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Crony Capitalism Could May save donors from building social housing?

SOLOMON HUGHES investigates the Tory-friendly firm trying not to build social housing and the academy school boss involved in the Presidents Club ball sleaze

IN HER 2017 conference speech Theresa May declared she would “help fix our broken housing market.”

May declared “help is on the way” for people stuck on the housing list and promised to get “homes built for social rent, well below market level” where the “need is greatest.”

But, in the high-profile South London Elephant and Castle development, her Conservative friends are firmly on the side of less-social-rent housing.

The property firm Delancey is redeveloping the Elephant and Castle shopping centre just South of the Thames in Southwark. It proposes a new shopping centre, a new campus for the London College of Communication and 979 new flats. However, Delancey needs agreement from Labour’s Southwark Council to begin development.

One of the few ways councils can get new social rented flats is through “planning gain.” Councils approve lucrative plans for developers and, in return, developers agree to build some “social” flats.

Southwark’s planning policy says 17 per cent of homes in the Elephant and Castle development should be “social rent” rates. However, the Delancey proposal offers only 3 per cent of homes at something they call “‘social rent equivalent.” 

Delancey has been working on this development since 2013. Delancey was shocked this January when the Labour Council’s planning committee rejected its bid because of the miserly 3 per cent “social rent equivalent.”

This followed local campaigns against the Elephant and Castle bid and growing anger about how other big redevelopments previously agreed by councils, including Labour councils, with little “social rent” housing. Southwark’s own Heygate Estate redevelopment caused anger because of the massive loss of social housing.

Southwark’s Labour Council is now pressing for more social housing, but where do the Conservatives stand?

Delancey, the developer behind the almost-no-social housing bid, has given £250,000 to the Tories since 2011. It began big donations in 2011, shortly after the firm and its Qatari co-investors bought the Olympic Athletes village to turn into flats at a £275m loss to taxpayers.

May’s Conservatives have kept alive a system whereby almost the only way councils can get social housing is through agreements with developers like Delancey.

May’s government also promotes the blurring of different kinds of “affordable housing” which Delancey is trying to exploit.

“Affordable rents” are 80 per cent of market rents, so not very affordable. The Delancey Elephant and Castle deal tries to win support by offering a further 32 per cent of the properties at “affordable” rent rates, which sounds good but is really beyond the reach of many Southwark residents. 

Conservative backing for Delancey has also been more direct. Kim Humphreys was Southwark’s Conservative deputy leader and head of housing when they ran the council with the LibDems, up to 2010.

Humphreys now runs consultancy firm Carvil, which offers “strategy and public affairs for real estate.” Delancey has been a Carvil client since 2013, with Humphreys running the political and “stakeholder” side of the Delancey bid. 

Delancey’s first response to the rejection was to send letters to local residents warning that a “once in a lifetime” opportunity might be lost to redevelop Elephant and Castle unless the council gives in.

Clearly sensing a loss, Delancey has now asked to defer a final decision until March so it can look for “positive resolutions to address the issues and concerns raised by the councillors and some of the key local community stakeholders.”

By holding firm, the council hopes to squeeze some more “social rent” houses from the developer. Perhaps May could help by having a word with Delancey the next time it hands over a cheque.

Only the Tories could put a Presidents Club ball man in charge of schools

IN THE wake of the Presidents Ball scandal, one of the sweaty businessmen at the “men only” sexists ball, David Meller, had to step down from a government job on the Department for Education (DfE) board.

Meller’s resignation from the department was well reported, but what about the schools he was put in charge of?

Some are quite doing badly, highlighting how the Tory policy of putting businessmen in charge of schools might put sleazebags in charge of kids but hasn’t helped education.

The Presidents Ball, a men-only “charity” event was exposed as a slimy affair by an undercover Financial Times journalist. The men bid for grubby auction prizes, like plastic surgery to “add spice to your wife.” They were also “entertained” by female hostesses, many of whom complained of groping and leering behaviour.

Meller was one of the directors who organised the sleazeballs’ ball. He runs The Meller Group, a make-up, jewellery and accessories firm.

Meller is keen to get in with the government. He’s given £63,000 to the Tories since 2009, including donations to Michael Gove’s constituency party.

In turn Gove put Meller on the board of the Department for Education, the post he had to resign from in the wake of the scandal.

Meller was also awarded a CBE in this year’s New Year’s honours for “services to education,” just before he had to resign from the DfE board in shame.

Meller also runs the Meller Educational Trust, which was given five “academy” schools to run, with a £26 million budget from the taxpayer. The Tories, building on “New Labour” policy, hand over schools to businessmen. In return, the DfE gets bad results.

In December 2017 Ofsted published its report on Hertswood Academy, a Meller school in Hertfordshire. It gave the 1,300-pupil secondary the worst possible mark, “inadequate.”

Inspectors were especially worried that the “persistent absence of pupils, especially those eligible for the pupil premium and those who have special educational needs (SEN) and/or disabilities, has been too high for too long and is getting worse.”

Inspectors quoted parents who said: “The school is more interested in the grades and not the welfare of the children” and “The academy only cares about its good Ofsted grade and does not care about the children who are not A* students.”

It looks like the school is happily letting disadvantaged kids miss school because they don’t care about them.

Another Meller school, the 732-pupil Harefield Academy secondary in Uxbridge, got the second-worst Ofsted grade, “requires improvement” in 2016.

Harefield Academy is now subject to regular Ofsted monitoring. In 2017 inspectors said the school had improved but needed to take “further action,” especially as the “progress of disadvantaged pupils and pupils who have special educational needs and/or disabilities is still not good enough.”

Meller’s other three other schools are marked “good.” None achieved the top mark (“outstanding”). So the Tory friendly “sleaze-ball” organiser also runs schools — badly.

 

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