Swindon Advertiser journalists strike

January 5, 2018

Congratulations to the Adver journalists on having the courage to take industrial action. For the younger ones amongst them this will be the first time they have taken strike action. They would not have done so without having genuine grievances. Sometimes you have to act against over-mighty management or they will continue to take advantage of you. You have to act together and stick together to improve your wages and your working conditions.

This situation tells us some interesting things about the town. Some time ago I had a conversation with Chris Humphreys about the housing situation. I was surprised to find that the younger journalists tended to live in shared accommodation. They couldn’t afford the rent for a flat. Private rents are outstripping wage increases year after year.

According to the Valuation Agency Office the average rent for a room in a shared house in Swindon for the year ending September 2017 was £444 a month as compared to a one bedroom property with an average rent of £595. That’s a big difference. Even a lower quartile room in a shared house costs £395 whilst the average for a one bedroom flat was £550. Annual rent of £6,600 is a lot of money given the pay that these journalists are receiving. Read the rest of this entry »

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A ‘low wage, low welfare’ town

February 6, 2017

It’s all very well David Renard clutching the Cities Report for a photo opportunity, but if you want to make an objective assessment of the state of the town you have to look at all of it, rather than picking out a few tables which can be used to show the brilliance of our municipal leadership and the ‘success’ of the town. He seems to have missed the fact that Swindon was designated by the report as a ‘low wage, low benefit’ location. What does high productivity and low wages tell us? That levels of exploitation are high. Isn’t high productivity supposed to give us high wages?

The last year for which figures are available from the HMRC for personal earnings is 2013-14. However, it gives you an indication of the earnings structure of the population. The average earnings from employment was £26,900. However, the median showed that half of employees earned less than £20,800. Half of those in self-employment earned less than £11,500. Half of those with a pension had an income of less than £12,200. This gives an indication of the levels of inequality in the town.

The Cities Report also put Swindon in the top ten for increasing house prices which are outstripping earnings. Check the government figures for the ratio between house prices and earnings and you find that prices for the lower quartile (cheapest) properties were 6.66 times the lower quartile earnings. This was the figure for 2015 and we know that house prices have continued to rise since then. No wonder that we have a town in which we have seen the emergence of phenomenon such as ‘beds in sheds’ and people living in garages.

Let’s have a rounded picture of the town and not propaganda which is directed at the self-aggrandisement of the anti-democratic clique which runs the town. The picture painted by the occupants of the Euclid Street bunker clashes with the real life experience of much of the population.

Martin Wicks

A letter to the Swindon Advertiser


The surplus and the parishes

July 1, 2016

Some while ago I suggested to Swindon’s Cabinet that they should be pressing the government to abandon their target for a £10 billion surplus by 2020. As I pointed out to them if the target was break-even then the £6 billion of cuts to local government would not be necessary. They wouldn’t even have to abandon their support for ‘austerity’.

The anti-democratic parishes proposal was premised on acceptance of the level of cuts from central government, based on the surplus proposal. Yesterday, Theresa May, one of the candidates in the Tory leadership election indicated that this surplus target, described by the Financial Times as ‘extreme’ and unnecessary, said it should be abandoned. Today the Chancellor has dumped it, citing the dangers of a recession and the economic shock following the vote to leave the European Union.

We can argue over whether the ‘austerity’ programme was necessary in the first place (obviously I don’t think it was) but this announcement provides an open door for Swindon Council to press for an end to the £6 billion cuts to local government. If the surplus has been abandoned then there is no need for this scale of cuts.

If the Tory administration does not recognise the significance and consequence of this announcement, and simply proceeds with its plans then it will be doing so for ideological reasons. Of course, we do not know to what extent the budget plans of a new government will differ from Osborne’s but the abandonment of the aim of a £10 billion surplus by 2020, at the very least offers the possibility of a scaling back of local government cuts.

There is nothing to stop the administration supporting such a move and pressing their MPs to do likewise. To proceed with their parishes proposal as if nothing had changed would reinforce the widespread feeling of the local population that they are contemptuous of the opinion of local people.

This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser


Fantasy Island

March 23, 2015

Fantasy Island

George Osborne’s Budget speech reminded me of the old saying, an empty vessel makes the most noise. He was talking about a fantasy island of his own imagining far removed from the real country in which all the victims of his austerity programme live. True, as journalist Paul Mason said, faced with the consequences of his own projections, he blinked. Without explanation his Autumn Budget projected surplus for 2019-20 was cut from £23 billion to £7 billion. However, he has merely increased the punishment planned in the early years of the next Parliament.

The Office of Budget Responsibility called these plans “a roller-coaster profile for public service spending” which would mean “a much sharper squeeze on real spending than anything seen over the last five years”. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies the cuts in 2016-17 and 2017-18 will be “twice the size of any year’s cuts over this Parliament”. Read the rest of this entry »


Failure of ‘austerity’

November 30, 2014

Interesting to see that David Renard has signed a joint letter to the Observer with other Council leaders from all three main parties. It’s a shot across the bows of George Osborne in the run up to the autumn statement. It says that “further reductions (in local government funding) without radical reform will have a detrimental impact on people’s quality of life and will lead to vital services being scaled back or lost altogether”. “More of the same” in the autumn statement “cannot be an option”, they say.

They express their concern that the rising cost of care for the elderly “will not only jeopardise our services but will push costs onto the NHS which will have to pick up the pieces if we cannot protect adult social care or provide the services that will keep people healthy.”

The purpose of the letter is to raise the need for powers to be devolved from Westminster. To that end it says that

It is vital that the autumn statement sets out a new settlement for England which puts powers beyond Westminster and shares out tax and spending across the UK on a fair basis.” Read the rest of this entry »


Demand the right to keep all our business rates

October 29, 2014

Before 1990 local authorities were able to keep all the rates they collected locally, both domestic and business rates. Changing that was one of the means by which Thatcher imposed central government controls on local authorities. Writing in the Advertiser David Renard expressed the view that the debate on ‘devolution’ of power in the wake of the Scottish Referendum gave “a unique opportunity to investigate what Councils should do and how much we can prise from the distant hand of Whitehall”.

Fredrick Douglas, a campaigner against slavery, once said that “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” If anything is to be prised out of Whitehall then there has to be a clear demand. One such demand is that Councils should be able to keep all the business rates they raise locally. According to the Council Leader Swindon collected somewhere in the region of £107 million in business rates last year. However, the (non-education) grant we received was only £64.9 million. Read the rest of this entry »


Stop Whitehall’s daylight robbery

October 18, 2014

A letter to the Swindon Advertiser

In response to Charles Linfield (“shoring up support”, October 8th) my letter did address the question of ‘devolved’ powers to England, but was cut, presumably for reasons of space. The simplest way to devolve power from Whitehall would be to give Councils the right to keep all their income from Business Rates. Before Thatcher’s assault on local democracy Councils had more control over their income. They kept all the domestic and commercial rates they collected, and then received additional money through the Rate Support Grant. However, Whitehall has progressively taken more control over local authorities.

The impact is reflected in what central government deigns to give us from the money raised from Business Rates. David Renard has informed me that the town takes in £107 million and the government funding assessment is £65 million. In other words they fleeced us of £42 million in one year. If we were able to keep all we take in there would be no financial crisis. Read the rest of this entry »


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