Category Archives: Housing

Homeless Hackathon in Glasgow

A homeless hackathon would help end homelessness in Glasgow. Let’s do it.

There’s noting more annoying, as an event organiser, than being involved in an event that doesn’t actually do anything. An exhibition where no one buys or sells anything, a conference where no one learns anything useful, or a networking event where no one meets anything. Unfortunately these types of events happen all the time (you’ve probably been to at least one already the year). But not all events are the same. I’d like to introduce the Hackathon.

Events that really make a difference

I mentioned in my article for CommonSpace “Five Tips for the Yes campaign on making #ScotRef events unmissable my desire to see an end to the “boring” independence events. I wised that our events truly inspired, as well as painted a picture of the Scotland we want to create:

“I would love to see ScotRef Barcamps and ScotRef Hackathons, alongside more engaging traditional conferences.”

Words into action

I’ve been thinking about a IndyHack and I am sure that’s something that would really help the indy cause. However, on reading Death on the streets in today’s Sunday Herald our movement has more pressing concerns. If we all, truly want to create a more socially just Scotland we have to tackle these issues AT THE SAME TIME as we push for independence. So, an IndyHack should wait. What can not is a response from those within the Yes movement to the homelessness deaths and the stories behind those appalling  figures.

Homeless Hackathon in Glasgow

Thankfully other people are already looking at a Hackathon as a way to end homelessness. There’s one happening in Brisbane in June.

Homelessness Hackathon

And last year Shelter Scotland ran a Homeless Hackathon with Product Forge in Edinburgh in July 2016. I’ve messaged both organisations to see if they have plans for one in 2017.

As an event organisers living in Barcelona there doesn’t seem to be a lot I can do to directly and practically improve this appalling situation. Apart from suggest and run a Hackathon or at least support one if Shelter already have plans.

In the meantime, if you would be interested in supporting an IndyHack or a HomelessHack please drop me a note and I will be in touch. Update, no doubt to follow.

Here’s a helpful outline of a hackathon:

The objective is for attendees to bring to life their ideas across an intensive, challenging and hugely rewarding 48 hours.

This format has essentially been created to help organisers achieve an engaged, experiential and interactive event that is easy to amplify.  Exactly what our movement has to do!

A Hackathon generally takes place across Friday evening to Sunday evening. Timings are roughly:

Friday night:

4.30 Registration and networking

5.30 Introductory talks

7.00 Break for Burritos

7.30 Pitching idea and joining teams

9.00 Team discussions

10.30 End of first day

Saturday: Full day hack from just after breakfast until evening!

Lunch, white space and re-charge time included and spaced throughout the day

Sunday:

9.00 Product development and practice presentations

13.00 After lunch. Presentations and judging. –

17.00 Prizes over dinner.

Key areas:

There are prizes for many of the innovations. There are mentors from design, development and policy floating around to help and support teams. Sponsors are involved. Hardware is provided on site (3D printers, Virtual Reality etc) to help products to be developed.

If you would be interested in supporting an IndyHack or a HomelessHack please drop me a note here and I will be in touch. Update, no doubt to follow.

Barcelona sets limits on new hotel rooms

Since the moratorium on new hotels passed by the Ajuntament de Barcelona (The Barcelona City Council) in June last year, the local government headed by Ada Colau has been working on a plan to find a balance between the demands of the tourist and the demands of the local.

This was always going to be an impossible task. On one hand, you have a multi million euro industry – which contributes 12% of Catalan GDP – and on the other hand, some very, very noisy locals, and trust me, Catalans can be particularly noisy.

The results are out and the locals are reacting

Announced in March The Special Urban Plan for Tourist Accommodation (PEUAT) “promotes a sustainable urban model to make tourism compatible with residents’ basic rights” and it has without doubt curtailed the tourist sector in Barcelona, as the number of new beds allowed will fall way short of demand.

The headline figure from the PEUAT is that a maximum of 12,000 more hotel beds across the whole city will be allowed over the next six years. The 12,000 figure is still, of course, a substantial number of new beds in what is a relatively small major city, but overall the barrios, the local areas, will see the stymying of many planned hotels as a victory. However, for some, it is a small victory.

Twelve thousand new beds would still mean approximately 8% rise in the number of beds available in the city. And for many locals, the city already has too many tourists.

Does Barcelona have too many tourists?
I didn’t think they needed to change if from “Space Invaders”

As Barcelona sets limits on new hotel rooms, hotels struggle to keep on top of current demand

Following a detailed census, we now know that Barcelona currently has around 130,000 beds in hotels, apartments, hostels and pensions. Following bumper visitor figures for each month this year, we know that occasionally those beds just aren’t enough. This was clearly demonstrated by Mobile World Congress, which takes place in Barcelona each Febraury, with the event maxing out the hotels in Barcelona this year. That event is set to grow every year (it will be in Barcelona to at least 2023), so you have to wonder, will 12,000 new beds even just keep up with that event?

As well as demands from the “right kind of tourists” (the ones that attend Mobile World Congress, rather than the partying tourists) there is substantial pressure from the “wrong” type of  tourists.

The number of expected tourists is likely to pass the 8m mark in 2016, with demand continuing to grow year on year. Adding 12,000 new beds in Europe’s third most visited city will do little to match demand.

So if 12,000 new beds will do little to appease the tourism industry, how will this number affect those locals? Well, it depends where you are local to.

Where will the 12,000 new tourists go?

The regulations and restrictions laid out in the PEUAT are different for each area, with the tourist sector in the centre of Barcelona facing the greatest restrictions (detailed zone by zone can be found here). In summary, the legislation will be more relaxed the further away from the centre you go. Sectioning the plan into zones will push tourists further from the old parts of the city. However, those 12,000 beds need to go somewhere and certain barrios have the potential to go the way of Barceloneta – the once quaint fishing port now transformed into Barcelona’s very own little costa. 

Poble Nou, the barrio where I live, sits in the zone known as 22@ and will be greatly affected by the PEUAT. As you can see from the image at the top of the page, the locals are not happy, and quite rightly so.

As detailed by the citywide plan, over the next six years there could be 3,200 new hotel beds in 22@, with the majority in, or at least very close to the most popular barrio Poble Nou. On those numbers alone, you can take pity with the locals who think they are being “invaded”.

As Ada Colau was keen to stress the plan seeks “to preserve the rights of residents to housing, rest and privacy” but for those in and around 22@ the idea that 3,200 more tourists would preserve their rights seems as unlikely as they are to accept the plan in its current form.

The hidden agenda of #Indyref2

“Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.”

–Lao Tzu, 6th Century BC Chinese Poet

On the 18th May 2015 I predict the following: That during the next Westminster parliament:

1. There will be no #IndyRef2
2. There will be no UK exit from Europe
3. There will be no electoral reform

Bold? Maybe.
Daring? Perhaps.
Foolish?

Only if I assume that everything fed to me by the major news channels is the whole news. These issues are chewing up inches in our papers and pixels on our TV screens. They are playing their role; shifting focus on to meaningless debates, disproportionately filling our newspapers and news bulletins. Think of them like three Nigel Farages – scary though that is.

It is not that these constitutional issues do not merit consideration. In time, they will deserve proper scrutiny. But now? Now, it is a charade. A merry dance led by the Tory Government, cheek-to-cheek with the main stream media. While we consider the impact of any of these three constitutional upheavals, Westminster acts on its quite separate and real agenda.

We can see this as a certainty because the mood music has only recently stopped playing. The Indyref2 lament is still ringing in our ears.

#IndyRef2 – The Referendum that never was

Throughout this Spring, a second referendum on Scottish independence haunted the UK General Election campaign; a bogie man created for political purpose. Indyref2 lay under the bed ready to jump out and grab you in the middle of the night, before heading downstairs and raiding the house of £7.6 Billion of your money,  then driving away in your car. With your wife.

You lost. Forget about it. Stop going on about it. Why do you keep mentioning it? Losers. This narrative, as played out, for example by Caroline Flint in her appearance on Question Time, served as the aperitif – the boxer’s jab before the left (or right) hook.

That hook was straightforward – repeated by Labour, Tory and Libdem alike. The referendum was supposed to be “once in a generation.” IndyRef2 is bad. SNP is bad. Seperatism is bad.

Yet, the only main UK political party not talking about Indyref2 was the SNP.

In interview after interview Nicola Sturgeon with equanimity, both here in Scotland and in England, fielded questions on the “imminent referendum.” The mainstream media bought the narrative sold by Tories, Labour and LibDems. The absence of any manifesto commitment from the SNP for IndyRef2 was wilfully ignored.

Just take a minute to think about that. Election campaigns are so much about events and dazzle these days. Fancy 250gsm gloss-finished brochures. Pages of policies, promises and pledges. All delivered with with a flash, bang wallop in front of a room full of adoring acolytes. In all those fresh-smelling pages there was nothing about a Scottish referendum. At no stage-managed event did Nicola Sturgeon call for it. There was no manifesto commitment. The electorate could not vote for IndyRef2. So why all those questions and all that time discussing something that no one was suggesting? Weren’t there more important things to discuss?

In Scotland, we knew that we were being led up the garden path. 56 seats for the SNP. 50% of the popular vote. Scottish Labour rejected by an electorate that had awoken during the referendum campaign, by an electorate that had grown tired of the charlatan mainstream media. We are staying up all night so that we can cast further light into the dark shadows.

Cast some light on to the Indyref2 narrative and what do you find?

A good story that has legs. “David Cameron rules out a second referendum” screams the Telegraph. Of course, David knows that he can make no such promise and anyway no one is asking for a second referendum, but hey, it plays well doesn’t it?

This story is even more diaphanous when you consider that the chances of the SNP calling for a second referendum before 2018 are as likely as Scotland returning from the World Cup with a wee golden globe statue and a look of baffled bewilderment on the faces of players and an entire nation.

The SNP will not seek a new mandate until the polls prove beyond any reasonable doubt that there will be a wide margin of victory. This story – if it really ever was one – is dead, maybe not for a generation, but certainly for a whole World Cup qualifying campaign.

The story of how IndyRef2 was used during the election campaign is a clue. It is a smoking gun which shows how the Conservative Party will drive a right-wing agenda. It is smoke and mirrors and slight of hand. The election result in England in May proves its potential. So much so that the new Tory leader, when he arrives in a few years, will be more like David Blaine than David Cameron.

This is the murky prism in which the media coverage of the entire five years of miserable Tory rule will seek to debate an IndyRef2, voting reform and the consequences of the UK exit from the EU.

EU referendum

Another referendum beckons, but this time we have recent history to help us with the outcome. When the UK government agrees to a referendum the cards will be stacked in its favour.

The establishment parties will come together with one clear voice. The media will be on-side. Money will pile into the Yes campaign from the big businesses which rely so heavily on a single market to allow them to generate large profits. They can not afford to lose the flow of a well-educated, cheap, eastern and southern european workforce that helps them keep wages low in the UK. They will do everything to stymie an exit.

David Cameron will return with concessions. Small ones. But through the lens of the media they will appear large. The status quo will be saved and we will march on as before. But before we do – imagine the scenarios to be played-out, the what-ifs put to the MPs and the pundits and the experts.

Be Prepared. Hunker down. Put on your tin hat and don’t play the game.

You can spend hours and days watching and listening to people discuss something that will not happen. You can be diverted. Or you can focus on the real politics. To do that there is one further Establishment feint to be tackled.

Electoral reform

A truly proportional electoral system would change the way the UK is governed. It would, lets be clear, be the most fundamental democratic overhaul seen in the UK since universal female suffrage. The very thought places the Establishment on edge.

The route to power in Westminster would be very different. The polarised red and blue, two choices for Downing Street swingometer would cease. Perhaps there would be a body of support for political parties less pre-disposed to the US-style capitalism seen in the UK since Thatcher. That alone is reason enough to suggest that true electoral reform will never happen. 2020 will come and go with a Westminster Government elected under the First Past the Post system.

The fact is that electoral reform is not in the Tory manifesto. And they won. Labour and the SNP have nothing to gain from reforming the Westminster voting system. Perhaps the issue is considered less important in Scotland and Wales due to devolution.

Electoral reform is a ship that’s stuck in port, waiting for a captain and cargo.  Even those who would gain from it know that their efforts are better spent fighting the elections in Wales and Scotland where a list system offers a chink in the armoury protecting the two main UK parties.

The problem, for many, is that although the system may not be very good, its preferable to the alternatives. So their will be talk and debate and the ramblings of UKIP will offer further diversion on this issue.  However, when the dust has settled and we remain where we were, the real issues will have been relegated.  Again, attracted by diversionary tactics the media will place one, two or all of these chimerical issues high on their list of priorities.

The role of the three constitutional issues

By generating enough noise they will play a major role in this government’s planned programme simply by deflecting scrutiny from their policies (or lack thereof.) This Sunday morning’s papers and political programmes were brim-full of EU, PR and IndyRef2 stories.

What is absent?

Instead three, deliberately conceived, blind alleys.

The IndyRef2, EU exit and PR will draw flack from the public and shift the the attention from where the UK media – whose job it should be to hold the UK Government to task – should sit. Articles, papers and research will be carried out to fan the flames; a whole industry chasing non stories. 24 hours-a-day, in high definition and full technicolor, a kind of shadow press leading the electorate down dark alleys and dead ends.

My hope is that enough Scots and the awakening electorate in rUK will finally realise that the mood music is phoney. This mind-numbing but hypnotic Muzak will end and a story with a passionate and politically-enlivened soundtrack will take its place. If you don’t like the music you change the channel. See the light and remove yourself from the narrative of the mainstream media.

The “Right to Debt”

Bringing a young family back to Scotland and settling in Edinburgh I’ve noticed that those dinner party type conversations seem to revolve around two things: schools and homes. Setting my stall out early (which means I make a rather truculent guest) I am pretty fixed on three things in life. I wont be sending my kid to private school, I won’t be buying a home and I won’t be attending any more dinner parties.

Returning after living in Barcelona for a few years it is obvious that the desire for the best school for your child is universal but what sets us apart from many other countries and most of Europe is our relationship with our homes.

The Right to Buy

For much of the working class British population homes had until Thatcher’s introduction of the Right to Buy scheme (within the Housing Act in 1980) been solely where you lived. Your home was an expense, like food, clothing or heating; it was never an investment. With affordable rents and hundred of thousand of new quality homes being built in the 1970s especially in the New Towns of central Scotland, you could still make your house your home and live comfortably and securely. And then something changed.

With the introduction of that Right to Buy that home almost overnight became something else. Its bricks and mortar didn’t alter but it became a nest egg. The householders in those 1.5 million homes bought their houses at a 33% to 50% discount but more importantly for society they bought the idea that their house could be so much more than their home. In fact the change was that they considered it their right to own a property. This was democracy explained in the number of rooms and the size of your garage and garden.

Many labour supporting working class voters – like my own father who bought his Livingston council house – shifted their allegiance. Working class Scots followed the dream. This injection of consumer demand and consumer led debt allowed the 1980’s UK economy to explode. Without increases in productivity or wages the boom was powered only be debt as millions of working class families took out mortgages acting on their “Right to Debt”

The Right to Buy Reborn

Fast forward 35 years and the new “Right to Buy” policy from the Conservatives has been coming for some time. The recently announced reduction in inheritance tax for properties under £2million created a wonderfully bright aspirational picture to precede the announcement that even those in housing association houses can dream of that tax free bonus. The panacea is that you can buy your home and see its value soar. A heady height will be reached before you even pay tax on its transfer to your children.

For the Tories the dream of a “home owing democracy” has been given new life with the rebirth of the poster boy Thatcherite policy. The appeal to a million voters is obvious, visceral, heart felt: to own the home you live in and to one day sell it for a large profit or pass the value on to your heirs.

This powerful starting position must be understood by those opposed to the reintroduction of this controversial policy. Of which there will be many.

The strength of those desires can not be underestimated and it could just swing the election in favour of a conservative government: the victory build on a dream. In reality however this shared but ultimately personal dream has the potential to create a nightmare for society, communities and for the UK as a whole. Thankfully the policy is only muted for England but on this ever so closely linked island the effects will be felt across the nations.

There is no policy more damaging to the health of the nation than the right to remove affordable housing stock from public to private hands without counter actions to remove the negative impacts. As Richard Murphy outlines:

“……this is about deliberately increasing inequality when its impact is already very apparent in our society. Housing is one of our  most basic rights. This is a policy that seeks to deny that to many.”

The building of wealth of the working class could be achieved with much less damage if we followed polices which saw rises in real wages and improvements in public services.

The Right to Buy policy will see shares in the banking sector rise as a million new mortgages will be required. Those with shares will see their dividends rise allowing investors who own the bigger houses to afford even bigger ones. Bonuses for bankers will rise as millions of working class families pay interest on those loans; funnelling yet more money upwards in our society. Estate agents will boom replacing more high street shops.

The economy will be falsely boosted by debt as billions of newly created money will flush through the banking system. Many families will push beyond their means and a still poorly regulated financial service sector will support unattainable desires. Household debts, already at a record high, will increase. Overindebtedness will reign. The housing bubble will continue to inflate. The relative wealth of London will race further ahead to the rest of the UK.

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The affordable housing stock will be depleted. Many of these homes will quickly pass not to children but into the rental market offering an opportunity for thousands to make a living from rents. Almost half of the homes in the original wave of right to buy are now in the private rented sector. The commercialisation of our society will grow as many working class families strive for wealth by speculating on the value of land and property. And all the while the newly installed conservative government will hail a recovery.

Right to Buy is at the very crossroads that our society faces and for those who believe it is a horribly divisive policy the PR battle couldn’t be harder. Right to Buy places the individual against society. The aspiration of individual profit against the societal need for open access to housing. It places the haves against the have nots and it is here where the anti Right to Buy campaign will stall.

Those who oppose Right to Buy will have to defend their opposition against cries of “politics of envy” and “hypocrisy” It will not escape the heads of those households who seek this perceived financial escape that many of the commentators who speak out on the policy will own their own property. From here the opposition house is clearly built on sand.

Add to that perilous opposition the instinctive desire to provide for your children and opponents face two insurmountable cliffs. So exactly how do you counter those arguments?

The only way is to paint the reality from the palette used to create the dream. Opponents need to make that reality as powerful as the dream. Expose the scheme as a decisive policy that will not lead to riches but will burden society with further inequality. Point to an alternative route to secure the future for every family in the UK, seek to redistribute wealth through increased wages and investment in our communities.

Margaret Thatcher is dead but her ghost still stalks our society.