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Private greed, political negligence and housing policy after Grenfell

As the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire of 14 June 2017 has slowly revealed a shadowy background of outsourcing and deregulation, and a council turning a blind eye to health and safety concerns, many questions need answers. Stuart Hodkinson has those answers. Safe as Houses weaves together Stuart’s research over the last decade with residents’ groups in council regeneration projects across London to provide the first comprehensive account of how Grenfell happened and how it could easily have happened in multiple locations across the country. It draws on examples of unsafe housing either refurbished or built by private companies under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) to show both the terrible human consequences of outsourcing and deregulation and how the PFI has enabled developers, banks and investors to profiteer from highly lucrative, taxpayer-funded contracts. The book also provides shocking testimonies of how councils and other public bodies have continuously sided with their private partners, doing everything in their power to ignore, deflect and even silence those who speak out. The book concludes that the only way to end the era of unsafe regeneration and housing provision is to end the disastrous regime of self-regulation. This means strengthening safety laws, creating new enforcement agencies independent of government and industry, and replacing PFI and similar models of outsourcing with a new model of public housing that treats the provision of shelter as ‘a social service’ democratically accountable to its residents.

Open Access (free)
Criticisms, futures, alternatives

In the late 1990s Third Way governments were in power across Europe - and beyond, in the USA and Brazil, for instance. The Third Way experiment was one that attracted attention worldwide. The changes made by Left parties in Scandinavia, Holland, France or Italy since the late 1980s are as much part of Third Way politics as those developed in Anglo-Saxon countries. Since the early 1990s welfare reform has been at the heart of the Centre-Left's search for a new political middle way between post-war social democracy and Thatcherite Conservatism. For Tony Blair, welfare reform was key to establishing his New Labour credentials - just as it was for Bill Clinton and the New Democrats in the USA. Equality has been 'the polestar of the Left', and the redefinition of this concept by Giddens and New Labour marks a significant departure from post-war social democratic goals. The most useful way of approaching the problem of the Blair Government's 'Third Way' is to apply the term to its 'operational code': the precepts, assumptions and ideas that actually inform policy choice. The choice would be the strategy of public-private partnership (PPP) or the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), as applied to health policy. New Labour is deeply influenced by the thoughts and sentiments of Amitai Etzioni and the new communitarian movement. Repoliticisation is what stands out from all the contributions of reconstructing the Third Way along more progressive lines.

Sarah Hale
Will Leggett
, and
Luke Martell

public services. If the public sector can be improved through private sector investment, then the Left should be open-minded about such investment. Eric Shaw, however, questions whether New Labour’s pragmatic arguments actually work. For him, the pragmatic case for the Private Finance Initiative does not stand up. It seems that there may be more than a merely pragmatic belief in

in The Third Way and beyond
The Third Way and the case of the Private Finance Initiative
Eric Shaw

(PPP) or the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), 2 as applied to health policy. The PFI involves a separation between the role of commissioner of public services, which remains the responsibility of public authorities, and the role of provider of those services, which the private sector is encouraged to undertake. It has been described as the ‘key element in the Government

in The Third Way and beyond
The financial fixers come to town
Aeron Davis

other departments on the government's sales and private-sector contracts. Nicholas Macpherson watched this evolving trend, from Conservative through to New Labour: If you were in the business of doing large-scale privatization, it probably helped to have a few corporate financiers on secondment at the Treasury. You'd bring in expertise to deal with issues … I can remember in the 1990s there was a new fad under Ken Clarke for private finance, the Private Finance Initiative, which then got further

in Bankruptcy, bubbles and bailouts
The inside history of the Treasury since 1976

The Treasury is one of Britain’s oldest, most powerful and secretive institutions. But all too frequently it has escaped public scrutiny when it comes to investigating the ups and downs of the UK economy. More often, it is depicted as a saviour, repeatedly rescuing the nation’s finances from the hands of posturing Prime Ministers, powerful special interests, and the combustions of world financial markets. It is a bedrock of government stability in times of crisis.

However, there is another side to the story. The Exchequer, more than any other institution, has shaped modern Britain’s economic system. In between the highs there have been many lows, from botched privatizations to dubious private finance initiatives, from failing to spot the great financial crisis to contributing to ever-growing regional imbalances and economic inequalities.

Davis’s book goes behind the scenes to offer an inside history of the Treasury, in the words of the chancellors, officials and civil servants themselves. It shows the failings as well as the successes, the personalities and the thinking which have shaped Britain’s economy since the 1970s. Based on interviews with over fifty key figures from the last five decades of Treasury life, it offers a fascinating, alternative insight on how and why the UK economy came to function as it does today, and why a paradigm shift and institutional rethink is long overdue.

Regeneration meets the Private Finance Initiative
Stuart Hodkinson

2 Outsourcing on steroids: regeneration meets the Private Finance Initiative Following the Grenfell disaster, an astonishing revelation was made by the London Metropolitan Police Service: it had identified at least 60 companies and bodies involved in the tower’s 2014–16 refurbishment, part of a total of 383 organisations connected with its original construction or subsequent management and maintenance.1 This scale of splintered governance is indicative of what has happened to public housing under decades of privatisation and demunicipalisation. This chapter

in Safe as houses
Open Access (free)

for healthcare or face upfront charges – or deportation. The slow marketization of the NHS, and the expansion of a range of managerial reforms, as well as disastrous ‘private finance initiatives’ (where hospitals lease back buildings at often inflated costs from private developers) introduced since the 1990s, have put strains on the NHS that make it an increasingly stretched public service, even for those who are not forced to endure additional surveillance and charges by virtue of their migration status. In truth, too, the recent turn to an explicitly exclusionary

in The entangled legacies of empire
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Grenfell and the return of ‘social murder’
Stuart Hodkinson

refurbished and re-clad by Rydon between 2006 and 2009 under a controversial £153 million Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme to which I will return later in this book.9 At the time of writing, 468 high-rise buildings had been officially identified as having combustible cladding, with the majority in the private sector, as well as a number of schools and hospitals built under PFI.10 But the issues go beyond cladding. Checks in Greater Manchester found that 367 tower blocks – 75 per cent of the total – failed to meet safety standards, with only 117 of those surveyed

in Safe as houses
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Infrastructure, financial extraction and the global South

No struggle for social justice that lacks a grounded understanding of how wealth is accumulated within society, and by whom, is ever likely to make more than a marginal dent in the status quo. Much work has been done over the years by academics and activists to illuminate the broad processes of wealth extraction. But a constantly watchful eye is essential if new forms of financial extraction are to be blocked, short-circuited, deflected or unsettled. So when the World Bank and other well-known enablers of wealth extraction start to organise to promote greater private-sector involvement in ‘infrastructure’, for example through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), alarm bells should start to ring. How are roads, bridges, hospitals, ports and railways being eyed up by finance? What bevels and polishes the lens through which they are viewed? How is infrastructure being transformed into an ‘asset class’ that will yield the returns now demanded by investors? Why now? What does the reconfiguration of infrastructure tell us about the vulnerabilities of capital? The challenge is not only to understand the mechanisms through which infrastructure is being reconfigured to extract wealth: equally important is to think through how activists might best respond. What oppositional strategies genuinely unsettle elite power instead of making it stronger?