Theo: Brexit-voting areas have fucked the economy for themselves

Theo BlackwellCAMDEN’S finance chief Theo Blackwell has been warning of the economic consequences of a Brexit vote for months, and his frustration spills over in a scathing response to last week’s EU referendum on Facebook. His basic theory on how a protest vote to Leave actually backfires is that the amount of money Camden brings in through business rates will go now down as hard-bargaining firms deal differently with the UK. This in turn will lead to less money for Camden to spend on public services, but also less being sent to areas like the north east where… the Brexit vote was strongest.

He uses more colourful language than that, but these are tense times. Here’s his take:

“As someone who has been in local government for 16 years, I should point out that – come 2020 – all funding for local services will be reliant on the business rates income stream from firms (bar the small % for Council Tax and fees). Note that the top 20 business rates collectors (out of 184 local authority areas) will basically ‘pay’ for the rest of the country’s children’s centres, libraries, swimming pools, parks, street cleaning, recycling, apprenticeship programmes etc through a yet undecided redistribution mechanism. (They do already, to an extent through a system of government grants).

 “Most of these are in London, and the ‘top 4’ (including Camden) are the massive funders of this. So basically we have a situation where other (Brexit-voting) areas can angrily make their point but fuck the UK economy (we have 1.5% of GDP here in the most prosperous part of the borough), lowering foreign investment – making companies relocate – and lowering the benefit of business rate collection £s FOR EVERYONE (*excuse caps*).

“In a Brexit alternative big corps (and their huge local business supply chains) will leverage us – just like they have in during de-industrialisation in the Midlands and the North – to lower their taxes/give them a ‘deal’ or they will threaten to leave. This will have an impact on workers in those firms, said supply chains and the self-employed – now numbering 8m workers – not to mention the ripple effect of spending on the high street. No-one in London sees these firms as ‘local’, they are ‘UK’ firms and we’ve always accepted the concept of redistribution. I fear this will mean that we have less to fund services for other depressed areas of the country (and locally here) and will create a scenario where people will expect us to look after our own and argue for less redistribution across the country. I haven’t even started on capital programmes…or the political consequences.”

8 Comments on Theo: Brexit-voting areas have fucked the economy for themselves

  1. Bridget Dunne // June 28, 2016 at 12:43 pm //

    Strange then that Theo is keen to evict the last big business in West Hampstead,Travis Perkins, which pays rent for the site and business tax whilst supporting many other local businesses and employing local people, from 156 West End Lane. I have asked him how many businesses have been evicted from the area for housing development along with offices converted to flats. He hasn’t answered so a FOI request will be submitted for these figures.

  2. Tom Young // June 28, 2016 at 3:33 pm //

    It is with gratitude we note Cllr Blackwell’s recognition of “huge local business supply chains”. These need industrial land. AECOM’s figures on industrial land supply in London issued to GLA earlier this year indicate between a third and half of Camden’s lost to residential since 2010.

    Cllr Blackwell accuses those who draw attention to this sort of thing of being “against housing”. We persevere all the same, and of course are happy to hear him spread our message.

  3. Never expect a sound argument from them..just forgive them for they know not what they do They’ve already leaped to Sir K as PM!

  4. Terence Flanagan // June 28, 2016 at 8:14 pm //

    The same Theo Blackwell who still refuses to answer questions on housing and resorts to foul and abusive language on a PUBLIC FORUM about time he resigned i believe he’s an embarrassment

  5. Both of you obviously lack perspective and common sense if you want to equate redeveloping some old council offices or land for housing and new employment space with the potentially huge implications of Brexit for Camden and the country.

    I’d imagine because you own your own houses you will probably be insulated from most of the damage, but I’m sure everyone will value your opinions.

  6. Bridget Dunne // June 29, 2016 at 1:10 am //

    Thanks for reminding us of the jobs also lost by your decision to close the local housing and social services offices which employed people Theo and provided much needed local services for the community. You seem to care little for the elderly, disabled and those with young children who can’t all easily travel down to 5Pancras Square to try and access these services.

    As for what you ‘imagine’ I suggest you keep your imaginings to yourself and stick to the facts. Employment space in West Hampstead has been decimated for luxury housing developments including Camden owned land. Now you complain about business rates – no brainer isn’t it because all decisions have consequences.

  7. Tom Young // June 29, 2016 at 10:58 am //

    Cllr Blackwell sets up an argument on the premiss that a particular site (in this case 156 West End Lane, in West Hampstead) is non-strategic. He’s right in a narrow sense – any one workspace (“some old council offices” etc) site taken by itself is not strategic. But you have to be quite dim to think that’s the end of it.

    Cllr Blackwell’s point of view is used to argue it’s OK to lose workspace on site after site outside the Central Activities Zone. Taken in the round, a lot of workspace has been lost as a result. A reckoning of the total loss is never used to decide whether the next decrement is strategic or not. This is how dispersed workspace is ground out of non-CAZ neighbourhoods and districts.

    Liddell Rd industrial park in West Hampstead was closed by Cllr Blackwell. It would have served what he calls local supply chains. The land between the railways under development at the moment in West Hampstead is yet another loss of versatile commercial space useful for storage, B2 and other helpful business operations.

    The difficulty for many of us is this: the direction of travel is clear. Neighbourhoods outside the CAZ are shorn of their capacity to sustain ordinary jobs, whilst supply chains get longer as there’s less and less on inner city industrial land.

    The clearance of affordable workspace from neighbourhoods is a profound alteration which Councillors are making no intelligent effort to deal with: on the contrary, they see nothing wrong with it. On several occasions, we have asked Councillor Blackwell for an explicit policy on recovering workspace in neighbourhoods outside the CAZ. His latest response tells us much about his dilatoriness:

    “The council will have to consider more employment use in the future than it has in the past if it is to use assets to support revenue (spending on services). If the council has to do this then it will have to develop a new approach to this before the end of the first phase of the Community Investment Programme in 2018.”

    He was asked for a workspace strategy in 2013, and this was his response then:

    “I have told you on many occasions that we are preparing a paper on employment use to se can have full perspective on this – because there are competing interests between further residential and commercial.”

    We know very well from economists that a system can be irrational for a lot longer than any one person can remain rational. Unfortunately, Cllr Blackwell has created a political programme called the Community Investment Programme, and based it at least partly on extracting as much cash as possible from buyers of what he calls superfluous Camden sites. The result of these transactions is development that can’t work unless the developer is given license to maximise the private residential component, almost always at the expense of affordable workspace which is never put back. This has happened on site after site sold by Camden.

    Perhaps we should be grateful that the West End Lane development includes replacement retail although the planning form for the proposal notes a net loss of workspace around 2100sqm, a figure which disregards the Travis Perkins yard that’s used for storage and vehicle operations. Disregarding external space associated with workspace site lost through CIP is par for the course.

    People like us are of course not “against housing”. Where we differ from Cllr Blackwell is we suspect there is another way of proceeding. Leaving more value in sites would make it easier to insist on development that returns workspace to neighbourhoods and districts. This would make it possible for developments on sites sold by Camden to fund CIP to be developed in accordance with policy. Such a change would predicated on rethinking the CIP project and might well mean more sites being sold. I for one am not against that if the end result is good quality, policy-compliant development.

    On site after site, we see development that’s contra-policy. From outside the Town Hall bubble, it appears that Cllr Blackwell is driving forwards a programme that’s hollowing out his own organisation’s capacity to take rational decisions. In other words, not only is CIP, as it’s currently managed, damaging neighbourhoods by robbing them of vestiges of workspace still untouched by the rapacious private sector, but it’s also wrecking Camden’s capacity to be rational.

    Yes, the background of dire Tory governance is appalling. And yes, we are all sensible Lefties who want to see more housing. However, that does not mean that Cllr Blackwell has license to take shortcuts and undermine our own local government. He’s right of course to be angry about the Brexit mob’s adventurism but he fails to look at his own.

    CIP is in fact an amazing opportunity to deliver good quality development across the borough. That it’s being squandered with “there is no alternative” type excuses is actually shockingly irresponsible.

  8. You both live in a bubble and minimise the impact of spending cuts on council finances and changes in government policy, as well as Brexit. There are limitations on what the council can object to with private development. But there have been trade-offs – Liddell Road was used to fund and build a new primary school for NW6 (you forget to mention this) and 156 funds used for the new HQ in King’s Cross which make the council more efficient to run to the benefit of everyone.

    The question is whether you think those trade-offs are worth it or not, looking at things in the round. I think they are, you don’t.

    Of course there is an existing impact on business rates from changes and development – we have to set aside contingency for this. But my point about Brexit is that it makes economic conditions far far more uncertain and is of a potentially huge scale – believe it or not much more than what happens at the old offices at 156 West End Lane: so I’m not sure what breathlessly making the points you do achieves but by all means carry on.

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