes significant state intervention in the marketplace.

Donald Trump advocates an ‘America First’ trade strategy. Andrew Cline / Shutterstock.com

But, despite their political and economic differences, the reality is that the US and China’s economies are deeply interconnected through various layers of commercial, financial and production links. The two are so entwined that they have been dubbed a symbiotic “Chimerica” economy.

Economic interdependence

US-China economic interdependence has to be carefully managed and many companies are critical of the Trump administration’s decision to raise tariffs. They rightly warn that aggressive US actions against China will ultimately harm American firms, workers and consumers. What’s more, the world’s two largest national economies lie at the core of an ever more integrated global economy. Any significant disruption to their relationship will have major ramifications for businesses worldwide.

From his actions and tweeted thinking to date, it appears that Trump is failing to acknowledge the extent of US-China economic interdependence, or is choosing to ignore it. While the US trade deficit of US$336 billion with China in 2017 is at some level a cause for concern, China recycles much of its surplus back through buying US government securities.

Taking the car industry as an example, we can reasonably assume that Trump wishes to see more cars made by Ford, General Motors and other American firms in the US, which get sold both at home and in foreign markets. Ideally, in Trump’s view, they would also be sourcing materials and parts from US-based companies, thus overall generating more jobs and prosperity for Americans. But this cannot be sustainably achieved through protectionist trade measures.

Global supply chains are interlinked. Corine van Kapel / Shutterstock.com

Trump’s adoption of a defensive economic nationalist position and a simplistic “imports bad, exports good” mindset chimes with a 19th-century view of the world economy. Then it was the norm for companies to organise production in one nation and simply export from it. Today, technological advances mean companies increasingly organise their production across nations, mainly for reasons of cost efficiency, making goods cheaper to buy and providing wider consumer choice. In many of the world’s major industries, it makes no economic sense today to do otherwise.

Competitive advantage

For companies, the ultimate arbiter of success is the consumer. The fundamental reason why the sales of American car manufacturers have fallen over the years – both at home and in export markets – is not due to “unfair” trade practices but because they lack competitiveness. The same logic applies to other industries.

Sales of foreign cars in Japan illustrates this. While the Japanese car market is hard for foreign firms to penetrate, Japan does not apply import tariffs in this sector. So both European and US firms face the same challenges in satisfying the discerning Japanese consumer.

From 2013 to 2016, Japan’s imports of US cars fell from 23,381 to 19,933, whereas imports of European vehicles increased from 239,090 to 251,155. If Trump wishes American car makers to expand production and exports, they need to produce more competitive and desirable products.

Sometimes, this is extraordinarily difficult to achieve in industries experiencing deep structural decline, such as the US steel sector. There are, of course, many other sectors where American firms have developed a competitive advantage over their foreign rivals, such as cinema and television shows, popular culture, financial services and university education.

Higher tariffs on US imports of goods from China and other countries will in most cases be passed on as higher prices to American consumers, raising inflation and, in turn, interest rates. One of the ironies of imposing import tariffs on goods from China is that a high volume of these will come from US companies such as Apple and Dell, which assemble their products cost competitively in China, then export them to US consumers. Trump calls for these firms to relocate their production back to the US, but comparatively much higher labour and other costs would lead to higher prices for consumers and inflation.

It is time for the US president to end his short-sighted and self-harming trade policies, and fully appreciate the inter-connected nature of the 21st-century global economy and society. The future health of the global economy depends on a good working partnership between the US and China. Both countries must quickly end this trade war and focus instead on establishing more harmonious relations – for all our sakes.The Conversation

Christopher Dent, Senior Lecturer in Economics and International Business, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.