Even if it hasn’t felt like summer this week, it is June and the season for inspecting council accounts. An important victory in Newham showed us that exiting LOBO loans is possible and can free up millions for housing and services…
The summer also brings many exciting events both for us and in the wider networks for debt justice and local democracy – see below!
Inspect your council’s accounts!
You can inspect your council’s accounts and object to spending you believe is not in the public interest. The period to do so is now in England, where the right to inspect accounts also applies to journalists and citizen journalists. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, check your council’s website for dates to use these rights as a resident. We have updated our guide on how to inspect accounts and file objections – have a look on our website, and get in touch if you want to use the rights to take action on LOBO loans!
New LOBO loans booklet
We have published a new booklet explaining LOBO loans in a (relatively!) easy-to-digest, pocket-size form. It gives the context of local government finance, explains LOBO loans and the conflict of interest and lack of oversight that allowed the scandal to happen, and what you can do to take action against illegitimate LOBO debt. You can download it on our website, or if you want printed copies to distribute locally, get in touch with us.
Open letter from councillors on LOBO loans
We are hosting on our website an open letter from councillors and MPs on LOBO loans. It is addressed to the Local Government Association (LGA), Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and HM Treasury (HMT) and calls for a national political solution to LOBO loans, so that councils need not spend taxpayer funds to pursue banks, brokers and advisors through the legal system.
You can ask your MP and councillors to sign the letter. You can get in touch with them by using the WriteToThem website.
Newham exits RBS LOBO loans early, saving £143m for local services
In May, we had some very good news from Newham Council, the largest LOBO borrower in the country where we have been working on a citizen debt audit and last year published a report arguing LOBO debt is illegitimate.
Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz announced that the council had terminated its LOBO loans with RBS / NatWest. They agreed to cancel six £25m loans early with considerably low breakage costs. Newham repaid the debt by borrowing from central government via the Public Works Loan Board, which is currently providing loans at relatively low interest rates. The Council says this will save them £3.5m per year for the 41 years that the LOBO loans still would have run, with savings totalling £143m.
We welcome this important victory that enables the council to put funds into services that are so urgently needed by residents.
See also the Guardian article for details.
Submissions to inquiries
Submissions to the Local Government Finance and the 2019 Spending Review have now been published on the Parliament website. You can read ours here, which was based on the report “Debt and Democracy in Newham”.
We also made a submission to the National Audit Office’s consultation on the Code of Audit Practice, which is not yet available online.
UN report on UK poverty now online
UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston visited the UK last year to document some of the extreme poverty that austerity policies are causing. We attended the hearing in Newham and submitted evidence based on our research into the effects of cuts in the borough. Alston’s full report is now online and he will present it to the UN later this month.
Financing Local Government: The role of debt and borrowing in local government policy
17 June, 7pm – 10pm
Fabian Society, 61 Petty France Westminster, London SW1H 9EU
The Young Fabians are hosting a panel debate exploring what role credit has in local government. Joel and Vica from Research for Action will be speaking, together with Nick Dunbar from Risky Finance, Antony Breach from Centre for Cities, and Cllr Dominic Twomey, Deputy Leader of Barking Council and Cabinet Member for Finance, Performance & Core Services. RSVP on the event website.
Festival: A Playground for the new economy
16-18 July Frome, Somerset
Stir to Action’s festival promises three days of inspiring conversations, participatory theatre, virtual reality experiences, live podcasts, interactive workshops, idea surgeries and of course food, beer and music. Fanny will be running a workshop on Thursday afternoon on citizen audits and how the tool of auditing can be used to improve local democracy. There are still tickets left, so check out the full programme and book soon!
LOBO loan workshop for Green Party councillors
20 July Stroud, Gloucestershire
We will run a workshop on LOBO loans at the annual conference of the Green Party Association of Councillors. Since LOBO loans affect hundreds of councils regardless of political colour, we would love the opportunity to come and speak about them at other party events too. Please get in touch if you are a councillor or a member of a political party and could offer us a space to run a workshop at an event.
NEWS FROM OUR NETWORKS
In May, Vica and Fanny went to Stoke-on-Trent to an emergency summit for change called CTRLshift. We ran a workshop on citizen debt audits and met many inspiring people working on change on the local level. A network is emerging from the event, so expect updates from CTRLshift also in the future!
Municipal elections in Spain
Fanny witnessed the local elections in Barcelona at the end of May where the municipalist platform Barcelona En Comú lost narrowly. From creating a publicly owned energy company to limiting the harmful effects of tourism in the city and making housing affordable, for the last four years Barcelona has been a beacon of progressive, feminist and ecological city policies. Barcelona En Comú also initiated the global network of municipalists, called Fearless Cities, that has now hosted gatherings in New York, Warsaw and Belgrade. Although the election result was a disappointment, BComú is in talks about forming a coalition with the centre-left Catalan independence party ERC that got a larger vote share but the same amount of councillors. The municipalists have also transformed politics both in Barcelona and across the Spanish state. Sol Trumbo Vila has a great analysis on openDemocracy.
Ghosts of Empire recordings live & call for proposals
In April, we went to the symposium “Finance Capital and the Ghosts of Empire” at the University of Sussex. Recordings from the great interdisciplinary discussions are now live on the Ghosts of Empire website, where you can also find a call for proposals for a journal.
Grenfell silent walk
Friday 14 June marks the second anniversary of the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower. The remembrance evening, organised by the Grenfell United, start at 6:15 with wreath laying at the tower, and culminates with the silent walk at 7:45. On Saturday 15 June, Justice4Grenfell and Grenfell Trust are organising a solidarity march in central London. It assembles at 12 noon at Whitehall opposite Downing Street.
Investigating companies summer school
The cutting edge investigations co-operative Corporate Watch, together with Professor David Whyte, are running a summer school on investigating companies. It takes place at the London campus of University of Liverpool, 33 Finsbury Square, London EC2A 1AG, on 15-18 July.
Writing off debt Bank Job style – by blowing it up
The artists at Bank Job exploded a van full of debt from their local area, writing off £1.2m high-interest debt from the community. The remains of the explosion are exhibited at their HQ in Walthamstow, East London, where they also host an excellent series of events. We especially recommend a discussion on the case for debt abolition, 27 June at 7 pm.
End prison sentences for council tax debt
Council tax debt is the only type of debt for which you can go to prison. It is also one of the most common types of problem debts at a time when incomes are not keeping up with living costs and councils are hiking council tax to make ends meet after a drastic reduction in central government funding. We fully support this petition to end prison sentences for council tax debt that unfairly and unnecessarily criminalise poverty.