Thursday, 19 September 2013

Like A Bad Penny...

If we thought we'd heard the last of Hassan Ahmed, whilst snooping around the interwebs I found out that he has now been appointed a Director of the Renewal Trust.

The Renewal Trust is a charity with the purpose of carrying out good works in St Anns and Sneinton. However, its board includes three senior City Councillors including JoCo (inevitably) and Jane Todd also appears to be involved.

One of the things it does is run a couple of business centres, one of which, the John Folman Business Centre, houses the Nottingham Labour Party. Cllr Toby Neal, Labour's Chief Whip at NCC, also appears to work there as a part-time administrator.

Cosy then. The gang's all here.

Let's make no bones about this, Ahmed is dodgy*. And as Cllrs Collins, Williams and Mellen, not to mention Jane Todd, were all in front seat positions to see what was going on you have to wonder what the hell they are doing appointing him to the board of a registered charity.

*After I wrote that article, CEHRNN did in fact close down and the District Auditor recommended that Ahmed should be referred to NCC's Standards Committee for the second time for his games with the Future Jobs Fund. That seems to have died a death though.

Canning Circus Creative Hub; The Next Radford Unity Complex?

Stumbled across a petition asking for support for the Canning Circus Creative Hub the other day, I'd recommend that you sign it.

The Hub is, in its own words

'... a hub for creative individuals and organisations, taking our name from the area of Nottingham in which we are based.

We are a collective of creative companies who work together to share resources and ideas. We represent a shared movement, intended to promote, inspire and create work we’re all proud to put our name to.'

They are based in buildings on Wollaton St which they rent from the City Council. The regular readers of this blog may already be able to guess the way this is going.

Yes, despite happily toiling away for nigh on 30 years, the council has asked them to leave. They have a press release which gives some background. As yet, NCC has just asked them to 'leave quietly' as opposed to serving a formal notice quit.

I've been in contact with a couple of people based at the Hub. Their feeling is that the situation has arisen due the City Council's failure to maintain the range of buildings it owns on Wollaton St, of which the Hub is only part, leaving them on the verge of being condemned. They have an 'amusing' story of NCC contractors bungling the fitting of fire doors so badly they had to redo it themselves. Redevelopment is clearly on the agenda, almost certainly via the private sector, but the Hub's residents were apparently the last to be told.

Broadly speaking, the businesses at the Hub are very happy with how things are going as they are. None of them are interested in expanding and none of them want to move, particularly if it means being dispersed around the City. None of them receive any grant funding. The impression I get is that the Hub is more than just the sum of its parts but is very much an interdependent community. Such things are hard to translate into cold business language and, as such, tends to get ignored.

As a backdrop to this we have the Radford Unity Complex debacle where NCC wasted gobs of cash trying to hand the building for a cut-price to an arts organisation called Nottingham Studios, completely disregarding the needs, not to mention the legal tenancy rights, of the community groups who were already using it. When that fell apart NS were handed another set of buildings to become 'Primary', ironically just round the corner on Seely Rd. We also have the planned 'Creative Quarter' in the Lace Market, whose 'ambassador' has apparently cited CCCH as a major inspiration.

Unfortunately, the CQ doesn't reach as far as Canning Circus so CCCH cannot access any of the mountain of funding from the City Deal if they want to stay where they are. Some of the residents have looked into relocating to the CQ but feel the properties on offer aren't suitable. And of course, everyone wants to keep their artistic community together which may not be possible if they do move.

As sort of an aside, CQ has launched a loan scheme to assist companies with the costs of relocating there. Now CQ is a separate body to NCC but they are clearly working closely together. Seasoned council watchers therefore may not be over surprised that the company who got the gig managing the loan scheme is First Enterprise, one of whose directors is one of NCCLols' very old friends, former councillor Hassan Ahmed. They were also mentioned as benefiting from the dodgy Future Jobs Fund allocations that Ahmed presided over. So I'm sure that's all completely above board then.

So, with all this past and future money flying around it seems somewhat unfair that at the first sign of panic about the state of their building, NCC's first reaction is to ask them to leave. Since then Cllr Nick McDonald has been quoted in the Post saying that 'no decisions have been made'. However that isn't really very reassuring because, technically speaking, 'no decisions had been made' when Nottingham Studios were invited to buy the RUC building from under the feet of its tenants. At least CCCH seems to have got a bit more warning than the RUC groups did.

We'll be watching this one closely.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Not Quite a 'No-Evictions' Policy

According to 'Inside Housing' magazine, Nottingham City Homes and a number of Housing Associations have come up with a protocol for dealing with people subjected to the Bedroom Tax. The only provider to announce themselves so far is Asra HA but there is no extra information provided.

It should be emphasised that this is not a 'no-evictions' policy so it falls way short of what campaigners are asking for. Instead, it is intended to set up an agreement with the tenant and the landlord whereby, as long as the tenant is engaging with debt advice agencies and has applied for a Discretionary Housing Payment eviction proceedings will not go ahead. The fact that there will be renewed impetus for tenants to apply for DHPs is a plus at least. Mind you a side effect will probably that those in private renting will be told to go and whistle but, hey, nothing new there.

It's a start but there are still many gaps to fall through. Unfortunately, debt advisers cannot actually perform miracles. Most of the effectiveness of debt advice is identifying debts which are lower priority than the rent, e.g. non-secured loans, catalogues and the like and negotiating lower repayments freeing up cash to go on the rent. However, if you haven't got other debts then opportunities for freeing up income are limited. If a single person under 25 on Jobseekers' has to find £10/wk bedroom tax you're only going to have £46/wk left to live on. That's what's known as a challenge.

And to an old cynic like me who's been to countless meetings and watched agreement after protocol fall by the wayside it is difficult to raise too much hope. People will still be unreasonably refused DHPs, there will be issues of awareness among housing staff and of course, there will be people who are simply unable to find the money. But, as I say, it's a start.

Of course, what we need is for Labour to make a firm commitment to repeal the bedroom tax. This will give campaigners a stronger bast to argue for a true non-evictions policy as any pain will only be temporary. As yet, Labour is shying away from promising anything. The fact that Labour NCC is refusing to entertain the possibility of no evictions may suggest they have inside knowledge of what the party's plans are in this area.